More than 70 people participated in an inaugural workshop that equipped teachers with the National Catholic Sisters Project’s acclaimed new curriculum. Hosted June 11-13 at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio, the workshop was led by Curriculum Coordinator Dr. Ann D. David and included teachers, catechists and directors of religious education from across the country, including a dozen Catholic sisters.
Called & Consecrated: Exploring the Lives of Women Religious is an online, bilingual curriculum designed for students in sixth through 12th grade to illuminate the lives and legacies of Catholic sisters. Launched last year, it is the first curriculum of its kind – with new units being continuously released to schools, catechists, campus ministries and congregations at no cost.
Last month’s workshop provided a quick-hitting education on women religious and multiple break-out sessions on how to teach the curriculum, providing a host of strategies for more effective online engagement and complementary in-class discussion. The workshop was rooted in a sense of place, offering tours of the historic Missión San Jose and San Fernando Cathedral.
The gathering kicked off with a series of addresses by high-profile leaders: Sister Teresa Maya, CCVI, the superior general of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and president of the LCWR (pictured above); Dr. Andrea Lee, IHM, president of Alverno College; and Sister Ann Oestreich, IHM, national coordinator of the National Catholic Sisters Project. Further, Dr. Katie Bugyis offered debunked five common misconceptions of women religious, which participants said they appreciated.
Throughout the workshop, opportunities were provided for small-group discussion so participants could reflect on their own learning about sisters and how they can best apply the lessons back home. A commitment was also made to build on the fellowship forged at the workshop by creating an online group to share ideas moving forward.
“Relatively few young people today know an actual Sister,” Dr. David said. “Their stories need to be told.”
The Catholic sisters in attendance were generous in sharing their own stories, which mimicked the effect of the curriculum and helped demonstrate its value, she added.
Meeting a need
The second half of the workshop was devoted to strategies in teaching an online curriculum, which seemed new to many participants, Dr. David observed. The fact that Called & Consecrated can be taught in full or easily broken up to supplement pre-existing lesson plans makes it useful, she said, and its adaptability for smartphones and tablets sets it apart.
These break-out sessions were anchored by the four talented women who wrote the curriculum: Alejandra Herrera, Amanda Murillo, Liz Ortiz and Rose Radkowski.
The sessions addressed important topics such as how to make an online video more effective for instruction and ways to facilitate small-group discussions with students. Instructors also offered tips on useful materials to enhance learning. Chart paper, for instance, is an effective way to engage students in a group discussion. Post-It notes, meanwhile, are a low-pressure way to generate input, small enough that any student can fill one.
“People were hungry for these strategies,” Dr. David said. While many faith-filled people volunteer to be catechists, they have not been trained to teach. Four elements can come together to support all catechists in spreading the stories of Sisters, she added: good content, teaching strategies, a personal faith and a community of teachers to provide support.
“We also talked about how some catechists are worried about now knowing the right answer, but as a catechist, you have the power to show them how to learn more about their faith. You shouldn’t be the one to know all the answers. Don’t be afraid to say: ‘Let’s find out together.’”
They’ll have an easier time doing that, thanks to a break-out session on how to synthesize Vatican documents and other online sources such as Aleteia and Busted Halo.
Hope for the future
Workshop participants continue to rave about the experience.
“The workshop was very rewarding,” said Rosi Cortez, director of mission and ministry at St. Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio. She presented at the workshop, sharing her experience piloting the curriculum at St. Anthony. “Students felt empowered as young women to not only see sisters through a different lens but to see the potential within themselves,” she said. “This curriculum is life changing.”
Of the workshop, Cortez added: “It was gratifying to see the enthusiasm that all the participants expressed and how ready they are to implement it in their schools and parish programs.”
Sister Marian Batho, CSJ, the Archdiocese of Boston’s delegate for religious, is among them. She plans to share the curriculum with the Office of Catholic Schools in her archdiocese and offer it as guidance for parishes as they develop their pastoral plans. Also, she is personally using Called & Consecrated with a monthly discernment group she facilitates for young women. The June workshop made her feel ready to spread the word.
“All of the presentations were filled with hope,” Sister Marian said. “The importance of understanding that God has a special plan for each person was woven throughout the three days. I was very impressed with the presenters who have worked on the curriculum. Kudos to the University of the Incarnate Word! Kudos to Sister Andrea and Sister Ann. Kudos to each of the presenters!”
Dr. David echoed that enthusiasm. “Bringing together people committed to young people and women religious is an unstoppable combination,” she said.
Perhaps the best feedback from the workshop, Dr. David added: “Everyone I spoke to wanted to know when there would be another workshop next year.”
New units of Called & Consecrated will be released soon, including:
- “How do Sisters Serve?”
- “How do Sisters Form a Community?”
- “What is a Sister’s Charism?”
Also, Dr. David and her team are developing an online professional development module that will be available next summer for teachers and catechists interested in learning more.