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Who gathers

November 11, 2010

Who should belong — and vote?

It seems reasonable to ask, in regard to a Catholic fellowship of home educators, who should belong? In my particular fellowship, we immediately agreed that Protestants and other non-Catholics could join, but they had to be respectful of Catholicism and they could not hold office. We thought this an adequate protection from takeover by elements in the home school community who really don’t believe Catholicism is a religion. (Many think it is a cult.)

But then, what about graduates? They have opinions about education, surely? Not that most would remain with a fellowship that is no longer part of their everyday lives, but some live nearby and occasionally offer services of various kinds. It’s fair to say that they know what’s what in the community, and that their thoughts are of value; why not their votes?

And what about grandmothers? Of course those actively involved in home education are naturally part of the fellowship, but if the grandchildren are far away, then there can be no such involvement. Or if the grandchildren are indeed nearby, and if they are helpful as babysitters and read-aloud resources and chauffeurs, does that count? Not that every grandmother wants to vote, of course…

Pastors… youth ministers who deal with many of the home school students… How far can it stretch? Protestant pastors, of course, sometimes home school their children; Catholics generally have none. Youth ministers may have children, however; and they may or may not want to be involved. Certainly they have thoughts worthy of consideration.

Why gather?

It is perhaps serviceable, in this context, to return to the fundamental question: why are we gathered?

There are practical reasons, of course: we need each other’s help in both practical and inspirational matters.

And we enjoy each other!

But there is something else: the Church teaches that the Catholic parent, having brought children into the world, carries the first responsibility for their education and can never fully delegate this responsibility, howsoever other institutions or associations may offer to help. It is the sharing of this fundamental adventure that makes something different of St. Margaret’s Fellowship. It’s practical, friendly, useful, — and it supports our very demanding vocation at a time of life that is overwhelming, and in a culture that has turned a blind eye to the whole project. The world simply does not care whether people are educated — better if they are not, when you want to herd them like sheep. Better they not be educated if you are going to tell them about medieval stuff like truth and holiness.

It’s really hard going.

So, suppose someone joins St. Margaret’s, finding herself most surprised to be home educating when she got a college education with an entirely different vision of motherhood. And suppose the economy turns sour and she has to work and her children have to deal with the schools. What then?

Probably she will leave the fellowship; one can only be split so many ways. But it seems to me that the hospitable thing is to let her decide when and how, and even “if” she will leave. It may be that she needs the fellowship all the more. Even curriculum discussions remind her of things she could be doing at home to shore up the failures she may recognize in the evenings. Far deeper, however, is her need to be affirmed as a mother and educator. Even if she only gets in 10 minutes a day, she should feel the gentle and cheerful approval of her sisters in this endeavor. It is good for them to remind her that God multiplies our efforts according to his mercy, and then to be grateful that God still allows them a larger portion of their children’s education.

Then too, she may only have to work for a year or two. Who knows?


Unless there is a compelling reason to limit voting privileges, I should think they would go to all members. Certainly in a religious order, that would be the case; all the members always vote.

This is not a religious order.


And it can’t be, because its members are all bound, sacramentally, to specific spouses and households to whom they owe their first allegiance. There can be no mother superior whose word is law for me over my own husband, even if his opinions seem silly now and then, or if his decisions seem mistaken, (so long as they are not sinful.)

But I used to imagine that St. Margaret’s might one day participate in the founding of a religious institute, a “lay association of the faithful” like Opus Dei, or CL, because the vocation is so special, so deep, and so in need of long-term thought and support. In fact, there was a meeting, about 20 years ago, on the west coast, to discuss just such a founding. It did not bear fruit, but the vision remains and I just recently came across another home educator who had this vision without any knowledge or association with that early meeting. It was an affirmation that the Spirit still has this idea going.


All are called to personal holiness; not all to join Pro-sanctity. All are called to intercession and Marian devotion; not all to join the Carmelites. All are called to stewardship of the earth; not all to become Franciscans.  Could it not be that there is a small number of people in the home school movement who are called, not just to the temporary circumstance of home education, but to a total commitment to the support of families as centers of education?

I thought that God would have had this vocation begin a clearer expression in our time. It seems deeply needed. Some voices have told me, more or less explicitly, that my moment of home education is over and if I were more mature, I would more willingly move on to other challenges.

I do not believe that this is God’s will for me. I could be mistaken, but I believe that home education is too large to be left exclusively to the busy and constantly interrupted young mothers of the moment. I don’t know how I would have made it without the spiritual formation of earlier years, and most mothers do not begin with any such advantages.

So, it’s a matter of vision. And when we founded St. Margaret’s, our vision included this service. Of course, vision belongs to God.  Each must vote as the Spirit leads, and it is entirely possible, that, like St. Charles deFoucauld, my personal vision is not meant to reach visible fruition in my lifetime. That’s okay. But it remains my vision and my vote.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 4:36 pm

    Mary, thank you for your humility and your love!

  2. November 12, 2010 12:52 pm


    I appreciated reading all your thoughts on this. Thanks for posting.


  3. November 14, 2010 4:14 am

    I love what you say about homeschooling being a vocation. Education- in it’s truest form- seems like it needs the loving wisdom of those with experience. I resonate deeply with your thoughts on that.

    I read a book recently, The Last Disciple, that was written in response to The Left Behind series. The author is a preterist. David and I have had some interesting discussions about the importance of eschatology on one’s theology. Would you have a minute to enlighten me on the eschatology of the Catholic Church? If you have time I would appreciate your input.

    Blessings! Lisa

    • November 16, 2010 4:19 am

      Dear Lisa,
      Wow! I never heard of preterism before! So I looked it up, and it’s several variations on the idea that the “last days” were 70 AD because that was the last days of Judaism, since the temple was destroyed. It seems certain that some of the end times prophecies refer to those days. In addition, other things, such as the opening of the graves at the resurrection of Jesus, are examples of “end times” events that have already taken place, though there are a lot of full graves these days too!
      First off, the position of the Catholic Church is that we don’t know the day or the hour of things that are prophesied until they come to pass. The Church does not regard all these events as completed, but on the other hand, most prophecies have several layers of meaning, and there was some kind of general resurrection at the resurrection of Jesus. That’s just scripture. So there’s a space for the preterist thought, and apparently it was cooked up by a Jesuit in defense of the Church, which was regarded as the obvious “whore of Babylon” by the Protestants. Still is, in fact, among some.
      But preterism can’t be the whole story, because Paul speaks of the resurrection as a future event, and he only got into the act some time after the resurrection of Jesus. So there’s a resurrection coming, and the Church says that the incorrupt bodies of various saints are evidence of God’s ability to manage the corruption of our bodies. (St. Bernadette is incorrupt; so is St. Margaret of Cortona; about 200 of them.)
      Over 2000 years, the Church has seen a lot of people prophesy that the end times have a date within some short time span. Mom remembers one group in the small town where she grew up. They dressed in sheets and waited on their front porches. For nothing.
      Lots of much more realistic suggestions.
      But the central teaching of the Church is that for Lisa, the end of time is within the next 40 or 50 years, and quite possibly within the next ten minutes. Live your life, therefore, as if it might be closing in on the finish. Is there anything you would do differently if you thought your life would end in an hour? Maybe you need to be doing it. Or maybe you need a clearer spirituality of love in small things. Do you think you would not wash the dishes if Jesus were returning in an hour? Actually, Jesus wants you to wash those dishes out of love. Then you will be ready when he comes.
      Your face always speaks to me of your faith. It is very beautiful. I feel sure that these ideas of love are not foreign to you, but in the great darknesses of the last year, you may not have had the kind of spiritual teaching that works best for suffering. There’s a bit of “prosperity gospel” around and about, and it doesn’t survive house-burnings very well, does it?
      But to do little things with great love; that is our vocation. Then we will be ready when he comes. The Church believes he will “come” but that we do not know when; only the Father knows.

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