This book was written at the turn of the 20th century for Catholic teaching nuns. It is called The Catholic Teacher’s Companion – A book of Inspiration and Self-Help by Rev. Felix M. Kirsch, O.M.C. (1924). The lessons between the covers are valuable for parents, educators and all who work with children.
Part One is here.
Especially in these latter days when religion has been crowded almost entirely even out of Catholic homes, must we turn to our Catholic teachers to imbue our children with a deeply religious spirit.
The Catholic teacher must largely take, in this regard, the place of a Catholic mother. The children in our schools must therefore not be put on starvation diet, getting but little bits and scraps now and then, but must wax strong on wholesome, substantial spiritual nourishment, and must, above all, breathe continually the ozone of a truly religious atmosphere.
Now, who will charge the classroom with religious influences if not the Sister who there presides? And how can she do so unless she first of all has been fully charged with this spirit?
It is an old-time truism, Nemo dat quod non habet—”No man can give that which he has not himself.” Teachers cannot impart what they themselves do not possess: For they must have the truth themselves, If they the truth would teach.
We shall realize the urgency of this problem when we consider how much of the temporal and eternal welfare of the pupils depends upon the teacher’s example and instruction:
A pebble on the streamlet bank
Has shaped the course of many a river,
A dewdrop on the baby plant
May warp the giant oak forever.
The teacher is unconsciously an object lesson to her pupils. From morning till evening occasions are constantly arising that will put to the test her patience, her gentleness, her prudence, her charity, her self-control, and a number of other virtues which are the natural offspring of a good religious character.
Nor is it simply in the more important actions of the day, when she is supposed to be more on her guard, that she will thus have a chance to reveal herself, but even in the most minute actions, in her every stir, and look, and word, and gesture, even in the very tone of her voice, will she proclaim whether she is a deeply spiritual woman or still amenable chiefly to natural and human impulses.
Corresponding impressions and lasting impressions, favorable or unfavorable, will naturally be produced on those who are the constant witnesses for years of every detail of her conduct. All this calls, on the part of the teacher, for unceasing efforts of self-education.
The teacher, however, who does not consider self-education and self-improvement part of her daily task, can never hope to understand the import of the education of others. The fundamental aspect of the matter was grasped by the devout and relatively unlearned religious teacher whose motto was “Since to make saints is my mission, I must be a saint myself.”
We gladly admit that, all else being equal, the teacher of religion, for instance, who knows a great deal about biology and child psychology and dogmatic theology has an ad-vantage over her learned sister; but there is not one of us who, commissioned to select a teacher of religion for a given class, would prefer a biologist or a theologian to a zealous and unassuming saint.
We all realize that the best woman to teach religion is the woman who lives religion, and that though her methods be antiquated or uncertain she still has a power in the Catholic school because she is possessed of the spirit of religion and the spirit of Jesus Christ.
THE TEACHER’S MAINSTAY
But it is not only for the sake of her pupils that the teacher must cultivate a deeply religious spirit. She needs this spirit for herself. Only great women can weather the great storms of the soul. And the great women are they who cherish the high aspirations, the visioning dreams, the deep yearnings that spring from religion.
Religion must be the mainspring of the teacher’s life. What the spring is for the watch, that religion must be for her life. Of what use a gold case, a jeweled set of works, artistic engravings, etc., if the spring be missing, or broken?
Professor Frederick Paulsen, though not a Catholic, confesses that a truly religious life is the only foundation of assured peace of soul. And the celebrated educationist, Frederick William Foerster, admits that Christ Crucified is the best solution of a teacher’s difficulties. But a greater Teacher than these has said.: “Cast all your care on Him, for He hath care of you.”
It might be well for the teacher to give special attention to what St. Francis of Sales calls the little virtues: humility, patience, meekness, benignity, bearing one another’s burdens, condescension, mildness of heart, cheerfulness, cordiality, compassion, forgiving injuries, candor, and simplicity.
Would that all our teachers would practice the virtue mentioned last, in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi! Yes, Franciscan simplicity would mean the end of so many needless worries.
Here is a teacher breaking her head over many problems. The Superior seems to be displeased with her. The Pastor, too, evidently has a bone to pick with her. Then, one of the Sisters did not greet her this morning with her usual cordiality. Many of the pupils are likewise, as it seems, losing confidence in her. And so the weary list continues, and robs the distressed Sister of all her peace of soul.
St. Francis was not disturbed by any such vanities. He would under the circumstances regard his Superior with the same reverence as before. He would cooperate with the Pastor as though nothing had happened. He would treat his fellow-Religious with the same brotherliness as heretofore.
He would continue to regard the pupils with ever increasing affection. He would, in a word, be disturbed by nothing. He would continue ever the same Brother Joy. For in his eyes all was infinitely simple.
Let the teacher act likewise. Let her not bother about others, but be herself. There will always be some to approve and some to disapprove, no matter what she does or does not do. In all her needs the religious teacher should have recourse to prayer.
Sr. M. Giralomo, a successful teacher of teachers, was in the habit of telling the candidates for the profession: “A Christian teacher should speak a hundred times as much to God about her pupils, as to her pupils about God.”
Another teacher worded the same advice thus: “When in doubt play trumps.” One with God is a majority, and as long as the Sister prays she need fear no difficulties no matter how formidable.
Shakespeare paid his tribute, in Measure for Measure, to the potency of the Sister’s prayer:
Not with fond shekels of the tested gold,
Or stones, whose rates are either rich or poor
As fancy values them: but with true prayers,
That shall be up at heaven, and enter there,
Ere sunrise: prayers from preserved souls,
From fasting maids, whose minds are delicate
To nothing temporal.
Yes, the praying School Sister is a wonderful power for good, and her influence endures long after her boys and girls have passed out of her schoolroom. It is she who inspires letters like the one written by a soldier-boy on the eve of his departure from France: DEAR SISTER:
I have seen much of the evil side of life. I have come close to things that you know nothing of. But I want to tell you that I haven’t done one thing of which you would be ashamed.
The memory of such a Sister has been the mainstay of thousands of men and women fighting the grim battle of life. Hence we do not find it strange that a British Inspector of Schools expressed his conviction that “it would be ideal if all England could be taught by nuns.”
If our Catholic young men and women, who are aiming to lead a virtuous celibate life in the world, understood how much spiritual comfort, strength and consolation they would derive from the monastic or conventual life, by consecrating themselves to it in lowliness of mind and uprightness of heart, our monasteries and convents would not have to be clamoring for candidates to do the work of God and religion they are most eager to do, much of which must be left undone because of the lack of laborers. -Rev. Fulgence Meyer, 1924, Painting Ferdinand Georg Walmuller, 1700’s
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