This year, the Sisters and Daughters of Charity throughout the United States, including our own diocesan community, the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, are celebrating 200 years of living the vision and inspiration of Elizabeth Ann Seton.
In 1809, Mother Seton founded the American Sisters of Charity and within one year 12 women had joined her and basically became the first faculty of the Catholic school system in our country. The students in their first school included poor mountain children from their immediate area in Emmitsburg, Md., and within a short time, the sisters were teaching children, especially young women, from every economic background.
Much has happened since those early days during which our Catholic schools were born. Today we see literally thousands of schools in our country doing their very best to pass on our faith to young people and to offer them quality education which will assist them in leading good, holy and productive lives. In many cases, young people who might not have had a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty have seen their lives transformed by the dedication of committed teachers offering so much of themselves in these wonderful schools. I am proud to say that our schools have produced great leaders in our church and loyal and dedicated citizens of our country.
Our schools have also contributed much to our society not only in providing quality education, but doing so on our own without any government assistance, financial or otherwise. This is a tremendous contribution the Church has made to our society and continues to do so.
One of the major goals I set for myself when I first arrived in this diocese was to make a commitment to be a promoter and supporter of our Catholic schools.
I myself am a product of Catholic education from elementary school through college — and by the way was a student in two schools staffed by two different branches of the Sisters of Charity. I know firsthand just how great Catholic schools can be and would not have traded my experience for anything different.
Having visited a few elementary schools in our diocese in the spring of this year, I can say I was very pleased with what I saw. I celebrated Mass with the children, visited in their classrooms and met with a good number of students in small groups, and had some discussions with teachers and administration; it was an energizing experience. I look forward to visiting every one of 28 elementary schools, and four high schools — two diocesan and two private. I am confident that I will continue to find excellence in our teaching and a healthy spiritual environment in these school communities.
As we begin this new school year, we forge ahead aware of the many difficulties people face in this time of economic crisis. These difficulties will also produce an impact on our schools; in some cases families are making great sacrifices to afford the tuitions; some schools are seeing a slight drop in enrollment and everyone has to attend to the need for very careful and frugal stewardship of resources. Many parishes are offering assistance to the extent that they can: parishes too are facing some economic struggles. I believe that we all see the value of our schools and the necessity to assist them in these difficult times.
Let us all, first of all, pray for the continued success of these schools and, secondly, try to offer whatever support we can to allow this “treasure we possess” to positively affect the lives of thousands of children.
Words of thanks to so many people are quite appropriate at this time: to families who continue to make sacrifices to be part of our schools — thank you; to teachers and administration who make these schools what they are — my gratitude; to parishes who support and subsidize our schools — my appreciation for your generosity; to all who pray for our schools and offer help in any way — thank you very much.
May the Lord continue to bless our efforts! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!
Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop, Diocese of Charleston