Love for teaching remains strong in longtime educators

Catholic Schools Week is recognized nationally Jan. 25-31.

Several teachers are being honored this year for anniversaries in Catholic education. The following teachers and administrators are the most tenured in the Archdiocese of Denver celebrating milestones this year.

The Denver Catholic asked each honoree:
What has been the most fun, interesting or educational event in your classroom, or at school, in the last year?

Years of service: 50
Ralph Taylor, Regis Jesuit High School
“Since I teach literature and history, every year the most fun is watching students enjoy and understand the relevance of what has been said by writers from previous times … and helping them understand that history isn’t just the past but is being made in the present—and is being made by them. I enjoyed talking to (students) about some of the pitfalls of being academically bright—turning out mediocre work because it’s easy, falling into complacency … and becoming frustrated because many of them tend to be perfectionists. I have learned to value each and every class as a special opportunity.”

Years of service: 45
Don McMaster, Notre Dame School
“Every teacher lives for that rare moment when the proverbial ‘light bulb’ goes on as a student ‘gets it’ … when it happens it makes all the struggles and dry moments worthwhile. I have a student this year for whom school has always been a struggle. I tried an alternative assessment method with the student, and it worked. On a very difficult science test, this student got 100 percent on the same test that the rest of the class took. Watching the glow of a legitimate accomplishment slowly creep across the student’s face reminded me of why I wanted to become a teacher generations ago.”

Years of service: 40
Johanna O’Connell, Nativity of Our Lord School
“As assistant principal at Nativity, one of my responsibilities is to organize and supervise our three talent shows each year. Watching the excitement and enthusiasm generated by our participants, not to mention their talent, is heartwarming. Being able to see their confidence grow as they perform year after year is inspiring. Sometimes the audience may question whether all acts are worthy, but I believe our purpose is to allow any child, who is courageous enough to stand on stage in front of their peers, that chance to take their place in the spotlight.”

Years of service: 35
Jan Greer, Good Shepherd School
“Working in a non-traditional setting in our enrichment program offers me the opportunity to experience each child’s uniqueness. I love to watch the sparkle in their eyes and hear the joy in their laughter as they explore their environment and interact with the other children. Seeing them develop into creative unique individuals brings joy and light to my heart. I have been blessed to be part of so many wonderful children’s and their families’ lives … I love them all.”

Brother Charles Miller, F.S.C., Mullen High School
“(As head librarian) the lunch period of the school day is the busiest time, when we have more than 100 students in the library. That would qualify as the most exciting and fun part of the school day for me.”

Janet Niswonger, All Souls School
“I have mostly taught second grade. I love the sacramental preparation and reception for first reconciliation and first Eucharist for second-graders. Their excitement, joy and love for the Lord is very special and touching. This year I’m teaching first grade again … I am enjoying (it). It’s amazing how much difference there is with just one year, in age and abilities. First-graders have so much energy and are eager to show you what they have learned! It’s fun teaching first grade for a second time.”

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.