By Peter G. Sánchez
SEWELL — “You are all missionary disciples of Christ. With your help, students will love and serve Jesus Christ in the world.”
Directing these words to the secondary school religion teachers gathered here for Mass at Church of the Holy Family on Oct. 8, Bishop Dennis Sullivan encouraged the teachers, department heads and Directors of Catholic Identity in their ministry, reminding them of their responsibility to “spread the Good News, the joyful Word.”
The morning liturgy was part of a day of spiritual, instructional and communal refreshment, for the 35 religion teachers, who minister in the six Catholic high schools in Camden Diocese.
The religion teachers “are part of a bigger whole in the Church of Camden. Their work flows from the ministry of the bishop, who is the main teacher in the diocese, and they are empowered by him,” said Mary Boyle, superintendent of schools.
As “missionaries, ministers, and educators, they have a great spectrum of skills and talents,” she said.
Included in the day’s events was a presentation by Robert Klesko, Catholic educational resources product manager from Logos Bible Software, who introduced Verbum, a comprehensive digital Catholic library designed to help high school students in their study of the Catholic faith.
The technology follows the lead of the U.S. bishops’ Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechetical Material for Young People of High School Age (which the diocesan high schools already utilize) and includes Scripture, the Catechism, the Church Fathers, and other sources of Catholic doctrine.
In his presentation, which included a demonstration of Verbum’s capabilities, Klesko noted that in today’s digital age, technology-minded high school students, when doing research for their religion classes, will inevitably find competing views and opinions on the Catholic faith. With Verbum, though, as it uses texts and documents in line with the U.S. bishops, the library is “an effective approach to catechesis formation.”
Able to be used across digital platforms such as laptops, smartphones and tablets, Verbum will “help make students lifelong, and active, learners” of the Catholic faith, “creating in them a curiosity, and giving them an environment to explore,” he said.
Using the technology for their four years of high school, students will “be well-versed” in the Catholic faith “so when they leave high school, they are well-prepared to answer those difficult questions that they’ll face in adulthood.”
Klesko added that with embedded links in texts and documents, students can travel through a wormhole of sorts, learning through different streams of information. On the homepage, students might click on the Saint of the Day, St. Augustine for example, which would lead them to the full text of his work, “Confessions,” which recounts his conversion to Christianity, due in part to St. Ambrose. Following a link to St. Ambrose, students would see a video about the life of the Doctor of the Church, and his life as archbishop of Milan. Clicking on Milan, then, students could see a map of the Italian city.
“Technology gets them hungry. If we put the Gospel in this, they will feed on that,” Klesko emphasized.
The Verbum digital textbook is “cutting-edge thinking,” which we wanted to make known to our teachers, said Bill Watson, director of curriculum for the diocese.
Diocesan educators found the Verbum technology impressive, and planned on discussing Verbum with their principals and administrators.
“Students crave depth and answers; they need hard information,” said Janice Schumann, a senior religion teacher from Wildwood Catholic.
The knowledge that Verbum provides, with its “documents that demonstrate that scholars and saints have studied and researched the faith,” will inspire students to do the same, she believes.
Father Allain Caparas, Director of Catholic Identity at Gloucester Catholic, noting the “need to use technology to reach our students,” said Verbum would be a benefit, to help students become active learners, and defenders, of the faith. “It’s worth our time and worth our investment,” he said.