Following the Revolutionary War, pressures on Catholics eased in many states. After the war, and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights (1789) which promises freedom of religion, several states repealed anti-Catholic legislation, making Catholics full and equal citizens, protected by law and able to participate fully in society.
While a decidedly anti-Catholic mood still permeated many parts of the country, the birth of our nation presented new freedom and opportunities for Catholic Americans.
At nearly the same time as the opening of Georgetown College (1791), the very first Catholic seminary, St. Mary's, was founded in Baltimore by the Sulpician Fathers.
In 1808, a faithful and determined widow, Elizabeth Ann Seton, arrived at St. Mary's with the intention of opening a Catholic school for girls. Being a convert to Catholicism and having experienced the sting of religious persecution in her native New York, one of her dreams was to open a school where Catholics could openly practice and receive instruction in their faith.
Before arriving in Baltimore, Mrs. Seton had twice tried to open schools, only to be forced to close them. Now, having received the support of the Sulpician Fathers, she was finally able to open a Catholic school for girls next to the seminary chapel. This school flourished, drawing not only pupils, but also other women who sought to join Mrs. Seton in her work.
In 1810, Mrs. Seton received a plot of land in Emmitsburg, about two miles away. There, she and her small community founded the Academy of St. Joseph. This school, unlike the girls' school, was to minister specifically to the poor. It was the first "free," Catholic school in the country.
Founds religious order
Along with the academy, Mrs. Seton founded the religious order of the Sisters of Charity and built the motherhouse next to the academy. She was elected mother superior of the order and thus received the title of "Mother" Seton.
The Sisters continued to operate the two schools and, as their numbers grew, they came to operate more schools and orphanages in many cities including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York. This marked the beginning of the parochial school system in the United States.
Mother Seton died in 1821 and on September 14, 1975, she became the first native-born American to be canonized a saint. The Sisters of Charity are still active and today operate in over 30 dioceses in the United States.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton faced many challenges and hardships in her life. Having faced the rejection of her family when she converted to Catholicism and the intense persecution of Catholics in Massachusetts and New York, she knew what a true gift it is to be able to practice and learn about our faith. Thus, she dedicated her life to founding and running schools where faith could be taught, celebrated, and lived in a true community.
This real community, one of the marks of a Catholic school, goes further than our sense of community in the traditional or secular sense. It transcends the common sense of community, embracing not only the idea of working together and cooperating with each other, but the goal of entering into a true communion of hearts and minds in a single, unified purpose, that of helping each other along the road of this life to ultimately enter into eternal communion with God in heaven.
Thus, in the communities of Catholic schools, the goal is to join the hearts and minds of all students, teachers, parents, and parishioners, in a singular purpose, united in faith with each other and the universal Church; we support each other as we seek to know, understand, and enact God's will so that we might bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth and thus earn the Kingdom of Heaven.
This sense of community is best observed, not only in our classrooms, but outside of them as well. Our students don't just attend Mass, they participate in the Mass and help plan liturgies. They don't just receive Communion, but are challenged to allow Christ into their lives each and every day.
They don't just learn the Beatitudes; they are challenged to live them by volunteering, planning food drives and clothing drives, by making prayer chains for world peace, visiting the elderly and sick, and praying with each other each day. They don't just learn the Pledge of Allegiance, but how to pray the Rosary as well. They don't just walk the Stations of the Cross, they enact them and learn how to contemplate Christ's suffering. They don't just learn about Christ, but are challenged to emulate Him, at school, at home, in their work and in their play.
In this way, through the efforts of teachers who organize lessons, and parents who reinforce those lessons by praying with their children at home, attending weekly Mass, and setting an example through their own words and actions, as well as through the efforts of parishioners who volunteer their time and help create real life opportunities to apply learning and live the faith, the strong fibers of a true faith community are woven tightly.
Celebrating Catholic schools
This week we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. Schools throughout the Diocese of Madison are coming together as faith communities to celebrate God's inestimable love evidenced by the gifts He has given us to share with each other.
This week we celebrate the achievements of students, the talents of teachers, the perseverance of parents, and the contributions of the entire community to the formation of our students. I invite and encourage you to attend the special events planned for this week and to experience first hand why Catholic schools truly are "The Good News in Education."
May God bless you and thank you for reading.
It appears that the word "evangelization" is making a comeback. From popular books to papal encyclicals, it seems that evangelization is enjoying a rare moment in the limelight, even in the Catholic Church.
But is this evangelical fervor just a temporary phase, a fleeting blip on the expansive arc of church history? Is the impulse of evangelical Catholicism just the latest fad in a long litany of programs promising to revitalize the church?
For the growing movement of evangelical Catholicism, evangelization is not just a program or a pipedream; it's the future of our very mission.
Robert S. Rivers, in his book From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalization of the Parish, says, "Since, as Paul VI said, evangelizing all peoples is the essential mission of the church, then evangelization is not just one program among many. It is, rather, the umbrella under which all ministries are carried out. Everything we do must be seen as evangelization" (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2005).
This year the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison has elevated its commitment to this vision through its partnership with the Evangelical Catholic, a national Catholic non-profit organization headquartered right here in Madison.
The Evangelical Catholic insists upon its name because it acknowledges the central role that evangelization plays in our Catholic identity and tradition. To be Catholic is to be evangelical. To be Catholic is to embrace evangelization as the unifying element of our lives as the people of God.
It is not simply the latest trend to come down the theological pipeline. It is not a new idea to which we might assign a board or committee in our parish. It is most certainly not just something for Protestants!
Rather, the very mission of the Catholic Church is founded upon a vision of sharing the inconceivable gift of Jesus Christ with our friends, our neighbors, and our world. It is allowing the living water of God to fill our hearts to overflowing and allowing our lives to channel that divine surplus to a world in desperate need of a Savior.
Yet it is so hard to feel that living presence of Christ among us. Not only do we live in a culture that has all but lost its imagination for the transcendent, many of us are moving at such a frenetic pace that we can't slow down and smell the sweet fragrance of God that permeates all of creation.
To the woman at the well Jesus said, "If you only knew the free gift that God is offering you." If we only knew God's gift of living water that can quench our spiritual thirst and replenish our zeal for an abundant life of faith, hope, and charity.
The Evangelical Catholic helps individuals and ecclesial communities to "tap in" to the living water of Jesus Christ through a commitment to Scripture and prayer, an emphasis on real conversion and a life of discipleship, authentic Christian community, and a joyful resolve to share the treasure we have discovered through mission and evangelization. These are the essential elements of the Christian life, opening the wellspring of God's grace to nourish his people and beckon the new springtime of evangelization in the Church.
Whether in our churches, on our college campuses, or in our front yards, the future of our mission is counting on all of us to embrace the evangelical call placed on us at baptism - "Go and make disciples of all nations."
Michael Havercamp is the associate director of the Evangelical Catholic.
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Many in the pro-life movement are reluctant to make a connection between contraception and abortion.
They insist that these are two very different acts - that there is all the difference in the world between contraception, which prevents a life from coming to be, and abortion, which takes a life that has already begun.
With some contraceptives there is not only a link with abortion there is an identity. Some contraceptives are abortifacients; they work by causing early term abortions. The IUD seems to prevent a fertilized egg - a new little human being - from implanting in the uterine wall.
The pill, Depo-Provera, and the "patch" do not always stop ovulation but sometimes prevents implantation of the growing embryo. And, of course, the RU-486 pill works altogether by aborting a new fetus, a new baby. Although some in the pro-life movement occasionally speak out against the contraceptives that are abortifacients, most generally steer clear of the issue of contraception.
This seems to me to be a mistake. I think that we will not make good progress in creating a society where all new life can be safe, where we truly display a respect for life, where abortion is a terrible memory rather than a terrible reality, until we see that there are many significant links between contraception and abortion and that we bravely speak this truth.
We need to realize that a society in which contraceptives are widely used is going to have a very difficult time keeping free of abortions since the lifestyles and attitudes that contraception fosters create an alleged "need" for abortion.
Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, a Supreme Court decision that confirmed Roe vs. Wade, stated, "in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception . . . for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail."
The Supreme Court decision has made completely unnecessary any efforts to "expose" what is really behind the attachment of the modern age to abortion. As the Supreme Court candidly states, we need abortion so that we can continue our contraceptive lifestyles.
It is not because contraceptives are ineffective that a million and half women a year seek abortions as back-ups to failed contraceptives. The "intimate relationships" facilitated by contraceptives are what make abortions "necessary." "Intimate" here is a euphemism and a misleading one at that. Here the word "intimate" means "sexual;" it does not mean "loving and close."
Abortion is most often the result of sexual relationships in which there is little true intimacy and love, in which there is no room for a baby, the natural consequence of sexual intercourse.
Contraception enables those who are not prepared to care for babies, to engage in sexual intercourse; when they become pregnant, they resent the unborn child for intruding itself upon their lives and they turn to the solution of abortion.
Professor Janet E. Smith is the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich. This column is syndicated by www.OneMoreSoul.com, and licensed from J. Smith.
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