For Catholic school teachers, new credential program promises formation in faith and reason

Participants in the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education's Catholic Educator Formation and Credential Program at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Denver. Participants in the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education's Catholic Educator Formation and Credential Program at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Denver./ Courtesy photo.

Catholic schools’ unique goals and qualities are the focus of a new program that aims to provide teachers with the formation and credentials for the task, and the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Denver are collaborating with the program.

“The men and women who have responded to a vocation in Catholic education deserve to be fed spiritually and intellectually to help them fulfill their ministerial role: to form joyful disciples of Jesus Christ,” Elisabeth Sullivan, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, told CNA Oct. 12.

The institute and the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools on Oct. 7 announced the launch of the Catholic Educator Formation and Credential Program to help prepare “well-formed” Catholic school teachers.

Sullivan said the institute’s decades of teacher formation work have helped schools achieve renewal as “vibrant communities of faith and learning.”

“The credential program draws upon and expands this formation into an even deeper grounding in the riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition,” she said.

If new applicants for teaching positions in the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools do not have a state teaching license, they can complete the formation and credential program instead.

The program consists of several requirements: five courses; two retreats or workshops; and supervised teaching over 18 months. Those who complete the program will receive the institute’s Catholic Educator Credential.

The pilot program launched in August with 28 participating teachers. The program aims to become nationally recognized, with its credentials recognized across dioceses. It draws on Church teaching on Catholic education, especially as presented in the book The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B. of Vancouver.

The institute’s certification program aims to provide “a robust alternative to state teacher licensure that provides rich formation in the philosophy and practice of Catholic intellectual tradition, which is distinct from the secular approach,” Sullivan said.

“Many have not recognized that this pragmatic, utilitarian approach undermines the wonder and mystery at the heart of faith,” she told CNA. “In addition, contemporary education is failing to form students who can think well, speak well, and write well.”

Dr. Alyssan Barnes, the director of the institute’s credential program, said that the certification program teaches educators basics, including lesson planning, literacy instruction, and effective pedagogy. She said the program also goes beyond a utilitarian sense of “best practices” by “rooting these essentials in the human person made for holiness.”

“The Lord has called us to tend his sheep,” Barnes told CNA. “What we are doing in Catholic schools is exactly that: caring for the upcoming saints of the next generation. We believe these children need not only something more than what the public school is offering; they need a different paradigm to understand the world around them. We want to support their teachers so they can convey this gift.”

For Barnes, Catholic liberal education “puts the Christ as the Logos at the center” and all truths are “fragments of this Truth.”

“Our credential program seeks to recover the Catholic intellectual tradition of uniting faith and reason – a long tradition that has shaped our world for the better,” she said. “We grow educators in teaching skills, yes, but we also focus on something absolutely essential for the Catholic teacher: developing a sacramental imagination that sees truth as one, as accessible, as communicable.”

The formation program will help educators “fulfill their ministerial role and instill in their students the joyful hope that is the foundation for discipleship,” the joint statement from the Denver archdiocese’s schools and the institute said.

The Denver archdiocese has over 35 schools, about 800 teachers, and over 8,000 students.

The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, based in Ventura, Calif., was founded in 1999 with the goal of renewing Catholic education. It aims to promote “the Church’s vision and practice of liberal learning, which puts Jesus Christ, the Logos, at the center of the content, pedagogy, and school culture.”

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Its president and founder, Michael J. Van Hecke, served as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura for 20 years. The institute’s board of directors includes Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles; Father John Belmonte, S.J., Superintendent of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Venice in Florida; and Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Its board of advisors includes Archbishop Miller; Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln; and Sister Mary Anne Zuberbueler, O.P., principal of Mary Immaculate School in Dallas.

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