Teach. Explain. Defend. St. Junipero Serra Institute ready for year two

North Texas Catholic
(Jun 29, 2018) Local

Jason Whitehead

Director of Faith Formation Jason Whitehead teaches a class at the St. Junipero Serra Institute. (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

As the St. Junipero Serra Institute approaches its first anniversary, its mission is crystallizing: Teach. Explain. Defend.

“We want everyone to be able to give a reason for their hope,” said Paola Quintero-Araújo, director of the St. Junipero Serra Institute. “We don’t want the instructors to be the only experts in the faith and what the Church teaches.”

Faith education at the institute goes “back to the basics” — studying original sources including the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal encyclicals, and Vatican documents.

“We want to give our students a firsthand experience, so we go back to Church teaching. As a class we read and help unpack the documents,” explained Quintero-Araújo.

The foundational classes offered include Apologetics, Vatican II, Biblical Foundations, Theology of the Body, and Evangelization and Catechesis. St. Junipero Serra Institute, an educational outreach of the Diocese of Fort Worth, teaches the courses in both English and Spanish.

Future plans include adding intermediate and advanced courses and more specialized classes for those interested in youth ministry, marriage and family life, RCIA, or adult faith formation. Students who complete all the levels will receive a certification. In 2019, the foundational classes will be available online.

Stephen Lund, a parishioner at Holy Redeemer in Aledo, took all five foundational classes and encourages others to take the instruction. Firstly, he said, the classes exposed him to “basic catechetical stuff that I didn’t retain or didn’t learn growing up.” 

Lund, who is a deacon inquirer, appreciated reading original Church documents. “It’s good to know that we didn’t just make it up 50 or 60 years ago. Our faith has been around a long time. It’s helpful to go back and read about the people who knew Jesus and the people who knew people who knew Jesus. What did they say? How did they practice the faith?”

When pressed to name his favorite class, Lund chose Evangelization and Catechesis. “This class spoke to issues that my friends and I had been discussing: ‘Where is the Church struggling?’ This class answered that question.”

After completing the course, Lund said he learned how to engage in conversations about God and the Church with others in his parish and with his family and children. He feels prepared to discuss the faith with fallen-away Catholics with whom he works.

Jason Whitehead

Kim Nguyen attends a class at St. Junipero Serra Institute. (NTC photo/Juan Guajardo)

Quintero-Araújo said that student feedback from the first year has been positive. Evaluations praised the experience and knowledge of the instructors, the quality of the curriculum, and the value of the course. Students also noted that the instructors really care about the students and make certain they master the material.

For example, while teaching the Evangelization and Catechesis course, Chris Vaughan, diocesan director of marriage and family life, realized that several were not familiar with how to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He quickly incorporated that lesson into the evening’s study.

The instructors’ goal is to enable students to speak knowingly of Church teaching with a well-formed faith. Most instructors have earned master’s degrees in theology and work for parishes or the diocese in religious education. The curriculum has been developed by the department of evangelization and catechesis of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

One recommendation from past students is to make the classes longer. Beginning in the fall, courses will last six weeks instead of four. Quintero-Araújo said the extra time will allow the students to explore the topics more deeply and have “more time to digest” the material.

“People should know the richness of the teachings of the Church,” continued Quintero-Araújo, who wants all Catholics to experience the “beauty and wisdom of the documents” discussed in the courses.

Jorge Chapa-Hurtado attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller, where he and wife teach a course to help parents prepare their children to receive their first Holy Communion. Like Lund, he is inquiring about becoming a permanent deacon.

He said the classes whetted his appetite to learn more. “It expanded my knowledge and love for the Church and God. As I gained more awareness of more of the teachings, I became more amazed at the richness of the Church.”

By reading Vatican II documents, he said, he increased his understanding of “why the Church is how it is today.” Reading the theological language was an adjustment for the engineer, but he found it became easier and easier as “his brain got into the rhythm” of the language.

Chapa-Hurtado finished his fifth course in June. “These are very good classes for people who want to teach the faith, or for anyone who wants to gain knowledge. After taking them, I am more in love with our faith and our God.”

Like Lund and Chapa-Hurtado have done, Quintero-Araújo encourages “everyone to invest in yourself and your faith.”  

For more information or to register, visit fwdioc.org/st-junipero-serra-institute.

Director of Faith Formation, Jason Whitehead, St. Junipero Serra Institute, trending-english