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The need for faith formation for Catholic teachers is an ever-present reality. Modern Church documents – from the Second Vatican Council’s Gravissimum Educationis to the most recent instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue – point to the need for teachers to be well-formed in doctrine and Christian living. This requisite arises from the fact that, contrary to popular belief, Catholic schools are not for Catholics. Rather, the Church sees education as the foremost spiritual work of mercy, flowing from the Body of Christ, for the whole world. The Church instructs the ignorant as part of her Great Commission. Not just those ignorant of Catholic Christianity; this mercy is to be shown to those unfamiliar with mathematics, for instance, and the natural sciences, as well as those estranged from the humanities and fine arts. In speaking to the beauty, truth, and goodness of creation, the Church cannot avoid making reference to the Creator. Thus, education is primarily evangelical, and Catholic education is ‘Catholic’ because it is for everyone (the term ‘Catholic’ itself being derived from the Greek katholikos, or ‘universal’). In other words, it is not intended to be for Catholics, but rather from Catholics, and Catholic teachers need to be properly formed so that they are able to practice and teach Catholic Christianity. 

 

This is no new concept, certainly, but just what should this formation look like? First, we have to acknowledge that teachers are generally drawn from the ranks of the baptized, few of whom are well-versed in their religion, and most of whom  are trained as teachers at university programs that do not provide a sufficient amount of faith formation, if any. Referencing this fact is not intended to question the faith of our teachers, but rather acknowledge that the average Catholic does not know much about why they believe what they believe. We, the Church, quite obviously need to do a better job of adult catechesis in general, but I digress. It is, in part, up to Catholic school divisions to create professional development that aids in forming their teachers. These programs cannot be merely a requirement to attend Mass on Sundays (although that should be a part of them) and participate in parish life. Catholic school divisions need to have ongoing formation programs that address their needs as Catholic educational professionals, and not just Catholic adults.

 

Since Catholic teachers hold a lay leadership vocation in the Church, let’s take a look at the formation programs put in place for other Catholic leaders; our clergy. Seminary formation programs will often focus on four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Each dimension focuses on a different aspect of the person to provide a holistic formation that enables effective ministry:

 

  • Human formation celebrates what it means to be human; virtue, psychology, health, wellness, and a joy of life.
  • Spiritual formation is that foundational practice of the faith; liturgy, sacraments, prayer, devotions, retreats, and the general practice of Catholicism.
  • Intellectual formation focuses on understanding and articulating the beliefs held by the faithful; theology, philosophy, history, and other academic pursuits related to the faith.
  • Pastoral formation provides the tools needed to guide those placed in one’s care; listening skills, counseling, behaviour, and learning those skills needed to lead people to God.

 

The teaching profession itself, as a secular entity, tends to address pastoral and human formation as teachers learn to care for and educate the youth. These simply need to be framed in the Catholic worldview as they continue to be addressed in professional development. With regard to spiritual formation, Catholic schools have an expectation – and provide plenty of opportunity for – practicing the faith with school liturgies, guest speakers, retreats, prayer, devotions, etc. Although all of these dimensions of formation need to continue throughout a teacher’s career, it is the area of intellectual formation that school divisions need to put a particular emphasis on.

 

An emphasis on intellectual formation is not to say that every teacher needs to have formal education in theology; rather, the emphasis arises from the nature of the teaching vocation. Learning is a knowledge-focused endeavour, and a teacher needs to know more about the subject matter than her students do in any subject she teaches. Further, the more a teacher knows about Catholic Christianity, the more he can permeate the faith into his subjects.

 

When Catholic educators hear the word 'permeation' we tend to think of the sacramental and often sentimental trappings of our Catholic schools. This list includes crucifixes over doors, cross-shaped windows, advent wreaths, saintly slogans stenciled on walls, rosaries, statuary, or bibles on shelves.  We might include prayer and other religious practice on the list, which certainly set our schools apart as Catholic. We then proceed to instruct in a secular curriculum (barring formal religious education classes), with – ironically – nary a mention of our religion.

 

The whole concept of ‘faith permeation’ is that our faith has a lasting, changing effect on us. This isn’t an infusion, diffusion, or suffusion; such language implies an additive ‘pouring out’ of our faith into, throughout, or onto our schools. Rather, permeation is the idea that the Gospel of Jesus Christ passes into, throughout, or onto our schools and results in palatable change to the school (not just a ‘presence’). Hanging a cross on the wall is a lesser form of permeation compared to, say, building a school in the shape of a cross. Beginning with prayer is not as ‘permeative’ as, say, incorporating the faith into a lesson on geometry; for instance, relating circle geometry and the golden ratio to the number of fish caught in John 21:11.

 

Intellectual formation enables permeation by providing the teacher with enough knowledge of the faith that they can identify overlap between their subject matter and Church teaching. It’s akin to using a sports analogy to teach physics. A billiard table makes an excellent stage for the play of conservation of momentum, but one needs a familiarity with both billiards and physics to pull it off. If a Catholic teacher is to permeate her subject matter with the faith, she must be familiar with both: (a) the Catholic faith, and (b) her subject matter. For this reason, intellectual formation should be both general (i.e. touching on foundational Christian truths) and subject specific.

 

After decades of envisioning the faith solely in terms of relationships (to God, Jesus, other people, etc.), shifting the focus of faith formation toward intellectual formation can be met with resistance. Consider, however, that mature relationships require more than mere performative action. We have to actually learn about the people we love; one cannot truly love what one does not know.

 

Grant Gay is the Director of Catholic Education for Christ the Redeemer Catholic School Division.

 

One of the many unanticipated graces of my conversion to Catholicism seven years ago has been the experience of engaging in the richness of ‘Catholic culture’. Often, it’s something that I find most people assume they are familiar with – to some superficial degree they likely are  – and as a result of that limited exposure it tends to get dismissed out of hand as childish, boring, foolish, etc. Having formerly been one such person myself, I wanted to share a story about how I stumbled upon what I now consider to be a true gem of Catholic culture: All Saints Day.

 

It was at Mass on All Hallows’ Eve last year when I heard Father mention that a ‘plenary indulgence’ could be obtained by visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead during the octave of Allhallowtide. As someone who attended public school as a child, I will admit that the most prominent connotation of the term ‘indulgence’ for me has always been an illustration from my junior high social studies textbook, in which Martin Luther is featured pounding his theses onto the door of a church (which coincidentally was named ‘All Saints Church’) in Wittenberg, Germany. I was taught that indulgences were how the Catholic Church used to dupe illiterate peasants into thinking they could buy their way into heaven. Needless to say, I did not become Catholic because of some overwhelmingly persuasive theological argument in favor of indulgences. I did, however, find it somewhat strange that the priest had used the term (in public, at least). Did the Church still do this sort of thing? 

 

Fortunately, it was not the first time I had encountered some aspect of the faith that I have had to wrestle with, and so by now I knew better than to trust my intuition. The lack of nuance in popular portrayals of Church history and teaching is initially something of a scandal to the skeptical and investigative catechumen. I did some background reading in the Catechism and on Catholic Answers about indulgences. I proceeded to review some of the arguments criticizing them. Unsure whether I could really wrap my head around the theological arguments pro et contra, I decided instead to simply follow C.S. Lewis’ lead in Mere Christianity (see Chapter 7 ‘Let’s pretend’, in Book IV) and give it the old college try.  

 

The next day after work, my two eldest boys came with me to Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I went to Reconciliation afterward. The three of us then hopped in the van and drove the Henday around north Edmonton to Holy Cross Cemetery, where my dad is buried. It was a warm night, but very dark, and I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to be able to find the grave marker.

 

As we pulled into the cemetery, I was somewhat startled to see the grounds lit up in an eerie red glow. The boys oohed and awed in the back and I slowed down to try to make sense of what was going on. All throughout the graveyard there were hundreds or thousands of burning candles. It was also relatively busy, I suppose, for a graveyard – indeed, I could make out the silhouettes of probably a hundred or more people walking about in little groups among the flickering tombstones.

   

We slowly proceeded towards the general area in which I remembered burying Dad. Not being particularly familiar with cemeteries, I have to say that it was the prettiest I had ever seen – and not only seen, but heard. Stepping out of the vehicle, I was again pleasantly surprised to hear gentle singing and even laughter. I caught an Ave or two of the Lourdes Hymn in the distance. It sounded like most people were speaking Tagalog. The boys were silent, but wore delighted grins on their faces. 

 

Remembering that I had some small candles and matches in the emergency bag of my van, I grabbed them along with the flashlight to try and find Dad's plot. We were on the outer perimeter of where the cemetery had been filled, and, while we had a good view of the show going on in the older part, it was difficult to see much around us. 

 

“Dad, I think it was more over there,” my son offered. He was seven years old. I was skeptical he would really have even remembered the funeral, let alone the exact location of the grave in the pitch dark, but I passed him the flashlight anyways and turned my phone’s flashlight on. 

 

“Okay, you can go look…careful not to step on the graves, though. Don’t go too far.” 

 

The two boys ran off, bursting with excitement.

 

Within less than a minute they found my Dad.  

 

“Yeah, that’s him,” I said. “Kenneth Paul Cavanagh.” 

 

We stood there for a while in silence. I suddenly felt like I should have come here more often.

 

“Are you going to light those candles, Dad?” 

 

I crouched down and fumblingly lit it. Looking up at the boys, I could see the reflection of candlelight bouncing in the eyes of their glowing little faces. I couldn’t help but laugh. I had been kind of worried that this might turn out to be a bit of a morbid Dad-fail, and had even second-guessed bringing them with me at all. But here they were, just as if it were Christmas morning.

 

After a while I asked, tentatively: “Do you guys want to sing some prayers?” 

 

They nodded with enthusiasm. We had been practicing a few chants during Lent earlier in the year. We couldn’t remember all of the words by heart, so I pulled them up on my phone. 

 

“Pater noster, qui es in caelis…” 

 

After that we sang a Salve and then Attende, Domine (wrong time of year, I know, but an easy one for kids). We said the Apostles Creed together in English and prayed for our family members, especially my Dad. Then we just stood there looking at the lights for a while. None of us really felt like leaving. 

 

Eventually I decided to be the grown-up and get my kids to bed. But on the way home I found myself gently chuckling over my former apprehension about indulgences. It had been such a memorable night, and I was now filled with an almost overwhelming feeling of gratitude for God's gift to us of the Catholic Church, which has endowed us with such timeless and beautiful culture. 

 

Brendan Cavanagh is currently Director of Government Relations and Advocacy at the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. - St. Augustine

 

There are opportunities in a lifetime that humble us from thinking that we know many things to realizing that we do not know nearly enough. For me, the Master of Religious Education (MRE) Program at Newman Theological College was one of those rare gifts.

The MRE has not only become a game changer in my life; it has become a crucial road sign for my spiritual journey. In my studies, I was introduced to the writings of the Catholic apologists, the Church Fathers, the Popes, and leaders of the Christian faith. I was re-acquainted with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory of Catechesis, and the Catholic Social Teachings. Most importantly, I was able to trace Salvation History throughout the Old and New Testaments, feeling more deeply God’s prodigal mercy and extravagant love for me. With the support of family, Edmonton Catholic Schools, the Newman Theological College’s teaching and support staff, and the accompaniment of my cohort, I renewed my commitment to Jesus as the center of all Scripture and the salvation of humankind.

The courses were designed to encourage not only private reflection and personal work, but also the gathering of information, the sifting through of resources and the collaborating with like-minded colleagues in and out of my school division. Being at the receiving end of instruction was a refreshing break from my regular duties.

What started out as an academic and professional challenge morphed into a layered gift that peeled off as each course was completed and still continues to surprise me today by its unfolding. Yet, the impact of the program did not end on its completion. With the understanding of the program’s content and the acquisition of the skills that it honed; I became more intentional about “faith seeking understanding.” I discerned writings more closely, questioned statements more deeply, tried to forgive more easily, aimed to serve more freely, and dedicated to living more in the moment.

That is not to say that finishing the program was easy. Over the course of four years, I had to rotate my dining chairs to prevent each one from getting a permanent dent from my nightly reading and writing to complete assignments. When I finished the program, I re-upholstered the full set! Lots of work, but every minute was worth the effort.

What I received from the MRE program I now consistently use in my roles as a Junior High Religion Teacher, School Chaplain, All-City JH Choir Director, and Parish Music Coordinator. It is a privilege and a blessing to be able to continue my faith journey and intersect it with my professional path so closely. 

As we move forward into the future, I hope that many more educators will avail themselves of this wonderful opportunity and enter through the doors that will ultimately open to amazing possibilities.

 

Read more about Newman's Masters in Religious Education program here.

 

Beth Pecson is an accomplished choral director, music teacher, pianist and church musician working in Edmonton, Alberta.

For the past 30 years Beth has taught with Edmonton Catholic Schools as a music specialist and a Junior High Religion teacher. She was a recipient of the 2017 Excellence in Catholic Education Award given by the CCSSA (Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta). She received her Master of Religious Education Degree (with Distinction) from Newman Theological College and was the recipient of the 2017 graduating class's Emmaus Award.

She has highlighted her students, from kindergarten to high school, at various division liturgical and fine arts celebrations and at local, provincial, and national music festivals.

Beth directs the Monsignor Fee Otterson Junior High School Choir and the ECSD (Edmonton Catholic School Division) All-City Junior High Choir.

She serves as the music ministry coordinator of Annunciation Catholic Church and lives in Edmonton with her husband and their four beautiful children.

 

 

As I went through my bookcase a few months ago attempting to write a homily (the key word here is “attempting”), I came across an old copy of the famous book by Reinhold Niebuhr called Christ and Culture. 

Most people would know Niebuhr through his adapted Serenity Prayer, used in likely too many Church basements for over eight decades: 

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Christ and Culture is much like this prayer - it delves into how Christianity can change culture; and how culture, in turn, can change Christianity. It questions who, what, where, when, and on what side changes are made, and whether these changes are to the assistance of Christianity and the general population. During this sidetrack from writing my sermon, I could see that there was also much debate about what Niebuhr meant. Some have suggested that he proposed that Christianity should rarely influence culture. In contrast, others have said that he presents an overbearing archetype where Christianity is too influential over the general culture. And, in re-reading it, I could see how people could reach both conclusions. 

After scanning through this book again, however, I was struck that this is often how any conversations and dialogues go: someone interprets you as wanting to change something, while another person seems at home. For example, a church congregation may be very comfortable hearing quotes from the Bible, but this done in another place would likely raise eyebrows. This is because the thing being said (whether it be something from Christianity or anything else) questions my agreeance with it. And because of this, ultimately, education is a question of what my life should be and what I am to do with my freedom to believe and act on what is taught. As the catechism says about humans: “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his actions” (CCC 1730). Openness and freedom are also at the center of all we will; as Hegel said from a purely philosophical perspective, “Freedom is the fundamental character of the will, as weight is to matter...” Openness and freedom are at the very core of who we are as human beings.

This openness and freedom is echoed in the fantastic work of Catholic schools and organizations. Catholic schools, day in and day out, seek to provide a humanity-fostering venue whereby openness to parentally-requested spiritual perspectives are met in dialogue with all other views. This is furthered by the fantastic work of our trustees in order to create an authentic culture of dialogue and openness. Catholic school boards in Alberta have been at the center of this beautiful dialogue that “we must enter into,” as St. Paul VI says (Ecclesiam Suam, 65).

One document that is particularly helpful in guiding us as we work within our society and in accordance with the requests of parents (i.e. to educate their children in a Catholic atmosphere) is from the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. This document, Dialogue and Proclamation (73-74), describes the various barriers that can emerge as we seek to create places of total openness and respect. Catholic school boards have done an excellent job addressing these barriers. These include following the internal barriers within Catholicism:

 

1. Christians who fail to proclaim the Deposit of Faith because of fear or another reason. Trustees have done a great job addressing these in the province of Alberta through prioritizing Faith Formation for students and teachers. Expectations of literacy for both scripture and the tradition of the apostles are set in the Teacher Quality Standard, where permeation of knowledge of the Deposit of Faith is expected and evaluated at a local level by suitable supervisors.

2. Christians who cannot see God as the source of goodness from other perspectives. As St. Augustine says aptly, “all goodness is God’s”. We make sure that schools distinguish between truths that Catholics declare and the ability to see goodness in other approaches and the “seeds of truth” offered (St. John Paul II, General Audience, Sept. 9, 1998).

3. Christians who wrongly connect a culture with Catholicism and thereby seek to encourage a particular culture rather than Catholicism. Our schools strive to address areas in former years where Christians have failed to live up to the expectations of the Deposit of Faith in our history.  This work has been done by incorporating indigenous education into all areas of our schools, acknowledging the genocide done to indigenous peoples in the history of Canada (Pope Francis, Flight to Rome, July 30, 2022), as well as proper theological responses to the repugnant evil of racism.

4. Christians who have not changed their lives previously to believe and live the Gospel message and the Deposit of Faith. School boards take part in various initiatives to encourage teacher involvement in their parish life. This has included pastoral and spiritual growth plans made with parish involvement. And collaborative work, through ACSTA, with the Bishops of Alberta and the NWT.

 

The external barriers to creating places of openness, respect, and freedom include:

1. “The weight of history” where Christians have not acted following what Christ and the Apostles taught, and thus fear and suspicion arise when Christians teach. We strive to keep the teaching and living of the Deposit of Faith central in schools. The instruction of history in various subjects is honest when Christians fail to live up to the expectation set up by Christ and His Church.

2. The identification of Catholicism with a particular culture or political system. Our schools have been clear in their close relationships with all peoples and politicians that, following the example of Christ (Mk. 12:17), Catholics work with people of all political views.

3. Indifferentism (reinterpreting any ideology/religion as teaching the same things, despite the counterclaims of an ideology/religion), Relativism (stating that religious claims to truth are only true for a particular individual), and Syncretism (a western cultural attempt to reinterpret all religions according to contemporary western philosophy). Trustees have worked with various agencies such as ACSTA to ensure school boards understand their clear Catholic identity. They genuinely respect that our parents choose Catholic schools expecting that we will abide by our unique “branding” that speaks and addresses the current ideologies of our society.

 

May we be guided by the Holy Spirit, the prayers of St. Mary and all the angels and saints as we seek to continue to create educational places that address these barriers in openness, kindness, and respect. 

 

Fr. Adrian is the Ordained District Chaplain of the Calgary Catholic School District and also serves as the Vicar for Lay Associations and the Ecumenical and Interreligious Coordinator for the Diocese of Calgary.

        

This year, for just the second time in history, we were blessed to have the successor of St. Peter visit our home and province, Alberta. 

The Holy Father came to us with a somber and humble purpose: to support the process of Reconciliation being undertaken in this country. He came here to listen firsthand to ‘hold a synod’ or ‘walk together’ with the Indigenous peoples of Canada [1]. In undertaking this journey Pope Francis follows the example of Christ in a most fundamental way; that, in the person of Jesus, God physically came to walk among us. He loves us, He wants to listen to us and be close to us. 

In keeping with the spirituality of the ongoing Synod, and following this historic visit, the provincial Catholic education partners – ACSTA, CCSSA, GrACE, and the Bishops of Alberta – have decided to adopt the theme Walking Together in Catholic Education for the duration of the 2022-23 school year. Just like Pope Francis, we are all called to imitate Christ. The Holy Father tells us to “be shepherds with the smell of sheep”; therefore, we should ‘walk’ with the people we serve through our work in Catholic education – especially those with whom we seek reconciliation.

Of course, attempting to imitate Christ requires steadfast faithfulness to our God. This year the Congregation for Catholic Education issued the instruction The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue, which states, quoting Pope Francis: “We cannot create a culture of dialogue if we do not have an identity”. To accompany and complement our 2022-23 provincial theme, then, we have also selected the following Scripture passage from the Book of Micah (chapter 4, verse 5):

 

          As for us, we will walk

          In the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

 

While walking together we heed the words of the prophet Micah by remaining faithful and obedient to our God, as our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified so perfectly (Matthew 5:17). 

On behalf of all the provincial Catholic education partners, we sincerely look forward to Walking Together in Catholic Education with you throughout the 2022-23 school year! 


 Notes:

[1] "To hold a ‘synod’ means to walk together.” 4 October 2013 Address of Pope Francis at the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi. 

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18

I feel that our lives are like a ship in rough seas, and, though we hold strong to the rudder, the seas toss and turn us endlessly. Just when we feel we are in control, another wave blindsides us and we struggle to regain a sense of direction. For those of us who believe in the power of God, it is that power that maintains our lives, anchors us to something solid, and provides a rudder in stormy seas.

As part of the global Church’s preparation for the 2023 assembly of the Synod of Bishops each diocese throughout the world has summarized their experience of the first phase of reflection and dialogue on Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission (“synodal process”). It was a process of prayer, listening, and dialogue in each local Church guided by the Holy Spirit. In the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops (AWCB) Synod Synthesis report the importance of faith education, formation and catechesis. “Access to Catholic Schools is varied from province to province, but where schools exist, they are generally expected to be responsible for catechesis. Greater collaboration between parish and school is needed to assist parents in assuming this role.” In order to achieve this goal, the report states, “suggestions focus on improving faith formation in Catholic schools, strengthening the connection between schools and parishes, and supporting school teachers in living their faith”.   

This past year I had the remarkable opportunity to be part of the Diocese of Calgary’s synodal leadership team.  The task was enormous; the way forward was uncertain and the learning curve was straight up!  Though this territory was uncharted for me, I was inspired immediately when I read the Vatican documents explaining the synodal process.  The goals were aspirational and shared through the language of scripture and faith.  I was moved.  I was hooked!  I remember thinking to myself (and saying to others), “How do these guys at the Vatican have the ability to really ‘get us’?  To understand what we need and long for?  How do they express it in words that clarify God’s love and the mission of the Church in such an effective way?’’