‘We teach souls,’ Diocesan Teacher Institute attendees told

Photo Caption: Principals Jodi Peine (St. Philomena, Peoria), Shannon Rogers (St. Joseph’s, Pekin), Dan Schmitt (Trinity Catholic Academy, LaSalle), and Tim Millage (The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign).

By: By Jennifer Willems

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, didn’t mince any words when he talked to Catholic school teachers and administrators from throughout central Illinois about why Catholic schools exist.

“To save our children from hell and to prepare them for paradise is what we do,” he said in his homily at the Mass that came at the beginning of the Diocesan Teacher Institute on Oct. 7. The event drew 850 people first to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria and then the Peoria Civic Center for a luncheon and talks by Father Patrick Henehan, a longtime high school chaplain and pastor of St. Jude’s Church and School in Peoria, and Msgr. Stanley Deptula, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship and executive director of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation.

During breaks in the schedule and over lunch the educators also had an
opportunity to visit with each other and browse through new materials from 20 publishers and other vendors.

The Diocesan Teacher Institute is held every other year, alternating with the Catholic School Mass for students. Both fill the cathedral for prayer, song and inspiration at the beginning of the new school year.

Bishop Jenky told the teachers and principals that Catholic schools do many things well, starting with excellent academic programs. They often excel in sports and are known for instilling service values among the students, he added.

“But our essential unity in Catholic education is about proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he emphasized. “Our schools exist for no lesser reason than to make saints out of our students.”

This unity in mission is a recipe for victory, Bishop Jenky said, noting that it is needed at a time when church teaching is clashing with public policy and state laws, such as in the case of Catholic Charities and licensing regulations regarding foster care and adoption services. (See the story on page 3.

The bishop cautioned that Catholic health care may be next and wondered if the day was coming when there would be limits to “our freedom to teach the Gospel in our schools.”

“We have to be united,” Bishop Jenky said. “We have to be on fire. We have to be people of prayer and people of determination not to be separated.”

Before they left the cathedral, the educators stood and recommitted themselves to their ministry of building up the kingdom of God among their students. At the bishop’s invitation the principals from each of the 44 diocesan schools came forward to receive blessed prayer cards for their faculties and staffs.

In a talk filled with humor, gratitude and passion for Catholic education, Father Henehan reminded the teachers and principals of the power of their ministry.

“Some teachers inform minds. Better teachers inform minds and change hearts,” he said. “But a great teacher, a great teacher informs the mind, changes the heart and affects souls.

“This is why we build Catholic schools. This is why we have Catholic schools. This is why we do what we do,” said Father Henehan, who teaches religion to the third- and fourth-graders at St. Jude’s School. He also has served as chaplain at Marquette High School (now Marquette Academy) in Ottawa and Central Catholic High School in Bloomington and was named director of the Council for High School Chaplains in 2010.

Catholic schools are different and must be different, not only in what is taught, but how it is taught, he said.

“We teach people not subjects,” Father Henehan explained. “That’s what college professors do — they teach subjects. We teach people. We teach souls.”

And what they are teaching these souls is the virtues that lead to holiness, he said.

“This is our goal. If all we have done is teach them math we have failed them. If all we did was teach them science they missed the mark,” he said, reminding them that religion is not merely a class.

“Religion and the faith must pervade every aspect of our school and it must pervade deeply,” according to Father Henehan. “Truly everyone in here is a religion teacher.”

Catholic schools are also places where young people learn a Christian vision and a philosophy of hope, he said. By connecting all things to God — teaching “up” — teachers can help student understand that the mark of true success is relationships with God and family, not making money and social status.

“We teach them that this world isn’t everything because we know we’re made for the next world,” he said.

Father Henehan asked them to remember that they’re teaching even when they’re not standing in front of a classroom, so they must be people who have had an encounter with Christ and show it.

“They will fall in love when we fall in love,” he said. “If you fall in love with Christ, your students will get it.”

One way of encountering Christ on a regular basis is through the liturgy and Msgr. Deptula invited the educators to make the new English translation of the Roman Missal an “excuse” to fall in love with the Mass all over again.

“There’s nothing wrong with the way we have been praying for the last 40 years,” he said, but noted that the new translation is considered a better, more “mature” way to encounter God in the Mass and make a deeper connection with the truths of our faith.

While he acknowledged that some of the new language may be a bit awkward and differ from common speech, Msgr. Deptula reminded them that every time they order a cup of coffee at Starbucks they’re using a specialized language. The words that are used at Mass are full of meaning and worthy of reflection, he said.

He urged them to welcome the new translation and give it a chance to become part of their liturgical lives.

“If you were waiting for a sign from God, if you were waiting for an excuse to fall in love with the Mass, here it is,” Msgr. Deptula said.

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