Encouraging our students to be holy
By Sr. Brittany Harrison, FMA
As educators, we invest a lot of time helping our students to master difficult exams, but how much time do we spend encouraging them to grow in holiness, the subject of their life’s final exam? St. John Bosco (Don Bosco) wanted his young people to excel not only in studies, but also in virtue, and made that one of his two goals for teachers: to form good citizens for earth and also for heaven. How did Don Bosco suggest we do this?
Believe they can become saints. According to Don Bosco, every young person has the “rough material” for holiness. In fact, when he first met the young St. Dominic Savio, who became a saint by the time of his death at age 14, Don Bosco looked at him and said, “You’re good material, Dominic!” Dominic asked him, “Material for what, Don Bosco?” In his typical way of blending humor and serious lessons, Don Bosco said, “You’re good material to make something beautiful for the Lord!” Within Dominic’s young life were all the situations and opportunities needed to grow in holiness.
Provide age-appropriate opportunities to grow in virtue. Dominic Savio took becoming a saint very seriously — so seriously, in fact, that he went around with a long face, fasting and hiding rocks under his mattress at night. Don Bosco took Dominic aside and said to the enthusiastic youth, “Dominic, holiness is not about sacrificing everything we like and living a hard life. Holiness is about being cheerful, loving the Lord and others, and doing our duties well. When you study, study, and when you play, play well.” Dominic was relieved to hear that holiness didn’t have to be a miserable process.
Empower them to lead their peers. Soon Dominic became one of Don Bosco’s trusted helpers when it came to influencing the other students. The best apostle of a young person is another young person, and Don Bosco found that if he focused on forming a core group in virtue, they could have a much greater influence among their peers than Don Bosco could alone. This core group gathered for special times of prayer, reminded each other of good habits, and corrected one another when they made mistakes. They even wore a special medal to remind them of their commitment to holiness. The example of these students helped their peers to be better and to see holiness as something everyone can strive for and want, because they were kind, fun, and supportive friends.
Every class has at least a few students who show a particular inclination to goodness. The example of how Don Bosco formed St. Dominic Savio can encourage us to approach those students and propose holiness — not as a scary concept, but as a viable option for living their best life.
St. Dominic Savio and St. John Bosco, pray for us that we can follow your example of youthful holiness.
Sr. Brittany Harrison is a Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco, youth minister, and social media maven. A high-school theology teacher for almost 10 years and a catechist for 20, she’s known for making the faith accessible without stripping it of its depth and beauty. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @SisterB24.
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