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Catholic Connections

By Rick Lucas

Faith mentorship: building a culture of encounter

06/22/2016

Do you remember a time when a child asked, “Why do we do this at mass? What does it mean?” Have you ever struggled explaining your faith to a non-Catholic colleague or neighbour? Have you ever thought about the “tangible intangibles” surrounding the difference between Catholic and public education? You might have heard the age-old advice to “never swim alone.” The Lloydminster Catholic School Division (LCSD) uses their Faith Mentorship program to gather people to “swim in the depth of our Catholic faith” in our everyday life. The LCSD Faith Mentorship program gathers staff from their first day of work in a supported Faith Mentorship program.

With thanks to the religious co-ordinators of Saskatchewan and the faith mentorship framework, Lloydminster Catholic School Division has built a program of support, collegiality and faith friendship that invites new teachers into the LCSD faith community. This annual program brings together newly employed teachers within the division for a concentrated year of catechesis, faith, fellowship, food and fun. Faith mentorship fosters the culture of encountering as it allows professionals to ask and receive answers to essential questions surrounding the faith basics for teachers new to a Catholic school system.

We meet seven times a year in large-group formative sessions and engage teachers of all generations in exploring topics such as the sacraments, the liturgies of the church (mass, prayer services and the liturgical seasons of the year), studying about our Lord Jesus and his gift of the sacraments to the church, and the role of Mary in our faith. We examine Christian morality and the role and formation of consciences in making moral choices at home, school, and our community.

Marylie Svendsen, a faith mentorship teacher, reaffirms the importance of the large-group sessions: “There are two aspects of the large-group faith mentorship gatherings that I really appreciate: the historical background that Rick is able to provide for biblical events and attitudes; and Rick’s easily understood explanations of Catholic faith and practices for individuals who are not familiar with these. It’s wonderful to hear ‘how’ to explain to others.”

Each school has a faith mentor (an experienced practising Catholic teacher) that gathers their “newbies” in a school faith community, meeting once every four to six weeks to discuss faith topics, offering support to each other in living a Catholic Christian lifestyle and becoming the “face of Jesus” to the students we teach and their families.

Kaitlin Basler, a first year teacher to LCSD states: “As a new community member and employee of LCSD I found the Faith Mentorship program to be exactly what I needed. Going to each session was like a breath of fresh air. Having a mentor so committed to the role and being in a small group of co-workers, helped foster relationships, provided a comfortable atmosphere as well as a source of encouragement and accountability. The delicious snacks provided each time were merely the cherry on top! I am very grateful!”

Each large-group session begins and ends with prayer and snacks. Presentations guide the larger group through an exploration of the topic of the day. These non-evaluative sessions are designed to help teachers understand the mass, learn about and celebrate within the church liturgical year, participate with their students in meaningful dialogue about faith questions, and foster collegial time with colleagues for meaningful discussions about personal and public faith.

Mark Noble, a first-year teacher at Lloydminster Catholic School Division, described the personal impact of these sessions: “You feel like you are part of something that the leader has strong beliefs in and is approachable to discuss those things with the group. With that in mind, we are still encouraged to look into ourselves and examine our own beliefs. We are being led by example of how to guide and nurture children in their faith.”

Our school division also offers an “in-house” RCIA program, which allows teachers and support staff release time during their work day to attend RCIA sessions. After having experienced the mentorship program, several “graduates” have chosen to enrol in our RCIA program to further explore the depth and richness of the Catholic faith and have entered into full communion with our Catholic community with baptism, eucharist and confirmation.

Rev. Stefano Penna, a friend and mentor, once told me, the word companion is made up of two words: com and panis. These old Greek words mean to “break bread with.” So it is in our mentorship program that we companion together and study the words of Scripture, while exploring tradition in the Catholic faith. The Faith Mentorship program mirrors the model of Catholic schools, by fostering an environment, which invites and engages, rather than telling answers to questions one might never ask. As Josephine Lombardi, one of Canada’s premier Catholic theologians, says, “with hearts transformed by Christ, we can change the hearts of others, and transform the world.” The LCSD faith mentorship is one way to support, share and lead in sharing God’s message.

Lucas is faith leadership specialist and high school Christian ethics teacher, Lloydminster Catholic School Division. Lucas is directly part of faith leadership and service in his school and school division.