Big ideas reap big benefits for seniors

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A group of Bishop Machebeuf High School seniors got big ideas about their faith—and won big after they shared it.

Sister John Peter Clarke, O.P., charged the 11 seniors in her Catholic leadership class with the Big Idea Project, an assignment to create a four-minute video depicting a need in the community and a solution based on Catholic social doctrine.

Senior Clare Lowrey and her classmates worked to show middle school students—who may experience loneliness and low self-esteem—that God is merciful and loving. They spent their Monday nights at St. Thomas More Church’s Bible study for children to participate in discussions and share their own lives.

They learned patience, self-motivation, perseverance and leadership, the seniors reported.

“Self-giving became a big part of our work,” the seniors in the “Go-Getter” team wrote. “It is incredible the outcome when you open yourself up to a person. An outpouring of self through personal storytelling, small acts of service, and investing time in others destroys barriers and builds solidarity.”

In result, the team of four seniors—including Clare Lowrey, Rebecca Haven, Faustine Sullivan and Ricky Pruneda—won a $2,000 scholarship toward college after presenting their video to a panel of judges.

The project originated from Columbine High School in Littleton and has spread to different high schools in the state. It’s focused on cultivating leadership that empowers others to reach their full potential.

“The Big Idea Project, while not explicitly Christian, fits wonderfully well with our core values and the virtue of magnanimity,” Sister Clarke said. “Students in Catholic Leadership learned from the Big Idea Project’s concepts and applications of generous leadership as well as other key sources on leadership.”

The seniors read and analyzed leadership qualities in  “Strengths-based Leadership”, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and “The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard.”

Another team of students spent time at St. Therese School in Aurora and realized their need for more athletic equipment. Seniors John Keyte, Joseph La Rosa and Kate Merth raised $2,000 to benefit their efforts. The Truth Finders team—made of Stephanie Montes, Stephany Vazquez, Myranda Weakland and Luke Weinmann—raised student awareness about how living one’s faith helps self-image and benefits others.

The project culminated in presenting their video, scripts and edits of their documentaries to a panel of judges. The Go-Getter team has a chance to compete at the state level and receive $1,500 toward college costs.

“The Big Idea Project is a great way for Machebeuf students not only to compete but also, and more importantly, to share the magnanimity, the mission, and the mercy of Jesus Christ,” Sister Clarke said.

“One thing I did not expect from the Big Idea Project is that we would benefit so much from this endeavor,” Lowrey wrote. “Ultimately, we learned to trust in each other. We learned that leaders lead from the front lines, but they need their fellow soldiers.”

 

COMING UP: Catholic school teachers are ‘ministers’, SCOTUS rules

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a long-awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in religious schools.

The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers exception” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case.

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

The two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of the teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine under which government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions regarding the hiring and firing of ministers.

In both cases, the teachers’ suits were dismissed by federal courts, and then reinstated by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined case in May, lawyers for the schools argued that “for hours on end over the course of a week,” teachers in Catholic schools were the “primary agents” by which the faith was taught to students. Argument – and questions from the bench – focused on how broadly the ministerial exception could be applied to the employees of religious schools.

The decision comes just weeks after the court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion in that case, acknowledged that religious freedom cases related to the decision would probably come before the Court in the future.

The decision about who qualifies as a minister could directly impact future cases in which teachers might be dismissed for failing to adhere to Church teachins on same-sex marriage or transgender issues, both of which have been subjects of controversy in recent months.

“Requiring the use of the title [minister] would constitute impermissible discrimination,” the court ruled. Referencing the previous decision in Hosana Tabor, Altio wrote that there must be “a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

The verdict also explicitly referenced the policy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, home to both of the schools designating all teachers in Catholic schools as being effectively ministers.

“Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e., “a teacher of religion,” Alito noted in his decision for the majority.

“There is abundant record evidence that [both teachers] performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility.”

The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”

Joining Alito in the majority decision were Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Sotomayer and Ginsburg dissented.