Ministries Conference focuses on Strong Faith, Strong Schools

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FORT DODGE – Relaying a message from Dr. Dan Ryan, former superintendent of Catholic schools, Steve Angrisano said, “Catholic schools don’t have a mission, the mission has Catholic schools.”

“We are part of the mission of Jesus Christ,” said the keynote speaker for the 2017 Ministries Conference. “The mission of the Catholic Church is to bring all things together in Christ. What we do and who we are cannot be separated from the faith that founded our school, our church that calls us to hope and salvation.”

About 550 teachers, staff and administrators from the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux City gathered Sept. 25 at St. Edmond School in Fort Dodge. The theme of the conference was Strong Faith, Strong Schools.

Patty Lansink, interim superintendent of Catholic schools and principal at Denison St. Rose of Lima, thanked all those who helped plan and execute the Ministries Conference. She also thanked the Catholic School Foundation and the sponsors for their contributions.

“This is a really important day for us to come together and share our faith and share our mission in Catholic education,” said Lansink. “It’s important for everyone to know that we are in this all together.”

The planning for this conference started months ago when Ryan was still in the diocese as the superintendent. Lansink explained Ryan had a vision for “a retreat-style conference that centered on the four central mysteries of our faith – Incarnation, the Trinity, the Paschal Mystery and the Eucharist.”

Mysteries of the faith

Angrisano offered four presentations for the teachers interweaving stories and music throughout.

“Sometimes we become very comfortable in who we are and where we are,” said Angrisano. “It is the biggest danger, to me, of Catholic school. We forget the reality of what it is that we believe. We are surrounded by it. Walking by a chapel is not the same thing as praying in a chapel. Having a rosary hanging from my rearview mirror doesn’t have anything to do with my faith.”

At some point, the speaker said, you have to choose for yourself and belief for yourself. People need to choose to have their faith as part of their everyday.

“I am pretty convinced that a school Mass isn’t the place for a teacher to do this (pray),” said Angrisano. “We can get burnt out. Ministry and education are very emotionally exhausting things. Nine times out of 10 when a teacher or DRE tells me they are burnt out, I think the main purpose of our existence in a Catholic institution is to be a witness of the life and love of a God who gives us hope, faith, joy, salvation and forgiveness.”

If these people are too burnt out, he added, it could be that they “stopped having faith experiences and we started substituting our near-faith experiences.”

“Faith and what we believe isn’t about getting a grade in a religion class,” said Angrisano. “It is about being a witness of God’s love and who we are and how we live. On one level, we are teachers, administrators, priests and musicians. All those are roles we fill and vocations. At a deeper level, we are faith sharers. We are all witnesses to the Gospel.”

Teachers networking

Following Angrisano’s second and fourth presentation, the teachers gathered in small groups by grade level or subject area.

“The feedback is that they always enjoy getting together with their colleagues because a lot of times there is one teacher per grade level at one location,” said Lansink.

“They like that time to get together with other teachers from across the diocese and share. We are having them direct their conversation around what Steve is talking about, but hopefully there is time left for them to talk about other things,” she added.

There were 26 facilitators chosen by school administrators to lead the breakout sessions. These teachers had gone through training and preparation prior to the conference.

Some of the schools brought their administrative assistants and development directors. This group gathered in the library for a presentation by Chad Klocke, the director of training for Pizza Ranch, Inc. He spoke about customer service.

These staff members also participated in a large group activity and small group sessions presented by Chris Gahan, FACTS Management; Paula Bosco Damon, a seasoned communications expert; and Lisa Niebuhr, development director at Le Mars Gehlen Catholic School.

“They are able to attend breakout sessions that are applicable to their profession,” said Lansink.

Celebrating the Eucharist

The conference concluded with Bishop Walker Nickless celebrating Mass in the auditorium. Father Patrick Behm, chaplain at St. Ed’s, concelebrated the Mass. Deacon Joe Coleman assisted with the Mass and Father Brent Lingle was the master of ceremonies.

“It is wonderful to be here with you today,” said the bishop. “I want to thank all of your for taking time out of your day, as if you had a choice. You are here and had the opportunity to experience something wonderful today.”

Through Angrisano and his message, Bishop Nickless said, “We talked about the miracle of the Eucharist. My brothers and sisters, we are about to do the most important thing we can do in our life – celebrate the Eucharist, make God present.”

“I don’t get to see the diocese that much all together,” he said. “Yesterday, the youth (at the Rekindle rally) and today, all of you, who are given the extraordinary opportunity to teach and guide our youth. You did have a choice to be open to what you were going to experience today or to say, ‘Let me just get caught up on things in my email through my cell phone.’”

The bishop hoped the attendees chose to listen to the insights, suggestions and all that was presented throughout the day.

“This conference gives me a chance to thank all of you who contribute so much to our Catholic schools,” said Bishop Nickless. “Your dedication, your commitment, your care and concern, especially for the students are entrusted to you, is a great inspiration to me.”

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