From Serving in the Bronx to Serving in Quarantine: The Life of a Fellow Told by Ms. Sabrina Morales

From Serving in the Bronx to Serving in Quarantine: The Life of a Fellow Told by Ms. Sabrina Morales

Sabrina Morales is a Seton Teaching Fellow who works with our Kindergarten scholars during the day, and with the 1st Grade during our El Camino Faith Formation program. She grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, and went to Christendom College where she studied Philosophy and Theology. She will be continuing to serve our mission next year as a Kindergarten teacher (and her brother, Samuel will be joining us as a Seton Teaching Fellow, too!) We are so proud of all the incredible work she has done this year.

Ms. Morales helping one of her Disciples.

What in the course of your life prepared you for mission? 

I’d say that what first and foremost prepared me was being raised in a Catholic family. At a young age, a service mindset was  instilled in me. Being the oldest of 9 I very naturally had to be others-minded, learn to put other people first. So, the way I was brought up, with service being so important, played a crucial role. 

Also, continuing on in High school and college, I went to schools that really exemplified and pushed mission and service. I would say that also developed my desire to want to serve, which helped me want to look for programs where that can be satisfied.  

That leads us really well into the second question — How did God lead you to become a missionary with Seton Teaching Fellows? How did you know this was the path he wanted you to take?

I knew that after college God was calling me to be a teacher. But going straight into the classroom didn’t sit right with me, and I didn’t feel that I had the skills to take that step. Especially because I also had a strong desire, and felt a call to do a year of service. So, I started looking for programs that would help me become a better teacher while also giving me the opportunity to serve in some form. 

In searching for that, I came across Seton which hit all the marks for me. On paper, it matched the level of service in teaching I wanted. And then when I went to visit the Bronx, I just felt so much peace. And that peace and joy wasn’t something that I expected visiting, but it’s how I knew that this is where I need to be. That really confirmed it. When I met the fellows from last year, that also nailed in my feelings of wanting to do this role, seeing their joy gave me so much peace. 

Sharing the Bible at El Camino!

What are some unexpected graces you received this year of mission?

I think there are 2 things. On the first hand, there was a deepening in my prayer life for sure. I came in wanting to give, and help others, but initially I didn’t anticipate too much on how being a Seton Teaching Fellow would help me and my prayer life. Going into it, there of course is all the prayer and spiritual formation that’s set in stone and built into the program. But also, part of it is just being around, and living with people who prioritized their prayer life had a big impact on me. 

The second unexpected grace is an intense love for my students. It’s hard to explain, but the days as an STF can be very hard. There is this grace of wanting to teach my students about the faith, and wanting my students to feel loved, that gets me through crazy days. 

Using creative solutions to help students learn.

How has your prayer life changed or grown through your time as a fellow?

There are a lot of spiritual frameworks built into the program. Having us be required to go to daily mass and adoration once a week really got me into that habit of prayer. Now, if I can’t do those things the desire is even stronger than it was before.

I was blessed to live with community members who came in to the program with strong prayer habits and routines. From their witness, I was better able to form my own.  

What would you say a fruitful day looks like for your El Camino class?

I would say a fruitful day has a lot to do with my disciples. After the day’s content is taught, if my disciples have questions that apply the content to their personal lives, that is a fruitful day. 

Ms. Morales leading her disciples in sharing their gifts and talents with others!

How has your role as a catechist changed and developed since transferring to remote learning? 

I would say my job has become a lot more personal with each student. I try to call each disciple every week, and instead of starting with an agenda and with a catechism lesson, I start by asking them how they are doing. 

 When they are in the classroom and the whole class is there, I have an agenda and an objective and a lesson to teach.  It’s a classroom, so we can’t have fun and chat the whole time. Now when I’m calling a lot of times they’re just so excited to be talking to me about their whole day. Obviously, I am still their teacher and their catechist, but now more than ever, they are seeing me more and more as a trusted adult that they can share things with ask for help from!

Have you seen that El Camino has changed the lives of any of your elementary students or their families?

Oh, yes! Through the year I’ve seen my disciples in class and even now over the phone get excited about the things that they’re learning in El Camino and that carries over in a really special way to their families. When they explain what they learn to their parents, that really brings the faith alive for the whole family.  I do have one specific example that highlights this really well. 

Yesterday, I called one of my disciples at home. I didn’t being this up, but she asked me “What’s palm day?” So I  explained to her what Palm Sunday was, and this launched us into a conversation on Easter & Palm Sunday. I was really impressed with her interest and the questions she was  asking. 

When her Mother got back on the phone, she let me know that her Daughter, my Disciple had been leading her family in prayer every night. She had taught her little sister and mother how to pray the Our Father, and was asking her Mother a lot of questions on the faith! She taught her little sister how to pray.

And so I think in that way her curiosity and desire to know has led her whole family to grow in the faith. 

Has your outlook toward education changed at all?

Yes. I definitely came in with very much of a task- mindset. When I first came into the classroom as an El Camino catechist, and in the school day, I was so focused on making sure that the lesson was getting presented in a specific way. Looking at how I was prioritizing lessons, I realize that I’ve learned more about seeing students and loving them not just teaching them and making sure they understand content. I always loved my students, but I’ve learned a lot about prioritizing the relationship with the child first. 

Through the examples of a lot of Brilla teachers and also a lot of the other other fellows, I realized how I can help each specific child to understand and to gain something from the lessons. If they fail that’s ok. The lesson isn’t about me or the way I want to teach it, it’s about the child and what they need to be able to learn.

How would you say you’ve been nourished by community through this year? 

I would say that in first my community is really good at checking in with each other. A lot of times they could really see if I was having a bad day, and they could sense that. It kept me in check with myself too.

Also, having other people who go through the exact same thing that I go through every day. They understand what we’re doing as fellows better than anyone else could, and I can ask their advice and that was really good to have. My community was of all solid women, so in general they helped me grow in my faith just by having these great prayer habits, and inviting me to do do fun things in the city!

Sabrina and her community members at our El Camino holiday party.

How would you say that’s changed now that you’re not living together

Every day we communicate with a group chat we have about things that might not be as important. Twice a week we have prayer meetings over Zoom which sometimes turn into a deeper check-in, about how our prayer is or how our time with our family is going.
It’s different, and we’re not as connected as we are all when we’re together, but we still take community really seriously and lean on each other for support.

Sabrina’s community sharing time and prayer from a distance!

What are your plans for the upcoming year? 

I was hired to teach at Brilla Pax! I will be a founding Kindergarten teacher for our new Seton Network school in the North Bronx, and I’m super excited to continue to be able work within the mission.

I am also hoping to help out with formation with next year’s fellows, so to act as kind of a guide to help them navigate through the year, through meeting once a month and going on their retreats. 

What are some of your goals and desires moving forward in this mission for the rest of the year?

One of my desires is for my disciples. I want my disciples to continue to learn and to want to learn about the faith. I don’t want this time or this distance to dampen that flame of desire for the Lord. 

One of my goals  is form myself. My goal is to not lose sight of the mission, why I’m here as a Seton Teaching Fellows. Because I am so physically removed right now, one of my goals is to still have my Seton responsibilites at the forefront, at the front of my list. 

What scripture or prayer keeps you motivated?

I have one of each! The first is from scripture:

Psalm 139: 1-4 “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”‘
The second is this quote from St. Therese:
“Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love – difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs – everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events – to the heart that loves, all is well.”

What advice would you give to someone discerning the call to do this work? 

First and foremost, bring the decision to become a Seton Teaching Fellow to prayer. At the end of the day, this is more of a calling than just a choice to take job.

Also, once you get here, know that it will be very difficult, but also know that during the moments that it will be most difficult, you will get the most graces to persevere. Don’t let those difficult times scare you away. But instead, reach out to your community and to God.