by Jennifer Nelson
Pregnant and nauseous, I traveled with my husband, kids, and parents to Emmitsburg, Maryland, to sit on a rock. Yes, a rock. It’s a long story that begins and ends with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
As I sat on the rock from which Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton taught her first three students, with my first three “students” Gianna (6), Gabriel (4) and Lucianna (2) (with another pupil in the womb), I could not help but feel completely overwhelmed… and thankful. I was overwhelmed at God asking me to be the primary educator of my children, and thankful that He had brought Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton into my life to serve as a role model of being open to His Will.
Sitting on this rock, teaching her students, did Mother Seton feel inadequate like I did? Did she wonder how she would do what God was asking of her? Mother Seton may have felt overwhelmed, and she may have felt inadequate, but her faith and trust led her to found the Sisters of Charity and the Parochial School System as we know it. Her quote resonated in my mind: “The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the Will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner He wills it; and thirdly, to do it because it is His Will.” God’s Will led me to Seton Home Study School.
How It Began
My journey began back at Seton Hall University. I entered Seton Hall University as an education major, and it was there that I was first introduced to Mother Seton. I heard her life story, and admired this American-born saint who was a wife and mother. I thought it was pretty wonderful that she and I shared a birthday (August 28th) and a middle name. Little did I know how much her life would serve as an example to me on following the Will of God.
I met my husband, Derek, at Seton Hall University. He was a Protestant (like Mother Seton had been) and a great Christian man who loved the Lord very much. I didn’t know when we began dating that the Lord would use me as an instrument to bring Derek to the fullness of the Catholic Faith. In turn, God would use Derek to guide me to the belief that God created the perfect school, a school called the family.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton had a very challenging life! As homeschoolers, we all follow in her footsteps by accepting the crosses that come with doing what God wills for us. When Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was becoming Catholic, her entire community of friends, relatives, and those around her began to ostracize her and condemn her for her decision.
In deciding to homeschool, many of us face the same persecution that she faced. People judge us and think that we are harming our children. They ask questions about how they will be “socialized” or ask if you are a certified teacher. When we do anything that is counter-cultural, we are called names or spoken about in whispers. As homeschoolers, we have to live the Gospel, and forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, just as Mother Seton did. I always tell my children that if you want to live the way Jesus wants you to live, look at what the ‘world’ is doing, and do the exact opposite.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton followed what God willed, not what the world willed. Though it led to heartache and loss of friendships, it also led to a life full of God’s grace and new friendships that were truly Christ-centered. This has been an important lesson for our family.
Living in a Christ-centered home has helped our homeschooling efforts. We have been blessed to live in a home with my parents, both of whom support us in homeschooling. The children learn so much from their grandfather, Robert, who was a history major, and their grandmother, Lucy, who is a Catholic school teacher. My in-laws, Lois and Jim are good Christian role models for my children and support our decision to homeschool. Many of the priests at our parish of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rockaway, NJ, have been wonderful. Our Pastor, Fr. Sigmund Peplowski is a firm believer in family faith formation and the parents’ role as primary educators. He gave us desks for our homeschool room and provides spiritual guidance. Fr. Marcin came to bless our classroom on our first day!
Fr. Marcin constantly asks the children how school is going, telling them to keep up the good work when they make their report. Our children have gotten to know our priests well through attendance at daily Mass, and we have made wonderful friends among the people who attend daily Mass. They have become like a large extended family for us. Just as Mother Seton lost her worldly companions but found an extended family through her sisters and all the families she helped in her work as an educator and foundress, so we homeschoolers find our own new home when we leave the world behind.
If we homeschoolers follow faithfully in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s footsteps, we will gain a deep devotion to the Eucharist, to Sacred Scripture, and to the Blessed Mother. These three devotions were essential to her success in doing all the work she did after becoming Catholic. Mother Seton was able to do God’s Will because she had a deep prayer life, and great fidelity to Him. We must follow in her footsteps and devote ourselves to God above all else. The laundry will get done and, somehow, dinner really will get on the table, but prayer is the most important task. If our children see us loving God above all else, that will be the best lesson they could learn, and if God has called us to teach our children, He will assuredly give us the grace we ask of Him to do it well.
On my thirty-second birthday and at the two-hundred and thirty-ninth birthday celebration of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, my husband gifted me with an icon of Mother Seton that would be hung in our homeschool room. It says, “Our least action, when done for God, is precious to Him.” God sees every little toy picked up, every piece of laundry folded, every dinner that is put on the table, each prayer spoken, each diaper changed, and each act of love. In our homeschool, we try not to get discouraged or do grand deeds every day. We do the best we can do, and we know even if it is a little thing, if it is done with a lot of love, it is precious in God’s eyes.
As Catholics, we are called to be saints and to raise saints. I am so thankful for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s shining example to all of us homeschoolers, and to Seton Home Study School for its Catholic curriculum that helps us to truly form our children in the faith. As my footsteps carried me away from the rock where Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton taught her first students, they brought me to the narrow path, one that leads to pure joy in knowing I am doing what the Father wills for me and for my family.