In every season of my life (since being Catholic), I’ve always looked for a saint that could inspire me in my season and work in some way. I found saints who helped me when I was trying to find work, saints who inspired me in my single years, and saints that had similar thoughts and epiphanies like me. Before having my son, I was a teacher and a campus minister. I have been a catechist for awhile, and studying catechetics for the last few years. Over and over, I have found delight and inspiration in two saints who could be called the “education saints”. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Bosco made it their missions to educate and form young people from all different backgrounds. They are true saints for catechists and educators.
St. John Bosco was born in Italy in 1815 to a poor family, spending most of his childhood as a shepherd. He was ordained a priest in 1835 and was assigned to Turin, where he witnessed the terrible conditions of children and the poor. Many were in prison, homeless and poor, and were left on the streets. He resolved to start an oratory for boys, where he could help those who felt hopeless and give them a future. He began by organizing outings, Mass, teaching from the catechism, prayers, and games on Sundays.
The oratory, modeled after St. Philip Neri’s model, started with just 20 boys and grew to a huge number today, under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales. Many boys from the area applied for admission and Bosco offered some night sessions for other boys. Despite the oratory’s location moving several times, they finally secured a home with a dormitory for the boys. With the help of Bosco’s mother, known as Mother Margaret (she sold her home, possessions, jewelry, etc. to help make her son’s dream happen!), they opened the Saleisan Home. Out of this initial oratory, Bosco established a religious community of priests and teachers, and a church building.
The Unique Style at the Oratory
It wasn’t just the founding of this oratory that changed the culture of Turin, but it was Bosco’s educational method. He was such a well-rounded person that he was able to teach a variety of subjects and help students explore their interests. Music, art, drama, languages, math and frequent opportunities for Mass and confession defined the boys’ education at the oratory. Bosco insisted on being friend and father to the boys, and instilled that in all of his instructors. Punishment was rarely used at the oratory. He believed in striving for virtue and teaching the boys how to use their education to do that. He believed kindness could produce boys with saintly character, and he believed boys should also be allowed to play often.
When St. John Bosco died in 1888, there were 250 oratories or Houses in the Salesian Society (under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales). There are now houses all over the world, and different schools, hospitals, and prisons where members of those houses minister and carry on Bosco’s mission.
Bosco’s Counter-Cultural Philosophy
John Bosco’s philosophy, called the “Preventive System” was completely counter-cultural in his time and is still unique today. In the 19th century, discipline and punishment were hallmarks of a proper education, and rarely were instructors kind or friendly to their students. In contrast, Bosco believed in reason, kindness, joy, patience, optimism, real relationships, and mutical respect. Bosco also believed his boys should have a broad education, including the arts and plenty of time to play games and have fun. Bosco, himself, knew magic tricks and juggled (which helped draw boys to the oratory).
We can take so many cues from Bosco’s style, especially as we love our students, look past their outward circumstances, and show them incredible kindness. He was able to garner the physical and financial support for his oratory because of his obvious love for people. If you’d like to read more on Bosco’s educational philosophy, I recommend this book, which outlines his “Preventive System” and tells so many excellent stories of Bosco’s life in the oratory. Also, you can always check out Bosco’s collection in our shop.
Hardship & Catholicism
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born to a wealthy, Episcopal family around the time of the American Revolution in New York City. She was well educated and would have walked among some of the Founding Fathers. She married William Seton when she was 19 and they had five children together (they also housed William’s seven brothers and sisters who came to live with them after his parents died). Not long into their marriage, William’s health and business declined. William eventually went bankrupt and contracted tuberculosis, so Elizabeth took William to Italy to see if the warmer climate would help his health.
They were quarantined in Italy, but eventually reached their friend’s home, where William died. This family, called the Filicchi’s, inspired Elizabeth by their Catholic devotion and adoration of the Eucharist. When she returned to New York, she began her journey toward Catholicism. Elizabeth joined the Church in 1805 and founded a school that almost immediately had to close because of anti-Catholic sentiment.
Moving to Maryland
Mother Seton (as many knew her) was shunned by several friends and family after joining the Church. Bishop Carroll of Baltimore encouraged her to come to his city, which was much more Catholic. She founded a school for girls in Baltimore and took vows as a religious sister there.
A wealthy convert donated land in Emmitsburg for Elizabeth to then begin a school for girls near Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, where her sons would be educated. Fr. John DuBois, founder of Mount St. Mary’s, served as Elizabeth’s spiritual adviser and encouraged her in the founding of her order, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph modeled after the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in France. The school founded in Emmitsburg was the first, free, Catholic school in the United States. Mother Seton’s Sisters of Charity continue to carry on a mission of service in many schools and hospitals throughout the country today.
The Patronness of Education
Mother Seton’s schools were very different in style from John Bosco. I imagine she was a strict and strong teacher, but she also deeply loved the girls that came to her school. They faced terrible conditions in rural Emmitsburg when they were first starting the school, but Mother Seton’s fortitude and charismatic teaching brought girls from all over the country, causing both her school and order to grow. The girls were well-read, learned languages, music, art, and embroidery for free at Mother Seton’s school. Teachers can learn so much from this formidable woman and her commitment to give even the poorest of children a decent education.
Like Bosco’s philosophy, Mother Seton believed in a well rounded education for her girls and welcomed girls from all backgrounds. The Seton Shrine is a great place to visit because Mother Seton’s relics are housed in the basilica there. Her medal is also available in our shop.
Saints for Catechists & Educators
There is so much to admire, glean, and emulate in these two saints for catechists and educators. By invoking their patronage and intercession in our ministry and teaching, we could see our teaching transform and grow. Their work ethic, their commitment to teaching any and all students, and their broad educational philosophy can inspire us as we form the next generation in the faith and in life.
Share these saints for catechists and educators with your favorite teacher or catechist and visit our shop to find their medals.