BRISTOL – More than 800 Catholic educators from throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford gathered at St. Paul Catholic High School on March 15 and 16 to gain inspiration during the annual Catholic Educators Faith Conference.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair was the principal celebrant of the Mass on both days. Educators who attended the event, hosted by the Office of Catholic Schools, enjoyed a variety of workshops, lunch, exhibitors and the opportunity for reconciliation. Adult faith formation certificates were also presented by the archbishop, and teachers were formally recognized for their years of service.
This year’s theme was “Building a Culture of Mercy and Learning.”
“You’re here to learn more about the Catholic faith and to learn more about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy,” Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic schools, told the educators during his welcome address. “You’re here to enhance the culture and charism of our Catholic schools.”
Dr. Hoyt specifically noted that he is already well aware of the commitment Catholic educators bring to their work. He talked about teachers who have visited students in the hospital and even visited them in their homes to pray with them and their families during difficult times.
“I wanted the archbishop to know how dedicated these people are,” Dr. Hoyt told the Transcript after his address.
Archbishop Blair thanked all the teachers, administrators and staff for their service and charged them “to meet the challenges of our future with a focus on the vibrancy of our Catholic schools.”
Sister Mary Grace Walsh, provost for education, evangelization and catechesis, was also in attendance, greeting educators in the gymnasium exhibit hall as they perused the books, uniforms and educational services on display by exhibitors.
“It’s been a pleasure to meet so many wonderful educators of the archdiocese and to connect with some old faces,” said Sister Mary Grace, a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “There seems to be a great deal of enthusiasm here at St. Paul.”
During both morning and afternoon sessions, conference attendees selected from the many workshops offered on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Michelle Carrol, a middle school science teacher at St. Bridget School in Cheshire, chose the talk titled “Welcoming Students of Different/Diverse Family Structures” given by Thomas Finn, a licensed psychologist at the Franciscan Life Center in Meriden. The workshop addressed how family diversity affects the modern student.
“Families have all this chaos and struggle. You have to educate the parent using a little psychology and social work. It’s exhausting but rewarding,” Ms. Carrol said. “It’s a bigger challenge now than ever. It’s not just about academics – it never was – but it’s a lot more of a challenge to reach the whole child.”
Sharelle Herbert of Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury opted to sit in on the workshop given by nurse Laura Borrelli on the topic “Mercy at a Time of Loss.”
“The presenter was very informative and brought in her own personal stories,” Ms. Herbert said. “I just lost my grandmother and reflected on the grieving process we went through.”
Beth Pacelli, a secondgrade teacher at St. Aedan and St. Brendan School in New Haven, attended the seminar titled “Encountering Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation” offered by Father James Sullivan, administrator of Assumption Parish in Ansonia.
“A lot of what he said confirmed what I teach the kids, so that was great,” Ms. Pacelli said.
Joe Kirschner, who is in his first year of teaching religion, algebra and English at St. Lawrence School in West Haven, took on the difficult subject of pornography in the workshop titled “God’s Mercy Heals the Wounds Caused by Pornography.” The presenter was Ryan Hinton, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Family Life.
“It was an interesting topic, being a middle school teacher,” Mr. Kirschner said. He reported that the session covered the detrimental effects of pornography, including ruined relationships and addiction.
“If I ever hear a conversation [on pornography], it would be nice to reach out and intervene if I could,” Mr. Kirschner said. “You have to do your due diligence to correct that problem and mentor a student.”
Fifth-grade teacher Ron Johnson, also of St. Lawrence School in New Haven, attended the lecture titled “The Spiritual Works of Mercy Lived by the Catholic Educator,” which was presented by Katie Purple, teacher of religion and coordinator of campus ministry at St. Paul Catholic High School.
“I appreciated the direct quotations from the Bible – a place we can direct students back to and make the spiritual works more concrete,” Mr. Johnson said.