(Editor’s Note: Following is the second installment of a series on St. Mary’s High School’s new theology curriculum and other new course offerings. Information sessions on St. Mary’s will take place June 13 at St. Patrick Parish after the 5 p.m. Mass, at St. Peter Parish in Monument on June 20 after the 10:30 a.m. Mass, and at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish on June 27 after the 10 a.m. Mass.)
COLORADO SPRINGS. The upcoming changes to the theology curriculum actually began over ten years ago when I first met Father Joe Dygert. We met at St. Patrick Church, where he gave a presentation on the Eucharist. At the time, I was a new Catholic, having left atheism and received baptism during my senior year at Colorado State University. I had returned to Colorado Springs and was volunteering at St. Patrick. I was very impressed by Father Joe’s presentation, and we quickly formed a deep and lasting friendship.
Thanks to the kindness of Father Larry Solan, I was hired as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Faith Formation at St. Patrick. Being in youth ministry was both a joyful and challenging experience. Throughout my career at St. Patrick, I would frequently meet with Father Joe, and we would discuss theology and living a life of faith.
The first lesson that we learned together was that the Gospels must be at the heart of any presentation of the faith since it is in the Gospels that we encounter the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
The second lesson that we learned together was that the entire sacramental life of the Church is dependent upon both the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Over the last several centuries, a great doubt has crept into Christianity regarding the divinity of Jesus. Surely, even atheists can attest that Jesus was a great human being, but to claim that he is also fully God seems to some to be too much. However, the clear proclamation of the Church (including recent scholarship by Bishop Robert Barron and Dr. Brant Pitre) is this: Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. If this is true, then the Sacraments of the Church become grace-filled encounters with the living God, who heals us and draws us into union with him.
After my time at St. Patrick, I worked at St. Mary’s Cathedral as the Director of Religious Education under the guidance of Father David Price, while Father Joe was assigned to teach theology at St. Mary’s High School. We continued to share our ideas and experiences, and this is where we learned our third lesson: faith must be fostered in the context of a community. I was able to facilitate several classes of “The Great Adventure Bible Study” by Jeff Cavins and participate in a faith-sharing group led by a wonderful parishioner, Martin Nussbaum.
In both groups, I noticed a similar pattern: participants would encounter the voice of God in Scripture or in a spiritual writing and this would lead to faith and a greater participation in the sacraments. This, in turn, would lead to an increased vibrancy in the spiritual lives of those who participated in these faith-sharing groups. Father Joe had similar experiences in his pastoral ministry.
When we begin the 2021-2022 school year, I will enter my third year teaching at St. Mary’s High School; it will be my first year teaching the newly developed theology curriculum. Father Joe and I have decided to incorporate all three of these lessons into the new curriculum. The Gospels and other primary texts will form the backbone of the new curriculum. One of the Gospels will be read each year by the students (freshmen, Mark; sophomores, Matthew; juniors, Luke; and seniors, John).
Thanks to a generous donor, each student will receive copies of “The Ave Catholic Notetaking Bible” (RSV), “The Ignatius Catholic New Testament Study Bible” with extensive commentary by Dr. Scott Hahn, and the “St. Paul Sunday Missal.” These three books will be used in our theology classes all four years, and students will be able to take these books with them to college.
Freshman year will be an introduction to Catholic theology. Sophomore year will focus on a Catholic reading of Scripture. Junior year will cover the life and history of the Church. Senior year will focus on wisdom for life and include materials on living the spiritual life. Each year will be steeped in Scripture and in great writings from the Catholic Tradition. Students will also be invited to participate in the sacramental life of the Church through Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Finally, Father Joe and I have learned that a vibrant faith can only be sustained in the context of community. Can there be a better place for teenagers to be formed in their faith than through engagement at a lively and faithful Catholic high school?
As we approach the new school year, Father Joe and I are excited to share the new theology curriculum with our students. We hope that the lessons that we have learned together through our friendship will be of great benefit to the community at St. Mary’s High School.
(Nate Rose is a theology teacher at St. Mary’s High School.)