On Pope Francis’ first full day in the United States, people gathered for the canonization Mass of Junípero Serra on the grounds of Catholic University of America. The Mass marked the beginning of a much-anticipated week for U.S. Catholics.
When he later visited New York, Pope Francis’ words and actions emphasized the importance of education – a theme echoed throughout his many public appearances. While at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pope Francis spoke to priests and other religious leaders about the historic role that they have played in educating Catholic immigrants, highlighting the work of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann. The pope continued to advocate for the importance of education as a foundation for integral human development while speaking at the United Nations. In an effort to highlight these two tenets of education, Francis also visited a Catholic grade school in Harlem that serves immigrants.
In Philadelphia, I joined the Campus Ministry pilgrims from St. Thomas and St. Kate’s. There, I listened to Francis’ address at Independence Hall with my colleague Marta Pereira, who came to the United States from Latin America and teaches theology in Spanish to students in the Theology Department’s Lay Ministry Certificate Program. It seemed that connections to St. Thomas and Minnesota were present everywhere. Marta and I even had an opportunity to visit with a couple of Minnesotans who were immigrants from Mexico and had made the trip to see the pope on his first visit to the United States. We were all struck by the timing of a rainbow that stretched across the sky after Francis talked about the hopes and dreams of immigrants.
With all the emphasis on Catholic education, perhaps it should not have been a surprise that the first Jesuit pope made an unscheduled visit to St. Joseph University, a Jesuit school located in Philadelphia.
On my return to Minnesota, I thought about Archbishop John Ireland and his commitment to educating Irish Catholic immigrants – a proud part of our history in service to others. During the papal visit, Pope Francis repeatedly identified himself as the son of an immigrant and reminded the United States of its history as a land of immigrants. When he addressed the bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, he also reminded all of us about the role we must play as Catholic educators.
Pope Francis may not have visited St. Thomas during his stay in the United States, but our presence and the role of Catholic education was prominent at every stop.