|Equipping Teachers to Spread the Faith—The Second Annual Wojtyla Summer Institute Explores the Catechism|
Pope Benedict XVI has declared the upcoming 2012-13 year the ‘Year of Faith’, calling upon Catholics to rediscover the joy and beauty of their belief. It is in that light that on the weekend of August 9-12, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy hosted its second annual Wojtyla Summer Institute, aimed primarily at Catholic school teachers. This year, the Institute was themed around Pope Benedict’s call, during the Year of Faith, for Catholics to delve into and make their own the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Forty-two participants from across Ontario, and one from Alberta, attended this year’s Institute and attended lectures and discussions led by esteemed Catholic educators such as Michael D. O’Brien, Fr. Joseph Hattie, OMI, and OLSWA’s own faculty.
The weekend began Thursday evening, with Fr. Hattie, one of OLSWA’s two chaplains, delivering an opening address to the teachers, situating the Catechism in its proper context as a fruit of the Second Vatican Council, which called for a renewal of the world, not just of the Church herself. Every Pope since the Council has renewed this call to reevangelize the world through catechetics, and what a gift we have in the new Catechism for continuing this work into the 21st century.
Friday was spent delving into the four pillars of the Catechism from a pedagogical perspective: How does one teach the treasures of the Catechism to often-distracted and jaded young people? The discussion was led by OLSWA’s own professor, John Paul Meenan, along with Fr. Hattie, providing hermeneutical ‘keys’ to reading the Catechsim. The participants were motivated to read and be familiar with the text itself, to deepen their own knowledge of the faith, and also be ready to answer their students’ often deep and difficult questions about their Catholicism.
Later Friday afternoon, the teachers were privileged to hear acclaimed author, Michael D. O’Brien, OLSWA’s own Artist and Writer in Residence, speak on his own experiences as a former student and his discovery of the Catholic truth. In particular, he addressed the challenge of reaching students who have no interest in the faith. O’Brien, quoting the Holy Father, stated that teachers need to teach the “living word” and to be sure not to present the faith as “dead letter.” He recalled teachers from his past who inspired his journey of faith. Those teachers weren’t necessarily “theatrical extroverts” but were men who expressed their faith as a living reality. “Be who you are,” he reminded the teachers, “and you will impart a hunger for the truth” in your students’ lives. He closed his lecture by quoting words of encouragement that Christ spoke before He ascended to Heaven: “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
Following Michael O’Brien’s talk, Richard Bastien, Vice President of Justin Press and the Ottawa Director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, gave a public lecture in the evening after dinner, entitled “Faith and Reason Go Hand in Hand.” This talk was of particular interest to teachers who regularly faced the skepticism of atheist students in their classrooms.
Saturday’s schedule brought another full day as the teachers heard from Dorothy Burns, Director of Religious Education in western Alberta, on the need for teachers to grow together spiritually. She emphasized the importance of teachers gathering privately for Mass, prayer, living and studying the faith together outside of the classroom. The afternoon brought sessions on the specific pedagogy of Philosophy, Literature and Science in light of the Catechism. OLSWA’s professors Michael Schintgen, Christine Schintgen and John Paul Meenan spoke on their respective teaching disciplines and how to approach them from a Catholic perspective while making the subjects relevant to secondary school students of today.
On Saturday afternoon there was a free-form discussion session, wherein teachers could bring up topics of interest they wished to discuss with the rest of the group. They discussed issues such as dealing with Bill 13 (Ontario’s “Accepting Schools Act”), how to integrate the Year of Faith into the school year, and how to bring the Culture of Life to their school communities. Teachers shared their experiences and proposed ways of working together to be more effective in spreading their faith. This panel discussion proved a great opportunity for the teachers to network together and realize they are not alone in the struggle for faith in school boards across Canada.
Overall, the sessions were a great success. As Mark Woermke, current President of the Catholic Teachers Guild of Ottawa, summed up the sessions:
“This was the second annual Wojtyla Summer Institute for teachers, and the fact that numbers more than doubled from last year indicates that the Institute is filling an important need. Catholic teachers are seeking spiritual renewal, intellectual stimulation and fellowship. The Institute provides all of this in a context which promotes Catholic culture and faithfulness to the Magisterium.
"I was very pleased that eight members of Catholic Teahers Guild of Ottawa were able to attend this year's Institute. There were also a number of teachers present from the Catholic Teachers Guild in Toronto. I met teachers from seven different Catholic school boards in Ontario and a Catholic school district in Alberta.
"I am struck by the words of Blessed John Paul II for whom the institute is named: "Be not afraid!" All Catholic teachers are facing challenges in their classrooms, schools, school boards and communities. The Wojtyla Summer Institute has better equipped us to meet these with faith, hope and love.”
Joe Bissonnette, a teacher from the Brantford board, described the Institute as “the most inspiring professional development I have ever experienced.” Although, as he continued, teachers “face an increasingly aggressive atheism in the culture and sometimes in the classroom,” he was given hope, as “the summer institute prepared us to use the catechism effectively and demonstrate the reasonableness of the faith.” He joined many others in declaring that “I will certainly attend again next year.”
The weekend was not all work: There were receptions, chats, good food and wine, with a rousing celebration Saturday night. OLSWA President, Dr. Keith Cassidy,his wife Elizabeth and daughter Maureen hosted a barbeque dinner on OLSWA campus. Much laughter and chatter was heard throughout St. Joseph’s Hall as teachers ate and drank together, sharing stories and continuing to get to know each other. The evening soon turned into a jam session around the piano and guitars: Everyone sang along to favorite songs and enjoyed the evening of good fellowship and conversation.
Sunday morning, as goodbyes were said after Mass, teachers were reluctant to leave as the weekend came to a close. After exchanging contact information and promising to stay in touch over the year to support each other in their dedication to spreading the faith among their school communities, they all looked forward to reuniting at next year’s Institute to continue the exciting journey of evangelization together.
This year’s Institute was indeed a blessing, and Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy would like to thank all who attended and brought their gifts and passion to the weekend. OLSWA would also like to thank, in particular, Maureen Cassidy, Mark Woermke, and Dr. and Mrs. Cassidy for organizing and hosting such a successful weekend.