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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Learn from the example of the saintly Elizabeth Prout, Bishop tells Catholic teachers


Catholic teachers should look to the example of our Shrewsbury woman and Religious foundress, Elizabeth Prout as they strive toward the goal of holiness, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said.

Preaching at the annual academic Mass, the Rt Rev. Mark Davies said that the diocesan Year of Holiness should remind teachers that “holiness is the goal of all goals”.

He said holiness was the “ultimate goal of the Christian life and of human existence” and that it was “really the same thing as happiness” -complete and everlasting happiness. This means striving throughout our lives to be the Saint we have each been called to be.

“This is our goal, our destiny, as Catholic education has always appreciated,” Bishop Davies said during the Mass of Thanksgiving for Catholic education at the Church of St Hugh and St John in Timperley, Altrincham.

The Bishop said: “I want to call to mind this summer evening someone who is sometimes forgotten, a woman who was a pioneer of Catholic education from our Diocese –  Elizabeth Prout – who came from Shrewsbury and travelled in the middle of the 19th century to this city beside us of Manchester, in the middle of the Industrial Revolution.

“She has been called the Mother Teresa of the industrial North because she went into some of the toughest and poorest districts of this city, places where it was feared to venture, and she began with no resources the enterprise of Catholic education which you continue today.

“I was reading that her class sizes could be between 100 and 150 pupils in all age ranges, with sporadic attendance in unventilated classrooms.”

Mother Elizabeth, he said, taught and help the poor amid pressure from public authorities and opposition, but persevered and went on to form a community which became the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, that has spread around the world.



Bishop Davies said: “What I want us to note is that she strove and reached that goal of holiness not in spite of being a teacher in the classroom but by being that teacher in the classroom and being the best teacher  she could be in almost impossible  circumstances.

“What was the best? She had professional proficiency – I don’t think she would have survived without that – but she had something more.

“She did all that she did with a great love which her faith had inspired and which she also inspired, especially in the girls and women who knew the squalor and moral degradation amid this first industrial city of the world.”

Bishop Davies told the teachers that they not only shared the same goal of holiness of this Shrewsbury pioneer but that they also shared her vocation to teach.

“We who live in in the Shrewsbury Diocese and in sight of where she worked in this city of Manchester have the same vocation and same calling in the circumstances of this early 21st century not only to present to the young and a new generation the great goal of their lives but for us to strive beside them toward that one goal of holiness,” he said.

Mother Elizabeth Prout was born in Coleham, Shrewsbury, in 1820 and converted to the Catholic faith in her early 20s while her family were living at Stone, Staffordshire.

Circumstantial evidence suggests she was received into the Church by Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Italian Passionist who also received Blessed John Henry Newman into the Catholic faith.

At the age of 28 she became a nun and a few years later was given a teaching post in some of the poorest areas of industrial Manchester, working largely among Irish migrants and factory workers.

She developed a reputation for her tireless efforts in teaching, sheltering, feeding and nursing the needy and opened an archipelago of schools and hostels across the most poverty-stricken parts of the North West.

As other women joined her cause, she founded a religious community, and adopted the name Mother Mary Joseph of Jesus.

Many people, including some Catholics, criticised the new institute for its so-called “revolutionary ideas” – namely that of obliging nuns to earn their own wages to support themselves.

But the Holy See approved the order in 1863 and named the deeply practical Elizabeth as the first Superior General.

She died of tuberculosis in 1864 at the age of just 43 years and is now buried besides Blessed Dominic in the Church of St Ann and Blessed Dominic in Sutton, St Helens.

Her Cause for Canonisation has been opened and is being scrutinised by the theologians in the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Sainthood.

So far, theologians had found that available evidence suggests Mother Elizabeth “exercised the virtue of love in heroic measure”, according to a member of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion, the order she co-founded.

The Mass of Thanksgiving at St Hugh’s was organised by the Department of Education of the Diocese of Shrewsbury.

It concluded with the presentation of certificates by Bishop Davies to teachers who have completed the New Headteachers’ Induction Programme; the Foundations in Faith Programme, and the NQT/RQT Induction Programme.