For first-year Saint Joseph High School science teacher Nicole Nemeth, teaching is about more than instructing her students: It’s about formation. This includes holistic formation, both of her students and herself.
The importance of formation was affirmed and at the same time challenged at the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic School Mission Day. Mission Days are hosted annually in September — once on each end of the diocese — to bring teachers together to grow professionally and foster faith.
The keynote presentation was offered by Dr. Leonard J. DeLorenzo, director of undergraduate studies at the McGrath Institute for Church Life and author of several books. DeLorenzo spoke of two tendencies that fail to invite young people to enter deeper into the fullness of life. He called these “not formation.”
The first one stems from the idea that, “If we want religious things to appeal to young people, we have to make those religious things look just like young people,” he said. “Pandering,” as DeLorenzo termed this, expects too little.
The second “not-formation” is “self-creation,” the idea that “you are primarily responsible for manufacturing your own identity.” This fails to present an image of what one is to become, allowing students to shape-shift identities in an effort to be seen.
Not-formation is not what students actually want. What students want, DeLorenzo posited, is embodiment.
“They want to see something bold and beautiful. They want to be challenged. They want substance. It must be embodied through credible witnesses who show something challenging and back it up, who teach what’s challenging and back it up, who form them for what’s challenging and help them grow towards it.”
The most important question when talking about formation, DeLorenzo said, is “What are we forming young people for?”
The answer is sacrifice.
“That is, to be able to say ‘Yes’ with their lives to something bold. To be able to give themselves away. To be able to love and follow through on love.”
This resonated with Nemeth’s experience as a teacher, she said. She sees within her students a desire to look ahead.
“I am here not to show them that scientists and saints are exactly as they are right now, but instead to challenge them to think about the future and what they can become.” This, for Nemeth, comes through striving to get to know students on a personal level, recognizing their unique story and interests. And as a graduate of diocesan Catholic schools herself, it comes through continually deepening her own faith.
Formation, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades shared in his Fort Wayne homily, is also essential for staff. “If we are static in our intellectual or professional life, our teaching becomes boring and irrelevant. We lose our joy and enthusiasm. We are not creative. The same in our spiritual life and our living the Catholic mission in our schools.” Similarly, he emphasized to teachers in South Bend the importance of “continually being educated ourselves at the school of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
During afternoon breakout sessions, Nemeth was struck by Father Terrence Ehrman, CSC, and his talk on faith and science. Father Ehrman shared that the two are inherently connected: God created the world and gave life to it, and He continues to do so — even every new blade of grass is God’s continuing act of creation.
When Nemeth investigates with her students, she said, “we are investigating the created world. We cannot study the act of creation itself, but we can study the natural mechanisms that are a part of the created world.” This, she believes, illustrates the inherent intersection of faith and science.
“We need science to give us the means to discover the world God created, and we need faith to answer the question of who created the world and what is our purpose in it.”
As Nemeth continues through her first year of teaching, it is her desire to serve God in the best way she can. She wants to truly make a difference in the lives of her students, she said. This desire was personally and professionally cultivated through Catholic School Mission Day, and it continues to take shape as she strives to “help my students grow in mind, heart, and spirit” and to “challenge myself to be more saint-like.”
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