By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Offering quality Catholic education has long been a priority in the Diocese of Lincoln, and it cannot be done without a large crew of teachers, administrators and specialists who answer God’s calling to this important apostolate.
Earlier this month, the diocese showed support for these educators with the annual honor banquet Sunday, Oct. 11 and a full-day teacher institute Monday, Oct. 12.
Sunday evening’s honor banquet included a dinner at the Embassy Suites in Lincoln, where 125 teachers and administrators were recognized for their combined 2,416 years of service to children in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Sister Loretta Happe, M.S., was single-handedly responsible for 49 of those service years. She is currently teaching at Villa Marie School for Exceptional Children in Waverly.
Other teachers were recognized for their service in five-year increments up to 35 years of service, and then yearly above that. This included 36 first-time honorees with five years of service each, and 30 teachers with more than 35 years of service.
Sister Collette Bruskewitz, O.S.F., assistant superintendent of schools for the diocese, said that the wisdom of these experienced teachers is an important component to the high quality of education offered in the diocese.
“The experience we have among these teachers and what they share with others is very, very valuable,” she said.
During the Teacher’s Institute on the following day, there was more opportunity for this sharing of wisdom through various breakout sessions as well as spontaneous conversations over lunch and throughout the day.
Held at Pius X High School in Lincoln, more than 600 Catholic educators from across the diocese spent the day learning valuable information, picking up tips to take back to the classroom, and interacting with other teachers.
“Our overall goal always is spiritual, academic and professional growth for teachers, as well as fellowship,” said Sister Collette.
The day started with a keynote address by Dr. Eugene Gan of Franciscan University of Steubenville. His talk centered on the theme of his recent book, “Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media,” the first “roadmap” for Catholics navigating the digital age.
Dr. Gan highlighted technologies that are influencing the way students learn today, as well as what is coming in the near future. He coached attendees in using timeless principles to evaluate the potential materials and technologies that can become part of the Catholic school classroom experience.
During the morning breakout session that followed his talk and both afternoon sessions, Dr. Gan made himself available for intense question-and-answer sessions. Educators were able to bring their most pressing issues to him for his expert advice.
More than 50 other topics were covered during the three breakout sessions, ranging from tips for teaching math or increasing student literacy, to managing disciplinary issues, to using Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” in religion class and much more.
Pamela Reinsch, who teaches middle school math, religion and social studies at St. John the Baptist School in Plattsmouth, said she appreciated the wide array of pertinent sessions.
“It was hard to choose which ones to attend,” she admitted.
She said her favorite session she attended covered Catholic instruction on various social issues of the day.
“The death penalty, same sex ‘marriage’ and so on,” Reinsch said. “They told us how to talk to students and made sure we’re up on the Church’s teaching for all these issues.”
In Father Christopher Kubat’s session on transgendering and gender identity, he lamented the fact that this topic has become a necessary focus.
Sister Collette was glad to be able to equip teachers with what they needed on these difficult issues.
“The students are bombarded with that kind of thing all the time, so it’s very important that teachers know about what’s right and share it with students and parents,” she said.
Another session taught by Father Scott Courtney encouraged teachers to look upon each student as a diamond.
“He really focused on how we have our kids seven hours a day, and we need to show them a real love for Jesus Christ,” said Kelli Schumacker, a second-grade teacher at St. John the Apostle School in Lincoln. “It was a good awakening for me to be joyful and showing mercy every day.”
Beth Box, who teaches the fifth grade at Lourdes Central Elementary School in Nebraska City, agreed.
“His session lit a fire in me,” she said. “He reminded me that my job is to get these kids to heaven.”
During other breakout sessions, specialists—band instructors, choral music teachers, librarians, priest administrators, coaches, kindergarten teachers, etc.—were invited to participate in round-table discussions to gather ideas from their peers.
Lori Fehr, music teacher for North American Martyrs School in Lincoln, thought the vocal music session was beneficial.
“Just to hear different lesson plans and how other teachers teach different skills was helpful,’ she said.
The day also included Mass celebrated by Bishop James Conley.
“Bishop Conley gave an excellent homily and his own reflection on the importance of Catholic education,” Sister Collette reported. “We are really blessed in this diocese to share a common goal.”
Sandra Rhoades, a middle school science, religion, math, social studies teacher from St. John the Baptist School in Plattsmouth, said the Teacher’s Institute was well worth the drive.
She said what she would be taking back to the classroom with her was a renewed focus on Catholic education as a ministry.
“As Catholic educators, we need to not just teach the head, but also the heart,” she said.