NEW ORLEANS – In their daily effort to know and care for the young among them, those who are called to teach in Catholic schools and religious training programs have the incredible privilege of teaching “as Jesus done,” Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory M. Aymond said.
He made the remarks at the April 19 opening mass of “NCEA 2022,” which drew 2,000 Catholic school administrators, teachers, pastors and other education professionals to Crescent City.
It was the National Catholic Educational Association’s first large-scale in-person event since the global pandemic began.
Referring to the Gospel of St. John in which Mary Magdalene worries to discover the empty tomb – and does not recognize the risen Christ until he calls him by name – Bishop Aymond said that those involved in the Catholic education ministry should also be always ready to call each student by name.
These educators must also model the patient and unwavering love of Christ for those who come to school sad, fearful or confused, he said.
“We can only imagine the range of emotions, within minutes, that ran through Mary Magdalene’s mind and heart,” Bishop Aymond said. “She was crying, she was confused (and) she was in shock when she finally saw (Jesus).”
Once Mary Magdalene recognizes him, Christ asks him to come out and announce his resurrection to others. Likewise, Catholic educators and trainers are dispatched daily to share the joy of the resurrection with their students and let each one know that he or she is God’s beloved child, Bishop Almond said.
It is Catholic educators – no matter what title they hold or what subject they teach – who are on the front lines with young people who face a myriad of challenges that could include illness, financial distress, divorce , special learning needs, bereavement, suicide and substance abuse, the Archbishop said.
They are the key people when their students and parents ask them, “Where is Jesus in all of this?”
“We walk with the students; we walk with teachers, administrators, parents and families,” Bishop Aymond said. “We are called in our daily lives and in our daily ministry to call others by name – in the classrooms, in the schoolyards, in our hallways, in the cafeteria, on the bus route and wherever we are… to bring the risen Christ to others and to bring them to the risen Christ.
The keynote speaker for the April 19-21 conference was Father Rodney “Tony” Ricard, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in New Orleans and a teaching veteran for more than 30 years.
He urged Catholic educators not to be too harsh or dismissive of the children and adolescents in their care.
“Since we know neither the hour, nor the place, nor the time when the Master will return, it is better that we treat each child as if he were the returning Christ”, or we risk learning the Day of the Judgment that we treated Jesus Himself as a “person”.
“If we say true to what God calls us to be, not only will we be safe in heaven (ourselves), but ultimately we have to convince our children that they will be there with us too,” he said. declared Father Ricard. “We have to convince them that one day they will put on a dress (in heaven); they are going to put on new shoes; and they will certainly wear a crown!
The priest said the primary job of teachers and administrators is to help their students “know who they are” and then challenge them to follow the unique path God has laid out for them.
“So many people try to convince them that they are not destined for greatness,” Father Ricard said, noting that teachers and other school leaders are often so caught up in their own titles, power and preconceptions that do not recognize the imperfect. little saints before them.
“(It’s not about us) – it’s about that snotty-nosed 3-year-old boy who walks into your pre-K,” he said.
“It’s about this fourth grader who’s just ‘trying to find herself’ with the attitude; it’s about this high school kid trying to navigate his way between who he is and how God created him,” he continued. “It’s about this high school kid who’s so scared to graduate because for the last 13 years of his life, the only time he could eat a full meal was this breakfast and this lunch. at school.”
Father Ricard said that even Mary and Joseph – the first teachers of Jesus – sometimes underestimated the greatness of their child.
To make his point, he read St. Luke’s gospel account of Jesus being found in the temple after a frantic search by his parents and “astonishing” the temple elders with his knowledge of the scriptures.
Those listening to 12-year-old Jesus “had no idea who this little boy was,” Father Ricard said.
“My brothers and sisters, my challenge to you is so simple: remember who you belong to,” the priest said. “When you walk through the doors of your school, remember who you belong to; when you walk into your classrooms, remember who you belong to — but don’t think you’re the only one who belongs to God!
“Never take it for granted that Jesus – the Christ – might just be sitting in your classroom!”
In his welcoming remarks, Lincoln Snyder, President and CEO of the NCEA, thanked Catholic educators for being powerful examples of “servant leadership” who have lovingly guided their students through the pandemic.
Snyder noted that more than 100,000 Catholic educators in grades K-12 tenaciously taught students, in person, for the majority of the pandemic. Their sacrifices and skills ensured the continued spiritual, academic and social development of their students as other school systems remained mired in less effective, mostly virtual instruction.
Thanks to the strong in-person academics, spiritual backbone, strict security measures and family atmosphere of Catholic schools, Catholic schools have welcomed more than 60,000 new students in the past two years, enrollments of K-12 students jumped from 1.62 million to 1.69 million, Snyder said.
“Catholic schools have done better than anyone to prevent learning loss during COVID – our students have continued to grow (as if there was no COVID. Catholic schools led the way! says Snyder .
The collective wisdom needed to bridge the learning gaps among students who have not done as well during lockdowns and quarantines “is right here in this room,” he added.
“No one is better prepared than us to model the way forward,” Snyder said. “We have shown that it is possible to operate schools safely and efficiently in a pandemic and limit the harm to our children.”
Donze is an editor for the Clarion Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.