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To love and be loved: Catholic schools begin process of curriculum renewal

My son Pier Giorgio is three years old. He loves me. Pier loves me because God made him to love and to be loved, and because he knows that I love him – he experiences it – and he wants to reciprocate. He was born for relationships – one of them is with me.

Pier can’t yet do any grandiose gestures. He shows me love in the ways he’s able to: he follows me room-to-room in our house, watching me and asking me questions about lots of different things about life. He gives me hugs. 

And he very often draws me little doodles on scraps of paper, runs up to me and says, “Mom… I have to show you something… ta-da!” as he shows me what he’s made.

Pier wasn’t born a blank slate. He was born with the desire to be in a relationship with me, to know me, and to understand me. In fact, we’re all born with desires. It’s how we’re all made.

God makes each of us with the desire to know, to understand, to find purpose, to be in relationship, to love and to be loved. And if we live our lives well, we’ll spend them coming to deeply understand how to really fulfill those desires God gave us. 

Our Catholic schools exist so that in Jesus Christ all people might be saved, and experience the fullness of abundant life, for the glory of the Father. Our hearts and minds can find the Father through the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. The curriculum in our schools ought to point students to recognize, know and understand God himself and his love, and thus to understand the meaning of our own lives.

But in recent years, we’ve realized we need to review how well our curriculum is helping students to fulfill the really deep desires of their hearts. We’re helping students get into great high schools and colleges, and we’re teaching them a lot about the Catholic faith along the way. But we think Catholic education can teach even more about the lifelong drama of knowing and loving God and being loved by him. We think we can point even more clearly to how God fulfills the deepest desires of our heart. And we think doing that will make our academic instructions even stronger.

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The Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools is beginning a process of curriculum review to assess those things.

Our goal is to ask whether the way we teach math, science, literature, and even kickball all point, in some way, to the relationship of divine love for which we’re made. This doesn’t mean we want to turn every discipline into theology class – it means that we think a deep understanding of history will point us to the Lord of History, and a deep understanding of science will point us to the Lord of the Universe. We’ve got some pretty good ideas about how kickball can point to God, too.

We’re also reviewing our curriculum because we want to make sure that the way we teach – and the way we learn – forms our minds to have good habits. We want our students to think rigorously, and carefully, and with connection to the heart of what matters. We want them to see reality as it really is. We want them to think well, so they can live well, and love well.

We’re made for a mystery called wonder. To be awed and appreciative in the mystery of beauty. To be bowled over by the goodness and the glory of God. And we think there’s a way to teach the about the 13 colonies, embryology, and the quadratic equation that might form the souls of our students to delight in wonder at the goodness, truth, beauty in the world God made for us.

Our curriculum review won’t change the rigor of our standards. It will still ensure that students meet the benchmarks their peers do, that they’re ready to take the ACT and get into college. But it will also help our students to know that God loves them, and to know how to respond to that love. Because, as Pier reminds me, answering the desires of our heart with good and worthwhile efforts is really what our lives are all about. 

Abriana Chilelli
Abriana Chilelli
Abriana Chilelli is the Associate Superintendent of Academic Renewal​ for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Denver.

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