Creating a culture of encounters – Press room

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One-of-a-kind collaboration sparks interest across the country

Catholic Studies has launched a new collaboration – the first of its kind – with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and the Minneapolis Office for the Mission of Catholic Education, to train Catholic educators in a deeper understanding of mission and the shared vision of Catholic education, including greater competence. Following last fall’s pilot program, Mission, Culture and Emerging Issues in Catholic Education (MCEQ) is generating interest across the country.

The chief architects of the MCEQ program are the director of the Center d’études catholiques, Dr Michael Naughton, and Director of Quality and Excellence in Education for the Archdiocese, Dr Emily Dahdah. The University of St. Thomas Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) program has been a critical collaborator in providing the technology platform. Other instructors include Danielle Brun the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Joshua Blonski, Dean of Student Life and Professor of Latin at Providence Academy in Minnesota, Lucía Baez Luzondo, JD, who is director of the Office of Intercultural Ministries of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and Aaron Benner ’92, ’95, ’20 MA, Dean of Students at Hill-Murray School.

Emily dahdah

The course will be made available to all directors and teachers in the Archdiocese to complete it at their own pace. The program includes 10 hours of online, in-person, and conference-based instruction on the role of Catholic educators. “And that’s just the start,” Naughton said.

“This is part of a much larger effort by the Archdiocese to train its educators,” Dahdah said. “We have 90 Catholic schools, each so unique, but we all want to work with the same vision, a common language and a way of understanding the Church’s vision for education. “

“This is a philosophy of Catholic education,” Naughton added. “Catechesis programs are important, but they cannot answer questions such as, ‘How should I handle mathematics as a Catholic educator? Do I teach math in a different way in a Catholic school than in a public school? Once you understand “wonder” and “created order,” you can ask, “Why does math work?” Because there is an order created. It is to go to the roots of a created order, the Logos.

Dahdah, who did his dissertation on intercultural competence among elementary educators at the University of Minnesota, added that “The Church is an expert in human dignity. We rely on 2000 years of tradition, posing a positive vision of the human person. Faith not only transcends culture, it also greatly animates culture.

“The Church is an exquisite expert in mixing cultures of all kinds,” said Dahdah, “and a great mediator through culture as well. She cites the eradication of legal racialized slavery in the United States as an example.

Joshua Blonski, Dean of Providence Academy Student High School, trained Catholic educators during the innovative MCEQ course.

Cultures are groups of people with collective personality, she said, and cultures can have wounds, just as people can have wounds … (legal slavery). You can see what happens to cultures when they encounter the light of Christ – they are made more beautiful.

“We want to prepare students for the world they are going to live in,” Naughton said. “You want to create an interdisciplinary culture, where science and faith speak to each other. It must be a meeting of the spirit with the heart; material reality has a spiritual source.

Multiple opportunities are available for further study through the Masters in Catholic Studies program. Teachers and administrators who complete the MCEQ can continue their training with a two-course study. In addition, a Graduate Certificate for Mission and Culture in Catholic Education, a comprehensive graduate program consisting of five courses and a comprehensive project, is also offered. Certification focuses on continuing to equip students to understand what true Catholic education entails and how to articulate this philosophy in a school.

The Murray Institute of the University of St. Thomas pays 100% for the continuing education eligible for teachers and staff of the Archdiocese to attend the University of St. Thomas. This makes obtaining a graduate certificate or full master’s degree in St. Thomas Catholic Studies completely free for teachers in Catholic schools in the Twin Cities.

Create classrooms based on human dignity, equity and hope

At the heart of the conference component of the MCEQ program is St. Thomas alumnus Aaron Benner ’92, ’95, ’20 MA, who has spent most of his career teaching in elementary school. He is now Dean of Students at Hill-Murray School.

“I tell people all the time, just because I’m a black man with over 25 years of education, I’m still learning about race issues,” he said. “There has to be a way to talk about racism without automatically demonizing a race. ”

“Racism is a sin,” he added, “and we must work to eradicate it like any other sin.”

But he is also sensitive to the realities of ignorance and inexperience. In his lectures, Benner draws on his years in the classroom and working with parents to even solve practical problems, such as insisting that a translator be present at parent-teacher conferences for parents who do not speak English. . He pointed out a common mistake that particularly inexperienced teachers can make in this scenario.

“Many teachers will look at the translator [only] instead of looking at the parent, ”he said. “You have to look at the parent and give them the respect they deserve, and you never, ever make the student translate for the parents. … These are things you learn.

Aaron Benner ’92, ’95, ’20 MA

And while many Catholic schools, whose classrooms increasingly expand in cultural diversity, strive to increase the diversity of their faculty, he cautions against symbolism.

“Equity doesn’t just mean having African Americans in your faculty,” he said. “Once they are in your school, you have to ask yourself: are you developing them as teachers, are you developing them to be leaders? “

Benner, who won a settlement against Saint Paul Public Schools in 2019, knows these challenges personally. He was forced to quit his teaching job there when the school district fought back against him for criticizing the district’s racial equity policy, which set lower standards for African American students.

It was a particularly stressful season, but Benner, a daily communicant, was supported by his faith.

“It was as if God was telling me, ‘I’m going to take care of you.’ We just have an amazing God. I’m not going to apologize for what God has done in my life.

“There is a new push to be in people’s faces, to be angry,” said Benner, “but it all comes down to the Bible: I have to forgive! I have to forgive people who might hurt me, who might discriminate against me. … It’s hard, but it’s Christian. I don’t want this to be forgotten when we talk about the Church, fairness and racism.

Benner himself attended Catholic school as a child, calling it a “game changer” in his life. He graduated from École Sainte-Agnès after receiving an award for his outstanding work in the religion class as a senior. He remembers: “The nuns of Sainte-Agnès taught me the faith from scratch and I fell in love with it.

“I hope to provide practical solutions that Catholic leaders can share in their own schools,” he said. “Even something as simple as having pictures of Catholic saints in the hallways of the wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities represented there. Children need to see saints who are like them.

Faced with the racism he himself experienced, he said: “I could choose hate if I wanted to, but that’s what the devil wants.

“We must work and ask for the grace to build a culture of encounter, of this fruitful encounter, this encounter which gives each person their dignity as children of God, the dignity of living. We are used to this indifference, [whether it be] when we see the calamities of this world or face the little things. We just say: “Oh, what a shame, the poor, they suffer so much”, then we move on. One encounter, however, is different: If I don’t look, – seeing is not enough, no: look – if I don’t stop, if I don’t look, if I don’t touch, if I don’t speak, I cannot create a meeting and I can’t help but create a culture of encounter.


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