A fruitful resolution for the New Year (or for any time) is to follow in the footsteps of saints whom the Church has given us as models. Early January happens to bring the feast days of a few education-related saints whose footsteps provide particular inspiration for members of the ACE community.
January 4 is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), who opened America's first parish school in Baltimore, Maryland. January 5 is the feast of St. John Neumann (1811-1860), who, as Bishop of Philadelphia, established a diocesan model for the parochial schools of his day. January 6 is the feast of St. Andre Bessette (1845-1937), a brother in the Congregation of Holy Cross who reflected the Holy Cross passion to educate minds and hearts as a doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church. She was given the name "Mother" soon after she took her vows as a sister in 1809. She had become a Catholic just several years earlier, in 1805. By 1818, she and her religious sisters operated two schools and two orphanages.
Mother Seton founded Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School, a school for Catholic girls, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1810. In the same year, she established a religious community caring for the children of the poor. The community was originally called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. Today, six religious communities trace their history to the founding of the Sisters of Charity.
St. John Neumann, C.Ss.R., was a native of the present-day Czech Republic. He traveled to America, was ordained a priest, and became Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. In this position, he oversaw the construction of numerous parishes and schools for immigrants, and he founded the first Catholic diocesan school system in the United States. He collapsed and died from a stroke on a Philadelphia street while running errands in 1860. Pope Paul VI declared him to be a saint of the Church in 1977.
St. Andre Bessette lacked the physical stamina and education to be a priest or teacher, but his embrace of his assigned task—to serve as porter at a Holy Cross school in Canada—yielded countless opportunities to serve the poor and the sick. Through his profound devotion to St. Joseph, Brother Andre's own story became one of healing the marginalized and transcending life's apparent dead ends. He personified and conveyed a powerful lesson of hope and trust, all through a personal humility that allowed others' lights to shine.
These saints—Seton, Neumann, and Bessette—help the ACE community to start off the year in the right frame of mind, receptive to the providential paths that the Lord establishes when He teaches us His ways and directs us to share what we have learned. As with the journey in ACE, the path of service is experienced one step at a time and passes through challenges, triumphs, and surprises. The only way to proceed is with humility and perseverance. But the saint must proceed.
The ACE community follows the examples of these great saints in serving Catholic schools. Perhaps you are considering applying to ACE, either in the ACE Teaching Fellows
program or in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program
for aspiring Catholic school leaders. The deadlines for these formation programs are January 24 and February 1, respectively. Join the ACE community in learning from these saints, and many others, who point toward Christ the Teacher, Christ who wants to lift up the minds and hearts of the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized—and everyone.
Whatever your vocation may prove to be, let the Teacher lead you. "Master, to whom shall we go?" Peter said to Jesus. "You have the words of eternal life."