Angie Jakubik, Ursuline Academy of Dallas Theology Department Chair
As I look around at the faces of students in my high school theology classroom, those seated at desks six feet apart and those inhabiting squares in our COVID-era video session, I see an incredible variety of student contexts. Many students are Catholic; many are from other faith traditions – or none at all. Some have come to a personal commitment to Jesus; others are searching and questioning. A number are well-versed in Catholic beliefs; for some, this is their first time to hear the Gospel message. Some students are facing personal challenges that have led to a crisis of faith. Some are hungry to be fed in their faith. Still others see my theology class as just another course to master on the way to college.
How can I connect with each student, each one a child of God? How can I meet each where she is on her journey of faith and create an opportunity for her to encounter Jesus? How can I show respect for her family’s faith traditions and also present the truth of the Catholic faith?
These questions have formed the basis of my professional development ever since I joined the faculty of Ursuline Academy of Dallas, an all-girls Catholic high school. Theology teachers have a unique challenge, for our discipline is more than a field of study: it is a ministry. Our educational goals go beyond mere knowledge of the faith, for we invite students to the joy of life with Jesus and his Church. Yet finding professional development opportunities to help me gain a larger understanding of my tasks plus specific classroom strategies has been a challenge.
I first heard about the Duc in Altum Schools Collaborative this past fall through a Catholic group social media post about their online conference, the Schools Summit. When I clicked through to the DIA website and read the conference details, I saw that the presentation topics were precisely what I was looking for, so I signed up immediately.
When the Schools Summit began, in between teaching my classes, I was able to view speakers’ pre-recorded sessions. I was also able to attend live panel discussions with the speakers and fellow attendees, entering into a fruitful dialogue as we dove deeper into the topics.
Father Sean Kilcawley’s presentation on “Evangelization as Teaching the Art of Living, the Art of Being Human” especially resonated with me. In his talk, he discussed kerygmatic accompaniment, using Pope Francis’ metaphor of “triage” to determine where people are on their faith journeys and what methods of accompaniment are most helpful at each stage. He emphasized that just as a field medic staunches a hemorrhage before checking cholesterol, an evangelizer’s first task is to heal wounds before diving into particulars of doctrine and morals. Fr. Kilcawley was talking about my students: so many are wounded, and my best lesson plans would mean little until students were healed through Jesus and his infinite love and mercy – and I can create an environment in which they could encounter Him.
One unexpected blessing of the online format was meeting other conference attendees during evening “Meetaway” sessions. When we joined these sessions, I was able to chat with colleagues across the country, sharing the challenges and successes we each face in our schools. More than once, we clicked the button to extend our conversations beyond the allotted nine minutes! I’m grateful to have connected with such faith-filled, creative, Catholic faculty members and anticipate continuing our conversations as professional resources for one another.
After the conference ended, I was excited to bring back what I had learned, so I showed some talks during our theology department meetings. José Gonzalez’ discussion gave teachers multiple concrete ideas on how to teach with sacred art, including tips for lectio / visio divina, gallery walks, and enhancing prayer with art. The post-conference “PD Success Pack” made the talks easy to access online!
Next year’s Duc in Altum Schools Summit, October 20-22, 2021, is on my calendar, and I’m looking forward to seeing in person the attendees I met virtually as we gather in Nashville. I am inviting the theology department and campus ministry faculty to attend as well, since the keynote addresses and workshops in this conference will help our teaching and ministry to be more fruitful.
The prayer by Bishop Ken Untener in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero guides my teaching:
“…No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise….
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest….”
No one conference will bring about perfect understanding of how to best accompany my students, yet the DIA Schools Summit certainly equipped me with numerous ideas and connected me with a community of like-minded colleagues. May the 2021 conference bring you many blessings as well!