Catholics must be “merciful teachers” in eliciting the best from everyone around them, said a prominent Dominican preacher on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. “Our call, religious, ordained, and laity alike, is to be 'merciful teachers who wake up the world',” the Very Rev. Ken Letoile, O.P., told Mass attendants at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He cited Pope Francis' call for the consecrated religious to “wake up the world.” “It should not be surprising that St. Thomas thinks teaching is a profound spiritual work of mercy: 'Instructing the ignorant',” Fr. Letoile added. Former students revere their exceptional teachers precisely because “they demanded the most of us, as they called forth from us — the root meaning of the word 'educate ' — they called forth our best work.” “They formed us in the truth. They were merciful to us, because we are made to know the truth and to rejoice in it. We are not meant to be ignorant.” Fr. Letoile is the prior provincial for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, the eastern quarter of the four Dominican U.S. provinces. He preached at the annual Mass of St. Thomas Aquinas at the National Shrine on Jan. 28. Fr. Letoile was joined by over 50 concelebrants from the neighboring Catholic University of America, Dominican House of Studies, and other seminaries and consecrated religious houses of studies. The Mass was co-sponsored by Catholic University, the Dominican House of Studies, and the National Catholic Educational Association. It heralded the new academic semester and celebrated Catholic Schools Week. St. Thomas is also the patron saint of Catholic schools. “One of my revered Dominican teachers once told us that before he entered the classroom he would pray for grace he needed to love the students he was about to teach,” Fr. Letoile shared. “In the words of today's first reading, 'I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me.' That's the humility that is key to our call to be merciful teachers.” St. Thomas was transformed by “merciful teaching,” Fr. Letoile added. Thomas' teacher, St. Albert the Great, “saw in his shy student what none of Aquinas' other teachers and none of his classmates could see: a gifted genius in love with the Lord, who would, one day, teach the world about the mysteries of the Christian faith.” Speaking at the end of Mass, Catholic University president John Garvey said the academic vocation is ultimately about God and not an egotistical pursuit of knowledge. “Thomas' example shows that the academic vocation is not a game. It's not something we win by racking up the highest GPA or making the most clever arguments,” Garvey stated. “For St. Thomas the goal of studying theology was to acquire the knowledge we need to direct our lives toward God, the final goal.” When students do not live what they study, he added, “our studies can be like conversations in an echo chamber. The reverberations build and build until the sound is unintelligible.” National Catholic Schools Week begins every last Sunday of January and continues through the week. It “is the annual celebration of Catholic education in the U.S.,” according to the National Catholic Education Association.