Mary: Our Mother and Teacher

In her reflection, Shirley Tan makes a case on how Catholic teachers can learn from Mother Mary to be like a nourishing and bountiful mother to our students. It is no wonder that ‘alma mater’ in Latin, literally means
nourishing and bountiful mother.


In the paper on the “Catholic Education in Singapore: Core Values, Common Purpose & Goals”, a few of the goals of Catholic Schools are listed as follows:

  • to give our students a sense of God;
  • to uphold a view of the Human Person as made in the image and likeness of God;
  • to provide young people with a view of life that is positive – based on faith, hope & love expressed in selfless service;
  • to bring the Gospel to life and bring Christ to a needy world; and
  • to provide a Catholic education for Catholic students.

As in all educational endeavours, our learning and growing, in personal and communal dimensions of life have benefited from the guidance of a loving friend, teacher, role model or mentor. The same holds true of our faith life. As Catholics, part of our upbringing includes rich traditions, and devotions to holy men and women – saints – who serve as role models and guides in our spiritual life. While each of us have our personal devotions to particular saints, as Catholics, Mary, has always had a special place in our hearts. Over two millennia, Mary has been mother and teacher to many, especially in hours of need.

In a world that often seems in need of consolation, guidance and wisdom it is only natural that we look to Mary, Our Mother and Teacher for this much needed guidance and wisdom. Who do we look to, then, to give our students a sense of God? Mary our Mother is a model of Faith.

At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel told the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of the saviour. Mary was the first to hear and believe that God would do what he promised the world. She also discovered that she would play a special role in God’s plan for salvation. Jesus would be formed in her womb, and she would care for him. Mary agreed to God’s plan because she wanted her will to be God’s will. And she was willing to accept the joy and pain that came along with it to bring Christ to a world that waited for him.

What a ministry Mary had—to raise the Son of God! There was no precedent she could look to for guidance. Her religious zeal, devotion, and insight were no doubt formative in Jesus’s life. While the Blessed Virgin Mary had no precedent then, we now have a precedent in the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Mother and Teacher. Mary Our Mother and Teacher lived out her faith amid a fully human life, that of an ordinary woman. God did not spare her pain, exhaustion in her work and trials of her faith. She gave birth to Jesus in a manger, and she had to flee with the infant Jesus to Egypt to live in exile during much of Jesus’ ormative years. Every aspect of faith in Christian life finds its example in Mary. Mary our Mother teaches us to be totally open to God’s divine will “even though it is mysterious, and often does not fit with our own wishes. At times, this divine will is like a sword that pierces our soul, as the elderly Simeon would say prophetically to Mary when Jesus was presented in the Temple (cf Luke2:35).

Mary’s complete trust in God’s faithfulness and in His promises never wavers, even when these were difficult or apparently impossible to accept. Amid the darkness of the Cross, Mother Mary’s faith and docility yield an unexpected fruit. In the person of John the Apostle, Jesus entrusted all men to his Mother, and especially his disciples: those who were to believe in Him. Jesus gives us his Mother as our mother; He places us under her care, and offers her as our advocate. Through Mary’s life, therefore, we are able to bring to our students the message of faith, hope and love embodied in selfless service.

Indeed, we are fortunate that in our Catholic schools, the culture of our Catholic faith presents us with a special relationship with Mary as Jesus had a special relationship with her being “theotokos” or Mother of God. In Latin, schools are referred to as “alma mater”, meaning “nourishing or bountiful mother”. It follows, thus, that the nourishing and bountiful mother that defines Catholic schools would naturally be Mary, Our Mother and Teacher who was presented to us as guide and advocate at the foot of the Cross.

Catholic Education in Singapore: Core Values, Common Purpose & Goals by Archdiocesan Commission for Catholic Schools; April 2012