October 17, 2014

UCA funds help support professional development of teachers, youth ministers, religious educators in the archdiocese

By Natalie Hoefer

After 15 years as a high school principal in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Rick Ruhl knows the importance of professional development for educators.

For instance, the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education (OCE) has recently been training archdiocesan school administrators on data analysis.

“We’ve been [doing] work in analyzing student data … and helping our teachers see where our students are at, what areas our students need to grow in,” said Ruhl. “The archdiocese has definitely taken a strong leadership in that area.”

But just as important as instructing on these new methods, said Ruhl, is the archdiocese’s support of the vital role its teachers play.

“Education is such an important ministry,” said Ruhl, principal of Seton Catholic High School in Richmond for the last 10 years and at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis five years prior to that role.

“I feel very supported by the archdiocese in helping me, for lack of a better term, ‘professionalize’ my teachers—helping them recognize the key role that they’re playing in the formation of our young people and in guiding our young people, helping them learn and grow.”

Behind the scenes, this professional development is made possible in part by donations to the annual United Catholic Appeal: Christ Our Hope (UCA).

That professional and even spiritual development reaches beyond the classroom. It extends to all who assist in proclaiming the word of God in the archdiocese, including parish youth ministers and administrators of religious education—all those who are assisted by OCE.

“At the beginning of each school year, we have our big administrators’ conference,” said Gina Fleming, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. The conference is for principals, high school presidents, youth ministers, parish administrators of religious education, pastors and campus ministers.

“On the school side, we have professional development days for our administrators three times a year outside of that. There’s always an academic piece in terms of professional development.

“But there’s always a spiritual development piece as well. We recognize that we have to maintain our balance and our focus on living the Gospel values in order to ensure that those we serve do, too.”

Fleming said that UCA donations are used to “either fund these different initiatives, and/or to offset their cost.”

Such development is also important for educators outside of school walls, namely parish administrators of religious education, known as PAREs.

“UCA funds help us to work with PAREs, to help them provide the formation and professional and spiritual development of their catechists,” said Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis. “We give them tools to use with their own catechetical programs.”

As with school administrators, the Office of Catholic Education gathers PAREs several times each year for professional and spiritual development.

“Part of what we tend to do at these gatherings is give them tools that they in turn can use with their own catechists at the parish, cluster or deanery level,” said Ogorek.

For those who cannot attend the meetings—and for all archdiocesan staff— Ogorek said that UCA funds “help make possible our partnerships with efforts like Catholic Distance University.” Through this online educational program, paid parish staff members receive a reduced rate for classes that enhance professional and spiritual development.

OCE also gathers parish youth ministers several times a year for formation.

“Three times a year, I bring them all together for a business meeting, but every meeting has component of professional development,” said Kay Scoville, archdiocesan director of youth ministry. “I’ll bring in speakers and presenters that have expertise in youth ministry and pastoral concerns of youth … to help them in their day-to-day ministry, practical applications and for their own spiritual growth.

“Being in such a challenging ministry such as youth ministry, where youths are constantly on the move, changing, distracted, I think giving them the best resources and new skills to minister to them is vital to the ministry. It’s vital to keeping youth connected and engaged, and seeing faith as a priority in their life.”

Scoville says she “can’t bring in the national speakers with the expertise and offer [the youth ministers] resources without additional funds.”

And with more funds, she said, “There is so much more we could do with technology in professional formation. Using webinars, putting videos on the web—that would be another avenue that the funds could be channeled toward. We would be able to reach more people that way, so we could bring it to those part-time youth ministers who can’t get off of work to get to a workshop.”

With the help of annual UCA funds, the professional and spiritual development offered to those who proclaim the word of God in turn benefits all who receive instruction through those in the Office of Catholic Education, whether from teachers, school administrators, parish administrators of religious education or youth ministers.

“That’s one thing that comes shining through from the archdiocese,” said Ruhl. “It filters down. [Support through development] helps [instructors] feel that what they’re doing here every day is important and valued, and that they’re appreciated.”

(For more information on the United Catholic Appeal, log on to www.archindy.org/uca or call the Office of Stewardship and Development at 317-236-1415 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1415.)

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