Christina Rhodes, the daughter of a Catholic school teacher, attended Catholic schools through college and now teaches English at Trinity High School in Whitesville, Ky.
Michael Mortenson also attended Catholic schools from elementary through high school before entering higher education at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. The junior plans to teach math in a Catholic high school.
They are among the many dedicated men and women whose own Catholic education inspired them to want to teach in Catholic schools.
For Rhodes, though, there was a detour before starting her teaching career nearly 20 years ago.
“I was going to be anything but a Catholic school teacher,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “When I was growing up, my mother and several aunts and uncles taught in Catholic schools. I knew they worked a lot of hours and didn’t make much money, and that was something that I didn’t want to do. But I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
Rhodes, 44, majored in English at her parents’ alma mater, the Ursuline Sisters’ Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky. She was 25 and working in mortgage banking when her aunt, an interim principal at Trinity High, asked if she could fill a last-minute teaching vacancy at the school.
Rhodes agreed and, while working full time, studied for teaching certification and a master’s degree. She hasn’t looked back since.
“One of the nicest things about teaching in a Catholic school is that I can incorporate my faith into my lessons,” she said. “I can bring faith (perspective) into literary characters and stories, and even parallel those lessons with the priest’s sermon at our weekly Masses. That makes it always so interesting.”
Rhodes has seen some changes in Catholic education since she was a student.
“It was all about explaining, ‘What you think this means?’ and how you interpret it,” she said of her time in college. “It was trying to find out where the kids were and to meet them there and take them on, always trying to experiment to see what was best. It was the ‘Kumbaya Catholics,’ and they were forgetting a lot of history. We have finally gotten to the point where we’re thinking that maybe we should be getting back to teaching more Church history and more of the facts. And I’m really appreciating that. In fact, there are some things that my current students know better than I do.”
Mortenson, 21, of Dickinson, N.D., credits a number of dynamic educators for influencing his decision to pursue Catholic education as a career. One of them was Father James Shea, president of the University of Mary, who previously taught at Trinity High School in Dickinson.
“I didn’t have him for my classes, but there was a lot of buzz about him,” Mortenson said. “He was doing good things. There also was Father Joshua Eli, who taught senior religion classes, and what we discussed was mind-opening.”
At UMary, he has been influenced by James Richter, director of public affairs and former Catholic high school teacher who “shared his stories and guided me,” and Dr. Matthew Gerlach, head of the university’s Catholic studies course.
They are examples, Mortenson said, of the role that Catholic educators play in shaping students more than academically.
“Academics and good formation are closely tied,” he said. “This goes hand in hand with Catholic high school education that starts with good healthy relationships forming with teachers, and the teachers striving to push students toward attaining the truth, and instilling a desire for the truth. If you are teaching high school seniors, this is important because many students lose their faith in college, and that’s a shame. We should make being Catholic exciting, and this could happen through good formation (in Catholic education) and instilling a desire for the truth. That leads to students opening the doors to their hearts so that Christ can affect them throughout the rest of their lives.”
Mortenson is majoring in math and is minoring in Catholic studies so that he can have a background in the Catholic culture of logic and thinking, and in understanding Church history.
He calls it “all that good stuff that helps influence the Catholic mind.”
He is looking forward to the opportunity to teach at a Catholic high school.
“I am very excited to share what I know for the continuation and the love of what is good, what is true and what is beautiful,” he said. “That is the main focus among Catholic high schools, and what is important for our children in the future.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.