Conference Gives Global View of Catholic Education

August 12, 2019

This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019 issue of the Tennessee Register. Photo by Argenis Apolinario.

By Andy Telli

Catholic educators from around the world, including four Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia who teach at Aquinas College in Nashville, attended the World Congress of Catholic Education in New York in June, which examined issues facing Catholic schools around the globe.

Aquinas College, which is owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, is where the congregation’s young sisters are prepared for its apostolate of teaching.The congregation has spread to countries outside the United States, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands.

“The students we teach in Melbourne are refugees from Syria,” said Sister Thomas More Stepnowski, O.P., the provost and vice president for academics at Aquinas.

“It’s important (the sisters) have a global view of Catholic education,” she added. “A  conference like this opens up your world view to better educate our sisters to educate the young people we encounter.”

Sister Thomas More was joined at the conference, held June 5-8, by: Sister Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P., president of Aquinas; Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, O.P., director of Aquinas’ Center for Catholic Education; and Sister Matthew Marie Cummings, O.P., professor of education at Aquinas. They were they only delegates from the Diocese of Nashville to attend the conference, which was sponsored by Fordham University’s Center for Catholic School Leadership and the Office of International Catholic Education.

Speakers at the conference detailed the many issues facing Catholic education around the world.

“One woman was the principal of the only Catholic school in the Arctic Circle,” which in located in Norway, Sister Thomas More said. “I found out Finland no longer has any Catholic schools.

“In the Congo, they have children as young as 4 working in mines,” she said. “It’s akin to slavery.

“You see these incredible stories of faithfulness and hope to bring Catholic education where there is none,” Sister Thomas More said.

The conference also addressed the challenges facing Catholic educators in industrialized nations, such as Belgium, which has a shrinking Catholic school enrollment, Sister Thomas More said.

“The common thread must be the work of the Holy Spirit, and we cannot predict when or how the inspiration will come, but we can be confident in the  outpouring of God’s grace and mercy will be with us,” Sister Thomas More said.

During the conference, Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican, noted that the challenges of the 21st century, namely secularism, relativism and utilitarianism, require an education in a “new reality,” that is, Catholic faculty, staff and students must be formed in Christian anthropology,” Sister Thomas More said.

That goal fits one of the goals of Aquinas’ strategic plan, she said. “The program of studies at Aquinas College will form students to be educators who allow truth and charity to transform their own lives and the lives of those they will serve,” states the strategic plan.

Delegates to this year’s conference represented more than 85 countries and 200,000 Catholic schools.

“The world conference of Catholic education presented Catholic education at its best as a gift to all nations,” said Gerald M. Cattaro, executive director of Fordham’s Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-Based Education. “This year, we gathered at Fordham to share our vision for the future: to provide sustainable Catholic education, modeling the pedagogy of Pope Francis – pedagogy of heart, hands and mind in an effort to better serve the marginalized, the poor, refugees, and those on the peripherals. In other words, to teach as Jesus did.”

The theme of the conference was “Laudato Si,’” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care for the earth. “The influence of Laudato Si’ was manifested not only in practical examples of incorporating the care for God’s creation in school wide programs,’ Sister Thomas More said, “but also broadly by capturing the freshness and ardor for the New Creation that should permeate Catholic schools.” 

This article was reprinted with permission.

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