Teachers make Catholic faith engaging for students

Thursday, August 22, 2019 - Updated: 12:51 pm


Caitlin Snatchko was initially apprehensive to take her classes to the chapel for a few minutes of Eucharistic adoration each week. The Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School campus minister and theology teacher did not know how her students would react.

But Snatchko said students soon came to crave the time spent with Jesus that grounded them and allowed him to speak to their hearts.

“The most important thing is for them to truly encounter Christ and to have a relationship with him fostered through Mass, adoration, and the sacraments,” Snatchko said.

The faith lives of high school students today face assaults from the secular culture, their peers, and social media, among numerous other sources. Catholic high schools address these voices vying for students’ attention by presenting the truths of the faith, meeting students where they are, and encouraging them to enter an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

Michelle Peduto, director of Catholic schools, recognizes the passion and energy with which young people seek the purpose of their lives. She sees Catholic schools leading students to the faith that gives their lives meaning.

“We really want to set their hearts on fire with the love of Christ that will sustain them through their lives,” Peduto said.

Chris Chapman, director of religious education, acknowledged that faith is often compromised during the teenage years. He noted that a hallmark of Catholicism is its duality of faith and reason. Catholic high schools offer a space where students’ questions about truths of Catholicism and the Church’s stance on controversial issues can be addressed freely, he said.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the diocese will partner with the Franciscan University Catechetical Institute to provide ongoing formation to teachers, as well as parish personnel, through in-person and online classes, and personal mentoring. The diverse courses taught by world-class theologians and catechists will equip teachers to form young people in the faith.

“The workshops are highly specialized to form educators and catechists intellectually, spiritually, and professionally, as they engage with young people in the wide spectrum of issues that they face,” said Judene Indovina, director of Catholic identity.

Amid a social media-saturated culture, St. Joseph High School religion teacher Michael Pater understands the addiction to screen time that students face. He journeys alongside them and encourages them to strive not for mediocrity, but for greatness.

“You can’t really be fully alive if you’re buried in your phone,” Pater said.

He points his students to the examples of saints who set their world on fire with love of Christ by actively working in the world. Pater believes that genuine encounters with Christ often occur outside the classroom and so facilitates student retreats and mission trips.

This summer, he and twelve of his students joined Jesus Alive and Living Butler District Youth Group for a Catholic HEART Workcamp in Oil City. During the week, students vigorously worked to improve poverty-stricken neighborhoods. These experiences help to ignite students’ faith, Pater said.

During the 2018-2019 school year, North Catholic High School offered a Kairos retreat to its students. Through this four-day retreat, faculty members mentor student leaders as they develop a faith witness talk to share with their fellow retreatgoers. The retreat also includes Mass, small group discussion, and a night of adoration with praise music and opportunity for confession.

This retreat gave students such a deep experience of God’s love that the school is offering two Kairos retreats this year, said director of campus ministry Eric Campbell.

“We found having students’ peers stand up and give a witness to their relationship with God to be a very successful approach. It’s attractive for students to see their peers on fire with their faith,” Campbell said.

Seton LaSalle High School expands its campus ministry this year to encompass a team that will serve its students’ spiritual needs through the liturgy, retreats, service, and mentoring. The school will also host a quarterly speaker series for students. Dynamic Catholic speakers will tackle tough issues such as the emotional rollercoaster of social media; underage drinking and partying; chastity; and the pro-life standpoint.

“Almost all of the issues boil down to a lack of dignity for human life,” said Father Tom Gramc, Seton LaSalle chaplain. “We help students understand the dignity of life. If you actually believe that you are beloved by God and have self-worth, it goes a long way.”

Bridgette Kennedy-Riske, Seton LaSalle campus minister, understands and respects that her students are at different places in their faith lives. She presents the Church’s teachings on controversial issues to her students and attentively listens to their views. She tells them that a mature, adult faith involves bringing any issues they take with the Church’s teachings to prayer, inviting God into their struggle.

“Dialoguing with God, figuring out what you feel and think, and being open to what God is doing is a lifelong journey,” Kennedy-Riske said.

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