Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

February 5, 2016

Black History Month: Fr. Augustus Tolton

The child of slaves, Fr. Augustus Tolton (1854-1897) was the first African American priest ordained to serve the Church in the United States. Facing predjudice and discrimination in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois, Fr. Tolton was assigned to the Archdiocese of Chicago. There, Fr. Tolton first led a missionary effort to African American Catholics in the basement of St. Mary's Church. Later, he founded St. Monica's Catholic Church at the corner of 36th and Dearborn on Chicago's South Side. The Church grew to have 600 parishioners.

Fr. Tolton's cause for canonization has been presented by the Archdiocese of Chicago. He has now been honored as a Servant of God.

In the month of February, as the nation celebrations Black History, take some time to share the story of Fr. Augustus Tolton with your students.

Several resources, including a detailed biography and videos on his life and the cause for sainthood, are available at a website devoted to his canonization. The video Father Augustus Tolton: The Cause for Canonization was prepared by the Archdiocese of Chicago.


January 29, 2016

An Argument Against Abortion: Using the S.L.E.D. Acronym

The following material is reprinted from Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching: Living as a Disciple of Christ by Sarah Kisling (Ave Maria Press, 2015). Share this material with your students. You may consider role playing debates between pro- and anti-abortion points of view while allowing students to practice using incorporating the evvidence using natrual reasoning that follows in the material below.

Most people would agree that killing an innocent human life is a moral wrong. A more tricky issue involves defining the meaning of human life. The Church teaches, and modern science agrees, that human life begins at the moment of conception. Would you be able to explain why this is true? Use the acronym S.L.E.D.—size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency—to help you make a good argument that an unborn baby (known scientifically as a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and fetus) and a born baby are both human persons. The acronym can help you explain why.

  • Size. A small child is no less human than an adult. An extremely tall NBA player is no more human than someone of average height. No one would argue that harming a small child is less of a crime than harming a larger one; in fact, most would argue the opposite. That an unborn child is smaller than a born child has no bearing on his or her personhood.
  • Level of development. An unborn child is certainly much less developed than a born baby. However, one’s development does not determine one’s personhood. For example, small children do not have fully developed reproductive systems. And a high school student is intellectually less developed than a college student. Does that make any of them “less” human? Of course not. Therefore, being less developed does not make an unborn baby less of a person.
  • Environment. An unborn child is in a different environment than a born child. Nevertheless, where one is should not be the determining factor in who one is. Did you stop being you when you came to school this morning? What about when you walked from your bedroom to the kitchen? Then how does a journey of a few inches down the birth canal suddenly make an unborn baby human? Obviously, it does not. Therefore, environment has no bearing on an unborn baby’s personhood.
  • Degree of dependency. An unborn baby is undeniably dependent upon his or her mother. And yet, does being dependent upon someone or something make one less human? Even young children are completely dependent upon adults to survive.  What about adults who are dependent upon medication or caregivers to live? No one would argue they are less human. Therefore, merely being dependent upon another does not make the unborn baby less of a person.

In short, the differences between an unborn infant and born one are not morally relevant; they do not make the unborn less worthy of living than any other human.

Make a plan to share what you learned in the S.L.E.D. acronym the next time you are questioned about the rights of an unborn child or the morality of abortion.

January 22, 2016

Considering Catholics in the News

Last week on the Late Show with Steven Colbert, the host and his guest, actress Patricia Heaton, had a "debate" about their knowledge of Catholicism and their Catholic identity. This is an appropriate video to play in your class. You might then use the clip as an intro to have the students research other contemporary celebrities (actors, athletes, politicians, journalists, etc.) who identify themselves as Catholic.There are several articles with lists of Catholic celebrities, often breaking them down by entertainment, athletics, and politics. Here's a more general list of famous Catholics You might have the students do a brief report or share some information about a famous Catholic in the news. Have them include some quotes from the person that refer to their Catholic faith.



January 18, 2016

How Do You "Love One Another"?

In the Last Supper discourse recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:12-13).

In dying on the Cross, Jesus gave the greatest gift of love to all people and for all times. How can your students emulate this gift of love in their everyday lives? Ask them to think, first, of stories of people who have exhibited this type of love to them. Have them write a one-page essay that recounts this example. Here is one such example told by a graduating high-school senior:

My Story

We came at each other from opposite directions: I from the door leading to the girls’ locker room, he from the outer foyer leading to the gymnasium parking lot.

He was late again as he had been for so many of my special events growing up. But at least he was here. I thought about the piano recital I played in at the local college when I was eight years old. He was delivering magazines to all the airport newsstands that day. I remembered the state championship gymnastic meet when I won two gold medals. I searched for him from the victory stand. His boss had called him to work that Saturday because the quarterly reports were due.

My thoughts shifted as I neared the podium set up at the center of the basketball court. I wasn’t nervous. I moved comfortably to the microphone. “Thank you for honoring me as valedictorian of this year’s senior class,” I began. Everyone settled back in their seats to hear my speech. That’s when I saw them. Finally.

My father, sitting in the first row of the bleachers, stretched out his legs and propped his shoes up on his heels. I stared out at him hoping to catch his eye but all I could see was the holes in the soles of each shoe.

That’s when I really grasped all that my father had done. And that he had done it all for me.

January 8, 2016

New Year's Personal Inventory

The start of a new year or a new semester is a great time for your students to take inventory on their lives, looking back to the past, critiquing their present, and anticipating their future. You might use the following exercise to supplement a lesson in the early part of the semester.

  1. Share the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became an adult I put aside childish things."
  1. Say: “You, too, have put childish things aside. You are no longer the person you were in grade school or even last semester. In a sense, that person has “died” and a new person has “risen.” With that in mind, write some of your reflections to the following questions.
  1. Assign these questions for writing or discussion:
  • Think back to grade school. Describe the way you used to be, act, think, etc. (For example, an activity you no longer do, a habit you outgrew, something you are no longer afraid of.)
  • Describe the “new you” that has appeared since you started the new year or new semester. How do you think your life in the coming months will be different than it was in the preceding months? (For example, what is something new that you will try out or what is a new attitude you want to take on?)
  • As you look at your life now, what part of you do you need to outgrow (allow to die) so that you can mature even further? (For example, another attitude you need to change, a habit you need to develop, a relationship you need to improve.)

December 30, 2015

Recognizing Jesus

The Christmas season continues, even as you return to school. Have your students meditate on the humanity of Jesus and his mission. Share these words of Pope Benedict XVI. Have them complete the assignment that follows.

The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts—an unprecedented realism. In the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in God’s unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity.

 This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep,” a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: They constitute an explanation of his very being and activity.

                                                                             —Pope Benedict XVI (Deus Caritas Est, 12)

Do the following:

  • Research the meaning of the term anawim. How are the anawim another way to describe the poor in spirit? Who are anawim in your community? How can you serve them? Write a one-page essay that describes them.

December 21, 2015

Our Prayers for a Blessed Christmas

As we celebrate again
Jesus’ humble birth, we
seek, like him, to humble
ourselves in service of
others, so that not only
they, but we, too, know
the true peace, joy, and
wonder of Christmas.
—Chester Freel, C.S.C.



Three Kings artwork © Jen Norton, www.JenNortonArtStudio.com.
Text from The Cross, Our Only Hope Revised Edition
(Ave Maria Press, 2016)

December 18, 2015

The House Awakens

On the release of the new Star Wars movie.


December 14, 2015

Christmas Week Meditation and Assignments

The following Christmas meditation is adapted was written by Sr. Kieran Sawyer, SSND. Read it to your class in a moment of quiet meditation. See the assignments below as possible follow-up.


The Christmas Star: A Meditation

Imagine that is a beautiful Christmas Eve. You decide you need some space and fresh air, so you go for a walk by yourself. Imagine yourself walking along. Snow is falling gently, and the flakes float down lazily, resting on your cheeks and eyelashes. You scuff your feet as you walk cutting a new trail in the snow. It feels good to be alone. The stillness of the night seems to still your mind and your heart. Silent night, holy night, you think, humming he ancient melody softly in your mind. Continue this imaginary evening walk, sensing as deeply as you can the calm and peace of the true Christmas spirit. (Pause)


You’ve been so lost in your thought you haven’t paid much attention to where you were going. Suddenly you realize that you’ve left the city behind. You look around, trying to get your bearings. You see that you are out in the countryside, walking through gently rolling hills. It has stopped snowing and the sky is filled with stars. You look up into the sky. The stars are magnificent! One star in particular captures your attention. It’s shaped like something of a cross, and it glows with a long trail of light that seems reach all the way to earth. You think this is crazy; this is not the first century. This is [your state], not Bethlehem. But you follow the star anyway; more out of curiosity than anything else, just to see where it will take you. And sure enough, the star leads you across the field to a little cave in the side of the hill. You’re beginning to feel shy now, wondering what you’ll say to Mary and Joseph if you find them in the cave. But as you near the cave, it appears to be empty and dark. You look again at your star. Yes, it’s still pointing to this cave. You follow the star with your eyes. It moves slowly down the sky and right into the empty cave. The star fills every corner of the cave with light. You enter the cave cautiously. Everything is here the way you remember it from your childhood. Christmas books—the stable, the manger, the straw—but no animals and no Holy Family. The star hovers like a gentle light over the empty manger. You have a sense that something mysterious and holy is taking place. Somehow, God seems to be here in that cave with you. And then you realize that the empty cave is really your heart and that the star is God, waiting to be invited in. Slowly, almost fearfully, you open your arms to the star, knowing that you are opening your life to God. You feel the light lf the star flooding over you. You are in the light, and the light is in you. Your heart is filled with the gentle presence of God. (Pause.)

Spend the next few moments with Jesus, the first Christmas star, the one whose name is Emmanuel, God-with-us. God is with you. Try to let the mystery penetrate your mind. God is with you. God lives in your heart. You are the Christmas star. Know that the light of God’s love is filling your whole being, flooding your mind, your body, and your heart. (Pause.)

Think now of what it means to be a star. You have a job to do. There is a dark world out there that needs the light of god’s love. Imagine yourself leaving the cave behind and walking out into the night, back across the field toward home. Imagine the real world to which you will be returning—your family, your friendship groups, your school or work place. How can you bring the light of God to the people in that world? How can you bring true Christmas peace to your loved ones, your friends, your acquaintances? (Pause.)

As you imagine yourself getting close to home, remember that God is with you. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. Today, God so loves the world that he sends you. Ask Jesus to be with you to help you to be a Christmas star.

Possible Follow-up Activities

  • On paper heart cutouts, print the initials of anyone you have hurt (embarrassed, disappointed, made fun of, etc.). Also print the initials of people who have hurt you. Spend some time in quiet reflection praying for both groups of people.
  • Write handwritten, thoughtful Christmas cards expressing your appreciation for five people you know. With a stamp and an envelope, put the letters in the mail.
  • Sing Christmas carols together as a class.


December 7, 2015

December Days to Honor Mary

Two Marian feast days will be celebrated by the Church in the coming days.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 commemorates that Mary, from the first moment of her conception was preserved immune from Original Sin. This also means that from the first moment of her existence Mary was full of grace, that is, free of any alienation from God caused by Original Sin.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 marks the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in 1531 in Mexico City. Mary’s appearance was instrumental in the conversion of thousands of Native Americans.

Working individually or in small groups, have the students create presentations on one of these two feast days related to what they unearth for understanding about Mary. Allow time for two sessions for sharing their findings. Have the students use the following questions as the basis of their presentations:


  • How did the special date associated with this doctrine arise?
  • Is there a scriptural reference associated with this doctrine?
  • What are particular Church documents that explain this doctrine?
  • What does this doctrine teach us about Mary?
  • What does this doctrine teach us about Jesus?
  • What does this doctrine mean to the Church today?
  • What are some particular ways the Church celebrates this doctrine?
  • What is one additional interesting piece of information you discovered about this doctrine or about how the feast day is celebrated?


December 1, 2015

Student Prayers for the End of the Semester


As the semester winds down, share these prayers for student life with your own students. All are taken from Day by Day: The Notre Dame Prayerbook for Students (Ave Maria Press).

Before Study

Creator of all things,

true source of light and wisdom, lofty origin of all being,

graciously let a ray of your brilliance

penetrate into the darkness of my understanding

and take from me the double darkness in which I have

        been born,

an obscurity of both sin and ignorance.

Give me a sharp sense of understanding,

a retentive memory,

and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations,

and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and


Point out the beginning, direct the progress,

and help in the completion;

through Christ our Lord.


                                                                --St. Thomas Aquinas


Open My Mind

Lord Jesus,

you were once a student like me.

You studied God’s law, the history of your people

and a trade by which to earn a living.

You lived in a human family,

made steady progress in understanding

and yearned to discover your vocation in life.

Open my mind to the truth of things,

make me humble before the awesome mysteries of the


make me proud to be a human being and a child of God

and give me courage to live my life in the light your




Prayer Before Examinations


It seems as though our lives

are one test after another,

weighing us in somebody’s balance.

Save us from taking the coming tests

too seriously or too lightly,

but grant that we may reflect

the best of the work we’ve done

and the best of the teaching we received;

through Christ our Lord.


                                                --John W. Vannorsdall


Another Prayer Before an Exam

Dear Lord,

Sometimes I feel a little strange praying to you because

        of an exam.

It doesn’t really seem all that significant when you consider

        the “big picture.”

But right now, the test looms so large that it is all I can

        see before me.

I pray to you for three things:

        --the strength to handle the pressure I feel

        --the confidence to feel secure in my knowledge and preparation

        --and the ability to keep an appropriate perspective on it all.

Help me to keep in mind what is really important,

even as I focus all of my time and energy

on this test in the immediate future.


                                                --Dana Parisi



November 23, 2015

The Congregation of Holy Cross Celebrates Two Anniversaries in 2015

As the days and weeks of 2015 near the end, you might consider joining with the city of South Bend, Indiana, the nearby home of Ave Maria Press, on the celebration of the city's 150 year anniversary. Similarly, 2015 is the 150 year anniversary of Ave Maria Press as well. As you may know, the Press is a ministry of the Congregation of Holy Cross and is located on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

A study using the resources cited below is significant in that it highlights the year to year development of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States, and particularly in South Bend. The Congregation is unique in that it was founded as a family with three parts: priests, brothers, and sisters. There remains a large presence of Holy Cross all three--priests, brothers, and sisters--in and around South Bend, and especially at three colleges: the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College, and Saint Mary's College.

Peruse the resources below for yourself. Then take some time to share them with your students!

Ave Maria Press 150th Anniversary

Documentary: Sacred Mission-Civic Duty: The Holy Cross Family



November 16, 2015

Guided Meditation: Jesus Calms the Storm

As the weather turns from mild to severe, use this guided meditation to help your students reflect more deeply on Mark 4:35-31. After the students are quiet and settled, begin by saying “You are on the rough seas. Your boat is tossing and turning in the stormy waters. Think of the storms in your own life. Then . . .


Quiet yourself in this space.

Enjoy the silence.

Let go of the distractions.


Breathe in.


Breathe out.

Breathe in.


Breathe out.


Be still.


Let all your worries fly away.


Breathe in.


Breathe out.


Breathe in.


Breathe out.


Imagine . . .


What a great time you have had.

You and your friends have been following Jesus for days now.

You are dead tired, but still content as you find a place to rest in the boat.

Look around at the friends you have made.

Look at Jesus who is sitting at the stern.

How you admire him!

Feel the slow moving lull of the boat.

Relax as the waves gently lull the boat back and forth.

Back and forth.



Some of your friend fall asleep.

Jesus falls asleep, too.

The boat keeps moving across the lake.

You think about the day.

Your mind is just wandering.


The wind starts blowing.

You can tell it is becoming harder to row now.

The current is choppy.

The sky is now black.

Take your turn with the oars.

Work hard.

Feel the storm approaching.


The waves begin to take the boat.

The water is coming in over the sides.

Everyone is working.

Someone yells out, “Wake up Jesus.

We need his help.


Move towards Jesus.

Wake him up.


Jesus sits up and looks around.

He yells out, “Quiet” to the wind.

The wind stops.

Just like that, the water calms down and the wind disappears.

Jesus looks like he wants to go back to sleep.

What just happened?


Jesus looks at all of you and says,

“Why are you so terrified?

Why are you lacking in faith?”

A great awe overcomes you.

You wonder,

“Who is the man whom even the sea obeys?”

Sit with this wonderment.


Crawl back over to where Jesus is resting.

Approach him cautiously.

Ask him your question,

“Who are you that the sea obeys you?”

Listen to his answer.


Tell him about something in your life that is raging,

a storm in your world,

a situation that could use Jesus’ touch.

Be with him.


It is time to reenter this space.

Say good-bye for now.

Ask Jesus to lead your way to the rest of the day.

Say thank you.

Come back gently.

Open your eyes.


Sit up.


This Guided Meditation was originally published in Encountering Jesus: 20 Guided Meditations on His Care and Compassion by Patty McCulloch.


November 9, 2015

Faith Questions and the Letters of St. Paul


After St. Paul traveled the Roman empire as a missionary, converting many Gentiles to Christianity and establishing local churches, he would later be confronted by these new Christians with questions of faith and practice. Since he could not return to these areas right away, Paul would respond by letter.

Of the twenty-one letters or epistles in the New Testament, fourteen of the letters are either authored by or attributed to St. Paul. The letters addressed many of the issues of the early Church—for example, the second coming of Christ (Parousia), divisions in the Church, attitudes for worship—and others.

Have your students read and reflect on the following questions. When Scripture citations are listed, have them look them up and read them. Have them write their answers to the questions. Also, call on students to share their answers as part of a class discussion.


  • How do you imagine Christ’s second coming, the Parousia? Describe what you think would happen if Christ returned to the world today?
  • St. Paul says that Christians are not to live in darkness, but as “children of the light and children of the day” (1 Thess 5:5). How would you explain the meaning of these words to a new Christian today?
  • Apparently some Christians awaiting the Parousia had stopped working and were depending on others for food. How would you respond to people doing this? How does your response differ from the one offered in 2 Thessalonians 3:16-15?
  • Paul was critical of the Galatians for listening to bad advice and following the burdensome rules of the Jewish-Christian missionaries. Name someone you have accepted constructive criticism from? What was the advice he or she offered? What do you do to act on the advice?
  • In dealing with the Corinthians, Paul faced the problems of division in the Church. What are some factions in the Church today? What do you know about the issues, beliefs, or people they support?
  • In 1 Corinthians 1:27-34, Paul writes of the need for proper preparation before celebrating Eucharist. What attitude do you seek when you attend Mass? How do you prepare yourself to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist?
  • Paul writes that our faith is worthless unless we believe that Christ is raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:14). Do you agree? Why is the resurrection the central belief of the Christian faith?
  • Being free from the law does not allow Christians to do whatever they want. St. Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin yet live in it?” (Rom 6:2). If you knew for sure you were going to heaven after you died, how would this change the way you lived?
  • St. Paul wrote: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). When was a time you have found this to be true in your life?


November 2, 2015

All Souls’ Day and Why Catholics Pray for the Dead: A November Exercise

At the conclusion of most of our school-wide communal prayers at Bishop McNamara High School (Forestville, Maryland), we readily request “Saint André Bessette, pray for us! Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us!” These two holy men of God (the first a humble Holy Cross Brother and the second the devout founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross) are powerful intercessors to whom the members of our high school community have a deep devotion, as we likewise do to Saint Joseph and Our Lady of Sorrows, in keeping with the charism of Holy Cross. Is your Catholic school named for any particular saint(s), or does it otherwise have a devotion to particular saints and/or blesseds? If so, do your students ever ask why you communally and collectively invoke their intercession to God in heaven? Similarly, does your Catholic educational institution pray for those loved ones within your extended school community who have passed away?

November 1 and November 2 are two very special days in the liturgical life of the Church. On the one hand, we prayerfully ask the saints to intercede to God for us in a special way on All Saints’ Day (November 1), while on the other hand, we commemorate and pray for the souls of all of our faithful departed on All Souls’ Day (November 2). An interesting dynamic is that the latter of these two days likewise involves asking the saints in heaven to intercede to God for the dead whose souls might be in Purgatory. Beyond merely these two days, we can thus pray constantly throughout the year, although especially during the month of November.

The theology teacher has the ability to rely on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day as key opportunities to explain to students why (and how) the Catholic Church advocates for both asking for the intercession of the saints and praying for the dead (whose souls could be in Purgatory). There are numerous commonly-occurring misconceptions regarding the Church’s teachings on these profound theological topics, and they deserve thorough clarification. Of particular note, both practices are based on the duality of the Deposit of Faith – Sacred Scripture (stemming from passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament) and Sacred Tradition (having been Church practice for nearly two-thousand years [and even earlier if we consider the broader expanse of salvation history]). Since previous posts have focused on All Saints’ Day, below are some resources on All Souls’ Day in more particular terms, which the theology teacher can use for deepening his or her content knowledge, as well as to foster classroom discussions regarding the Church’s practice of praying for the dead. There are many resources available, but here are some prominent ones that can help guide your discussions especially throughout the month of November:

“All Saints and All Souls” by Fr. William Saunders (Courtesy of the Catholic Education Resource Center)

“All Souls’ Day” (Courtesy of the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

“What Catholics Believe: 10 Truths about Purgatory” by Valerie Schmalz, writing for Catholic San Francisco (the publication of the Archdiocese of San Francisco)

The Section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Regarding Purgatory (Paragraphs #1030-#1032)

October 25, 2015

Ten Assignments for All Saints' Week

Whereas All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1, is a feast established by the Church to honor all the saints in heaven who do not have a special day on one of the other 364 days of the year, this is also a good season to emphasize Church teachings on canonized sainthood as well.

Canonization is the process wherebythe Church officially declares that certain holy persons are saints. The process includes a detailed examination of the person's life, teachings, and works. The Church also investigates whether miracles took place through this person's intercession.

After successful scrutiny, the process proceeds to beatification, which allows the faithful to call the person "Blessed."

Finally, after the validation of further miracles, the cause of the holy person proceeds to canonization, the official enrollment on the list (canon) of saints. Today, the pope oversees the process of canonization.

All Saints Day Assignments

  1. Write three paragraphs on your patron saint.
  2. Write three paragraphs about a saint born near your family's origins.
  3. Write three paragraphs about a saint with a feast day on your day of birth.
  4. Research the story of relics stored in your parish or in a church near you.
  5. Besides beatification and canonization, what are the other steps to sainthood? Include an explanation of the other titles besides saint and blessed.
  6. Research the life of St. Ulrich of Augsburg and tell why he is important.
  7. Research the story of St. Christopher in conjunction with the reform of the Roman Church calendar in 1969.
  8. Read the story of St. Stephen in Acts 6-7. Write three paragraphs explaining his significance in a discussion about saints.
  9. Write three paragraphs about a deceased family member who you hope has taken his or her place among the saints. Include the person's date and place of birth and death and significant accomplishments.
  10. Look up the Scripture readings for All Saints' Day. Write a three-paragraph homily that ties the readings and the theme of the feast together.

October 19, 2015

Canonization of Sts. Louis and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin

On Sunday, October 18, Pope Francis canonized Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Thèrése of Lisieux. Here is information about St. Louis Martin and St. Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, reprinted from Ten Christians by Bonface Hanley, OFM:

Born in 1823 into a family of soldiers, Louis Martin spent his early years at various French military posts. He absorbed the sense of order and discipline army life engenders. His temperament, deeply influenced by the peculiar French connection between the mystical and the military, tended toward things of the spirit.

At 22, young Martin sought to enter religious life at the monastery of the Augustinian Canons of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. The blend of courage and charity the monks and their famous dogs manifested in rescuing Alpine snows appealed powerfully to Louis Martin. Alas, the Abbot insisted the young candidate learn Latin. Louis, whose bravery would have carried him to the heights of the Alps in search of a lost pilgrim, got lost among the peaks and valleys of Latin syntax. His most determined efforts failed. He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life.

Eventually Monsieur Martin settled down in Alencon, a small city in France, and pursued his watchmaking trade. He loved Alencon. It was quiet place and he was a quiet man. A lovely trout stream nearby offered Louis the opportunity to pursue his favorite recreation.

Most famous of Alencon’s 13,000 inhabitants were its lace makers. French people greatly admired the skill and talent required to produce exquisite lace known throughout the nation as “Point d’ Alencon.”

Zelie Guerin was one of Alencon’s more talented lace makers. Born into a military family in 1831, Zelie described her childhood and youth as “dismal.” Her mother and father showed her little affection. As a young lady she sought unsuccessfully to enter the convent. Zelie turned then to lace making. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with common sense, she started her own business and became quite successful. Notable as these achievements were, Zelie was yet to reveal the depth of strength, faith, and courage which she possessed.

Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin eventually met in Alencon and on July 13, 1858, Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life. Within the next fifteen years, Zelie bore nine children—seven girls and two boys. “We lived only for them,” Zelie wrote; “they were all our happiness.”

The Martins’ delight in their children turned to shock and sorrow as tragedy relentlessly and mercilessly stalked their little ones. Within three years, Zelie’s two baby boys, a five-year-old girl, and a six-and-a-half-week-old infant girl all died.

Zelie was left numb and with sadness. “I haven’t a penny’s worth of courage,” she lamented. But her faith sustained her through these terrible ordeals. In a letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zelie remembered: “When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through…. People said to me, ‘It would have been better never to have had them.’ I couldn’t stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above.”

The Martins’ last child was born January 2, 1873. She was a tender plant and doctors feared for the infant’s life. The family, so used to death, was preparing for another blow. Zelie wrote of her three-month girl: “I have no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers horribly…. It breaks your heart to see her.” But the baby girl proved a much tougher plan than anyone realized. She survived the illness. A year later she was a “big baby, browned by the sun.” “The baby,” Zelie noted, “is full of life, giggles a lot and is a sheer joy to everyone.”

Louis and Zelie named her Marie-Francoise-Thèrése Martin. A century later people would know her as St. Thèrése  and call her the “Little Flower.”

Additional Resources

News story on the canoinzation

Biographical Information on St. Louis and St. Zelie

Video of canonization

Video of miracle attributed to St. Louis and St. Zelie



October 12, 2015

How Catholic Schools Can Address the Sinful Nature of Bullying

Over the last few decades, there has fortunately arisen a greater awareness of the scourge of bullying within school settings throughout the United States. To be clear, the awareness is the fortunate aspect, while the prevalence is the obviously deleterious one. In other words, bullying is being exposed for what it is, while the sheer quantity of its occurrence remains stunning.

In a digital age ever more categorized by the trappings of the realm of virtual reality afforded by the Internet and social media, bullying now has an altogether uncharted dimension whereby much of it takes place even outside of a school’s walls. Worthwhile initiatives such as StopBullying.gov and the HRSA’s Bullying Prevention Campaign have brought the dilemma of bullying and its proposed remedial measures to national prominence, leading schools and other administrative societal frameworks to address the issue and seek possible solutions.

Catholic schools, while unfortunately hardly immune from the effects of bullying, are actually in a position to positively contribute to this significant dialogue, yet with an even greater ethos: that of the theological dynamic inherent to the consideration of the sinful nature of bullying, which is opposed by way of a call to virtue as its true alternative. Listed below are four ways that Catholic school teachers, administrators, and other personnel within the school community can encourage their students to not only stop bullying or condoning the behavior of [would-be] bullies, but to likewise deter and dissuade students from otherwise contributing to such inappropriate comportment by encouraging them to seek justifiably righteous demeanors instead. These suggestions are not necessarily programmatic or systematic, but they will reliably help to confront the heart of the matter of bullying: the requirement that we recognize that our neighbor is likewise made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). As such, these recommendations may initially appear to be fodder for cynicism, but an uplifting and optimistic approach imbued with Christian principles is due for consideration, and can yield highly affirmative results in order to facilitate enduring peace in our schools.

  1. Familiarize yourself, and share with your students, scriptural passages related to the Christian way to approach others. Have your students reflect on these, perhaps in written form, such as in a prayer journal or within the context of a more extensive essay. A few (of the many) passages to consider, in canonical order, include the following (courtesy of the New American Bible, Revised Edition):          


  1. Remind your students of how school is meant to be a safe place. This statement may seem trite, but students must recall that being at school implies being in a secure location, both physically and socially. Feeling isolated, whether through intentional exclusion, is not a normal condition, and there are many support networks available for them, including your school’s guidance office, campus ministry, or another outlet that will allow them to express their concern and to build up positive relationships with others.
  1. If you notice that a student is, or has become, particularly withdrawn, emotional, sensitive, or similarly out of his or her typical character, speak to his or her guidance counselor or to a school administrator. Your student might be dealing with a considerably concerning situation, either within or outside of school, that deserves attention.
  1. Pray. Jesus taught us the need to pray consistently, particularly during a trial or set of difficult circumstances: “Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Bullying has been a disordered specter within humanity for a multitude of generations, yet we must steadily recall that Jesus himself knew revulsion and mistreatment at the hands of his tormentors, and he of course has provided us with the epitome of a Christian response – one laden with prayer (read Matthew 27:46 [and Mark 15:34] in light of the extent of Psalm 22 [often denoted as the “Prayer of an Innocent Person”]). Bullying can ultimately only be counteracted with the love which must typify our Catholic educational institutions. After all, as Jesus reminds us: “‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’” (Luke 6:31). And just how seriously does Jesus take our expectation to treat everyone else in a Christian manner? In comparison to this passage from Luke’s Gospel (6:31), how fitting that the version in Matthew’s Gospel, the great “teaching Gospel,” features the added attestation that the Lord holds this Christian outlook to be so crucial that he further asserts that “‘this is the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, against injustice, God commands us to have love for others.

October 5, 2015

Theology Teacher Resource: RelEdNewsletter

Mr. Charles Beech, a theology teacher at Christian Brothers High School in St. Louis, prepares RelEdNewsletter a monthly update of lessons, resources, and activities that are a very helpful supplement to a theology teacher's library. You can view this month's collection and information on how to subscribe to the RelEdNewsletter here.



September 28, 2015

Celebrating God's Creation

In thankfulness for Pope Francis' journey to the United States and his reminders of the need to love, appreciate, and care for God's creation (especially in his recent encyclical Laudato Si) share these poems by Anne Sexton and e e cummings with your students. Background information on the authors, the reading, and follow up assignments are taken from The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith Through Literature, Art, Film, and Music.

Welcome Morning

Anne Sexton

Author Background

Anne Sexton (1928–1974) continually struggled with depression. Several times she attempted suicide and underwent many treatments to help improve her mental illness. Writing poetry helped her deal with her emotions in a creative way. Her poems reflect the joys, sorrows, and struggles of her personal life. Anne Sexton was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Near the end of her life, she was drawn to Catholicism, and her religious interest is seen in many of these later poems, especially those found in the collection The Awful Rowing Toward God.

Before the Reading

“Welcome Morning” is one of the most joyous poems in American literature. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton experienced God’s presence in the simplest pleasures, as is represented in the verses that follow.

Welcome Morning

There is joy

in all:

in the hair I brush each morning,

in the Cannon towel, newly washed,

that I rub my body with each morning,

in the chapel of eggs I cook

each morning,

in the outcry from the kettle

that heats my coffee

each morning,

in the spoon and the chair

that cry “hello there, Anne”

each morning,

in the godhead of the table

that I set my silver, plate, cup upon

each morning.


All this is God,

right here in my pea-green house

each morning

and I mean,

though often forget,

to give thanks,

to faint down by the kitchen table

in a prayer of rejoicing

as the holy birds at the kitchen window

peck into their marriage of seeds.


So while I think of it,

Let me paint a thank-you on my palm

For this God, this laughter of the morning,

Lest it go unspoken.


The joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,

Dies young.


i thank you God for most this amazing

e e cummings


Author Background

e e cummings (1894–1962) is known for his unique use (and non-use) of capitalization in grammar. He was born in Massachusetts to a middle class family who had great appreciation for the arts. His father was a Unitarian minister. Cummings was educated at Harvard and then served as an ambulance volunteer in France during World War I. Cummings was an enormously popular as both a poet and a painter during his lifetime.

Before the Reading

Familiarity often prevents us from seeing. Try to remember your excitement about first seeing the ocean, or flying in a plane, or tasting an ice cream cone. Compare those experiences to your experiences of the same events today. Why has the sense of wonder and joy gone? By using grammar and the lack of capitalization in his own idiosyncratic way, e e cummings takes the worn phrase, “thank you, God,” and makes us see that act of gratitude in a new and explosive way.


i thank you God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Reading for Comprehension

  1. How is God known to Anne as she grooms herself upon awakening? As she eats her breakfast?
  2. What does Anne feel called to do when she realizes that God is present everywhere?
  3. What does the poet feel called to do with the experiences that she has had?
  4. What are the only words that are capitalized in e e cummings’ poem?

Reading for Understanding

  1. How does the choice of capitalization provide a clue for getting at the main idea of Cummings’ poem?
  2. Philosophers and theologians tell us that God reveals himself through our senses. Give four examples of how this is expressed in the poems by Sexton and Cummings?
  3. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear” (Lk 8:8). What lines in Cummings’ poem refer to this biblical text?
  4. Is it possible for one to look without seeing or to hear without listening? How are racial, religious, and gender prejudices examples of this?
  5. Ecstatic joy is a common phenomenon among saints. What is it about their “seeing” that causes this joy?


  • In many ways, Anne Sexton’s poem is a modern version of the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s song of praise found in the Gospel of Luke (1:46–55). Read the Magnificat and Sexton’s poem, and then compose your own “song of praise,” listing several things for which you are grateful to God.

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