By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

Just before the start of the 2018-19 school year, more than 900 educators from schools throughout the Diocese of Baton Rouge converged for prayers, blessings and a reminder of their mission: evangelizing hearts, educating minds, encouraging talent and embracing the future. 

 

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Bishop Robert W. Muench talks about the importance of ministering to students at the annual Catholic Educators Gathering sponsored by the Catholic Schools Office. This year’s event was held at Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Baton Rouge. Photos by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

“We have to be living extensions of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Robert W. Muench during the prayer service. “I don’t care how well we know our subject matter. I don’t care how many years we’ve taught a particular lesson plan. If we don’t begin with realizing that we are doing more than just carrying out a secular pursuit … we are not in public education where you’re required to keep your faith at home. And, we need one another as well as the Lord to help us.” 

According to Dr. Melanie Verges, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese, the school year’s theme of “Waters of Life” reflects the “flow of the Holy Spirit” and is a continuation of last year’s theme of “The Potter” and water flowing from one piece of pottery to another. 

“We try to tie the themes together as we move along,” said Verges. “ ’Waters of Life’ – what do we do in education to give life to the child, to the family, to the community, to our church? And, so we want the Spirit to flow and that we go with the flow and really be fluid in our work.” 

New this school year was recognition of teachers who had completed certification for basic, intermediate and advanced religious education. It’s part of the Catholic Schools Office plan to promote strong Catholic identify in schools and the certification requirement has been a part of the educator contract since 2010. 

“Achieving religious ed certification, whether you’re a math teacher, a science teacher or a P.E. teacher means that you are better able to infuse Catholic identify into your curriculum, and I really think that has supported our students learning,” said Verges. 

According to Verges, student scores on the ACRE (Assessment for Catechesis and Religious Education) continue to rise each school year. She credits not only religion teachers but “the secular subject teachers who are reinforcing Catholic identify across the curriculum.” 

“Through the ministry and theology classes, we’ve been able to support their roles as educators,” said Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the diocese. “(They are) what I call ‘front line evangelizers’ in the classroom for the children, so the more (the educators) grow in their faith formation, the more they can pour out to the students beyond the academia because, first thing’s first, the students have to know the love of God.” 

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Hundreds of educators packed Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Baton Rouge for the Catholic Schools Office Catholic Educators Gathering Aug. 7. Bishop Robert W. Muench commissioned the teachers to fulfill the vision of Catholic education in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

 

Besides the prayer service, teachers were able to visit with vendors who provided such goods as religious workbooks, computer software and school uniforms. And, they were able to reconnect with co-workers and fellow teachers in the diocese.  

“It’s exciting,” said Elaine Politz, a teacher at Our Lady of Mercy School in Baton Rouge, of the gathering. “It gets you excited to come back refreshed and ready for a great new year.” 

“The prayer service is nice just to have everybody together,” said Aaron Finley, a teacher at St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge. “I got to see some of my old teachers so that was nice.” 

Bishop Muench also reminded educators of the importance of their job and their ministry. 

“We have to make a commitment of faith not only to God but in the work God calls us to – the ministry – and to try and never give up, even with the most difficult students, because I’m completely convinced, the best students teach themselves, they’re going to do fine,” said the bishop. “But, the students that most need our help are those that are struggling … at home, with life, wherever. And, try to be patient, but there’s a limit … but we try to reach out to that student and we never know when we might have that breakthrough one day, that may not even seem apparent now, but may be sometime in the future that we may never know. It makes a difference.” 

The gathering ended with the bishop commissioning educators as ministers of the church at their schools, according to Verges, with the commitment to fulfill the vision of Catholic education in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. 

“It’s definitely a motivational experience for myself,” said Leah Barbato, a teacher at St. George School in Baton Rouge. “It’s a good reminder that we’re here to minister to the children, while academics is important and remediation is important, but also their spirit. So, it was a good message from the bishop to remind us the importance of taking care of their souls.”