The smiles endure: reflecting on the curriculum workshop

The writers, editors and translators who make up the curriculum team (from left): Liz Ortiz, Ann David, Alejandra Herrera, Amanda Murillo and Rose Radkowski.

As I looked over the photographs from our June curriculum workshop, I couldn’t help but see – over and over – all the smiles. Scattered among those photographs were looks of deep concentration and thought, sure, but the smiles stand out. Whether participants are in small groups, listening to a lecture or chatting between sessions, they are smiling big, broad smiles. These smiles, more than anything, are a sign that bringing people committed to young people and women religious is an unstoppable combination.

The National Catholic Sisters Project curriculum, Called and Consecrated: Exploring the lives of women religious, is freely available on the Project’s website. It is designed for middle- and high-school classrooms, youth groups and religious-education programs. I organized a three-day workshop to bring catechists, teachers and diocesan employees together to engage with the curriculum, learn about using digital, multi-media curriculum in the parish or classroom and discover more about women religious. There were talks about the current and historical lives of women religious, a tour of the historic Missión San Jose and San Fernando Cathedral and many breakout sessions to learn about teaching strategies for using the curriculum.

A highlight from the workshop was the talk given by Sister Teresa Maya, CCVI, the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and President of the LCWR. Sister Tere spoke of the story of women religious and how it is so often told by those who don’t know nuns and sisters. Sr. Tere instead reminded the group that women are a part of the Church — “a legacy of resistance in the Church” — and that story is one that needs to be told.

Another highlight came when Dr. Katie Bugyis built on those ideas by offering participants five misconceptions about women religious and then the historical examples that contradict those misconceptions.

Yet another highlight was when Dr. Gil Hinojosa took the group on a swift tour of Mission San Jose and San Fernando Cathedral. Dr. Hinojosa’s take-away is that the Missions were really missionary-led, American Indian towns. These towns were where the Catholicism from Spain met semi-nomadic groups of Native Americans and built an alliance that resulted in the string of five Missions that line the San Antonio River. The group was also able to tour and attend Mass at San Fernando Cathedral, built between 1738-1750 and enduring as one of the oldest Catholic churches in the United States.

Tying all of this amazing content together was a series of sessions focused on teaching. These sessions were anchored by the catechists who are also writing the curriculum: Alejandra Herrera, Amanda Murillo, Liz Ortiz, and Rose Radkowski. These four women discussed topics as broad as synthesizing Vatican documents to helping students to read online. There was also an opportunity for Directors of Religious Education and diocesan staff to consider how to support teachers and catechists in continuing to develop as professionals, using this curriculum. These sessions allowed participants to take away a wide range of concrete strategies to use in their various contexts.

In addition to the smiles, I take it as a good sign that everyone I spoke to wanted to know when there would be another workshop and when more units in the curriculum would be available.

As one of the participants said: “It was a time for learning, sharing experiences and questions, and also a time for renewal – everything under a welcoming atmosphere.”

If you’re curious about the curriculum, you can check it out here. Additionally, we are developing an online professional development module that will be available next summer for teachers and catechists interested in learning more. And new units will be coming soon, including “How do Sisters Serve?,” “How do Sisters Form a Community?,” and “What is a Sister’s Charism?”

About Dr. Ann David

Dr. Ann David is the Curriculum Coordinator for the National Catholic Sisters Project, a project that seeks to increase the visibility of Catholic women religious. As part of this work, Dr. David guides the production of an online curriculum focused on teaching young men and women about Catholic women religious. She is also employed by the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, where she works as an assistant professor to help prepare students to teach in middle and high school.