Teachers take a day to reflect on their faith

Teachers take a day to reflect on their faith

Mass was an integral part of the recent in-service program held throughout the diocese. Teachers and administrators from Region 3 join in song at Saint Joseph Church in Somers Point.

More than 500 South Jersey Catholic School teachers and administrators attended a one-day professional development sessions throughout the week of Sept. 18. The subject, “Encountering God’s Love in the Sacraments,” enabled teachers of all subjects to reflect on their own faith and the role it plays in the classroom.

“Our teachers and administrators have answered a call to work in Catholic schools. So we wanted to devote professional development time to the faith that connects us. It’s important to make time to explore our faith … to take things that seem familiar and maybe look at them through a different lens,” said Mary Boyle, superintendent of Catholic schools.

Dr. Michael Barber (center), from the Augustine Institute, with diocesan school administrators and staff from the Sophia Institute for Teachers. From left: Shannon McClure, Veronica Burchard and Chris Beggs of the Sophia Institute; Dr. Barber; Mike Gutzwiller of the Sophia Institute; and Mary Boyle, Rosemary Schamp and Dr. Bill Watson of the Diocese of Camden.

Boyle said the sessions were a beautiful way to support the role of Catholic Identity as it is reflected in “Forming Minds and Hearts in Grace,” the Bishop’s Commission report on the future of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Camden: “Catholic Identity is the heart of who we are and the source of our excellence.”

Science teacher Julie Oaks, from Saint Joseph Regional Elementary School in Hammonton, agrees. “I choose to teach in a Catholic school but I don’t teach religion,” she said. “So it’s good to connect with that Catholic identity… it’s important to stay in touch with my Catholic faith.”

Working with the diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools, the program was facilitated by the Sophia Institute for Teachers, which provides faith-based training for catechists and Catholic school teachers. Sophia encourages the use of sacred art and pop culture as ways to engage students.

Featured guest speakers addressed the groups, focusing on the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

Father Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S., full-time holder of the Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, was the featured speaker on Monday and Tuesday. Sessions Wednesday through Friday were led by Dr. Michael Barber, associate professor of Scripture and theology at the Augustine Institute near Denver, Colorado.

During breakout sessions, Sophia staff members offered a combination of reflection for teachers and ideas for keeping faith in all classrooms.

“It was geared toward my faith formation,” said second-grade teacher Ellie Cordner. “I could think about how the sacraments relate to me and then bring that back to the classroom.” Cordner said her colleagues at Saint Margaret in Woodbury Heights all appreciated that the program was designed for their own spiritual development.

Principal Jan Bruni received similar feedback at Saint Michael in Clayton. “My staff said it was ‘the absolute best professional development day they’ve had.’ It was relaxing and fresh,” she said.

She added that teachers are already accessing classroom resources made available by Sophia Institute.

Dr. Bill Watson, director of curriculum and assessment for South Jersey Catholic Schools, said he was pleased with the program content and the ability to hold the sessions at the start of a new school year.

“It’s great to take the time and focus on religion because that’s who we are,” he said. “We become better Catholic school teachers when we’re better witnesses. And we’re better witnesses when we are closer to Jesus and understand our faith.”

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