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Catholic Schools and the Saints of January

To Teach as Jesus Did:

Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee


January 11, 2017

As we begin a new year and the run-up to Catholic Schools Week at the end of January, it strikes me as more than coincidental that, during this same month, we’re brought face-to-face with at least four saints with a significant connection to Catholic schools.

On January 4 we celebrated the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774 – 1821), the founder of Catholic education in the United States.  After her husband’s death from tuberculosis, she accepted the invitation from a priest in Baltimore to start a school in his parish and went on to found the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.  With her canonization in 1975, Mother Seton became the first native-born saint of the United States.

The gate of heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

The next day, on January 5, we turned our attention to St. John Neumann (1811 – 1860), the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and the founder of the first network of parochial schools in our country.  Bishop Neumann, who also established a teaching order of sisters, was canonized in 1977.

Everyone who breathes…has a mission, has a work.  We are not sent into this world for nothing.  St. John Neumann

January 24 is the feast of St. Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), doctor of the Church and patron of our own St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.  It was the goal of St. Francis to renew the Church by raising the level of spirituality among the faithful.  We owe endless gratitude to the thousands of priests, formed at St. Francis de Sales Seminary and elsewhere, whose sacrifices and support enabled Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to thrive over the past 175 years.

The measure of love is to love without measure.  St. Francis de Sales

On January 31, we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco (1815 – 1888), a priest who had felt called from his earliest years to care for poor and “unruly” boys.  After his ordination, he organized classes to teach practical skills and prepare young men for employment.  Eventually he formed a new congregation, named after St. Francis de Sales, that became another highly influential teaching order in the Church. 

I have promised God that until my last breath I shall have lived for my poor young people.  St. John Bosco

As we remember, admire, and strive to imitate these four saints, among countless others who are our “ancestors” in Catholic education, let us pray, especially during the upcoming Catholic Schools Week, to be worthy of their profound legacy, now entrusted to us.  In particular, we call to mind those women and men who, by their own saintly lives, laid the foundation for the remarkable Catholic school communities in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee we continue to lead, teach and love.


A blessed Catholic Schools Week to all!

Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools

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