Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - Following their ordinations, many of the diocese’s young priests are assigned to teach in diocesan schools or may be tasked with running a parish CCD program.
To ensure that these young priests are ready to be in the classroom, programming is in place to make sure that diocesan seminarians have the information (gained through courses taught at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward) and experience they need to teach successfully.
It was Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz who first requested a training program for seminarians. The program was established by Msgr. John Perkinton, then superintendent of schools at the time, and Sister Collette Bruskewitz, assistant superintendent of schools. They were assisted by Father Michael Jackels, now Archbishop Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa. The first year for the program was 1994.
While some of the requirements and programming have changed since then, the goal remains the same.
Father Andrew Heaslip, director of religious education for the Diocese of Lincoln said, “We’re giving our seminarians an opportunity to get teaching experience in our diocesan schools and additional formation in regard to teaching.”
This is a two-fold process comprised of yearly classroom visits known as “seminary education days,” and a day of formation, during which seminarians spend the day listening to presentations on different elements of school life.
Seminary education days consist of a day and a half spent in the diocese’s schools. Following the half-day, the seminarians come together for lunch with Bishop James Conley. There, His Excellency shares the importance of a priestly presence in the diocese’s Catholic schools, and the seminarians share what they’ve learned during their time in the classroom.
This year, the theologians—those seminarians in their final four years of seminary, spent April 16 and half of the day on April 17 in diocesan schools. The seminarians studying at St. Gregory the Great Seminary will be in diocesan schools May 6 and half of May 7.
This year’s seminarian workshop will take place May 22.
For their first and second years in the classroom, seminarians spend time observing teachers in any grade, K-12. During this time, they have the opportunity to ask questions, observe teachers’ management techniques and see what it’s like to be in a classroom with students of different ages.
During their third year, seminarians have the opportunity to teach a religion class in a “middle grade” classroom, which could be any grade from second to sixth. This year’s lesson is on the topic of evangelization.
Having already had the opportunity to observe different classrooms and ages, seminarians are better equipped to tailor their lesson to the age they’re teaching. It is during this time that teachers will also evaluate the seminarians and give them feedback on their teaching.
Sister Collette Bruskewitz OSF, the assistant superintendent of schools for the diocese, said that getting feedback from a full-time teacher is beneficial for the young men, so they know what to improve in their next lesson.
In their fourth year, seminarians observe and present a lesson in a high school classroom, followed by junior high in their fifth year, and primary grades in their sixth year. Depending on what year they came into the seminary, the young men can be assigned to any grade in the last one or two years before they graduate.
“This programming allows our seminarians to become familiar with a variety of ages and helps them get an idea of what our Catholic schools are like,” Sister Collette said. “Having that day and a half in the classroom each year makes it feel more familiar.”
Father Heaslip also emphasized the role of the priest in the classroom.
“A priest, by his ordination, is configured to Christ the Teacher in a unique way,” Father Heaslip explained.
In a 2010 interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the three duties of the priest — identified by Tradition in the Lord’s words about mission: teaching, sanctifying and governing.
“In fact,” he said, “they are the three actions of the Risen Christ, the same that he teaches today, in the Church and in the world. Thereby he creates faith, gathers together his people, creates the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal Church; and sanctifies and guides.”
Father Heaslip said having priests teaching in the classroom is not the norm in other dioceses, and that here in the Lincoln Diocese, having priests in the classroom gives students the opportunity to come away with a living relationship with Christ.
Sister Collette said, “Bishop Bruskewitz wanted the priests to be prepared for the classroom and Bishop Conley has been completely supportive of this way to assist young priest-teachers in their unique gift of teaching students in our schools and CCD classes.”