Saint Mother Theodore Guerin: On the instruction of children
As the school year gets into full swing, I thought it a particularly good time to share this next previously unpublished piece from Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. The sisters in Archives sent me this as a piece that had been hand written years ago. It is from Mother Theodore’s retreat notes to sisters from between 1848 and 1850.
I think it contains good advice and wisdom for teachers, parents and all those who work with children. Enjoy!
On the instruction of Children
… Oh, what beautiful vocation is ours! Have you sometimes thought, my dear sisters, that you were called to do on earth what Our Lord Himself did? He instructed and you instruct. He was surrounded by little children and you spend your life among them. I should wish to be able to give you a great idea of this fourth vow that we make in our Congregation, for this vow is very sublime. By it we are devoted to the service of our neighbor. There are very few persons who comprehend how difficult it is to fulfill it, because almost everybody imagines it is a very easy thing to raise children. We must possess all the virtues ourselves in order to be able to teach them to our pupils. However, as we will never be perfect, we must for the present content ourselves with the two indispensable virtues, viz. justice and goodness.
Justice in recompensing and in punishing each of our pupils according to their merits. You must not believe that you commit an injustice in recompensing a very dissipated child when you have in our class others more quiet. Oh, no, when I was at Rennes I remember to have promised some rewards to some of my little girls (who were then like devils) if they were good only one morning. Sometimes I have promised some of those who were the worst. We must try to invent means for correcting our children. But do you remember what are the most powerful rewards? A good word, a look of approbation, a little jest is sometimes sufficient for correcting one when the most severe penances would not have conquered. We must be just. That is to say: having no more preference for one child than for another. Never scold nor punish more than the fault deserves. Children naturally love justice, even when we punish them.
But if we must be just, we must also be good. We ought to be the mother of our children having for them maternal affections and attentions. God confided to us these young girls, in order that we might form them to virtue. Oh, how culpable we would be if instead of making them love our Holy Religion, we would inspire them with a disgust for it by our rude and uncivil manners. There are some sisters in our community who are so uncouth that truly I am ashamed of them. They say things to the children that are so impolite that I wonder how the children do not answer by similar words.
Remember also never to speak badly of the parents of the children. Are you the cause of them being born of such or such persons? Is it not unjust to make the poor children pay for the faults of their parents?
I recommend to you never to employ any impolite words or ridiculous gestures in punishing your children. Speak to them with respect and they will respect you and will respect themselves. Do not be familiar but be amiable, compliant and charitable to all.
Remember that you are the visible angels of these little children and you ought to conduct yourselves before them as their Holy Angel Guardians. Oh, that I could aid you in your painful employments. Recall also to your mind that our Lord loves them, and if you make them love Him more, He will also love you. Think sometimes of the beautiful day in paradise, where a true Sister of Providence will be surrounded by all the little children she had brought to love God.