Potential Saints

by Nelle Carty

In Loving Memory of my mentor and friend, Patrick L. Rattigan.

When I first started as a theology teacher at a Jesuit high school in a Chicago suburb, I had an official mentor who supported me through the academic year. There were no desks available next to my mentor in the department office . The closest space was next to the oldest faculty member in the department, and maybe the school. The other teachers, tip-toed around this no-nonsense, cranky, old man, who knew more than anyone. Everyone said hello to him, but there was a level of respectful distance that colleagues kept from this veteran educator. Pat, the old-timer, not only had a desk next to mine, but shared the same free periods. Being one of the youngest teachers in my department, and a naturally extroverted person, I didn’t know I was supposed to be respectfully afraid. So, I talked to Pat as much as he permitted during our planning periods. I began picking up the mail in his faculty box to save him a trip, and in return he started leaving me occasional lesson plans and helpful tools. As the months passed, Pat became my unofficial mentor, and eventually, a good friend.

This experienced educator lived for teaching and had created fine-tuned lesson plans incorporating a style all his own. Pat loved art. He was well-known for creating beautiful PowerPoint presentations that incorporated classic paintings relating to the various theology lesson plans. Occasionally, he would share one of these PowerPoint slide shows with me to use in my classes. He rarely shared these lesson plans with other teachers, so I felt honored to be given these pedagogical treasures. His appreciation of art added a unique dimension to his passion for teaching theology. Pat taught me that art engaged students on a different level. It allowed them to understand our Christian narrative without the confusion and limitations of words. Paintings offered a personal experience that was open to the Spirit.

When All Saints’ Day came around on that first year, Pat gave me a non-art related gem. He reminded me what All Saints’ Day was about. “Nelle, remember to tell your freshmen that we all have the potential to be saints. It’s not about being perfect. In this day and age, people place the saints upon impossible-to-reach pedestals. It’s our job to close the gap and help them see that sainthood isn’t synonymous with being perfect. It’s about being our truest self—the one God created us to be.”

Pat may have said that the 14 year-old, first year students needed to hear this, but I think I needed to hear this, as well. Occasionally, these words come to mind, and I smile thinking of Pat’s truth-filled lessons. Pat retired from teaching a few years ago and died this past February 2010. Pat wasn’t perfect, but he dedicated his life to teaching young people. Through works of art and literature, he challenged students to recognize the sacredness in the world and within each of us.

On this November 1st, we remember all of the people who have lived faith-filled lives. May these holy people who are no longer physically with us, remind us of our own potential and call to be saints.

M. Nelle Carty is trying to remind herself that sainthood is not so far away as it seems.


2 Responses

  1. I’m glad I had some time to read back a few posts. What a powerful message from someone who clearly meant a lot to you!

  2. As a religious educator at St. Xavier in Cincinnati, I knew Pat the Rat. What a great tribute to him. Blessings.

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