True to their heritage, Sisters educate in the faith
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
Oh, so many years ago, while studying Latin in high school, I learned that the word education comes from the two Latin words ex and ducere. Ducere means to lead and the preposition ex can be translated from or out of. Thus the etymology of education indicates that one is leading forth or out. The implication at the time was that the teacher was leading us out of ignorance into learning or knowledge. It also implied that each was being led into knowledge out from our own life experience.
In the early years, our congregation had as one of its primary purposes the education of immigrant children. The early pioneer Sisters in the United States not only kept the day and night hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament as well as providing a subsistence living for themselves and the priests and brothers of the Precious Blood, they also helped the German immigrant parents in Ohio pass on their Catholic faith by teaching the catechism. Bishops of that era, as concerned as they are today about the religious formation of Catholic children, began a Catholic school system which eventually embraced the entire country and preserved the faith of many generations. In this extensive system Sisters taught the three Rs: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic in addition to the fourth R: religion.
As time progressed, education, which seemed to reside in the marrow of our ministerial bones, continued to be part and parcel of us as Sisters of the Precious Blood. Our Sisters taught not only in the classrooms of parish Catholic elementary schools, but also in some public school classrooms where Catholics predominated. Sisters taught both in parish and centralized Catholic High Schools as well as colleges and universities. Eventually, for some, their experience and training in education began to shift away from the classroom to teaching in or coordinating parish programs for religious education, youth ministry and adult faith formation. Other needs presented themselves and Sisters began to teach in prisons, adult literacy centers, with at-risk youth and in spiritual care programs in hospitals and elder care facilities. Former teachers found themselves asked to give retreats and parish missions, and they aptly applied their skills of organizing and “leading forth” to sharing the beauty and wisdom of our Catholic faith story.
Educating others in the faith is part of “telling a story,” and our Christian story is far less about “dos and don’ts” and much more about the morality that the Divine Love incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ impels us to do and say. We cannot authentically teach religion without having first encountered the One who was born in a stable in Bethlehem and ultimately gave his life Blood that we might be saved for eternal union with God. And once we have experienced that encounter, everything we do is changed. Raising and teaching children, working with hands or minds, healing the sick, attending the dying or leading people out of ignorance to knowledge is done differently by those who know not only who they are but Whose they are.
Once a teacher, always a teacher, one might say. The recent murder of 20 children, their principal and teachers, on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., struck a deep chord of grief with many. No more so than with our Sisters at Salem Heights, many of whom are retired teachers and principals. Recognizing the unspoken bond of solidarity with those who lost their lives and with those who must go on having experienced such violence prompted the Sisters to reach out with prayers, a donation and personal notes which were sent to the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic church in Newtown. To the world this may seem an insignificant gesture, accomplishing little. In light of the gift of the Precious Blood of Jesus, however, we are led from ignorance to the mystery of the life-giving and reconciling power that His Blood offers the world.