Kicking off the school year with the focus on Christ
KELLER — Kicking off back-to-school week with a special Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church on Aug. 8, also the Feast Day of Saint Dominic, Bishop Michael Olson urged teachers and administrators to “share the truth in love” with students, families, and communities living in a society that is increasingly hostile to Christ.
About 700 educators attended convocation in preparation for the beginning of the new school year. Students returned to Nolan Catholic High School on Aug. 9. Other schools across the Diocese of Fort Worth resumed classes Aug. 10 or 11.
In his convocation Mass homily, Bishop Olson compared today’s elite, who are increasingly hostile to Christ, to the Cathars of Saint Dominic’s day.
Bishop Olson said the Gospel has always drawn controversy. Christ’s public ministry frightened the religious elite.
“To love the unlovable challenged the status quo,” Bishop Olson said.
Saint Dominic preached to the Cathars, also known as the Albigensians, who believed that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world good. This heretical sect rejected the humanity of Jesus Christ.
“There’s nothing new under the sun,” Bishop Olson said. “As it was in the time of Saint Dominic, so it is today.”
Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order, began with prayer and gratitude to Christ but also studied rhetoric, art, philosophy, science, and literature to explain truth to people in ways they could understand, Bishop Olson said.
He urged educators to keep the right focus throughout the school year.
“If we do not begin and end with prayer and gratitude to Christ, we run the risk of ignoring Christ, and we can’t help families confused by the world’s ideology,” he said. “Without Christ Himself, Christianity becomes reduced to just another ideology. If we neglect Christ, we expose students to indifference, ignorance, and hostility to Christ.”
Bishop Olson said that educators should foster an environment that shares the truth in love, welcomes all, and gives to those in need.
In a separate talk to educators following Mass, Bishop Olson compared education to a journey. Students of different ages don’t require the same lessons. And grades are not a statement of worth, but a benchmark of development and growth that may indicate some students need to slow down in their journey.
Bishop Olson said the ministry of the Church and Catholic schools is to help people who are confused in the journey.
He gave the example of today’s gender ideology, which denies human nature and God’s creation of men and women.
“Gender ideology takes advantage of children and families by imposing radical doubt about their gender,” Bishop Olson said.
He urged compassion for those dealing with gender dysphoria and protecting children.
Helping students find joy in learning and preparing souls for eternity
Brinton Smith, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Fort Worth, said the bishop’s message was a fitting culmination of the training principals and new teachers received last month.
Diocesan principals attended a five-day retreat and new teachers attended a one-day workshop.
During the retreat, Michael Gorman, professor of philosophy from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., spoke to principals on Catholic anthropology, especially the connection between soul and body and human nature.
Gorman said he addressed the importance of the human body and issues behind transgenderism and transhumanism, which is the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.
“If they have a better understanding of human nature, it’s easier to construct the curriculum and set policies for challenging situations that might arise,” said Gorman.
Smith said that such discussions help Catholic educators facing modern challenges, especially the roles of men and women and gender ideology.
“We get back to thinking about human nature through the Catholic intellectual framework,” Smith said.
Lara Pennell, an eighth-grade literature and religion teacher at St. Andrew Catholic School in Fort Worth, said she was happy to serve as a mentor to a new teacher.
Pennell wants to help new teachers to better understand classical Catholic education.
“When you help students build a receptivity to learning, it brings a certain joy and wonder that is the starting point of classical education,” Pennell said.
Amy Felton, principal at St. John the Apostle Catholic School in North Richland Hills, said that the principals’ retreat and all the speakers strengthened her vision for classical Catholic education.
By emphasizing God’s role in education, teachers and administrators help students move forward in their Catholic faith, Felton said, “not only in academics for their lifetime but preparing their souls for eternity.”