Seton Teaching Fellows have always strived to bring the gift of education to underserved urban communities. However, almost ten years into our mission, we’re starting to see that our program is helping address another issue in the Church: the loss of religious vocations. At its core, our mission at Seton really is a response to the dwindling number of vocations in America. In 1970, there were 172,554 religious brothers and sisters in the United States. In 2020, that number had decreased by 75 percent to 43,374. There’s a list of spiritual consequences to the loss of religious vocations, chief amongst which is diminishing love for the values of poverty, obedience, and self-denial in the Church. Beyond a spiritual drought, a very tangible social consequence of these numbers is that Catholic schools have lost their religious staff—and because of that, schools are closing in record numbers.
Those who are most affected by the decline in religious vocations are families in low-income communities. More than two-thirds of the five thousand Catholics schools which have closed since 1970 have been in the United States’ urban and inner city communities. Historically, Catholic schools in these communities were run by religious brothers and sisters, and they existed to minister to those in need, regardless of whether they were Catholic or not. Religious brothers and sisters took on vows of poverty, renouncing the reception of personal monetary funds in the name of Christ, and radically giving themselves to advancing God’s kingdom on earth. This made Catholic education in low-income communities possible because it was cost effective and addressed the specific needs of a community.
The fiat our Fellows give to living on a modest stipend and serving as a missionary at one of our schools is a yes to the Gospel being announced in places where it otherwise wouldn’t.
Parochial schools don’t have the vocations, staffing, and funding to provide for schools in low-income communities, leaving children without a much-needed Catholic education. Seton Teaching Fellows answer that need. Our mission has opened seven inner city schools in the last nine years (serving NYC and Cincinnati), with three more (including New Jersey and Texas) to open in 2023. All of our catechism classes, called El Camino, are taught by the Seton Teaching Fellows—missionaries who give a year of their life to form and be formed. While a year of service is no replacement for a religious vocation, our Fellows parallel the vows of religious life, as they resolve to live simply, commit themselves to an intentional community, and pursue God in rigorous faith formation. The fiat our Fellows give to living on a modest stipend and serving as a missionary catechist at one of our schools is a yes to the Gospel being announced in places where it otherwise wouldn’t.
The fruit of our mission has always been bringing children and families back to the Catholic Church—our baptisms number more than two hundred as of 2022—however, we are also seeing another spiritual fruit from our STFs: a fiat to enter a religious vocation. God works in mysterious ways, and our mission is certainly not the genesis of a vocational calling (the Spirit is), but we’re happy to serve the Lord, and we’re so thankful that a year of service with Seton has helped our alumni to boldly and confidently say yes to the vocations God provides. Seton is happy to share that four of our former Seton Teaching Fellows are actively discerning a vocation with a religious order or seminary!
Peyton Parra, STF Cohort 8, taught El Camino at Brilla Veritas Elementary in the South Bronx during the 2021-2022 school year. Peyton felt a radical call to service following her year of teaching, and she is currently in a year of postulancy with the Sisters of Life in New York City! Peyton was generous enough to offer a testimony on her year with Seton, reflecting on how a year as a missionary helped bring her to discern religious life:
As a fellow, I was invited to trust in the Father constantly. I think these constant invitations to trust in Him—in His provision, His plans, His promises, His Word—are really the place where He drew my heart closer to His! Throughout my year of mission, there were constantly relationships, situations, and struggles into which I could invite Him. Even more frequent was the invitation to meet Him and offer up to Him the ordinary things: trusting Him to take care of things like community dinner or El Camino lesson plans, sacrificing my desire for leisure and comfort to Him, or begging for the grace to grow in patience and gentleness with my disciples. These moments were drenched in grace! God is not simply a good Father—He is a perfect one! The Lord loved me very particularly and provided like He said He would in all of these little moments, and often in unexpected ways.
I now realize these moments weren’t at all little to Him. Throughout this journey of faith, I’m learning that nothing in my heart is considered little to Him. As I grew to trust God through daily life on mission, I simply got to know our Father better. What a treasure to experience His provision, His kindness, His gentleness, and even His playfulness. The Lord truly is who He says He is, and this journey has been a constant reminder that life with Christ is a beautiful mystery!
This past year with Seton Teaching Fellows was extremely transformative for me. Looking back, I think the constant invitation to trust, which God freely offered to me through daily life on mission, was instrumental to my spiritual journey. God showed me His heart throughout my year of mission, and he even revealed to me glimpses of my own heart! However, everything God did in my heart, He did so little by little. The Lord is so, so gentle. I think trusting Him in the little things enabled me to encounter His gentleness and this was the key to me being able to say yes to the new adventure of religious life!
Are you feeling called to give yourself and your gifts to God? If you’re interested in learning more about what it means to be a Seton Teaching Fellow, like Peyton, reach out to our recruitment team today. Children across America are waiting for someone to help bring them to Christ—if not you, then who?