Catholic education is a ministry, newbie teachers learn at orientation

Portraits by Kathryn Ziesig
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Just weeks before the start of the school year, a crop of new Catholic school teachers assembled at the Cardinal Rigali Center for orientation into their new roles.

No doubt some of them were just as nervous as their students likely will be on the first day. Elementary schools in the archdiocese begin classes the week of Aug. 14, with most high schools starting around that time.

In 2018, the archdiocese will celebrate 200 years of Catholic education. Starting from those first days when St. Rose Philippine Duchesne arrived in St. Charles in 1818 to start the first free school west of the Mississippi River, today the archdiocese is the largest school system in Missouri with 132 elementary, secondary and special schools.

There are about 180 new teachers entering Catholic elementary and secondary schools for the 2017-18 year. Stephanie Welling, associate superintendent for school personnel, reminded teachers that Catholic education is a ministry and continuing journey.

"All around this archdiocese of ours, children are wondering about you," Welling said. "They are wondering about who their teacher is going to be, and is their teacher going to be a person filled with hope and joy when they walk in that very first day?"

She challenged them: "How will you respond to that call? How will you bring each child and parent that you meet closer to Jesus Christ this year?"

This year also signifies a new shift in the approach to Catholic education. This "renaissance," as superintendent Kurt Nelson described it, includes a new partnership model combining the efforts of three North County schools — St. Ferdinand, St. Norbert and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in Florissant. A similar partnership governance model will be implemented at the new South City Catholic Academy, which includes the former school communities from Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Joan of Arc.

As a third century of Catholic education in the archdiocese begins, teachers must remember that "we are an academic community within a faith community," Nelson said. "That gives us a unique dimension that a lot of other schools don't (have). Being a teacher in a Catholic school is a ministry. Part of your responsibility is to teach by word and example and attitudes — the Gospel.

Nelson reminded teachers that they must not be limited by the subjects they teach. Whether teaching music, science or theology, Catholic educators must look for examples of helping students grow in their faith and in their relationship with Christ in all they do.

"We can pray and talk about God anytime and anywhere, and that is a great opportunity for us," Nelson said. In an address to educators, Pope Francis once said that a computer can teach content just as well as a teacher. "But a good teacher is necessary so students can understand how to love," Nelson said, paraphrasing the Holy Father, and "to understand what the values and habits are that create harmony in society. It's making faith in action." 

>> Meet new teachers

See what six new teachers have to say about why they chose to teach at Catholic schools and how they're excited to help their students grow in faith.

Online: www.stlouisreview.com/j46. 

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