Catholic school teachers begin new year with Mass, professional development

Published on August 6, 2020
Bishop Walkowiak at the 2020 Back to School Mass.

Catholic school teachers in the Diocese of Grand Rapids are getting ready for the new school year. In fact, they’ve been preparing for months.

Continuing an annual tradition

A special part of these preparations is the annual diocesan Back to School Celebration, including Mass with Bishop Walkowiak and professional development with their colleagues from across our alliance of 31 Catholic schools. Different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these events on August 11 were offered online, with individual schools hosting their faculty members in small groups and participating that way.

A livestream of Mass was available online, and the recording is available on the Diocese of Grand Rapids Facebook page. You can also watch Bishop Walkowiak's homily below or at this link.

See photos from the day in the gallery below or at this link.

2020 Back to School Celebration

The day’s programming continued the focus on topics introduced in professional development last school year: Theology of the Body (St. John Paul II’s teaching on God’s vision for the human person) and “Open Wide Our Hearts” (the U.S. bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism). To deepen teachers’ discussion, keynote speaker Mari Pablo presented on the theme of, “Not Conformed, Rather Transformed: Theology of the Body as a Lens for Our World”, based on Romans 12:2.

Helping students see the world as God does

Theology of the Body helps view each and every life as a gift. Mari Pablo discussed infusing student conversations with this view in order to navigate important topics such as faith, human sexuality, and race.

Mari describes herself as a proud Hispanic whose life was changed in the best way possible when she finally decided to stop fighting and surrender it all to Jesus Christ. Her mission is simple: to encourage others to refuse to settle for the things of this world, but rather to strive for more -- to strive for Him.

With degrees in theology and psychology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a master’s in theology from Augustine Institute, Mari has more than 15 years experience in youth ministry and is currently a high school theology teacher and campus minister. She is a speaker for the Steubenville Youth Conference and recently worked on the Ascension Press programs “The 99” and “YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body”. Mari has a deep love for food but an even greater love for Christ and is dedicated to helping others encounter Him.

Learn more about Mari in the video below or at this link, and see what she has to say about the power of Theology of the Body.

Ongoing preparations for the new year

Preparations for this unique school year began months ago, even before last school year was finished. Work continued during the summer; our faculty and staff are dedicated to continued effective instruction in the pandemic. For instance, teachers began implementing a learning management system called Canvas. This tool is new to most of our Catholic schools and will be used to organize instructional materials and facilitate learning both in person and when remote instruction is needed. Additionally, even more of our schools have now joined the Office of Catholic Schools shared Google domain, increasing efficiencies through common services and support.

For most Catholic schools in the diocese, the new school year begins August 19. We are eager to welcome students back to classrooms safely and prudently, and to offer remote learning in situations which demand it.

Related: Read our return to school plan, “Living Our Mission in Today’s Reality”

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Grand Rapids are an alliance of 31 vibrant learning communities (26 elementary and five high schools) serving more than 6,340 preschool through 12th grade students throughout West Michigan. Our schools inspire young people to grow in Catholic faith and grace, achieve more in school and life, develop creativity and character, and feel welcomed and cherished for their unique gifts. We partner with parents to awaken the whole child to a world of light and life — that grows better and brighter when children reach their potential.

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