Australian native Jonathan Doyle stood before a crowd of about 350 Catholic educators from across the Diocese of St. Cloud Aug. 20 at St. John’s University in Collegeville, challenging them to “be great.”
“You’re going to be a Catholic educator this year anyway,” he said. “Why not be a great one?”
The daylong event was coordinated by the diocesan Office of Catholic Education Ministries in collaboration with the Office of Worship and is part of an ongoing effort to create opportunities for principals, teachers and school staff to engage in dialogue and fellowship.
Doyle is the author of “Tools and Fuels” — a practical manual for Catholic teachers seeking to live their vocation with focus, positivity and grace. He spoke last year at the National Catholic Educational Association’s convention in St. Louis. He and his wife, Karen, are the founders of Choicez Media, which supports teachers and parents in the task of educating young people in the area of human sexuality and relationships.
Called and chosen
Doyle’s presentation was grounded in Scripture, the saints and theology and dotted with humor and personal anecdotes. Though his dynamic style brought laughter from the crowd, he also addressed difficult issues educators face like burnout, cynicism and exhaustion as well as student pastoral issues such as family-related topics and mental health concerns.
But he said, it wasn’t by chance that the people in the seats of the Stephen B. Humphrey auditorium were there to hear his message.
“If you have this vocation, the church’s understanding is that you’ve been called into this. You didn’t choose it. It wasn’t accidental. What if you didn’t choose Catholic education? What if it chose you? What would that change for you?” he asked the audience to consider.
“You’ve been given certain graces by God. … He is a good father, he gives gifts. He gives you what you need,” Doyle said. “You were chosen. It’s not random. He cares about you enough to want you to be where you are. He has chosen you to make him known to others.”
Using examples from the lives of saints, Doyle encouraged educators to examine their own baptismal call to holiness. He reminded them that their goal is to be saints and to help others to become saints.
“God is a perfect father, and he has so much for you, and he loves you so much. He wants you to reach his kids, but he also wants you to know who you truly are,” he said.
Doyle encouraged those present to transform themselves as well as their classrooms this year through prayer, engaging in the sacraments, making time for Scripture, self-care and by looking after each other.
“I really took away that I didn’t choose this profession, that God chose me for this vocation,” said Amy Kleinschmidt, a preschool teacher at St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud who attended the day. “He has the plan and he will help with my struggles. God’s graces are my gifts.
“One piece of advice I hope to take and use is to devote time to prayer and Scripture before I start my day, to ask for his guidance and help before each day begins with the Bible,” she said.
After Doyle’s address, participants joined for Mass with Bishop Donald Kettler, a barbecue lunch and then grade-level meetings for networking and reviewing curriculum standards.
Autumn Nelson, principal of St. Mary’s School in Melrose, said the afternoon sessions were a great time of collaboration. As principal, she was able to walk around to a number of the different groups who were meeting.
Two things she noticed that impressed her were a group of kindergarten teachers who planned to have follow-up meetings among themselves in the future and, second, the opportunity the gathering provided for new teachers.
“It was a great time for new teachers to have the opportunity to talk with other teachers at their grade level, to hear the good things and to hear about some of the challenges,” Nelson said. “The structure was also really flexible. Some groups talked together and some broke into smaller groups. It was nice for teachers to have that flexibility as to how they would use their time.”
Beyond the classroom
All Catholics can play a role in supporting Catholic education.
“When I was a young teacher, I was often touched by small gifts, cards or words of appreciation from parents,” Doyle said. “Teachers do the most wonderful — and challenging — work but they are rarely thanked for it. As parents, a small word of thanks or moment of thoughtfulness can be a huge blessing to a Catholic teacher.”
“In the 21st century, Catholic education could become the most effective means of evangelization the church possesses,” he added.
“The Catholic school is positioned right on the intersection of culture and faith,” he said. “Where else does the church have a chance to speak to young people so consistently? The laity can do a great deal simply by praying for teachers. Prayer can do so much to strengthen and sustain the foundation of any Catholic school.”
Doyle’s book is available for $15 by contacting Catholic Education Ministries at 320-251-0111.