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Pope Francis provides model for Catholic educators, Jesuit Father Daniel Joyce says at annual Diocese of Wilmington Spirituality Day


MILLTOWN — Teachers are called to have a “greatness of mind and heart,” a prominent Jesuit priest told educators from the Diocese of Wilmington at its annual Spirituality Day, held Aug. 31 at Saint Mark’s High School. Approximately 50 principals, teachers and other school personnel attended in person; others watched the event live online.

Jesuit Father Daniel Joyce, the executive director of mission programs and the director of the Alliance for Catholic Education at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said a fellow Jesuit provides a great model for educators. Pope Francis, like all members of the Society of Jesus, was a school teacher at one point in his ministry. The pontiff continues to teach to this day.

Jesuit Father Daniel Joyce speaks at Saint Mark’s at the annual Spirituality Day sponsored by the Catholic Schools Office. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

“In many ways, I think he’s using his teacher skill with us in the way in which he runs his pontificate and the way he communicates, and communicates actually more often by his actions,” Father Joyce said. “I think he understands that teaching is both modeling and instructing. It’s offering both.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, teaches that the best trait is to be magnanimous.

“What does being magnanimous mean? It means having a great heart, a greatness of mind. It means having great ideals to wish to do great things to respond to what God asks of us,” Father Joyce said.

Along with a greatness of mind and heart, thoughtfulness is a key trait for educators, he continued. Each year, our thinking gets renewed, and Father Joyce said he finds himself doing more thinking and re-thinking. Instead of seeing that as a burden, teachers could consider that to be a grace.

“We don’t have to do this ourselves. We certainly do the thinking and thoughtfulness and rethinking with each other as teams at our schools, but let’s be honest, we desperately need to ask for the grace for thoughtfulness in these times that maybe we didn’t have to ask for before,” he said.

Our current situation, particularly in education, shows the need for thoughtfulness, he said. On his ride to Wilmington from Philadelphia, Father Joyce said new guidelines came out regarding the coronavirus, and he had to text his team from the Saint Mark’s parking lot.

A holistic approach

Father Joyce pivoted back to Pope Francis later in his talk. The pope got down to the fundamentals of the faith as he began his papacy. He had an intent to instruct and model for Catholics around the world. In the second year after he was elected, he declared a year of mercy, delivering many talks on the subject and getting back to the basics of the faith.

“He uses the word in so many ways because he thinks it’s so fundamental to the work of Jesus Christ, and it’s so fundamental to how Jesus’ teaching asks us to be and act in a certain way, to live that way of Christ,” he said.

The corporal works of mercy are very apparent, but there are also spiritual works of mercy that include instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful and admonishing the sinner. We can also fail and recover, and we can practice forgiveness and pray for the living and the dead. Students, he said, notice this and absorb this modeling from their teachers.

“We know that those things affect the learning of our students,” he said. “That holistic kind of education is very real for us. It’s almost second nature to us as Catholic educators to the point that sometimes, I think, we forget about it. It’s almost like the air we breathe so we don’t pay attention to it until we need more air.

“The holistic education that we offer, I believe, is more needed now than ever. All the more reason for us to continue to support and fight for the survival of Catholic schools.”

In primary education, Catholic educators introduce students to the elements of God and the Christian reality and identity. In secondary education, “we pray and hope that students grasp what they’ve been taught.” That includes Catholic social teaching and the way we behave in society. All of this takes off in an adult, faith-filled person, “to be a co-worker in God’s kingdom, as St. Ignatius would say, somebody who’s participating in the work of the kingdom that Jesus invited us into,” he said.

He said this is the one theme that was always in Jesus’ lesson plan.

The academic component of education is important, but Catholic social teaching and the Catholic worldview gives them a wider look at society, and maybe some of them will become leaders to call the rest of society to help, Father Joyce said.

“I think in some ways we need this all the more, especially as things like American optimism, in my opinion, are quite on the wane, at a time when the world can be quite cynical if not clearly negative, at a time when fear is clearly rampant in society and division is common, I think all the more reason that our Catholic worldview and the way that social vision, a civic responsibility, a solidarity that cares for all of us and our environment, allows us to be all the more important work at this time.

“So be encouraged that your work is so foundational and so crucial, and know that that’s a grace.”