At St. Cecilia Academy, the goal is to teach the students more than math, science, literature and art. The goal is to produce women who can engage with their community and serve others.
Part of that lesson is teaching the students at the all-girls school the importance of voting and educating themselves about the issues of the day.
“It’s part of our liberal arts education,” said Sara Strobel, the Social Sciences Department chair and a history teacher at St. Cecilia. The school has designed a curriculum “that tries to teach the girls to be exemplary Catholic women,” she said.
The school recently hosted a visit from Kathleen Murphy, the Metro Council member who represents District 24, which includes the neighborhood where St. Cecilia is located.
“I talked about how important it is to register to vote,” Murphy said. “It’s our civic duty and part of our Catholic faith to know what’s going on and participate in that way.”
Later that day, the students were encouraged to register to vote during their lunch break.
In history classes, the students discuss the percentage of the population that votes, Strobel said. “They’re always shocked about how many people don’t vote.”
“I do think it is a moral obligation to know what is going on, to know what is going on in your community and your government,” said Murphy, who also works as the director of government affairs and chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Nurses Association.
“If we’re just living our faith in our private life, we’re not living our faith to take care of those around us,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who is a graduate of St. Henry School in Nashville and formerly helped lobby the State Legislature for the Catholic Public Policy Commission, uses her Catholic faith in her work on the Metro Council. “I actually keep (a book on) the Catholic social teachings with my Council stuff and refer to the seven themes in it when I’m going to vote on issues facing Nashville and our community.”
The seven themes of Catholic social teaching are: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; care for God’s creation.
The Church’s social teachings are a helpful guide, Murphy said. “I have lots of people giving me lots of information and lots of perspectives. It helps keep me grounded on my moral compass.”
At St. Cecilia, helping the students develop their moral compass is founded on understanding the truth about the human person, said Sister John Catherine, O.P., who teaches religion and history at St. Cecilia and the history of Western civilization at Aquinas College.
“It’s not just that you vote … it actually matters that you vote in conformity with what the truth is,” Sister John Catherine said.
“If we lose that compass of what’s true, we’re going to lose democracy too,” Sister John Catherine said. “If you’re not deciding based on truth, you decide on who has the most power. Then you’re not really a democracy, you’re slipping into might makes right.”
She and the other teachers at St. Cecilia help their students wrestle with the truth of who the human person is and what’s best for society,” Sister John Catherine said. Then they can approach the issues of the day in a way that can shape the culture.
“You don’t find truth in a majority vote,” she said. “Truth exists outside that.”
“I hope we’re instilling in these girls that truth is radiant and has a power,” Sister John Catherine said. “No matter how unpopular that position may be, it has its own power.”
At St. Cecilia, the students are taught the Catholic understanding of the truth of the human person and their relation to God, Sister John Catherine said. “But we also teach them how to think, so even without the faith you could get to the truth.”
In that way, they can engage with people of the same faith, people of other faiths, and people of no faith, she said. “The dignity of the human person is something believers and non-believers can understand and share common ground.”
“They’re very passionate,” Strobel said of her students. “Also, they’re starting to think for themselves and find their place in the world and the voting world.”
The ability to teach through a Catholic lens, Strobel said, “helps them make connections between their lives and the world around them.”
Murphy, whose appearance at St. Cecilia was organized through a program run from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s office that helps arrange visits to schools by public officials, found the students to be engaged and ready to participate.
“They seemed anxious to vote,” Murphy said. “I felt good leaving there.”
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