Reimagined, Theology: Father Joe Dygert, Guest Column

A key to life is to never stop learning and growing. While this sentiment might have been coined for individuals, it applies to entities too. In recent months, St. Mary’s High School has embraced this philosophy, implemented changes and is now Reimagined...For the Future.

Learn more about how St. Mary’s is Reimagined...For the Future during an information night at St. Partick’s Parish on June 13 after 5 pm Mass.  

Solidly rooted in the faith foundation set by the Sisters of Loretto who established St. Mary’s in 1885, St. Mary’s has retooled its curriculum, extracurriculars, organizational structure and more to meet the needs of 21st century students. While many areas have been updated, given that everything at St. Mary’s starts with our faith, we first want to highlight the restructuring of our theology curriculum.

A guest column by Fr. Joe Dygert, Theology Department Chair SMHS:

The Second Vatican Council had two major prongs: ressourcement, looking back to the sources of Christian Faith, and aggiornamento, a revitalized engagement with the world. In our reimagined theology curriculum we would like to go further in our following of these essential ideas. Our primary textbook will be Scripture, supplemented by a rich assortment of readings from the Catholic Tradition. And by engaging deeply with the sources, we hope to bring Christ to bear on the lives of young people in the modern world.

Ressourcement will involve reading Scripture and many authors from the tradition. To the former: the reading of Scripture is “the soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum, 24). In engaging the inspired text students encounter the words of the living God, rather than words about His words. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John form the pillars of the revised curriculum, with one of the Gospels being read each year of the program. A strong sampling of the Old Testament and almost the entire New Testament will be read throughout the four years. The structure of the curriculum will be that of the narrative or story of salvation; catechesis will be woven into and flow out of this story, so that we cover all of the material called for by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their “Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework”. The new curriculum takes a spiral approach to learning, allowing topics to be covered multiple times throughout the four years with increasing depth.

The new curriculum also will introduce students to the lives and writings of saints and other great figures throughout Church history. We want them to know the great figures of the apostolic age, reading the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons, among others. They will become conversant with the patristic era as well, becoming familiar with Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory Nazianzen, and Maximus the Confessor. Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich will be read from the medieval period, and representing the early modern era will be authors such as Catherine of Genoa, Thomas More, Erasmus, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross. We will also introduce them to late modern and contemporary figures such as Therese of Lisieux, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Dorothy Day, and John Paul II. This survey has as its primary objectives to help students see the Faith through the eyes of those who have seen and lived it most profoundly, as well as to make them realize they are part of a tradition and conversation much bigger than any one of us.

As regards aggiornamento, we want to invite students to an honest look at questions and ideas of the contemporary world in light of this tradition. The past and the present will be brought into dialogue with one another. There is nothing that is irrelevant to faith, be that music or movies, social movements or laws, social media or literature. Everything human ultimately relates to the Gospel. We hope, through examples and engagement, to help students wrestle with life more successfully by finding the synergy between ancient wisdom and modern existence. Our approach will be conscious to move up and down the levels of rigor (as expressed, for example, in Bloom’s taxonomy) and the employment of constructivist methods of education that allow students to actively engage ideas and seek to discover truth. In each year, we will work on skills necessary for successful theological thinking, including speaking and listening, reading and writing.

This curriculum will benefit students who have the Catholic Faith by immersing them in the riches of their tradition and expanding the horizons of their faith. It will benefit non-Catholic students by presenting to them a tradition that grapples with the most perplexing questions of existence, such as “What is the purpose of life?” or “Why is there suffering in the world?” All students will be free to seek and decide on their own answers to these questions, but will be invited to consider embracing the answers given in the Person of Jesus Christ.

This, then, is why we are making the change, so that by more closely following the Second Vatican Council’s prongs of ressourcement and aggiornamento we can take students into the depths of Catholic theology in a way that transforms their lives.

Retooling our theology classes to provide a deeper understanding of faith is just one of many ways that St. Mary’s is reimagining itself for the future. To learn more about St. Mary’s High School, visit our website at www.smpirates.org.