To celebrate National Catholic Schools Week, we are sharing daily reflections centered around the themes for this year. Today's reflection is from Kelly Foyle, an ACE Teaching Fellows graduate and current member of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. Her post focuses on the theme of "Celebrating Vocations."
I still remember the phone call from Chris Kowalski (who, at the time, was on the ACE Teaching Fellows pastoral staff): "We're sending you to Phoenix. You'll be teaching fourth grade at St. John Vianney in Goodyear."
Arizona? I'd never really been west of the Mississippi...and now I was going to live with five complete strangers and teach my own classroom full of nineteen 9- and 10-year olds? Oh help. Little did I know, help was already on the way, and it would come in the form of some amazing women in white habits...
Once my mom got over the idea that both of her daughters had accepted positions with ACE and were about to make big moves across the country, she started doing a little research into our schools. She asked me, "Do you realize your school is Holy Cross and Salesian?” Priests from Notre Dame AND sisters from the same religious order that ran my own high school? It was just another reminder of how good God is.
I first came to learn and fall in love with the Salesians and their incredible founder, St. John Bosco, during my own school years at St. Pete Catholic High School. John Bosco loved young people, and he cared in a special way for the orphans and the poor. He believed in helping young people learn various trades, and he used magic and joy to keep the children off the streets of Italy. John Bosco entrusted the children to Mary, Help of Christians, and, as students at a Salesian school, no prayer of ours was complete without the invocation of Our Lady at its end. And every January 31st (John Bosco's feast day), we would hold Mass and have special activities during the day to celebrate the amazing work of the Salesians.
Between high school and the ACE program, the Salesians came in and out of my life through various summer camp and service opportunities. But when God's miraculous hand placed my first year teacher self under the supervision of a Salesian principal at my ACE school, my understanding of John Bosco and my desire to educate the students in my community grew deeper and stronger each day. During my three years at St. John Vianney, our morning prayer, where the entire school gathered together in the church without fail every day, offered me the chance to see Salesian faith in action. Sr. Ignacia, my principal, was a constant reminder of how, like St. John Bosco, we need to put ourselves in Mary's care. And, when Andre Bessette became the first saint for the Holy Cross order in 2010, Sr. Ignacia did not hold back from giving our pastor a hard time about how the Salesians had quite a few more saints than Holy Cross (such a Salesian trait: to be always playful, always joy-filled). I came to realize through my time at ACE that even though I was thousands of miles from my physical home (and missing it terribly), the Salesians had a special way of creating a spiritual home for everyone with whom they work and to whom they minister. I wanted more than anything to be able to do what they did every day.
Even now, I still often wear a medal I received at a Salesian provincial leadership retreat in high school, which states, "It is enough that you are young for me to love you" (St. John Bosco). When days get rough and my middle school students have pushed all my buttons, I hold that medal around my neck and repeat his words. This simple phrase reminds me of the incredible work with which we are entrusted as Catholic school educators and leaders: we are forming Saints. Some days this just requires a little more patience than other days...
And so, during this wildly hectic yet amazing week, when we celebrate all Catholic schools in America (and the feast of John Bosco), let us model his example and offer up this simple prayer for ourselves and our students to our mother: Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!
Do you know how many members of the ACE Teaching Fellows community are in religious life or the priesthood? Check out our ACE Vocations Poster to find the answer!