The following article was contributed by Justin McClain, Theology teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland.
Here we are, in the midst of a new academic year. There is excitement in the air, as well as a late-summer “natural apprehension” about what the new school year will bring. As a teacher preparing to enter my twelfth year teaching a combination of theology and Spanish at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, I often find solace in making light of situations in the classroom, so that my students can be at ease with discussing such a heavy topic as theology. One such occasion comes when I have the opportunity to “stun” my students by sharing with them that Jesus never went to “school”… at least in the traditional Western sense of the term; rather, he was probably instructed by his mother, Mary, around the house, along with his [foster]father, Joseph, within his carpentry trade. Jesus would have received instruction in his local synagogue in Nazareth as well (not that he “needed” it per se [see Luke 2:41-52])!
Focusing on the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in consideration of her unique role within salvation history as attested to in Catholic educational and catechetical settings, what does she have to do with the faith life of educators in Catholic institutions? Some of us already enjoy a strong relationship with Mother Mary – she seems to follow us everywhere! For a personal example, I was privileged to attend first grade through eighth grade at Saint Mary of the Assumption School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland (Class of 1996). Also, every year, Bishop McNamara High School, my high school alma mater (Class of 2000, and where I have taught since 2006), is able to hold our commencement exercises in May (already Mary’s month) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Whether in such overt circumstances, or in more subtle ones, when we look closely, Mother Mary steadily accompanies us on our journey with her Son. The following are some ways that teachers, administrators, staff, and other members of our Catholic school communities can facilitate a stronger Marian devotion, in the interest of drawing our students closer to an awareness of how our celebration of the Blessed Mother brings ultimate honor to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
My school, Bishop McNamara High School, is sponsored by the Congregation of the Holy Cross. A feature of the Holy Cross charism is that its patrons are the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Holy Family exhibits the significance of Christ’s Incarnation pursuant to God choosing to enter the world on that first Christmas within the marital-familial setting of mother, father, and child, and the Holy Family thus serves as the archetype for this setting. Although Joseph is frequently regarded as the “Silent Saint,” since his spoken words do not appear anywhere in Sacred Scripture, Mary had a lot to say, and fortunately so. Her most famous words are found within Luke 1, i.e., at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) and the Magnificat (also known as the Canticle of Mary) (Luke 1:46-55). Catholic school educators would do well to meditate upon – and familiarize themselves with – Mary’s profound words here. We can do this not only during the Advent and Christmas seasons, but throughout the calendar year, in order to aim for humility, since this is a virtue that teachers need in no short supply.
Mary is an ongoing inspiration for Catholic school educators because she embodied that which we teachers should reflect when it comes to bringing Christ into our classrooms, and – ultimately, via our students when they graduate – into the world.
Mary was Jesus’ only follower to faithfully accompany him from his conception through the power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:35), to witnessing him perform his first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana (see John 2:1-11), to fearlessly remaining at the foot of the cross with only a few other followers of Christ (see John 19:25-27), to fellowshipping with his other followers convened between the Ascension and Pentecost (see Acts 1 and 2), and beyond, until her own Assumption into heaven. Mary is a model of selfless love, of humility, of patience, of grace, of virtue, and of courage. Ultimately, she is a model of evangelization and therefore of advocacy for the same Lord who stands at the center of the mission of every Catholic school.
There are practical ways to incorporate Marian devotion into your personal faith life and your classroom. At an institutional level, some schools feature regularly scheduled recitation of the Rosary – which was given to the Church by way of Saint Dominic – as a community. Other communities have a May Crowning ceremony or certain other services throughout May. There are numerous recently published books on Mary and Marian devotion that bring Catholic school educators to a more profound understanding of Mary: A Heart Like Mary’s: 31 Daily Meditations to Help You Live and Love as She Does by Fr. Edward Looney, Marian Devotion: Firm Foundations by Cardinal Francis Arinze, Meet Your Mother: A Brief Introduction to Mary by Dr. Mark Miravalle, Mother Mary: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis edited by Alicia von Stamwitz, Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life by Jared Dees, Why the Rosary, Why Now? by Gretchen Crowe, and many other titles on Marian devotion from a variety of Catholic publishers. After all, educators love reading and promoting literacy (or at least are supposed to)!
To strengthen bonds within your Catholic school community, there are campus ministers, theology teachers, clergy, and religious who can collaborate with educators in other content areas to find various other ways to infuse Marian devotion into your school’s broader ministerial initiatives. Ultimately, the closer your school is to Mary, the closer your school will be to forming Christian disciples. In order to support your role as a Catholic school educator within the Church, allow yourself to be inspired by Mother Mary, so that your students can better fathom the implications of the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout our Catholic educational communities. Our Lady, pray for us!