Teachers  energized  by faith 

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

Early on the morning of Aug. 5, in some cases only hours before schools swung open their doors for the 2019-20 school year, more than 800 educators gathered at St. George Church in Baton Rouge for their own kick-off, the annual Catholic Educators Gathering.  

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Olivia Guitreau, a kindergartener at St. John Primary School in Prairieville, is greeted on the first day of school by St. John teacher Debron LeBourgeois.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

On a sun-dappled campus, teachers and administrators greeted each other with smiles, hugs and small talk, a visible energy present that accompanies the beginning of every school year.  

“We are very ready for this school year,” said Dr. Melanie Palmisano, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “I think the teachers are reenergized. I know the principals have been doing a great job over the summer to prepare for another positive school year and there will be a lot of success.”  

The event, hosted by CSO, opened with a prayer service led by Bishop Michael G. Duca. During his homily, the bishop noted that the Gospel reading from St. Matthew in which Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 with just five loaves and two fish was the perfect Scripture for teachers.  

“Many of us find ourselves in the same place as the disciples who said, ‘Let them go so they can get food. We only have five loaves and two fish. What are we going to do with that?’ ” said Bishop Duca. “It applies to us -anyone who runs a school: ‘We can’t do that, it’s too much. Go feed them yourselves. Go teach them.’ But Jesus takes what little they have, says the blessing and feeds the crowd.  

“Take what you have, give thanks to God for what you have and you begin. And, you teach the children. Once you begin the miracles will happen. When you give yourself to something completely, miracles will happen.”  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca holds a commissioning ceremony at the annual Catholic Educators Gathering on Aug. 5 at St. George Church in Baton Rouge.  

 

The prayer service was followed by motivational speaker and former teacher Jonathan Doyle. Doyle told the packed church that growing up in his native Australia with a father “who hated what he did” inspired him to help others stay inspired.  

Doyle, a Catholic, acknowledged the the “challenging time in the life of the church in the past year” and noted how difficult it might be for Catholic teachers. He also noted pressures on Catholic educators from the government, administrators and parents as teachers deal with “pastoral” issues among students such as depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders and family dysfunction. 

“We live in a culture of increased expectations but finite time and resources,” Doyle stated. “People get stretched and when they get stretched they break. I observed in my own country where teachers breaking, and if they didn’t break, they quit.”  

Doyle added that he saw teachers become “hard and cynical” and bitter after several years in the profession. But he emphatically said “it doesn’t have to be that way.”  

“What happens when things get tough?” Doyle asked.  

“Here’s a beautiful line from St. Teresa of Calcutta: ‘It is in the times of greatest aridity and disenchantment that God’s true lovers are born.’ ”  

He reminded teachers of the excitement of starting their careers, saying, “Every single teacher has a first day … is it possible to maintain that?  

“If God has called you into this work, he will sustain you in it.” 

“It’s what we need to hear because we always have a little anxiety about a start of a new year and just how we’re going to get it all done,” said Michele Nett, a physical education teacher at St. George School since 1985. “We worry about what our principal wants. We worry about what the parents want. We worry about how the kids are going to react and respond to us even after all these years. So it’s nice to have a reminder that the Holy Spirit is with us and to ask the Holy Spirit to be with us.”  

“Teacher burnout, it’s a real thing – even for some of the younger teachers,” said Ryan Hergert who is starting his first year as an English and history teacher at Ascension Catholic School in Donaldsonville. “I have to meet everybody and I have to meet all the kids, and I have to figure out how the kids work. It’s scary but I’m excited.” 

“It’s pretty impactful because it’s basically giving you a concept of how to approach the new school year and giving you a different mechanism on ways you can go into your classroom and be affective and have a positive mindset,” said Ashley Nivens, a science and social studies teacher at Redemptorist St. Gerard School in Baton Rouge.  

Mary Elizabeth Carruth, the librarian at Our Lady of Mercy School in Baton Rouge, said during her 20-year career, which has included a number of schools, she has “seen the teachers that (Doyle) is talking about.”  

“I think that his message that God has given us what we need, we just have to stay quiet and listen and hear his message and use the tools he’s given us to do his will and to teach these children in a positive way,” said Carruth.  

Following a break, Doyle wrapped up his message and Bishop Duca commissioned the teachers by affirming their commitment to fulfill the vision of Catholic education to evangelize hearts, educate minds, encourage talent and embrace the future. 

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Jackson Klibert, a second-grader at St. John Primary, is excited about the first day of school.