Faith formation program for educators keys into archdiocesan vision

While Jesus taught before large crowds, he also invested personally in a small number of disciples, said Keith Jiron, Omaha mission director for School of Faith – a faith formation program for teachers and administrators in Catholic schools.

And as the effort begins its fourth year in the archdiocese, the organization presenting the materials – the Holy Family School of Faith Institute – will begin to emulate that small-group approach, Jiron said.

In 13 schools, presenters at the institute’s monthly meetings with educators will explore this new avenue of discipleship-building, which was developed to track with the archdiocese’s pastoral vision and priority plan to create, "One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."

"What we’ve been doing so far is the large group formation, but to be more effective we need to invest individually or in smaller groups," Jiron said. "We are trying to take the archbishop’s vision for discipleship and evangelization into the schools, because it is a crucial part of the archdiocesan mission."

The hope from the pilot project is to learn from challenges experienced the first year, make any necessary changes and expand the program to other schools next year, Jiron said.

The approach will include large-group sessions similar to what has been offered in the past. But School of Faith also will include smaller groups and one-on-one sessions for disciple-maker training. Educators receiving the small-group instruction will share what they learned with the rest of the faculty next year, also through small groups and one-on-one discipleship.

"What we’re starting to emphasize in some of the schools is small-group evangelization and one-on-one discipleship," Jiron said. "Conversion in the large group isn’t likely to happen – it’s in the one-on-one relationships."

The training is intended to create a culture of discipleship in the schools through conversation, sharing and investment in people’s lives that will foster "ongoing, deepening interest in and commitment to Jesus Christ," Jiron said.

And as teachers grow more committed to Christ, they will model for students what that lifestyle looks like and means, he said.

Emily Mattison, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Michael School in South Sioux City, where the small-group setting will be tried, said she is looking forward to this year.

"For me, the School of Faith has been very effective," Mattison said. "I’m happy the archdiocese is doing this. I credit School of Faith with helping me further feel God in my life."

Roseanne Williby, principal of St. Stephen the Martyr School in Omaha, said the small-group strategy and emphasis on individual encounters could deepen the impact of the School of Faith’s message of discipleship.

"It’s going to be a little challenging at first, because it’s different than what we’ve been doing," said Williby, whose school also will be in the pilot program. "But Christ encountered people one-on-one … and that’s what we’re attempting to do."

And while small-group settings tend to encourage close encounters with Christ’s message, the School of Faith already has helped at St. Stephen’s, she said.

"It’s remarkable, the assemblage of knowledge," she said of the program. "There is something there for everyone."

The School of Faith keys into an important fact about Catholic educators, Jiron said.

"These teachers all love God, and we want to help them as they create a new generation of disciples for Jesus," he said. "These one-on-one, deep conversations centered around the faith will provide friendship, meaningful conversation, and help foster a way to set ablaze their fire in others. The Catholic school teachers are frontline disciples."

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