This Catholic Schools Week, we have so much to be proud of when we look at the ways Catholic schools help students grow in faith, knowledge, service, and leadership. My hope for Catholic schools is that we can also use our unique position and mission to impact the adults who work for us. For me, one of the most valuable parts of working at a Catholic school is that I can grow in faith along with my students and build a faith community with other adults.
When I moved from parish ministry to a school with an adult formation program, I saw the great gift that schools have in our existing communities and our daily contact with each other. Our schools are full of adults who want opportunities for meaningful connection and who want to engage their faith more deeply. In our buildings we have experts in faith formation, ways to communicate our events, and places to meet. We have everything we need to do more to help our schools be places for faith formation for adults as well as students.
For some schools, adult formation consists of required meetings and events, such as new employee formation, reflection and faith sharing at a faculty meeting, or an all-staff retreat day. Other schools do optional events, such as prayer groups, faith sharing groups, spiritual book clubs, speakers on a religious theme, or gathering for a meal and conversation in or outside of school.
The best piece of advice I received from my predecessor when I began in adult formation was a simple one: “Whenever you get people together, have some food around.” Jesus knew this, of course, and welcomed both friends and scandalized critics when he shared a meal and conversation. When adult formation is required, offering food makes a person’s day that much easier and more comfortable. For optional events, in addition to offering appealing content, why not make being there as convenient and pleasant as possible? If budgets are tight, consider providing snacks or beverages, or explore opportunities for a potluck, either by staff or by groups of parents or other volunteers. It makes a big difference, too, to remember that modern table fellowship also includes being inclusive of options for dietary restrictions and health needs.
It goes without saying that teachers are busy and have many demands on their time. We can show respect by scheduling carefully to avoid professional conflicts, by planning in advance, and by being faithful to start and end times. Since our schools are not only faith communities but also professional ones, we do well to recognize that our colleagues are there for many reasons and are in many places on their own faith journeys. Especially in required events, offering a choice goes a long way. Perhaps participants can choose whether to share in a small group or reflect alone, for example, or choose from a variety of readings on the same theme.
Some of the greatest successes I’ve seen in adult formation at Catholic schools have been in faith sharing and conversation. We have so many thoughtful, creative, and generous adults at our schools, and we can gain so much by sharing with each other. Opportunities for reflecting and talking together are valuable and simple to offer, and individuals or departments can lead conversations based on their own experience and expertise. I also value bringing teachers together from different schools, both in person and online, and extending outside of just one school environment can help the conversation focus on faith, not just the particulars of one school. This type of peer-to-peer sharing can help bring in new people and can distinguish adult faith formation from other types of professional development.
My advice to any school that is hoping to grow its adult formation program is to begin! Ask people to gather to discuss an article or online reflection; gather during lunch or for snacks after school, or see who among your faculty and staff might be willing to lead a conversation on a spiritual topic. Start with opportunities that are simple to begin, and these can lead to ongoing programs in the future. Let’s continue to use the resources we have to help each other grow closer to God.