January 29, 2016
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Fr. Dehon spend many productive years of ministry dedicated primarily to young people, and even to the end of his life he enjoyed interacting with them. He was both beloved and respected as an educator. Many of his former students at St. John’s High School attested to this and in particular emphasized these contrasting aspects.
On the one hand, his demeanor made a striking impression: he was a distinguished person who exerted great influence, someone whose stature, dignity, and natural refinement, combined with his talents and position, could have made him aloof by making others aware of his prestige and authority. To the contrary, however, from the first contact with him, which was usually accompanied by a smile or some natural sign of affection, it was his goodness that quickly won people over. Moving from warmth and trust which put people at ease, he created an atmosphere of openness and calm which made everything easy. Without any loss of respect, his natural authority made itself felt without being imposed.
Young people in particular intuitively recognize these human qualities in those who are responsible for their formation. “I felt that I was loved,” this was how many students remembered Fr. Dehon as the Director at St. John’s. His immense correspondence contains numerous letters and postcards to former students, to altar boys at St. Quentin or Brussels, and to the young men who had been seeking to find their way in life, and even after they moved on, his friendship continued to support them. Everything was stamped with a simple and direct affection, a playful sense of humor, and a straightforward confidence.
“All who came to him were won over by the breadth of his knowledge, his fascinating conversation, his perfect grasp of the way things worked in the world, and especially by his pleasant disposition. The feelings he inspired were lasting, as demonstrated by the affection his former students have maintained for him.” These were some of the words spoken at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the founding of St. John’s in July 1927, and Bishop Benet of Soissons who presided over the occasion added, “Fr. Dehon belongs to the line of the great educators of youth.”
Excerpt from Leo Dehon: A Passion for Christ, A Passion for the World, André Perroux, SCJ; Translated by Paul J. McGuire, SCJ
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
This morning, as I handed the statue of the Infant Jesus to someone to carry up to the manger, I thought to myself, “This is each child I teach. Jesus is divine and human, body and soul, corporal and spiritual. So, too, are my students.”
My students don’t learn to love and protect Mother Earth just because I tell them how important that is. They learn it by putting their hands in the soil, preparing the soil, and planting carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, and flowers. They learn it as they weed, pick, eat, and admire the fruit of their labor. They internalize it when they eat a salad or strawberry pie they grew. The story, “From Seed to Zucchini,” has meaning when the children plant and harvest their own zucchini. Illustrating a story helps children internalize the main idea more than just reading the story. These are very corporeal actions.
When I console, encourage, or bring a child to an “aha” moment, I nurture the spirit. When I get and give a hug; when I sit with a child and study flashcards; when I guide the hand in forming a letter; when I write out my lesson plans; when I dictate words or numbers; or when I do the thousands of acts of teaching, I am dealing with the physical or corporal. If I do it well, in a compassionate, joyful, loving, merciful way, I nurture the spirit. The act of teaching is an amazing corporal and spiritual work of mercy.
Talking to my sister about this reflection the other day, she pointed out to me that Pierre de Chardin said something to the effect that we are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience, but rather, we are spiritual beings immersed in human experiences. That pretty much sums up this dual work of mercy of teaching.
Teaching is indeed a corporal and spiritual work of mercy made up of thousands of actions immersed in the human experience, and committed to “nurturing a heart of love, a promise of hope, and a mission to service” as stated on a poster sponsored by the SCJ Schools in Collaboration.
- Sr. Margaret Sue Broker, a School Sister of St. Francis, has taught for 54 years at Sacred Heart School, first in Walls, and now in Southaven, Mississippi.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
In this Holy Year of Mercy, how might you practice the corporal and spiritual work of teaching, even if you aren’t a professional teacher? A few thoughts to keep in mind as you try to answer this question:
- children learn what they experience
- children learn best when they know they are loved
- to encourage, console, or hug a child is to nurture the spirit of that child
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all who take responsibility for the formation of youth, especially the teachers and staff at SCJ Schools in Collaboration: Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Houston, TX; Holy Family School, Holly Springs, MS; Sacred Heart School, Southaven, MS; St. Martin of Tours School, Franklin, WI; and St. Joseph Indian School, Chamberlain, SD. You may find the following prayer helpful.
as a child,
you grew day by day in body and mind.
Experiencing the world
through the guidance of parents and teachers
your knowledge increased
and God’s favor was upon you.
May God’s favor rest on our children
and those who guide them.
May teachers lovingly nurture
the spirit of their students
so that young lives blossom in learning.
As our children grow day by day
in wisdom and in years,
may they be youthful signs
of your hope for our world
and the promise of your reign.
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page of the U.S. Province website of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This is an email version of that update.
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