During the “back to school” season, media outlets serve a feast of stories about students returning to the classroom while little (if any) “back to school” attention is paid to educators.
In Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini’s writings to her Missionary Sisters who were teachers, she regularly reaffirms the vocation of education, while instructing on the best qualities for educators. And Mother Cabrini wasn’t pontificating from inexperience. She was a classroom teacher before becoming a religious and foundress, so she knew the classroom firsthand. This gives her teachings on teaching more gravitas because, as Pope Francis said recently, “If you’re a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” Or applied to this case, if you’re the teacher, you have to smell like chalk.
In “Mother Cabrini: Italian Immigrant of the Century,” biographer Mary Louise Sullivan, MSC, writes, “While Frances Cabrini did not write any educational treatises, she did prepare a small booklet of regulations (‘Regolamento’) for students of her schools.” Sullivan later provides extracts from what she called the “little pamphlet of job descriptions prepared for her [Mother Cabrini’s] schoolteachers, her prefects in residential institutions and the local religious superiors.” The extracts Sullivan includes of Mother Cabrini’s “Regolamento” are:
Fashion the hearts of the students to a love of religion and the practice of virtue.
Safeguard the children confided to you as on precious loan.
Let your example speak louder than your words.
Maintain a maternal solicitude for the children.
Study well the personalities, the strengths of the students, because one cannot presume they are all the same. Treat each one according to their capacity and the gifts they have received from God.
Seek to form character.
Do not embarrass, correct patiently.
Do not show dislike either in words or actions.
Do not speak of the students’ defects to others.
Use all possible diligence to plan your schoolwork at the beginning of the year. Always be ready to answer to educational authorities and satisfy the families of the students.
See that the environment is clean and well ordered.
Similarly, in “Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini,” biographer Mother Saverio De Maria, MSC, quotes a 1906 letter from the Saint where she wrote that teaching “…will reform habits, educate the heart, and form sound character.” In that same letter, Mother Cabrini reminds her Sister-teachers, “…from you will emanate an influence that will benefit and educate in the truest sense of the word—and so equally great will be the good you have wrought.”
Submitted by Christopher Grosso, Senior Writer, Cabrini College