(Given on the Memorial of Ss. Timothy & Titus at Trenton Catholic Academy)
Can anyone tell me who St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was? She lived over 200 years ago, and is the first American born saint. She was a wife and mother, and later, after her husband died, she started a group of religious sisters called the Daughters of Charity.
What about St. John Neumann, can anyone tell me who he was? He lived over 150 years ago, and while born in Europe, as a young man he came to the United States and became a priest. He eventually became the Archbishop of Philadelphia.
OK, now the tough question, what do St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann have in common? OK, your right, they are both saints, but that was too obvious. We also celebrated their feast days earlier this month. But the thing that they are both most remembered for is their work in starting Catholic schools in the United States.
Catholic schools have educated millions of children here in the United States, both Catholic and non-Catholic, since they were started over 200 years ago. Students who attended Catholic schools have become scientists, artists, business leaders, members of Congress, and at least one President. While often requiring a financial sacrifice on the part of parents, parents are willing to make such a sacrifice because they know the values and education that Catholic schools provide, fostering the future leaders of this country and they want their children to get some of that.
This year’s theme for Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Community, Faith, Knowledge and Service — these are four hallmarks of the Catholic schools. It is important that we look at each of them so that we can appreciate them more.
What is a community? Is it just a group of people? Some seem to be saying “yes,” but have you every ridden on a public bus or gone to the movies? You are with a group of people in both of those situations, but they are not communities. The word community implies that the group of people share something in common, that they have a relationship with each other. In a sense they share aspects of their lives together, even caring for each other.
Are we a community here at Trenton Catholic Academy? You bet we are!!! You just have to look in our classrooms, the cafeteria, even the hallways when classes are changing. You see students talking and laughing and sharing their lives with each other. One special gift we have here is that we have both an upper and lower school. While some might say they are two separate communities, but they would be wrong. It is clear that both sets of students interact with each other, the older students often looking out for and helping the younger ones, and the younger students bringing much joy to the older students. WE ARE IRON MIKES!
OK, what is faith? Simply it is belief in God. It is a belief that God has made each and every one of us, and that He loves each of us and wants us to be happy with Him, both now and in heaven. Faith is not just a matter of the intellect giving assent to some doctrines, nor is it some warm, happy feelings about Jesus and God. Faith is about our whole lives; the decisions we make and how we live our lives. It is a commitment to always not only make room for God in our lives, but to make God the center of our lives.
Here at TCA we are people of faith. We see it by how we pray every day; at the start of the school day, at the end, and before and after lunch. We see it in our classrooms, not only in our religion classes, but in how our faith informs our discussions in all fields.
This relates to next hallmark of Catholic schools — knowledge. Who can tell me what knowledge is? Basically, knowledge in reliable information that we get either through intellectually inquiry (study) or through personal experience. The aim of all knowledge is ultimately God; understanding Him and His will to the best of our ability. God gave us reason as an important tool for getting to know Him and the world He created. But God also knew that our reason would be limited, so He also gives us knowledge through revealing Himself to us: first through the prophets, and then finally by sending His only Son, Jesus.
As a school, TCA obviously places a high value on knowledge. Our teachers are excellent; not only because they have a lot of knowledge themselves, but because they love you students and do their very best to share their knowledge with you. And it must be working; we just have to look at our graduates, almost all of whom go on to good colleges, and many of them win scholarships because of the academic excellence they have already shown. Catholic schools have always been known for being better than public schools in getting students into college, and TCA is no exception.
Finally, let’s look at service. What is service? Helping people, right? Yes, we are called to help those who are most in need, but that does not always mean giving them what they ask for. Rather, what they want may not be what they really need. In Catholic schools, through our faith and knowledge, discerned in our communities, we try to see how best to help those in need. Our goal is not merely to help them with they physical need, but with their spiritual needs. While helping to feed the hungry, and care for the sick, service is ultimately aimed at helping those in need get to heaven.
Another word for service is charity, and St. Paul teaches us that charity begins at home. I have already mentioned the many services you students provide here in our TCA home. From tutoring, mentoring, coaching, walking to the bus, to helping open lunches, our students always are looking out for each other because they know that God loves each of us. But our service does not stop there. We visit the sick and elderly in the hospital and nursing homes. We go to the Trenton Areas Soup Kitchen to help feed the hungry. We collect clothing for those who need it. There are just too many service opportunities here at TCA to mention them all, but through all of them we give witness to Jesus’ love and compassion and mercy to even the least of our brothers and sisters.
Catholic schools in general, and we here at Trenton Catholic Academy, have much to be proud of, so we should spend a week celebrating. How fitting that we begin our celebration with Mass, a celebration of thanksgiving to God for all His blessings. So let the celebration continue with great joy and cheer.