January 24, 2020

Catholic School Week Supplement

Retreat leaves its life-changing mark on teachers and students

Leading her students to “encounters with Christ” has always been the primary goal for Elizabeth “Libby” Wright Saldanha, a teacher at Holy Family School in New Albany. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Leading her students to “encounters with Christ” has always been the primary goal for Elizabeth “Libby” Wright Saldanha, a teacher at Holy Family School in New Albany. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

NEW ALBANY—Elizabeth “Libby” Wright Saldanha was on retreat once when she heard a phrase from God that has continued to impact her life and her role as a teacher—“Take me with you.”

“My ministry as a teacher is a role I fully believe has been entrusted to me by God,” says Saldanha, last year’s recipient of the Saint Theodora Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for a Catholic educator in the archdiocese. “Though my classroom responsibilities are hugely important to me, I feel my most influential role lies in my calling to be a living witness to our faith each and every day.”

Saldanha lives that approach at Holy Family School in New Albany, where she teaches seventh-grade religion and seventh- and eighth-grade social studies.

In 2015, she and her teaching partner Sarah Green noticed that their seventh-grade students didn’t have the usual tight bonds that had connected previous classes. Remembering the retreat that had a major impact on her life, Saldanha suggested that concept to Green, and the two teachers developed a retreat program based on the theme, “Encounters with Christ.”

The retreat, which continues today, includes a service project, bonding activities, the sacrament of reconciliation and a traditional Seder (Passover) meal. It also involves an experience for the students “to look at God face to face”—eucharistic adoration—Saldanha says.

“It gives me chills to remember so many of the students’ reactions to their first adoration experience,” Saldanha recalls about that first group. “The kids looked changed and energized when they came out of there. One student said, ‘That was the first time I felt God was talking to me.’ They formed a relationship they didn’t have before.

“It continues to transform hearts year after year.”

Saldanha’s heart has also been touched by such moments of grace and faith.

“When former students come back and ask me to sponsor them as they make their confirmation, or when a good friend asks me to be a spiritual mentor as a godmother to her infant son, there is no feeling that’s equivalent. When others are able to see the love and devotion I have for my faith, I know I am serving our God well.” †

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