By NANCY CZABALA
COLUMBIA — More than 600 diocesan teachers met in Columbia Feb. 16. They fought heavy rains and traffic coming from all over the state by carpool and bus to gather for the Teacher Inservice at the Sheraton Conference Center. The convention was assembled by the Diocesan Catholic Schools Office, including Dr. Gay Rowzie, secretary of Education and Evangelization and superintendent of schools; and Lawrence Oleksiak, assistant superintendent. Madeline McMillion, principal at St. Peter’s School in Columbia, heartily volunteered to be the coordinator for the successful teacher inservice.
Gov. David Beasley’s press secretary, Gary Karr, read a letter from the governor addressing the Catholic educators, commending them for their work.
Spirits were high as keynote speaker Sister Jeanette Lucinio, SP, took the stage. Sister Lucinio is associate professor of Religious Education, the director of the M.A. in Pastoral Studies Degree Program and director of Field Education at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and co-author of The Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition. She discussed the Spirituality of Children. She began by saying that it is wrong to value children only for their potential as adults. “Every moment of Christ’s life was valuable, as is the life of every human,” said Sister Lucinio. She continued, childhood remains a part of our human being eternally and is forever valid. “By their presence and their manner, children are a gift to us as we pray, evidence that worship together is essential for the whole church, ‘young men and maidens, the old together with children.’ (Psalm 148)”
A child’s love of simple things — flowers, bugs, raindrops — expresses human’s natural attraction to contemplation, said Sister Lucinio. Teachers, she said, should focus on using liturgical signs to help children better relate to religious beliefs. One example Sister Lucinio gave: a child associated the action of spreading a “table cloth” over the altar with gathering to dinner at home, and put this symbol together with coming together as a family. “Spirituality for children is enhanced through the senses,” said Lucinio.
She says to teach children about the reflective aspects of quiet and stillness. Having silence for personal reflection and meditation will help enhance the child’s prayer life and faith. Lucinio’s experience is that like the words “taste and see” sung at Mass, “children taste and taste and will one day see.”
Sister Lucinio provided attendees with examples to put her principles into practice. Providing imaginative experiences through storytelling, art, drama and prayer helps to nurture children’s idea of spirituality. Other ideas included emphasizing salvific images — love, kindness, forgiveness, presence; inviting ritualization through the use of water, food, light and oil; enhancing self-awareness; promoting role identification with heroes and heroines from Scripture — Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalen, Peter, Ruth; and focusing on community through cooperative learning, intergenerational activities and multi-cultural activities. “Spirituality is an interpretation of life experiences in light of tradition and the on-going manifestation of God, and can be enhanced by a rich catechetical environment and process,” concluded Sister Lucinio.
During lunch organizers gave out dozens of door prizes as the excitement continued among attendees. Bishop David B. Thompson, former Catholic educator, then addressed the crowd, sharing his own experiences and thoughts on Catholic education.
“We need to renew, review and refresh ourselves,” said the bishop. “As teachers you are all leaders.” We must focus our attention on students being good students, not being a good teacher. The bishop continued, “Ask, how do I get people to succeed?” He said teachers need to show the way with an open ear. He provided some “words of concern.”
He said, first, to lead is to be, you must have good character. Secondly, he stressed patience and that suffering often follows. Next, being humble, realizing you can’t do everything, and communicating with your community. Finally, he said, listen, know when to be quiet and allow yourself to be informed.
Rowzie then presented the bishop with a parting gift. Each school wrote intentions for Bishop Thompson and presented them in a thoughtful, lovely spiritual bouquet. “There was nothing that we could think to give him to demonstrate our love and appreciation more than our prayers and good works,” said Rowzie.
The students’ intentions included random acts of kindness, completing all homework, morning Masses, 150 acts of peacemaking, loving someone who seems unlovable, rosaries, a day of service in the bishop’s honor and more than 27,000 Our Fathers.
The inservice ended with a concluding rite and a final blessing from Bishop Thompson.