April 06, 2020

'Night' Never Has the Last Word – The Light Will COME!

At the invitation of the headmaster of Saint Mary’s National School in Stranolar, Co. Donegal, Ireland, I visited at the end of February as I have done for over eight years now and met with the Confirmation classes and their teachers.  That was only six weeks ago but it seems a life-time!

In the midst of a world teeming with an unprecedented health crisis, a growing economic crisis and a fundamental moral test over a virus that knows no borders and spreads voraciously, where children and adults still sleep hungry in spite of tons of food going to waste, where communities across the globe are ravaged by ongoing conflict and where the very air that we breathe and the water we drink is threatened, we need a good news story.  Terrible times reveal our true values, priorities and character, and the children in the Sixth Class of St. Mary’s offer us hope and courage at this time when so many lives are endangered.

In the past, this small school has provided school uniforms for children in Sub-Saharan Africa.  This year, our new theme is – Witnesses to Light.  And God knows, in these times we need LIGHT!

I told the children the story of Thomas Edison, the little boy deemed unteachable by his teachers, who invented the first commercially viable light bulb.

One day, as a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother.  He said to her, “Mom, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it.  What does it say?”

Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child…

“Your son is a genius.  This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him.  Please teach him yourself.”

Many years after Edison’s mother had died, he was going through a closet and he found the folded letter that his old teacher had written to his Mother that day.  He opened it…The message written on the letter was...

“Your son is mentally deficient.  We cannot let him attend our school any more.  He is expelled.”

Edison became emotional reading the letter and then wrote in his diary:

“Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the Century.”

Such is the power of a mother, or any of us who inspire a child to change his or her destiny.

The St. Mary’s children then explored how the gifts of the Spirit are Lights in our world and, as part of their confirmation commitment, they are providing solar lamps to children in Sudan.  Like so many children in Sub-Saharan Africa, children often do not have access to electricity.  However, the hot African sun can be used to solve the lack of electricity.

I believe that if Catherine McAuley were alive today, she might be saying to each of us: “Do not lose heart, you are here for these times.  I urge you not to spend your time bewailing these times.  Our task is to reach out to that bit of the world that needs mending and is within your reach.  Do what you can each day.  Do it one person at a time.

As the children in Sixth Class remind us by their actions, “Night never has the last word – The Light will COME!

Deirdre Mullan rsm – Partnering Religious Congregations with UNICEF

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