Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Soul of the Apostolate

"Given the new and ever-widening range of resources available to educators today, some might advance the argument that schools require-albeit teachers may demand-better materials. All well and good, but buildings, stadia, desks, chalkboards, and even books do not a school make, for the teacher is the soul of the school."

-Bishop John Mussio

Today is the feast of the patron saint of teachers, St. John Baptist de La Salle. The Catholic faith has no shortage of holy women and men involved in Catholic education. From St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, to St. Katharine Drexel, to St. Frances Cabrini, to St. John Bosco, to Bl. Basil Moreau, our faith is filled with many heroes of Catholic schools. 

Catholic educators also stand upon the shoulders of countless giants who paved the way for us today. From the religious sisters who staffed and supported our Church's schools in this country from our infancy through the golden age of Catholic education in mid 1900s, to the courageous lay women and men who have worked tirelessly and faithfully for their entire careers, Catholic school teachers deserve our honor and celebration. 

While something that has improved yet remains an important effort among Catholic school leaders, Catholic school teachers have often sacrificially accepted more duties and less pay than public school counterparts. My dad would often joke with my mom, a 20-year veteran of Catholic schools, that her reward would be great in heaven. 

While I think his exact words were "time off from purgatory" my mom's and all Catholic educator's eternal recompense would be worthwhile. 

Again, while fighting for better wages for all employees within the Church is an important and necessary task of all Catholic leaders, there is something to be said for the redemptive work carried out by faithful Catholic educators every day. 

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, in 1977, declared the following: 

In this way the Catholic school performs "an authentic apostolate". To work, therefore, in this apostolate "means apostolate performing a unique and invaluable work for the Church". (The Catholic School, #63)

An apostolate is the work of the apostles. The apostles established Jesus Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and carried out the work of the great commission to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that (Christ has) commanded (us)" (Mt. 28:19-20). 

Furthermore, and for what it's worth, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education praises teachers for their work: 

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, to foster the full realisation of the aims of the Catholic school, extends once more its warmest and heartfelt encouragement to all who work in these schools. There can be no doubt whatever of the importance of the apostolate of teaching in the total saving mission of the Church. (The Catholic School, 1977, #88)

So, while new technologies and educational methodologies, especially during this time of hybridization, are important to adapt the apostolate of Catholic education to the current times, the teacher, as stated by Bishop Mussio in the 1950s, is still and will always be the soul of the school. 

May today, on the feast of our patron, St. John Baptist de La Salle, and in the Octave of Easter (keep celebrating), all teachers in Catholic schools be filled with the power and hope and joy of the Holy Spirit so that Catholic schools can continue to add their "weight consciously and overtly, to the liberating power of grace, (so) that (they become) the Christian leaven in the world" (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977, #84). 

Catholic school educators, in the words of another hero of our ministry, St. Julie Billiart (whose feast happens to be on April 8!), "There must be nothing little among us; we must have the hearts of Apostles."