Suddenly, I realized what the gentle movement next to me was. I looked away from the screen toward my husband’s face and saw his shoulders shaking and tears in his eyes. I paused the movie and asked if he was okay. It turned out that the movie about St. Philip Neri we were watching called I Prefer Heaven was affecting him profoundly.
Before then, I was the one to cry during movies, not him. It turns out that we found a new patron saint for our family that evening, and some inspiration for our school.
From the beginning of our relationship, my husband wanted to try homeschooling, and I begrudgingly agreed. I had had a great experience as a homeschooler myself growing up but was not confident that I could facilitate that experience for my children. We decided to give homeschooling a try to see how it works.
After watching the St. Philip Neri movie together, we decided to name our little school after him (we call it the Neri Academy) and to adopt him as our example and patron. St. Philip Neri devoted much of his life to helping children in Rome who lived on the streets. He showed them what unconditional love is like and helped to educate them. He also taught them about Jesus — and had a fun and joyful time while doing it. Those are virtues we also want to instill in our family.
Here are 3 lessons St. Philip Neri taught us that we are striving to apply to our day at our little Neri Academy:
St. Philip Neri was known for his unflappable joy. His joy and humor were contagious, and people loved to be around him. With learning, we want to find joy in what we study, as well as finding joy in the people we are with. For us that means that when my students (first grade, preschool and nursery) are fascinated by polar bears, and bring them up constantly in conversation, we find books about polar bears and talk and learn about polar bears. This might mean learning about polar bears takes up more of our school time than I anticipated, and that is okay.
It also means I try to find and celebrate joy in the little moments of school (e.g., Whoa, this character in this book is wearing your favorite color!), and the interactions we have together. Oh my, I found where all of our pencils have gone—the one-year-old has been quietly throwing them in the kitchen trash! What a crazy kid!
In I Prefer Heaven, Philip conducts his students in a choir, which leads to an opportunity to sing for the Holy Father at St. Peter’s. I have always liked singing, and when I realized that you can’t sing when you’re angry or grumpy, I realized how important singing is for encouraging joy. We try to sing together at the start of our day, and sometimes sing instead of speaking when we notice our tone or attitude could use some adjustment.
“Could you please come over here so we can read together?” sung instead of snapped is quite helpful for the moods of the singer and the one being sung to. Not to mention that singing is a great memorization aid when it comes to learning and remembering lessons.
LOVE AS THE MOTIVATOR
Philip Neri was so on fire for God, and so filled with love for God’s people, that his heart grew and broke two of his ribs. At least, that’s the story people told when they discovered the broken ribs after his death. But regardless of the supernatural or natural cause of his enlarged heart and broken ribs, it is true that he changed the hearts of many in Rome — both jaded church officials and your average Joe on the street.
It is that same motivation — love — that I hope inspires the learning we do together in our school. Homeschool, like anything else, can become a matter of checking the boxes. Did you do your math? Did you do your spelling? Have you fixed your corrections from yesterday? But if I can remember the goal (choosing the good for each student and modeling God’s unconditional love for him), the daily school routine stays fresh and fulfilling.