Catholic educators’ dedication shows at convention in St. Louis

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Sister Judith Abique, SPC, will integrate Theology of the Body concepts in religious education at St. Joseph School in Waipahu, Hawaii, as a result of a session she attended at the NCEA Convention and Expo in St. Louis.

The session focused on an age-appropriate approach to help students see the world through the context of Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II's encyclical on an integrated vision of the human person counteracting societal trends, which view the body as an object of pleasure or as a machine for manipulation. Sister Judith, vice principal and religion coordinator at the school in Hawaii, said the convention offered "really good insights."

More than 8,000 Catholic educators, school board members and others attended the National Catholic Educational Association event April 18-20 at the America's Center in Downtown St. Louis. At the opening session they were treated to a short video and remarks by Kurt Nelson, superintendent of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, highlighting innovations and some of the many historic achievements of Catholic education in St. Louis. Nelson said that next year marks Catholic education's 200th anniversary in St. Louis, "the birth of education west of the Mississippi River."

Sister Judith was far from alone in finding ways to enhance classroom lessons.

"Two thumbs up" said Kathie Rynearson of St. John the Apostle School in Lincoln, Neb. She intends to use what she heard from "Learning Through Song: An Engaging Way to Teach Catholic Prayer to Children." A kindergarten teacher, she said the presentation by John Burland of Australia demonstrated a "high-energy way to invigorate and inspire students." A composer and religious educator, Burland uses music to reverently support the teaching of traditional Catholic prayer.

Rynearson said Burland praised educators at Catholic schools in the U.S. who have a higher level of dedication than in his country, where Catholic schools are partially funded by the government. "He really affirmed us," Rynearson said. "We need that shot in the arm."

Shelly Jensen, a learning consultant at Immaculate Conception School in Union, said she was pleased to see "so many people here with the same mission, goals and identity for Catholic education." Jensen appreciated the many sessions offering help to special education teachers.

Cecil Bongato, a teacher at Mercy Heights Nursery and Kindergarten in Guam, also found resources and new ways to improve teaching. It's her first time at the convention and she was worried that it wouldn't have enough offering for those who teach the youngest children. But that wasn't the case. Plus she found a lot of similarities in Catholic education on the mainland U.S. and her island nation, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean.

Thomas W. Burnford, president and CEO of the NCEA, addressed the gathering at the opening session. He said that despite enrollment challenges, "Catholic education is alive and well." Catholic educators, he said, are committed to growing in faith and learning from each other.

"Catholic schools are places of encounter with the Lord," Burnford said.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Doyle, who operates an online staff formation program in Catholic identity and Catholic teaching, reminded the educators that they need Jesus' help in doing their task. Debbie Reinkemeyer, principal of Holy Family School in Freeburg, Mo., said she was inspired by Doyle's message about "what we need to do to become better people to help the young." 

>> Catholic education in Missouri

Schools — 240 elementary, secondary and special education

Students — 58,000

Beginnings — St. Rose Philippine Duchesne opened the first free school west of the Mississippi River on Sept. 14, 1818 

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