Christ's radical command to love the other
In 1820, it was the Ursuline Sisters who answered the call to come to the newly formed Diocese of Boston and establish a school in the rectory of the cathedral. In these early years, the Ursuline Sisters faced an outbreak of tuberculosis that took the lives of the first mother superior and several sisters. Despite these challenges, the sisters remained committed to providing Catholic education in this new diocese.
In need of more space, the Ursuline Sisters moved out to the country, Charlestown, to open a new school and convent with classes starting in 1828. Their move coincided with increasing levels of intolerance and suspicion of Catholics in Boston. Acts of intolerance progressively increased during their time in Charlestown, culminating in riots and the burning down of the convent in August 1834. The early history of the Ursuline Sisters in Boston is a story of faith, service, and commitment. Against a backdrop of sickness, hostility, and intolerance, these women answered the call to serve.
The work of the women in our Church, especially women religious, was recently brought to my consciousness as the nation remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After his assassination, as he lay in the emergency room of St. Joseph Hospital, two Franciscan Sisters prayed with Dr. King's body. Two white Catholic sisters, praying for the repose of the soul of a black Protestant minister. A private moment of grace defined by one thing: a response to God's love. Dr. King, who physically laid down his life for his fellow man, and these sisters, who quietly and privately prayed for a person cut down by an assassin's bullet for preaching equality and justice.
Over 50 years after the assassination of Dr. King and almost 200 years since the Ursuline Sisters were burned out of their school and convent, sadly, intolerance and inequity still exist. Instead of being despondent about this, I prefer to see hope.
Catholic schools today continue to provide high-quality academic preparation. They continue to help move people from poverty to opportunity. Most of all, they continue to challenge students to respond to Christ's radical command that we love others as he loved us!
At the Catholic Schools Foundation, we are proud to partner with the laywomen and men who transform lives each day through Catholic schools. Catholic education is not possible without these committed educators, and for many families, a Catholic education is also not possible without the financial support of the Catholic Schools Foundation.
As we mark Catholic Schools Week, let us pray for the continued generosity of the teachers, school leaders, and benefactors who make Catholic education a beacon of hope here in the Archdiocese of Boston.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.