Sarah Scovell Muraski | Integrating Faith and History

Sarah-Scovell-MuraskiTeacher, Grade 8, US History/Living History/Carpe Diem; Assistant Forensics Coach; Gilder Lehrman Affiliate School Liaison
St. Francis Xavier High School, Appleton
Teacher for 11 years

Once upon a time, an insignificant girl in the eighth grade whispered into the ear of the King of France -- and he actually listened.

Sometime in middle school at St. Philip the Apostle in Green Bay, I was introduced to the story of St. Joan of Arc. At a time in my life when I felt (quite naturally) powerless and insignificant myself, this was truly an astounding thing: that a teenage girl led an army, crowned a king, and her legacy inspired a nation to save itself not once, but over and over.

Young Jeanne D’Arc was my hero from that day on. My daughter's middle name, Lorraine, is in part in her honor as she was called the Maid of Lorraine.

On "superhero day" during our Red Ribbon Week celebrations this fall, I dressed as St. Joan -- as you can see in this picture where I posed with student Katrina Pfaffenbach, appropriately dressed as her hero, Jesus Christ. She is the saint I consult with most often in my prayers about my vocation to teach American history.

Challenge and Joy

The history of this great nation and the history of American Catholics are intrinsically entwined. To integrate the teaching of the faith with my teaching of history, then, has become both a challenge and a great joy. These are the connections that I make with my students that remain the most profound of my career -- the ones that take the lives of holy men and women and make them both relevant and essential to their understanding of the past, present and future.

A moment from this year stands out. One of the classes I am honored to have developed is called Living History, and focuses on teaching the craft of historical re-creation and education in first person. My student living historians are challenged every year to prepare and present a prayer service to the school, focused on a historical theme in their selected era and tied to the readings of the day.

This year, my 18th century class presented a beautiful service called "A Journey in Amazing Grace: The Life and Faith of William Wilberforce." Enchanted and intrigued by this man who used his mentor John Newton's famous hymn to forward the cause to end the slave trade, students performed scenes from Wilberforce's life that spoke of his conversion, his struggle choosing between faith and political life, the support of his brothers and sisters in Christ, and the steadfastness of his wife, Barbara. Through these they wove the Scripture readings of the day, petitions that echoed Wilberforce's mission in today's world, and an ensemble reading of a poem by modern peace activist Marianne Williamson. They quite literally moved their teachers and parents to tears.

Giving Students a Gift

For me, to teach faith as I teach history is to give my students a gift -- one they need in eighth grade perhaps more than any other time in their lives. This is the age where the world as they knew it starts to show its flaws, and yet they feel powerless to change it. The great men and women of faith working for the greater good, like St. Joan of Arc and William Wilberforce, are their guides. It is, as the poem from their prayer service stated:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."