Ever wonder why homeschooling is so popular among Catholic families?
Or do you know about the close connection between homeschooling and the life of religious communities?
Consecrated Religious life – that of friars, sisters, brothers and priests – has had a great influence on the education of children over the centuries and even formed the educational systems that nurtured societies for so many generations.
The great theologian St. Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD, exerted a strong influence in early styles of religious life. After his conversion to Christianity and baptism, he formed a community of consecrated men. His Rule of St. Augustine formed a set of principles of consecrated persons living together. It centered around community, love and the human heart. His rule has been followed by many religious congregations, including the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
On Wed., Mar. 30, 2022 at 8 pm ET (and 7 pm CT), a live Zoom interview will be conducted with Fr. Daniel Bowen and Br. Dominic Whetzel, of the Order of Mercy. They will talk talk about "Homeschooling and Religious Life: A Strength for One Another." For a link to the interview, please send an email to Kevin [at] vocationpromotion.com.
Afterwards, St. Benedict, who lived from 480 to 547 AD, laid the groundwork for western monasticism, and some say, of western civilization itself. He set in motion Benedictine ways of living in community, holding religious services, and he also established a way of looking at life.
All of this formed a bedrock of a balanced Christian method of raising and educating children over the centuries.
One Benedictine scholar, Hilary Thimmesh, OSB, describes it this way, when he wrote about St. Benedict’s Rule for monastic communities:
“The monastic movement shaped by the Rule of Benedict is generally credited with a major role in preserving the learning of the past and creating a social fabric that provided security and a stable environment for new growth in Christian Europe.”
Homeschoolers Follow the Path
St. Benedict began his life mission after being disappointed with his studies in Rome because of its worldly environment. In the same way, homeschoolers seek to leave the educational institutions of today that have become worldly and even anti-Christian.
But like St. Benedict, homeschoolers are not so much running away from a godless environment and a this-worldly way of thinking, but are running toward beauty, truth and goodness – God Himself.
If we fast forward to the 1200’s, we see St. Peter Nolasco, the founder of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy in Spain.
The Order, also known as the Mercedarians, or Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 by St. Peter Nolasco to redeem Christian captives whose faith was in danger of being lost after being captured and enslaved by Muslims. Islam dominated many areas in the Mediterranean coastal areas for hundreds of years. The Order of Mercy exists today in 17 countries. In the United States its student house is in Philadelphia, and it also has houses in New York, Florida, and Ohio.
Order of Mercy Founder Was Homeschooled
St. Peter’s family lived in Barcelona. We could certainly say that Peter was homeschooled, since from a very early age Peter learned the art of trading from his father Bernardo. Two scholars affirm that he was a merchant before he founded his Order.
In those days wealthy families would train their children in the family business in their own homes. They frequently hired tutors who would live with the families and teach the children.
Thus, the medieval culture was following the Church’s centuries-old custom of laying the responsibility and rights of the education of children on the shoulders of the parents.
Recognized by Popes
This parent-centered approach has been recognized by popes in recent centuries. The 20th-century encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, by Pope Pius XI, quotes Pope Leo XIII, of the 19th century, in this striking language,
“By nature parents have a right to the training of their children, but with this added duty that the education and instruction of the child be in accord with the end for which by God’s blessing it was begotten. Therefore it is the duty of parents to make every effort to prevent any invasion of their rights in this matter, and to make absolutely sure that the education of their children remain under their own control in keeping with their Christian duty, and above all to refuse to send them to those schools in which there is danger of imbibing the deadly poison of impiety.” (N. 26)
Pope Pius XI also explains that, “the school is by its very nature an institution subsidiary and complementary to the family and to the Church." (N. 77)
In Pope St. Paul VI’s 1965 declaration Gravissimum Educationis, section 8, it states explicitly that teachers are to “work as partners with parents.” Both blend their effort to the work of education. Divini Illius Magistri, mentioned before, says that education consists in “preparing man for what he must be for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created.” (N. 6)
Thus, there should always be a harmony between the Church and the family in the mission of education, and schools must be in “positive accord with those other two elements, and form with them a perfect moral union, constituting one sanctuary of education, as it were, with the family and the Church.” (N. 77)
Pope St. John Paul II reiterates this teaching in Familiaris Consortio, when he says the role of parents in education is “essential … irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” (N. 36)
Today, the quality of Catholic education is renowned all over the world, and the founders of many of these schools were religious congregations and orders who provided the necessary teachers and administrators.
Our own Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy provides schoolteachers in various continents throughout the world. In our country one of our friars teaches theology in a Catholic high school in Philadelphia, PA.
Religious Life Imitates the Family
In many ways, the communal aspect of religious communities mimic that of a close-knit family. In the Order of Mercy, we ensure that a minimum number of friars live in a household so that they can enjoy one another’s company and help one another. Like a family, they work, play and pray together. When one member suffers or has a need, all the members pitch in and help.
A typical day in a Mercedarian friars’ house starts with praying and singing together the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a set of prayers, largely from the Psalms. Then the men eat breakfast, and each member goes to his particular job. This may be teaching, parish work, chaplaincy in a prison or a hospital, or administrative work for the Order.
Later in the day they gather for Holy Mass, dinner, and again for the Liturgy of the Hours. The friars gather five times a day for the Liturgy of the Hours. Daily they pray the rosary together and spend time in silent adoration before the most Blessed Sacrament.
Thus, consecrated religious life emphasizes community life in a special way, whereas other forms of service in the Church, as for example that of the diocesan priesthood, typically do not.
Catholic parents have chosen homeschooling in recent years since they find that the secular education available today lacks the values and religious beliefs they cherish. Consecrated Religious life has been at the heart of the Catholic family in educating children in schools, as well as providing a model for happy family living. Both strengthen each other.
Video Interview on Homeschooling and Religious Life
Tune in on Wed., Mar. 30 at 8 pm ET for a video interview of Fr. Daniel Bowen and Br. Dominic Whetzel, of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, as they talk about “Homeschooling and Religious Life: A Strength for One Another.” For a link to the interview, please send an email to Kevin [at] vocationpromotion.com.
Men, do you think that God may be calling you to the life of a Mercedarian Friar? If you are a single man between 18 and 35, contact the vocation director of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M., to ask about what is involved in religious life: vocations [at] orderofmercy.org.
Mercedarian Friars USA: Facebook page
YouTube video: “Who Are the Mercedarians?”