Program trains new college grads as faith-centered Catholic educators

BRAINTREE -- At the very time when schools across the country are facing a shortage of teachers, the new St. Thomas More Teaching Fellows program is ushering in an inaugural class of over 20 recent college graduates, who will work as teachers in the archdiocesan schools for the next two years.

This program, initiated by archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Thomas Carroll and overseen by Executive Director Steven Rummelsburg, gives faithful Catholics graduating from college the opportunity to learn about authentic Catholic education and teach in the Archdiocese of Boston's schools.

Carroll and Rummelsburg had crossed paths previously through their work in Catholic education. Rummelsburg has been both a teacher himself and a mentor to teachers and administrators to recover a classical model. He has also worked for Sophia Institute Press for Teachers for almost a decade as an advisory council member, curriculum writer, and resident scholar.

Rummelsburg said their vision was to recruit "young souls called to the vocation of teaching that understand their primary goal is to attract students to God and Christ."

Carroll visited colleges across the country -- both Catholic institutions, such as Ave Maria University and the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and secular ones, such as Princeton and Duke -- to give presentations about this new program and recruit graduating seniors.

"We're basically trying to find faithful students who are kind of among the best and the brightest from around the country, and then convince them to move to Boston," Carroll said.

He said he would have implemented this initiative whether or not there was a teaching shortage, "but the timing ended up being great."

"For a lot of schools, it helped fill out their ranks," Carroll said.

The program appealed to John Kish, who studied philosophy and finance at the Catholic University of America, and did not know what he wanted to do after graduating. When he heard about the fellows program, he thought it seemed like the work of the Holy Spirit.

"When (Carroll) told us about what he was trying to do, bringing faithful liberal arts students to teach and to rejuvenate the Boston Archdiocese, I thought, 'This is a really amazing idea.' It's one of those plans that connects the need of the Church today in the U.S. to people who have these gifts and talents," Kish said.

Peter Dowdy, who went to Thomas Aquinas College, said he was drawn to the program because he "realized it was a true act of mission work."

"The driving force with this program is to restore what's been lost in education," he said, and to "make education about teaching the different disciplines in a way that draws the students' gaze back to the logos, which is Jesus Christ."

Instead of having the recruits go through a certification program, they attended a five-week "boot camp" from July 11 through Aug. 12 to learn about "the art of teaching." This training period was held at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, which provided both classroom space and access to a chapel for daily Mass and private prayer. Many of the fellows stayed in dorms rented from the nearby Regis College during this time.

In their classes, they talked about the nature of Catholic education and how it differs from the secular view of teaching, which is often seen merely as classroom management.

"Instead, what we're doing is we're leading students to the truth, we're leading them to what they're made for and helping them to grow in intellectual and moral virtue," Kish said.

Dowdy said their conversations often focused on the "final cause" of their work, which he described as "teaching virtue openly in a relationship with God."

"They would blend that in with practical teaching training, and sort of bringing those higher end goals down into the everyday lesson plan," Dowdy said.

The training was centered on four pillars: the practical, spiritual, intellectual, and psychological aspects of teaching. They also focused on the five marks of authentic Catholic schools, as articulated by Archbishop Michael J. Miller in "The Holy See's Teaching on Catholic Schools." Rummelsburg explained that in Archbishop Miller's view, authentic Catholic schools share a supernatural vision, understanding that each student's destiny is in God; are founded on Catholic anthropology, recognizing the faculties of body and soul; are animated by Communion and community; are inspired by the Catholic worldview throughout curriculum; and are sustained by witness to the Gospel, taking seriously the Great Commission.

A variety of renowned speakers from different schools gave either virtual or in-person seminars for the fellows, covering topics like the Catholic worldview, philosophy and its practical implications, and great teachers like St. Augustine and St. Thomas More.

"You can't have a better role model than St. Thomas More," Carroll said.

In addition to taking classes together, the fellows had a two-day retreat at Portsmouth Abbey. They also went on outings like bowling, theology on tap, and a cookout at Rummelsburg's house.

"It's a pretty tight-knit group at this point," Rummelsburg said.

The fellows are to teach in the archdiocese's schools for the next two years. Rummelsburg expressed the hope that they will be "like salt that flavors the schools."

Dowdy and Kish were both assigned to teach at St. Benedict's Classical Academy in Natick in the new school year.

"I think it's going to be a lot to adjust to and a lot to get used to, but going through the training further grounded me in the mission of what we're doing," Dowdy said.

He said he feels confident because he knows what the mission is.

"What's important to always have in your heart, as you're looking at these students, is to love them for the sake of the truth, and to want to inspire their hearts toward the Lord," he said.

Kish said he thinks of it as going into mission territory.

"It's a real adventure, because you don't know what's going to happen, and you really need faith in God that he's going to provide and give you everything you need to teach well. So that's what I'm relying on," he said.