The term essential worker has entered our thoughts and conversations. These are the people who for two months have been sustaining the rest of us. The organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests calling them life-sustaining workers, and with good reason. They care for the body, whether in hospitals, on farms, in grocery stores, through restaurants—but of course, their care goes beyond the body.
And then there are the essential and life-sustaining workers we know as teachers. They are taking care of the mind, to be sure, but much more. They care for the soul. Saint John Baptist de La Salle honed in on this point early and often with the first teachers: “He has entrusted you especially with the care of their souls, which is what God had most at heart when he made you the guides and guardians of these young children” (Med. 203.3). As it was for them so it is for us, this essential attention to the whole person.
De La Salle uses Biblical metaphors to illustrate the quality of the teacher’s care: the good shepherd, ambassadors and ministers of Christ, faithful stewards, visible angels, successors of the Apostles, master builders—and that is the short list. Each of these reveal the heart of De La Salle’s vision, that each person be known and honored, cherished and cared for by their teacher. Such is the centrality of the teacher that Greg Kopra, District of San Francisco New Orleans director of formation for mission, helpfully reminds us that “De La Salle is the Patron Saint of All Teachers. He is not the patron saint of schools, nor is he the patron saint of students, nor is he the patron saint of education—he is the Patron Saint of Teachers. His attention to teachers and educators is a defining characteristic of his charism as a Founder.”
I’ve been awed by the daily examples of teachers throughout our Lasallian educational network caring for souls during this dark night of the virus. Totino-Grace and Calvert Hall gathering faculty and students virtually for connection and conversation; twinning coordinators in our Region continuing to connect with ministries in the Lwanga District of Africa; virtual retreats such as those offered by La Salle College High School and Saint Mike’s; Manhattan College and De La Salle North Catholic reaching out to students through encouraging videos; Villa des Jeunes keeping young people motivated through social media; Montini and Saint Paul’s and many others planting signs on lawns to honor graduates; La Salle School (Albany) finding ways to keep at-risk youth in the residential program healthy and engaged, while offering virtual counseling to those in the outpatient program; San Miguel High School, Saint Patrick’s, Archbishop Rummel and La Salle University offering prayer and encouragement; De La Salle “Oaklands,” La Salle Prep and Mullen and countless others offering tuition assistance. And then there was Brother Joel McGraw, completing 52 years of teaching, 51½ of them in person and ½ online, saying goodbye to the seniors who drove slowly through campus on the occasion of their completing four years at Christian Brothers High School (Memphis).
Without overlooking their ingenuity and resolve that made distance learning relevant and purposeful—especially when online teaching wasn’t possible—this is a very short list of what care of souls has looked like since we have had to stay home. Taken together, this is what teachers have been doing to make these disjointed days decipherable and meaningful and therefore lessons in life.
Maybe that is why May 15 feels different this year. We still honor Saint John Baptist de La Salle as patron, as the one whose life and vision transformed the educator’s vocation. This year though, it seems that the focus should be on the people (including all of those parents who were conscripted into homeschooling!) who live this vocation with the passion that De La Salle called out of them. Their daily work of caring for souls, so often hidden from view, can now be seen for what it is: holy and heroic work.
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
To see more of how Lasallians are responding, visit our COVID-19 page and search #LaSalleCOVID19 on social media to see highlights from around the world.