Catholic School Matters

October 6, 2019

River of Fire

I recently read Sr. Helen Prejean’s latest book River of Fire and found it relevant and inspiring to our work in Catholic education. The book is worth your time for spiritual inspiration and learning about the changes in the Church over the past 50 years continue to impact our schools. I think it might be a book that people are still reading 50 years from now.

The book serves as Prejean’s memoir up until she began fighting capital punishment and accompanying prisoners to their deaths. It’s a prequel of sorts which describes her family life, her call to the sisterhood, her novitiate years, her early teaching experience in Catholic schools, her work in parish life, and her conversion to one of our country’s most outspoken opponents to the death penalty.

River of Fire addresses common misconceptions in our American Catholic milieu. I often hear Catholics mourning the loss of teaching sisters, wishing we could have more vocations while simultaneously blaming Vatican II for the dearth of religious teaching vocations. But how often do you listen to the stories of sisters like Sr. Helen who entered the convent before Vatican II and subsequently stayed? Prejean’s account is illuminating, education, moving, and at times, quite funny due to her Cajun knack for telling good stories.

She traces the changes wrought by Vatican II with equal parts excitement and fear. Like all good memoirs, it’s personal. Prejean was not allowed to cultivate “particular” friendships in her order until Vatican II opened up those restrictions as the council called all religious orders to return to their roots. She then is able to develop friendships and the story of losing her friend is moving. River of Fire is also an exploration of the meaning of vocation as she deciphers God’s calling amid all the changes in society and in the Church.

Prejean embraces the Vatican II vision of church and discovers the implication for her life—first, away from the Catholic school classroom, then toward further education, and eventually toward working for social justice. She discovers the impact of racism which had impacted her native Louisiana and began to understand God’s call toward working for change.

Prejean’s discussion of the efforts toward integrating Catholic schools (yes, we need to remember that Catholic schools were segregated in the South) is a particularly enlightening section for Catholic school leaders. While some schools decided to limit their admission of black students (so as not to upset the white parents), her order’s decided to completely integrate their high school for girls. This decision led to its closing soon after but Prejean expresses admiration for her order’s decision to stand for integration.

River of Fire was interesting, spiritually uplifting, and moving. I recommend the book for personal study and reflection as well as faculty/principal book groups. A survey of book reviews of the book:

· LA Times review

· America magazine review

· NPR review including an interview with Prejean

· New York Times review

Want to keep up with the conversations surrounding Catholic education? Set up your own Google Alert, subscribe to this newsletter by clicking "follow," subscribe to the Catholic Schools Daily, or subscribe to the Catholic School Matters podcast.

Dr. Tim Uhl

Big picture

Case Studies Ripped from the Headlines

In this section, I present a Catholic school controversy in the headlines. I don't mean to single out one school or criticize its leaders. I want to present the story and offer you a few questions to consider in case this controversy lands on your desk this year. I encourage you to look at the particulars of the situation to understand the intricacies of the controversy.

A Catholic school in Kansas City fired a pregnant, unmarried teacher. After the teacher sued, the Court ruled in favor of the Diocese. In this situation, how would approach the situation? Are there other options to firing? Further, how would handle the pregnancy of a student?

American Catholic News

Leadership Links

Teaching & Learning


What I'm Up To

This week I'll start in Chicago for the Mustard Seed Project. I can't wait to hear about best practices for inclusion in Catholic schools. I'll return to Helena on Wednesday and then spend a little time in the office and then will participate in a couple of meetings in Great Falls.

This week’s podcast features conversations with three new superintendents: Kally Lazzara, the new superintendent of the Diocese of Richmond; Dr. Joseph Vorbach, the new superintendent of the Diocese of Arlington; and Thomas Carroll, the new superintendent of the Archdiocese of Boston. With each new superintendent, we discuss their three unique pathways to leadership and the challenges and lessons they have encountered already. Each of these three dynamic leaders shares a new vision for leadership.

Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on Apple podcasts and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.

  • Sunday: Travel to Chicago
  • Monday: Mustard Seed Project (Chicago)
  • Tuesday: Mustard Seed Project (Chicago)
  • Wednesday: Mustard Seed Project (Chicago) & return to Helena
  • Thursday: Office (Helena) & Great Falls meetings
  • Friday: Great Falls meetings

Miles this week: 215 driving miles; 2,921 air miles

Miles travelled in 2019-20: 13,219 road miles; 16,964 air miles

Last 5 Books

    1. The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts (2019) by Shane Parrish
    2. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (2019) by Richard Rohr
    3. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (2014) by David Epstein
    4. Meeting Wise: Making the Most of Collaborative Time for Educators (2014) by Kathryn Parker Boudett
    5. River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey (2019) by Sister Helen Prejean

            Click this link for a full list of my professional reading

            For Montana Administrators & Teachers

            • Here is a link to the slideshow from the October 1st Virtual Meeting
            • Catholic Teacher Days: catechetical classes start at 9 am at St. Thomas Church on Thursday, Oct 17th, and the opening session is that evening at St. Francis School at 6 pm. The next morning we begin at 8 am with Mass with Bishop Warfel at St. Thomas Church.

            Past Issues of Catholic School Matters

            Sep 29, 2019 "Male and Female He Created Them"

            Sep 22, 2019 "Surveying Catholic Culture"

            Sep 15, 2019 "New Catholic Schools"

            Sep 8, 2019 "The Mustard Seed Project"