Engaging Students in Conversational Catechesis: Accompaniment and Instruction

The following blog was contributed by Becca Meagher, Campus Minister, Theology Teacher, and Red Knight Volunteer Corps Coordinator, at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, MN.  Becca Meagher will be presenting “Engaging Students in Conversational Catechesis: Accompaniment and Instruction” at the 2019 NCEA Institute for Catholic School Leaders (ICSL 2019), July 14-17 in Indianapolis. SAVE the DATE!

ICSL 2019 is an engaging professional development opportunity for principals, aspiring principals, presidents, pastors and board members. The preliminary program can be reviewed at www.NCEA.org/icsl. Registration is now open! Early Bird registration rates expire on Monday, June 3.

“The richness of a well-rounded theology curriculum will challenge students through academic rigor and also touch their hearts, giving them the experience of a living faith through conversation and relationship.”

As a school rooted in the Lasallian tradition, Benilde-St. Margaret’s is committed to the ministry of accompaniment with our students. To accompany students is to be attentive and responsive to their experiences and their questions as we walk beside them on their faith journey. Pope Francis, during the closing mass at the Synod on Young People, said: “It is not Christian to expect that our brothers and sisters who are seekers should have to knock on our doors; we ought to go out to them, bringing not ourselves but Jesus.”

This is precisely the idea behind our new seventh and freshmen Seminar classes at BSM. Focused on critical thinking, inquiry, and accompaniment, our seminar theology classes bring to light the teachings of the Catholic tradition in a way that allows students to ask questions, share conversation and think deeply about issues of faith. The seminar-style also offers teachers an opportunity to share their own journey of faith in a way that inspires and supports their faith journey.

At the 2019 NCEA Institute for Catholic School Leaders in July, administrators, principals, presidents, and pastors from around the country will gather to engage in dialogue about how to best serve the students entrusted to their care. Much like Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, we ask ourselves, how can we walk with students as they come to grow in their faith? Moving to a theology curriculum rich with inquiry and accompaniment is a great place to start.

In January 2018, Saint Mary’s Press released a study titled “ Going, Going, Gone ” that assesses the disaffiliation of young Catholics from the church and explores the reasons they have chosen to step away from their church community. The research indicates that one of the reasons some have “drifted” away from the church is because of a “lack of companions on the spiritual journey.” By creating a space where students can ask questions without judgment, teachers become spiritual companions, walking with young people as they become aware of moments of consolation and desolation in their life.

It’s nearing the end of the school year, so I recently surveyed my seventh-grade Religion Seminar class. My first question was, ‘Has your relationship with God been strengthened because of this class?’ It was a short answer response question, and although there were the typical responses of “kind-of” and “sure,” there were some that buoyed my spirits and affirmed why I think theology classes rooted in inquiry and conversation are so important.  Seventh-grader responses included: “Yes, I found God while finding myself.” “Yes, the  discussions helped me really understand more about God and strengthen my relationship with Him,” and “My relationship with God has been strengthened, and I have the ability to see Him in others and in life itself.”

The richness of a well-rounded theology curriculum will challenge students through academic rigor and also touch their hearts, giving them the experience of a living faith through conversation and relationship. Understanding God may be complex, but talking about God should always be easy.

About the Author

Becca Meagher’s journey in Catholic education started back when she attended a Catholic school in kindergarten. Ever since then, she has been in a Catholic institution on a daily basis. Meagher went to St. Mary’s University in Winona to study Theology and Pastoral Ministry. While at St. Mary’s, she also obtained a Culturally Responsive Teaching Leadership Certification. She went on to do graduate work at St. John’s University in Collegeville. Here, Meagher concentrated on Catechetical Leadership, leading Catholic in preparation for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Meagher transitioned from a full-time teacher to a part-time teacher, while also serving as Benilde-St. Margaret’s Campus Minister. As a Campus Minister, Meagher helps plan retreats, organize before and after school prayer, plan Liturgy, Sacramental offerings and the Common Basket, and advises RKVC and Link Crew.