Spiritual Reflections

Mother Seton Academy, Baltimore, Maryland: A Dream… A Mission… A Cause…

Who is... what is... Mother Seton Academy that is located in the heart of inner city Baltimore?
students in uniforms smiling and taking part in a musical performance with tambourine, shakers, and singing
Students at Mother Seton Academy, Baltimore

A Dream

by Sister Eileen Clinton, IHM

Thirty years ago this year, a dream became a reality when the doors of Mother Seton Academy opened. Six religious communities joined to co-sponsor this school and serve the neediest Baltimore students. Students of grades 6, 7 and 8 comprised the school, located in a vacant convent in the Fells Point section of Baltimore. I was privileged to become its principal in 2005. This was one of the most rewarding and unique experiences I have ever had in my years in education. I call it unique because the majority of these students were not Catholic but were the most spiritually gifted students I have ever worked with. They freely and openly expressed themselves and their needs before the entire school community at prayer sessions. 

Their day began with breakfast and ended at 5:00 p.m. Homework was done between 3:15 and 4:45 p.m. with the assistance of the Notre Dame AmeriCorps volunteers. One interesting feature was that each class was given the name of a founder/foundress of each co-sponsoring congregation which included Theresa Maxis. Students were expected to learn about the person, pray to them and present their life to the entire school community. 

It was also a privilege for me to work with the co-sponsoring communities and their desire to serve the poorest of the poor. Together we enabled these students to grow in spirit and knowledge, to be accepted tuition free to Baltimore’s Catholic high schools and then on to college. The sponsorship of many people enabled this to happen and continues today. 

In 2009 the school was relocated to the former St. Ann’s school in the Northern part of Baltimore. It continues today and thrives because of our co-sponsorship. 

A Mission

by Sister Denise Lyon, IHM

The mission of Mother Seton Academy grew out of a need to offer a Catholic School education to low-income middle school children whose families could not afford the usual tuition of Catholic schools. Six religious congregations came together to find a way to offer this opportunity to bright and talented youth, both girls and boys, who otherwise might end up on the streets and continue to perpetuate a life style whose potential was disaster and destruction. 

In 1991 the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of St. Francis, Philadelphia, the Daughters of Charity, the Xaverian Brothers, and the Sisters of IHM of Scranton, followed by the Marianists who joined in 1997, banded together to follow the Spirit’s lead to found and commit to sponsoring a middle school based on the NativityMiguel model of education. This style of education supports the children and their families beyond the usual “school day” with a structure of extended day and extended year schedule. As each young person discerns where they will move into high school and beyond, a graduate support system offers a continual underpinning to their educational evolution and success. 

I had the opportunity to serve as a teacher, the librarian and administrative assistant during my eight years of ministering at MSA. I witnessed the miracles of learning, development and growth of underprivileged youth into confident and mature young people who understood that they had the potential to be the best they could be through embracing the dream that the religious congregation co-sponsors saw in them. 

MSA Mission Statement 

“Empowered by Gospel values and rooted in the tradition of Catholic Education, Mother Seton Academy, a tuition-free middle school for young men and women, educates in a multicultural environment those with the greatest economic need. Promoting dignity and respect for each person, Mother Seton Academy challenges its students to realize their God-given talents and become leaders who serve their families, communities and society.” 

A Cause

by Sister Kathleen Lunsmann, IHM

When I was invited to join the board of directors of Mother Seton Academy, I was not sure that I had the skills necessary to serve in this capacity for the cause of a school. What did I know about middle school? How could I provide oversight or strategic direction for a ministry I did not fully understand and had never experienced? These questions are probably similar concerns for all who are invited to consider board service at our sponsored and co-sponsored ministries. As board members, we do not need to be experts in the primary service offered at our institutions. We do not even need to understand the day-to-day operation. What we do need to understand is our role in being an advocate for the organization and a steward for its mission. 

In several orientation sessions for board membership over the years, I have learned that the legal responsibilities of a board member fall into three areas often called duty of care, duty of loyalty and duty of obedience.1 

Duty of care requires that board members attend and participate in board meetings and committee meetings and ensures the administration is using the assets of the organization in a trustworthy manner. Assets include not only financial accounts but also physical assets such as the building and facilities and even personnel. 

Duty of loyalty requires that board members ensure that all activities of the organization advance the specific mission. Board members of a middle school such as Mother Seton Academy need to speak up if (hypothetically) staff members are engaged in running a pet clinic at the school. That’s not the mission of MSA. 

Duty of obedience requires that board members follow all federal or state-specific requirements of nonprofit law and ensure that legal documents are filed. 

Board members need to have a high-level view of the organization, sometimes stated as the 30,000-foot vantage point, a big picture perspective. They must provide oversight and insight from their personal experience and professional expertise. The professional expertise I bring to Mother Seton Academy focuses on fundraising and administration, but my personal experience is that of an IHM Sister. The lens through which I look at MSA from that perspective is asking how we care for and serve those most in need.

  1. National Council of Nonprofits, Board Member Roles and Responsibilities ↩︎

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