What does math have to do with God?
It’s a fair question, and one that will likely be answered at a Catholic college or university, where professors are trained to be spiritual leaders and not just instructors.
For that reason, many schools have workshops, orientations, retreats and programs to support professors as they strive to maintain the school’s Catholic identity.
To foster its Catholicism on campus, the staff at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, holds tight to the roots of its foundresses, the Adrian Dominican sisters.
At St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Benedictine Father Thomas Hart has the job of assisting professors in their task of implementing Church teaching and history into their classrooms.
“Catholic identity isn’t just the campus ministry’s job, not the theology department’s job and is not the Benedictine monks’ job,” said Father Hart, assistant to the president for mission, who oversees the faculty, resources and staff to ensure St. Vincent’s Catholic identity. He also is a member of the department of theology.
“It’s the job of everybody on campus — every academic department, every administrative department, the board of directors, the staff, the students and down to the hourly employees. Everybody has to be on board.”
Before classes begin in late summer at St. Vincent, the college holds faculty workshops on the Catholic intellectual tradition. It covers how teachers can incorporate the Faith into their courses, how they can share their faith in and out of the classrooms, and how to respond to the Benedictine hospitality of welcoming a guest as they would receive Christ.
New faculty and staff at Barry University in Florida attend an orientation that introduces them to the core commitments of the institution’s Adrian Dominican foundation.
“We focus on knowledge and truth for the common good, creating an inclusive community, fostering social justice through teaching, research and service, and engaging in collaborative service that pursues solutions to the most pressing problems of our day,” said Roxanne S. Davies, Barry’s associate vice president for mission and institutional effectiveness. “The faculty are invited to explore ways that they can further each of these values within their respective disciplines.”
Every other year, faculty members at Barry University are invited to their founding order’s motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan, to spend time in study, prayer and reflection with the university’s sponsors. They can meet, too, with representatives from the community’s other sponsored institutions.
“Invariably, faculty and staff return from these experiences with a much richer understanding of what it means to be part of this community, and they actively seek out ways to share this experience with their university colleagues,” said Christopher Starratt, vice president for mission and institutional effectiveness. “From our view, this is in the best tradition of the Order of the Preachers.”
Bringing their personal faith — as well as the teachings of the Church — can be difficult for new professors, Father Hart said.
“I function in the capacity of a resource person,” Father Hart said. “For example, if someone has a doctorate in chemistry, and they have to teach chemistry and that’s their expertise and that’s why we hired them, how can that course be different? If a chemistry teacher says he is not a theologian, I boost their confidence and we have conversations about finding a connection. In higher Catholic education, there’s some connection with every field of knowledge, and if I can’t find it, it’s because I’m not looking hard enough. Some teachers need no help at all.”
An economics professor might assign students to read an encyclical on social justice along with their assignments on economic theory. A biology teacher can bring in Catholic moral theology.
“The more you know about math, the more it increases your sense of wonder at how everything is created according to certain proportions,” Father Hart said. “There are so many mysteries that mathematicians almost become mystics.”
Students benefit when the faculty is supported in ways that uphold the commitment to learning, reflecting and serving others in the spirit of the Church. A Catholic identity means that students can be involved in a process of discernment to understand who they are called to be academically, spiritually and socially, Starratt said.
“We don’t expect them to simply learn academic content. We expect them to be transformed,” Starratt said. “Our job is to provide the fertile soil for this transformation to occur. To be successful, we must provide these ongoing opportunities for members of our faculty, staff and administration to enrich their own understanding of our mission.”
Outside the classroom
At St. Vincent College, teachers from multiple disciplines are encouraged to take their expertise to student activities. When a teacher participates in something that is important to students, that builds trust between them, Father Hart said.
“They see the teachers and staff members being real outside the classroom, and they see that we all face these issues on how to live a virtuous life,” he said.
“This is where we are distinctive, that the teachers are like a family. Faculty members are not just parachuting in to teach factoids. Whatever your topic is, whatever you teach, you are also concerned about the overall well-being in the students’ lives. A Catholic educator teaches Johnny and Mary Latin or math or whatever, but also loves Johnny and Mary.
“Our job is not over as soon as the lecture is over.”
Teachers at Barry University are encouraged to participate in a variety of mission education programs that are offered throughout the academic year. There are university-wide lectures, mission dialogue luncheons, activities sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs and committee projects that are specifically focused on mission engagement.
‘It has to be both’
Throughout the past two years, Barry University has been engaged in strategic efforts to support leadership development. One way is through mission engagement dialogue that encourages questions in a discussion format. Faculty, staff and students can also go on one of the annual mission trips to Fanjeaux, France, to deepen their understanding of Barry University’s Dominican heritage.
All this leads to advance the development, appreciation and personal expression of the faculty’s role and responsibility as lay leaders to maintain the university’s Catholic identity.
From their commitment, the students in turn gain emerging knowledge and the potential to make a real difference in their world.
“We hope that by the time they leave us, they know not only how to make a difference,” Starratt said, “but why they should make an ongoing effort to do so.”
Teachers at St. Vincent College, a Benedictine school, are encouraged to practice lectio divina daily, join the monks in the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least take a break for meditation and prayer.
Even those who are struggling with their personal faith are encouraged to find some quiet time for something that can inspire them and lead them closer to Christ.
“What we are after is a contemplative approach to education,” Father Hart said.
“Pope John Paul II puts it well that it should be both a university and Catholic, that it can’t be one or the other — that to be excellent, it has to be both.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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|Pray for Us
|St. Catherine of Alexandria
Nov. 25 • DIED:
PATRONESS OF: Teachers, theologians, universities
While she is known as the Great Martyr St. Catherine, she could also be called the Great Debater.
Born to a noble Roman family of pagans in Alexandria, Egypt, she became a Christian in her early teenage years after receiving a vision of Mary. While visiting Emperor Maxentius, she denounced his persecution of Christians. The emperor gathered 50 pagan philosophers to debunk her theology, but she instead is credited with converting each of them to the Faith, along with the empress, an officer and 200 Egyptian soldiers.
Refusing to recant her testimony, she was imprisoned and condemned to death on a spiked wheel. An angel destroyed the wheel, so St. Catherine was beheaded, after which, an angel carried her body to Mount Sinai, where she is buried and where St. Catherine’s Monastery is still found today.
Nearly 1,100 years after her death, St. Catherine of Alexandria was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers who appeared to St. Joan of Arc.