Catholic high school teachers eager to dive into papal encyclical - Catholic Courier

Catholic high school teachers eager to dive into papal encyclical

IMAGE: CNS photo/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register

By Theresa Laurence

NASHVILLE,
Tenn. (CNS) — Father Ryan High School theology teacher Brent Fernandez grows a
garden at home, raises chickens, and rides his bicycle to school when he can.

In
the summer, he takes students to visit Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia, a
Catholic intentional community where he once lived for two years.

He
is passionate about treading lightly on the earth and embracing a less
consumer-driven lifestyle.

“I’m
not perfect, but I try to live sustainably as much as possible,” he said.

On
the June morning when Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our
Common Home” was released, Fernandez “was like a teenager on the day their
favorite band drops a new album.” He pored over it, immediately connecting with
so much of what Pope Francis wrote about, formulating how he would incorporate
the encyclical into his junior-level Catholic social teaching class at Father
Ryan.

Fernandez
is one of many theology and science teachers at the three Catholic high schools
in the Diocese of Nashville who will be incorporating the papal encyclical into
their curriculum this school year.

“Laudato
Si'” is the new appeal from Pope Francis addressed to “every person living on
this planet” for an inclusive dialogue about how humans are shaping the future
of our planet. Pope Francis calls the church and the world to acknowledge the
urgency of our environmental challenges and to join him in embarking on a new
path.

Local
Catholic high school teachers see their classrooms as the perfect laboratory
for participating in that dialogue.

Fernandez’s
class textbook does not address the environment until its final chapters, but
he said the encyclical gives him license “to push it forward and talk about it
right up front.”

One
of the most important points from the encyclical that Fernandez hopes to relay
to students is the interconnectedness of all life on earth. “We like to put
issues in separate containers, and we forget that they’re all related,” he told
the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

And,
as Pope Francis points out in “Laudato Si’,” “those who are suffering the most
from environmental degradation are the poor, people on the margins.”

“Mr.
Fernandez was the first teacher that showed me that every single social issue
is like a huge web, and showed us how it all connects back to our faith,” said
Father Ryan senior Kelsie Hubbuch.

Hubbuch
is the leader of the school’s gardening club this year, which Fernandez
moderates. They tend a small garden plot on the campus, which was overgrown
during the first week of school, but still producing tomatoes, basil, peppers
and peas.

Next
to the garden is a compost bin, where kitchen scraps and yard waste regenerate
into rich soil for the garden.

“I
can see the paschal mystery in compost,” said Fernandez, only half joking. “The
cycle of life, death and resurrection;the garden is one of the easiest places
to see it.”

Teaching
students about growing their own food organically, without using chemical
pesticides, is just one small way to encourage them to better care for the
earth, Fernandez said. “Being good stewards of the earth, we’re not just doing
this because it’s a fad. Caring for creation is part of our faith.”

At
St. Cecilia Academy, students also tend a garden, complete with a greenhouse
built out of recycled plastic bottles, and the school has started several other
initiatives to reduce waste around campus. Some teachers have gone paperless in
their classrooms, with students using iPads to take notes and complete
assignments; the school also has a newly reinvigorated recycling program.

This
year, several teachers will be using Pope Francis’ encyclical to help students
think more critically about their role as stewards of creation.

“Laudato
Si'” was written “as a means to open a dialogue,” said Charles Martinez, chair
of the St. Cecilia science department, and he will be exploring it with his
students in his advanced placement biology and chemistry honors
classes.

“We’ll
be using the Socratic method. It will be me asking them questions, not feeding
them the answers, and we’ll wrestle with the truth,” he said.

During
the St. Cecilia interim program in January, Martinez will lead a trip to
Arizona where students “will explore the beauty and diversity of God’s
creation” while reading “Laudato Si'” “in the natural laboratory that is
present in a beautifully complex desert landscape,” he said.

“It
is my hope that girls will walk away from this trip equipped with knowledge and
experience to guide them to pose their own questions and the confidence to seek
answers that point us in the positive direction of giving praise to God by
exploring and communicating the beauty of creation,” Martinez said.

St.
Cecilia teacher Louisa Bateman, who will be teaching environmental science this
year, said that she is “really excited about using this impactful and rich
document” as a teaching tool. Pope Francis’ encyclical, she said, “is easy to
read and accessible,” which is especially helpful reaching a high school
audience.

Bateman
wants her students to see that the issues Pope Francis addresses in “Laudato Si’,”
such as climate change and the depletion of natural resources, are problems that
will directly affect them.

She
wants to show her students that their everyday choices can make a difference.
Reusing their belongings, recycling, growing a garden, and using a refillable
water bottle are some things teens can do, Bateman said.

Pope
Francis’ first encyclical is “very challenging to our way of life” in the
United States, said Pope John Paul II High School theology teacher Catherine
Vendetti. By addressing issues like water shortages, pollution and global
inequality in stark terms, Pope Francis “rattles us up a little and calls for
us to change our lifestyle.”

When
she teaches 11th-grade morality and social justice this year, Vendetti will
discuss some of the topics in “Laudato Si'” with her students. She wants to
challenge them to consider how much energy and water they use on a daily basis,
compared to other, poorer countries.

“I
think it will be a shock to them,” said Vendetti, who has lived overseas in
developing countries in the past.

Speaking
in plain language in the encyclical, Pope Francis has made it clear that he’s speaking
to a universal audience. “This is not just the stuff of old, gray-haired men,”
she said.


– –

Laurence is a staff writer at
the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

 

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