Nourishing Mother

The common term for a school or university that you have graduated from is alma mater, Latin for “nourishing mother”. The oldest extant university in the world is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088 by Catholic students who hired scholars to teach them subjects including law and theology. It is also known as Alma Mater Studiorum, “nourishing mother of studies”.

mother maryThe term alma mater is liturgically linked to Mother Mary, in particular with the antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater, translated as “Sweet/Loving Mother of the Redeemer”.

Mother of God

May is traditionally dedicated to Our Lady; as Bishop Kevin Rhoades notes: “The month of May is always part of the Easter season, the fifty days we celebrate in the liturgy the Resurrection of Our Lord, a time also of awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“The celebration of May as a Marian month fits well with the liturgical celebrations of Easter and Pentecost as we recall Mary’s great joy in her Son’s victory over death as well as her presence with the apostles in the upper room prayerfully awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.”


On the second Sunday of May, we also celebrate Mother’s Day. Catholics used to celebrate this on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, when it was the custom to return to your mother church – the parish in which you were baptised, or the closest cathedral – the mother church of all the parishes in a diocese. Thus, it was also known as “Mothering Sunday”. Domestic servants were given leave to be with their families, and often brought gifts for their mothers back home.

motherAs Protestantism gradually shed such devotions, a vacuum was created. The Mother’s Day we celebrate was initiated by Anna Jarvis in the USA, as a way to honour her late mother. She campaigned assiduously until it became an official celebration. On 8 May 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution that formally designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.


Just like Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, taught Jesus in His humanity to be a virtuous Jewish boy, and as our mothers are meant to teach and form us to become flourishing members of society, so too do our teachers, acting in loco parentis, take on the responsibility to impart knowledge, skills and values to us so that we can live fulfilling lives contributing to our community.

mother and fatherThus, our schools are truly nourishing mothers to us, being the extension of our parents’ desire to fulfil their duty of raising us. Healthy school communities can function as extended families, providing loving communities where students can learn from staff and each other to practise living virtuously.

Is your school a loving mother to you? How can you help create a nourishing environment for your school community?