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IGNITE THE FAITH: Teacher faith formation impacts students, whole schools

Confidence, joy about the faith are fruits of Ignite the Faith

By ELIZABETH WELLS

For the Catholic Voice

Six years ago, Stacy Fanciullo wondered why she and other Catholic school teachers were being given “classes” for spiritual formation and personal faith development.

“We thought it would be something we teach to students, but they kept saying, ‘It’s for you, to help you be stronger,’” said the K-8th-grade music and art teacher at St. Bernadette School in Bellevue about the formation offered through the School of Faith – now the Evangelium Institute – to Catholic school teachers and staff in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Today she sees the benefits. “If our relationship with Christ is strong, we show it through how we live. It makes us better wives and husbands, daughters and sons, better teachers.”

The Evangelium Institute is an Omaha-based Catholic nonprofit organization, which, according to its website, “provides dynamic formation to adults in the Archdiocese of Omaha with the intention of bringing those we serve closer to a lasting experience of Jesus Christ and His Church.” Adults then share their deepened commitment to the faith with children.

St. Bernadette is one of 65 urban and rural archdiocesan schools receiving this formation and catechesis, which was underwritten by the Ignite the Faith campaign. One of the goals of the campaign, conducted between 2011 and 2012, was to improve faith formation and Catholic education.

The institute and its predecessor, School of Faith, a nonprofit based in Overland Park, Kansas, achieved these goals through study of Scripture and the catechism, prayer and small group discussions. The instruction provides teachers with information to share, said Fanciullo, adding it would be much harder “to pour into our kids’ buckets … to help shape their faith … without someone to help us.”

Each presenter has been a good fit, she said. “Especially Deacon Omar Gutiérrez … he knows so much about these topics, but he’s down to earth, and it’s easy to understand what he’s talking about.”

Presenters share their knowledge and faith journey, while teachers share their thoughts and faith experiences.

“We are trying to be role models for the students. It’s beneficial to have someone like Deacon Gutiérrez and other teachers as role models,” Fanciullo said. “We get strength from each other.”

The education and faith sharing builds confidence as well, said Lynn Schultz, principal at St. Bernadette. She believes this leads to joy and excitement about the faith that is genuine and contagious.

“It’s given us a vehicle to share what once was private. What we’ve learned in the Bible and catechism all starts to make sense,” she said. “And when you plug your life into those areas, it becomes joyful to talk about … that’s when you are living your faith out loud.

“It’s changed the environment at St. Bernadette so parents, guests and especially students can feel it when they walk in.”

Wil Kirwan is a seventh-grader who is new to St. Bernadette this year. He said he noticed right away that “the kids were more reverent at Mass and in the classroom.”

In addition to being reverent, Becky McIntyre, who teaches K-8 Spanish at St. Bernadette, said it’s “a very welcoming, positive safe place to explore my faith.”

“I feel I’m stronger in my faith … and a much better teacher and model for the kids now than when I first arrived three years ago.”

That’s important, she added, because “kids are so insightful and … can tell if you’re being real with them,” especially when it comes to living and practicing your faith.

Students also benefit by seeing the teachers working on their relationships with Jesus, said both McIntyre and Fanciullo. Joshua Jansen, another seventh-grader at the school, has noticed the effort and sees the Evangelium Institute as “a way for teachers to learn how to teach kids how to be more Christian.”  

“It’s important because the primary goal of sending us here (to a Catholic school) is so when we get older, we can say our prayers, pray, and do it on our own,” he said. “They (the teachers) can’t show us how to do it, if they don’t do it themselves.”

For more coverage on Ignite the faith, see our E-Edition here.