As summer draws to a close, and we prepare for the uncertain future of the new school year, a teacher’s traditional icebreaker – What did you do over summer vacation? – is likely to evoke very different responses than past years.
While so many things have changed or remain in flux – many of them out of our control – it is important that as educators, we focus on the important things that we can control, never change, and we are called to do.
As Pope Francis calls us to “build an educational relationship with each student, who must feel welcomed and loved for what he or she is, with all of their limitations and potential,” we remember that while our methods and situations may change, our mission as Catholic educators remains the same. Our schools must do more to embrace their calling to serve all learners, including those who struggle academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.
The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) recognizes the need for adaptability. We proactively plan to meet diverse needs—even those ever-changing needs we may encounter during this unique time.
As we adapt, our mission of welcoming, serving, and celebrating all God’s children is at the forefront. To effectively live our Catholic faith and embrace this mission, we need look no further than the example given by the saints. Saint André Bessette, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents, Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, come to mind when seeking patron saints for educators, students, and parents alike.
Saint André Bessette
The first step toward true inclusion is the simple yet powerful decision to open the door. Saint André shows us strength in his simplicity. Deemed by his superiors as barely capable of much more, Brother André was assigned to be “just” a doorman. The future saint was truly doing holy work. He believed that Jesus might be on the other side of the door every time he opened it! His simple faith and devotion allowed countless miracles to take place. If we are excluding students based on presumed limitations, are we not also ignoring Jesus on the other side of our doors?
If we are to follow Saint André’s example, we will recognize every student is truly a gift. Every chance to help him or her grow is not only an opportunity to change a life, but to grow in holiness ourselves. Fr. Steve Lacroix, C.S.C., reflects on the legacy of Saint André Bessette and how God raised up a poor, uneducated man to be the first saint from the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Saint Thérèse, also referred to as “the Little Flower” and known for her “little way,” struggled with social interactions throughout her young life. Like Saint André, she was born sickly and not expected to survive infancy. Thérèse not only survived, she bounded through childhood with joyful exuberance!
A precocious child, she was often misunderstood and frustrated by limitations placed upon her by others. She had difficulty channeling her energy properly until, at age 14, a powerful conversion experience changed her life. At 15 she entered the Carmelite convent where she lived in relative anonymity, devoting her life to seeing the good in those who challenged her most. Although Thérèse died at age 24, the girl who was such a challenge to many adults around her, was canonized a Saint a mere 28 years later, and a Doctor of the Church by Pope Saint John Paul the Great!
As we strive to reach all learners, we might share the story of The Little Flower: A Parable of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and how young Thérèse learned that even though she might be little, with God's help, her littleness can be a way of doing great things for God. A short animated video from Stories of the Saints: Saint Therese of Lisie also tells how young Thérèse overcame her many challenges.
Saints Zelie and Louis Martin
Imagine being the parents of a saint. Zelie and Louis Martin were no strangers to challenge, having lost several children to illness. Within a span of three years, two baby boys, a five-year-old daughter, and a six-and-a-half week old infant daughter all died. Zelie dismissed people who told her, “It would have been better never to have had them.”
Preparing for the worst when Thérèse (the future Saint!) was born, her parents’ fears turned to joy as their once sickly little girl began to thrive. While her sensitive nature and inclination to random outbursts presented new challenges, Zelie and Louis lavished love and attention on Thérèse and her four surviving siblings, proclaiming, “We lived only for them. They were our happiness!”
When illness of any kind befalls our children, when they struggle with learning disabilities, or when they simply have trouble fitting in with others, we can turn to Saints Zelie and Louis. They leaned on their faith, family and friends for help in trying times. We can pray a special Novena to Saints Zelie and Louis for help when God asks the unexpected.
As we prepare ourselves for the upcoming school year in whatever form that takes, there may be many challenges as we welcome students back to school. Despite the obstacles, let us remember some things will never change:
- All students are made in the image and likeness of God. Inclusive teachers are animated by the principle of human dignity and celebrate the diverse and exceptional characteristics of each student.
- We are called to educate all students inclusively regardless of need. Inclusive teachers imitate Christ the teacher and reach out to the margins of the classroom cultivating Christ’s love, acceptance, and knowledge everyday.
- Inclusion is intentional. Inclusive teachers are fully invested—building a culture of inclusion encompassing attitudes, skills, and dispositions while responding justly to ensure success for all students.
We can take great comfort knowing that we do not face the uncertainties of life alone. As Catholic educators, parents, and students, we may all draw upon the example of the saints – real people who faced real challenges with a childlike faith and trust in God. Let us remember to do the same. In addition, the Program for Inclusive Education is a part of a larger, national community of inclusive educators that are here to support your efforts. The gifts and generosity of this community are boundless and that too...will never change!
Look for PIE 5 application information this October!