|Faculty and administrators from Aquinas College’s School of Education recently traveled to Rome to attend the World Congress on Catholic education sponsored by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. While in Rome, they met with the seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville who are studying there. Pictured are, from left, Sister Mary Anne Zuberbueler, O.P., Luke Wilgenbusch, Anthony Stewart, Sister Matthew Marie Cummings, O.P., Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, O.P., and Rhodes Bolster.
Attending the World Congress on Catholic education held at the Vatican in November provided a broad view of the issues facing Catholic schools around the world, said Sister Mary Anne Zuberbueler, O.P., dean of the School of Education at Aquinas College.
“You can get really narrow thinking only about your own backyard,” Sister Mary Anne said. While discussions of access to Catholic education in the United States might center on a family’s ability to afford the tuition, in some countries where students live in remote areas with limited roads, the discussion is about how to transport students to the school, she explained.
Sister Mary Anne and four other full-time faculty members at Aquinas’ School of Education – Sister Matthew Marie Cummings, O.P., Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, O.P., Sister Martha Ann Titus, O.P., and Hope Link – attended the World Congress in Rome Nov. 18-21. The event drew more than 2,000 participants from around the world.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 suggested the World Congress as a way to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration On Christian Education and the 25th anniversary of the apostolic constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” St. John Paul II’s document on the role of Catholic colleges and universities.
In keeping with the themes of the two documents, the World Congress had two tracks, one for schools and one for universities, Sister Mary Anne said. “Since we serve schools, being present in both areas was really important to us.”
The goal of the event, whose theme was “Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion,” was to reinvigorate the church’s commitment to education and respond to the many challenges facing its mission.
One area of emphasis of particular interest to Sister Mary Anne and her colleagues from Aquinas was the “formation of formators” addressing issues surrounding training teachers and principals, she said.
The goal for the School of Education at Aquinas is to teach its students about the faith and to help them deepen their own personal faith so they can then share that with their students, Sister Mary Anne said. “The more steeped they are in their faith, then it becomes more natural to bring that faith” to their students, she said.
Aquinas’ School of Education has about 100 students in both its undergraduate and graduate programs, Sister Mary Anne said. Although many of the students are interested in teaching in Catholic schools, the goal of the program is to prepare people to teach in any school.
No matter where they end up teaching, they can bring the Catholic focus on the dignity of the person, Sister Mary Anne said.
Pope Francis attended the closing session of the World Congress and answered questions. “The energy in the room was profound,” Sister Mary Anne said.
The pope talked about the need for educators to have a firm foundation but also be willing to take risks, Sister Mary Anne said. With the firm foundation of both the faith and the theory and methods of teaching, educators have to be willing to step out into unknown territory, she said. “Otherwise we’ll never move forward.”
“The young person who comes to Aquinas saying I want to be a teacher … they are getting a great foundation in the faith and the pedagogy in teaching. But we’re also encouraging them in their own faith formation to take those steps forward,” Sister Mary Anne said.
In answer to Pope Francis’ call to serve people on the periphery of society, students might consider doing their student teaching in situations they might not be familiar with, Sister Mary Anne said. “It can help them see it’s part of growing as a person and growing in their own faith.”
Another common theme of Pope Francis is the importance of accompanying people in their life, and that can apply to teachers, Sister Mary Anne said, “being present to each student.”
The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, which organized the World Congress, sponsored an international seminar in 2012. That led to the drafting of the 2014 document “Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion.” That document concluded with a questionnaire for bishops’ conferences, the Union of Superiors General and associations of teachers, parents, students and school leaders, asking them to reflect on the importance of Catholic education in the context of the new evangelization.
The responses to the questionnaire identified four fundamental challenges:
• The challenge of identity and mission.
• The challenge of an integral or holistic education.
• The challenge of education and the faith.
• The challenge of the poor, both materially and spiritually, and new forms of poverty.
Based on those challenges, the speakers at the World Congress addressed four overarching themes: identity and mission; the players interacting in Catholic education from bishops and religious congregations to parents and students; the training of teachers and principals; the challenges of integral education, faith and new forms of poverty.
While in Rome, the Aquinas delegation was able to meet with the seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville who are studying there, as well as the Aquinas students staying in Bracciano, Italy, as part of the college’s study abroad program.
Of the eight students studying at Bracciano this semester, four are students in the School of Education, Sister Mary Anne said. “It was good to catch up with them too.”