Teacher inservice helps bring Christ alive in the classroom

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Sister Elena Marie Piteo, OP, assistant professor of psychology and director of Education in Communion at Aquinas college, leads one of the breakout sessions during the recent teacher inservice day organized by the Catholic Schools Office with help from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation. The topics of the day were inspired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival. Submitted photo

For its recent inservice day for teachers, the Catholic Schools Office designed a program revolving around the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival to restore the understanding and devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“It was really a powerful and meaningful day,” said Dr. Rebecca Hammel, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Nashville.

“It was much like a retreat,” she said. “It gave our teachers, leaders and staff an opportunity to nurture their own faith lives.”

“To have teachers alive in the faith … benefits all because they then model that for the children,” Dr. Hammel said.

To help organize the day for more than 600 teachers and staff at the Catholic schools in the diocese, Dr. Hammel and the Catholic Schools Office staff collaborated with Aquinas College President Sister Cecilia Anne Wanner, OP, and Sister Marie Hannah Seiler, OP, the dean of Aquinas’ School of Education.

In their brainstorming of ideas, a focus for the day emerged, Dr. Hammel explained. “This day just needs to be about our relationship with Jesus,” she said. “We wanted to immerse them in an experience of Jesus.”

Sarah Kroger, a Nashville-based Catholic worship leader and songwriter, and her band performed worship music for the opening of the day, which was held at Father Ryan High School. 

Father Augustine Wetta, a Benedictine monk, gave the keynote address, reminding the teachers that at every Mass, we witness a miracle.

“He related very easily and well with the teachers. They enjoyed him,” Dr. Hammel said. 

After Father Wetta’s talk, the teachers participated in small group breakout sessions, each led by a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation.

In the breakout sessions, teachers discussed how they can bring Jesus to life in the classroom, Dr. Hammel said. “This activity was about igniting that fire and taking it down to the classroom level,” she said.

The breakout sessions were followed by Mass, celebrated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding, and a pinning ceremony to honor teachers marking work anniversaries in five-year intervals. Bishop Spalding presented pins to 90 teachers.

“The Holy Spirit was so present,” Dr. Hammel said. “It was such a spiritual moment.”

Dr. Hammel also introduced this year’s winner of the Christ the Teacher Award – Jennifer Dye, dean of faculty and instruction at Pope John Paul II Preparatory School – to her Catholic school colleagues. 

“I love the way our teachers support and appreciate each other,” Dr. Hammel said, noting that Dye and teachers with several years’ experience in the diocese were greeted with a standing ovation from their colleagues.

After lunch, there was a Gospel reading and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, which was followed by a Eucharistic Procession across the Father Ryan campus from the theater to the school’s gymnasium, where there was Adoration with music by Matt Maher, a Grammy nominated, GMA Dove Award winning Catholic musician who lives in Nashville.

Dr. Hammel expressed her gratitude to Father Luke Wilgenbusch, diocesan director of vocations, and Dr. Brad Peper, director of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, for their help in organizing the Eucharistic procession and Adoration.

During Adoration, the monstrance holding the Eucharist was set up in the middle of the gymnasium with the teachers arranged around it, Dr. Hammel said. Father Wetta carried the Eucharist through the aisles among the teachers. “That was pretty profound to have that experience with Jesus,” she said.

During the adoration, 13 priests, including several pastors and the chaplains of the two diocesan high schools, heard confessions. “I was so honored that they came, and our teachers were too,” Dr. Hammel said.

“The crystal-clear day, the picturesque setting at Father Ryan High School, and the uplifting worship music formed a beautiful backdrop for this day-long worship experience,” said Kim White, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, who helped organize the event. “The day accomplished what we set out to do – draw each diocesan principal, teacher, employee, and guest into a deeper relationship with the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and nurture their spiritual wellness. 

“The collective mood was tangible,” she said. “We had a large group of people ‘on fire for Jesus.’ That is a fantastic win in my book.”

“It was,” Dr. Hammel said, “a great, great day.”

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