During the bus ride taking Tim Guiden and other faculty back to St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac, Guiden relished the sense of community evident as he and his colleagues discussed the Sustaining the Mission classes they attended that day at Holy Angels School, West Bend.

sustainingthemission6A session of the Sustaining the Mission program is held at St. Adalbert School, Milwaukee, Thursday, Oct. 6, for teachers in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. All Catholic schools will be required to participate in the new program beginning in fall 2012. (Catholic Herald photos by Ricardo Torres)Sustaining the Mission is a new program for the religious education certification of Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Developed by Cardinal Stritch University’s St. Clare Center for Catholic Life, it replaces the previous clock hour system of certification.

“The main benefit of the new program is a more solid knowledge of the Catholic faith for all our educators,” said Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “With the Sustaining the Mission program, all faculty have the opportunity to increase their religious knowledge through systematic, cohesive and high quality instruction in the faith.”

Guiden, a St. Mary’s Springs Academy High School theology teacher, attended three classes on Aug. 24 at Holy Angels: “Developing the Gift of Faith,” “What Do We Believe?” and “A Catholic Understanding of Scripture.”

“I’m a big proponent of this because we need to bring our faith into every discipline we teach, not just theology class,” Guiden said.  “The program also gave a sense of community that sets us up for an outstanding start to the school year.”

The session titled “What Do We Believe?” given by Fr. Joseph Juknialis, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills parish in Eden, was especially impactful.

“It was very thought provoking. He made us think in new ways,” Guiden said. “On the bus ride home and the following days here on campus, many people commented on what a great presentation that was.”

Sessions scheduled for in-service days

Sustaining the Mission is different from the clock hour system in that it provides a core curriculum, explained Michael Taylor, director of school and parish programs for the Saint Clare Center in Milwaukee. Rather than making individual choices from a variety of clock hour offerings, teachers will now progress through a core curriculum of classes tailored to specific faith formation needs.

The presentations are given to school clusters or districts at in-service days, where all teachers from a group of schools will gather for the sessions.

“With the clock hour system, a school would send a teacher to a college campus to take some classes, then they’d reach a certain level and stop,” Taylor said. “We wanted to develop a program for ongoing faith formation. Even teachers with advanced certification are included in the Sustaining the Mission program, so we’re bringing all the school’s faculty together for faith formation.”

Another objective for the program is cohesiveness, as it streamlines the existing method of certification and provides consistency.

“We’re delivering the same content all around the archdiocese,” Taylor said.

Participating in Sustaining the Mission will be required for all Catholic schools in the archdiocese beginning in fall 2012. This year, participation is optional. However, 101 of the 112 schools in the archdiocese have signed up for the current school year, Taylor said.

A total of 14 sites will host the sessions throughout the year. Also, the classes will be offered one Saturday each semester on the Cardinal Stritch University campus for anyone who needs to make up missed sessions.

About 40 instructors from throughout the archdiocese will present the classes. Instructors include professors from Catholic colleges and universities, priests, parish staff members, high school theology teachers and St. Clare Center staff.

“These are some of the finest instructors in the archdiocese,” Cepelka said. “I’m proud we’re able to offer a program that’s this substantive and high quality. This program will impact our students’ lives, transforming our schools into places where faith is alive and real and relevant.”

Collaborative effort creates new curriculum

The previous clock hour system designated three levels of religious education certification – basic, intermediate and advanced – and all teachers in the archdiocese’s schools were expected to be certified at the basic level or higher.

The basic certification required a total of 40 clock hours with a specific number of hours required in the categories of Scripture, theology and methods. Generally, teachers had to seek the needed clock hours on their own and obtained the hours by attending approved seminars, classes and workshops.

The Sustaining the Mission program has a defined sequence of classes and is organized under six core theological areas:

  • Scripture
  • Creedal and Doctrinal Concepts
  • Justice and Morality
  • Liturgy, Sacraments and Prayer
  • Church History
  • Methods and Vocational Formation

To develop the program, the St. Clare Center received input from the archdiocese’s Office for Schools, the Office of Catechesis, a focus group of principals, and representatives of the five Catholic colleges and universities that comprise the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium – Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University, Marian University, Marquette University and Mount Mary College.

Teachers receive 12 hours of instruction each year through Sustaining the Mission, divided into two, six-hour in-service days. There are two levels: level one for teachers without prior certification, and level two for teachers with basic or higher certification through the previous system.

It will take three years to progress through level one of Sustaining the Mission and four years to progress through level two, Taylor explained. A third level will also be introduced.

“The curriculum development has been a collaborative process using people throughout the archdiocese who have expertise in different areas,” Taylor said. “We do have more to do. We have topics for the future years, but need to flesh out the content.”

Rich Harter, a pastoral associate at St. Dominic Parish, Brookfield and an adjunct faculty member at Cardinal Stritch University, participated in the curriculum planning. He also presented a class, “A Catholic Understanding of Scripture,” at three sites Aug. 24 through Aug. 26.

Discussion is an integral part of each class, Harter said, and content is presented so it involves the participants. Also, each class has at least one reflective question given to the attendees and the school’s principal can follow up with the participants to discuss that later as a group.

“I saw great enthusiasm in the participants,” he added. “They appreciate that the program comes to them. It’s meeting a need; people will get a well-rounded and thorough background in their Catholic identity.”

Taylor noted that during the inaugural sessions, a few glitches needed to be addressed, mainly related to technology, and he is reviewing evaluation forms received from participants.

Cepelka received messages from attendees also.

“Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. After the first day, I received emails from principals and teachers who described the classes as stimulating, refreshing and rich in content,” she said.

“I was really impressed with the work put into the program,” Guiden said. “I’m looking forward to the entire program and progressing through all three levels.”