Magdalene’s Charism, Vision and Purpose
Magdalene of Canossa was born in Italy in 1774 at a time when education was the prerogative of the nobility and the upper middle class. There was no schooling for the masses and the working class. Magdalene’s vision was to provide a holistic education for the poor, anchored in their Christian faith.
Firstly, Magdalene insisted that her schools would be ‘charity schools’ where service would be given free to the poorest of the poor, the most wretched and abandoned. As a result of the Napoleonic wars, she had seen human misery and the drifting of people away from God and from one another. She saw young people becoming victims of war and unjust political structures, growing in frustration and ignorant of their true potential and worth. With education, Magdalene hoped to help young people become aware of their dignity so as to be able to live meaningful lives and contribute responsibly to family and society.
Secondly, Magdalene targeted girls and women as beneficiaries of her ‘charity schools’1 for the simple reason that an educated wife and mother, faithful to God, was the best way to build a wholesome family. Wholesome families would lead to a morally strong society and this in turn would lead to a God-loving nation. For this reason, she also trained teachers and sent them to the rural areas to educate the womenfolk.
Finally, for Magdalene, the purpose of education was to lead people to the awareness and experience of God’s love for them. This was, for her, the greatest act of charity. Teachers were to work for the love of God. The charity schools were not about philanthropy; rather it was for the glory of God, so that people would know that God loves and cares for them. She wanted people to know Jesus as the model of the “Greatest Love”, for Jesus, on the Cross, gave the greatest proof of His love.
Her charism, vision and purpose were based on her faith perspective that God makes every person equal in dignity. This means that everyone deserves respect and an equal opportunity to lead a meaningful and purposeful human life.
1 Charity schools in the context of the early 19th century were the schools that educated poor children in the basics of reading, writing and numbers, as well as skills training in sewing, embroidery and lace-making.