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Teachers told: You're on a mission from God

Around 250, new to archdiocesan schools this year, reminded their job is a 'holy call, a vocation'

Participants talk about the reasons they chose to teach in Catholic schools during the orientation session held for around 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - held Aug. 9, 2022, at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Participants talk about the reasons they chose to teach in Catholic schools during the orientation session held for around 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - held Aug. 9, 2022, at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Rigg speaks to around 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - during a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Superintendent of Schools Jim Rigg speaks to around 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - during a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

MIAMI GARDENS | Equal parts information and inspiration: That’s what around 250 teachers – both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan schools – received last month during a first-of-its-kind orientation session hosted a week before the start of the school year.

“Thank you for accepting the call to Catholic education,” archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg told them. “It’s a holy call. You’re accepting a vocation.”

During the Aug. 9, 2022, gathering at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Rigg spoke about the “mission and ministry of Catholic education” while Associate Superintendent Donald Edwards focused on parent and student relations.

Their inspirational talks contrasted with the more informational sessions that followed, on topics such as academic practices, contracts and certification, and the child protection policies of the archdiocese. But Rigg and Edwards set the tone for the day, with Edwards leading the teachers in a chorus of the hymn “We are one body, one body in Christ” – the archdiocese-wide motto for this school year.

That motto would be tested soon enough, as a tragic boating accident on Labor Day weekend claimed the life of Luciana "Lucy" Fernandez, a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami, and left several other Lourdes and Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart students seriously injured. The dozen girls affected by the tragedy had all been close friends since their days in Catholic elementary schools.

The sad news provoked an immediate reaction from other archdiocesan schools: an outpouring of prayer services, expressions of sympathy and emphatic agreement with what Lourdes’ president – and 1985 alumna – Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Carmen Fernandez, had written to the school community:

“I have absolutely no doubt that Lucy was ready to meet our Lord and enter his Kingdom. After having experienced the Second Junior Encounter last year, she shared with our Campus Ministry Team that she saw Him everywhere. I am confident that she has entered the gates of heaven and is smiling down on all of us.” 

Donald Edwards, associate superintendent of Schools, leads a chorus of "We are one body" with around 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - during a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Donald Edwards, associate superintendent of Schools, leads a chorus of "We are one body" with around 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - during a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Michelle Ojeda, left, an elementary school assistant at Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes, and Annemarie Coniglio, a pre-K4 teacher at Nativity in Hollywood, were among the 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - who were treated to a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Michelle Ojeda, left, an elementary school assistant at Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes, and Annemarie Coniglio, a pre-K4 teacher at Nativity in Hollywood, were among the 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - who were treated to a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Rafael Montes, who begins teaching English at Immaculate-La Salle High School in Miami this year after 25 years as a professor at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, was among the 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - who were treated to a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Rafael Montes, who begins teaching English at Immaculate-La Salle High School in Miami this year after 25 years as a professor at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, was among the 250 new teachers - both new to teaching and/or new to archdiocesan Catholic schools - who were treated to a spirit-filled and inspiring orientation session Aug. 9, 2022, while gathered at Msgr. Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens.

Such expressions of support, virally evident on social media, reinforced the message Rigg had told new teachers several weeks earlier.

“What makes us different is not the quality of education but the teaching of the faith,” he said. That “marriage of knowledge and faith is the transformational power of Catholic education.”

He explained that Catholic schools “exist as a ministry within the Church” that also benefits the broader society.

“We are doing an exceptional job of teaching children the knowledge they need to be successful,” Rigg said, citing studies done over the years that demonstrate that “Catholic schools consistently out-perform local competitors on academic assessments” particularly “among higher-poverty and immigrant populations” (see below).

“To be a Catholic school is to be an excellent school,” he said. But Catholic education is not just about numbers.

“We do not believe in high-stakes testing in Catholic education,” Rigg noted. While standardized tests are important, they are only “one among many indicators” of how a child’s education is progressing. “They don’t tell the full story. They’re a great place to begin the conversation.”

Catholic schools also look beyond academics to forming children in the faith.

“We are carrying on the very teaching ministry founded by Jesus,” Rigg told the teachers. “You’re doing Christ’s work on this earth.”

He also assured them that, regardless of which school hired them, “you are meant to be there. God has put you there for a reason.”

Edwards, for his part, reminded the teachers that “we are not doing a job. We are living out a ministry.”

He urged them to be professional in all their interactions as well as models and witnesses to the faith both inside and outside the classroom.

“Be a former,” he said, referencing Rigg’s mention that the definition of “educate” is “to form or shape.” But also “be a transformer,” because the mission of Catholic education is to transform young people “into the hands, the feet, the heart, the voice of Jesus Christ. That is an awesome responsibility,” Edwards said.

Among those choosing to take on that responsibility was Rafael Montes, who after teaching 25 years at St. Thomas University has become a first-year English teacher at Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami. His wife, also a lifelong educator and for 20 years an adjunct professor at St. Thomas, is now a teacher at Lourdes Academy.

Montes said they had both talked about bringing their university expertise to the high school level. “We finally decided, let’s go. Let’s do what we said we’d do.”

The difference between high school and college, he noted, is that college is about mastering a discipline while high school is about “figuring out your gift and making that gift shine.”

“Only in Catholic education do you teach the entire student,” Montes added. “You don’t just teach the material. The kid is as important as the mastery of the material.”

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS YIELD RESULTS

Here are the results of studies shared by archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg at the orientation day for new teachers:

  • Among the Millennial generation, Catholic school graduates are 8x more likely to attend Mass weekly as adults, and 3x more likely to discern a religious or priestly vocation (CARA, 2014)
  • Catholic school graduates are more likely to vote and participate in community service (Alliance for Catholic Education, 2016; Dee, 2005)
  • Catholic schools consistently out-perform local competitors on academic assessments. Gains are particularly pronounced among higher-poverty and immigrant populations (Jeynes, 2007)
  • Catholic school closures have been linked to higher poverty and crime rates in neighborhoods (Brining & Garnett, 2009)

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