Two years ago, the University of St. Thomas was given a tremendous opportunity to participate in the initiative Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. In the original proposal it was stated, “As a university we must foster a values-oriented education needed for complete human development and for responsible citizenship in our modern society.” St. Thomas is facing this reality head-on. The opportunity to work with the Lilly Endowment has helped by supporting the leadership and mission of St. Thomas in our work with students and the institution. We named our initiative here at St. Thomas Beyond Career to Calling.
The original proposal submitted to Lilly states, “This new initiative is timely for the University of St. Thomas, which has, in recent years, dedicated significant thought, energy and resources to developing programs addressing all three matters of vocation identified by the Lilly Endowment: (1) assisting students in understanding their future work in light of their faith and in terms of vocation; (2) identifying talented young people and providing them with opportunities to explore ministry as their life’s work; and (3) enhancing the university’s capacity to draw a new generation of leaders for church and mission.”
The source of the funds, Lilly Endowment Inc., is an Indianapolis-based endowment created as a private philanthropic foundation in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co. These gifts remain the financial foundation for the endowment; however, the endowment is a separate entity from the pharmaceutical company with its own distinct board of directors. The three founders, J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli created the endowment to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The endowment affords special emphasis to projects that benefit young people and promote leadership education and financial selfsufficiency in the nonprofit, charitable sector.
The intention of Lilly and Beyond Career to Calling is to renew “emphasis on the complex wholeness of the human person made in the image and likeness of God.” Beyond Career to Calling has and will continue work to “firmly engender that perspective in our students, faculty and administration through courses, internships, conferences, cross-faculty programs, publications and intellectual as well as social events.”
A number of programs have been very successful over the past three years. The Catholic Studies Internships has been one of those successful programs.
Twelve students participated in the Catholic Studies Internships this past year under the direction of a faculty member and an on-site mentor. Students did internships in elementary schools, parishes, social service organizations and youth programs. In their interviews with the program director, Dr. Christopher Thompson, all students expressed satisfaction with their experience. The students indicated that the internship enabled them to gain practical experience in their chosen vocational field, gain valuable information from a working professional, and helped them to clarify their personal and professional goals.
To highlight the internships, the following is an interview of Malina Zachman by Maria Wiering on her experience with the internship.When Malina Zachman designed her Lilly internship, she didn’t realize that the subject matter would have such depth.
As an education and Catholic Studies double-major, she imagined herself sitting in a classroom observing the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia teach while thinking vaguely about the idea of teaching as a vocation. Through her studies, however, she developed the sense that the vocation of teaching is hardly a vague idea; instead, she found that it is rooted deeply in Catholic social teaching and has all but been forgotten in the last several decades.
Throughout January, Zachman spent time at St. Croix Catholic School in Stillwater, Minn. learning in the classrooms of three Nashville Dominican Sisters. While the K-eighth grade students learned spelling and history, she concentrated on the attitude and mission the sisters brought to their vocation.
“Primarily … I wanted to spend time with the sisters for my own personal discernment and vocation, and I wanted to combine my formation in the education program … with my Catholic studies,” she said.
Supplemented with readings on the philosophy of education and Catholic schools from her adviser, Dr. Deborah Ruddy, Zachman studied to get beyond standard teaching method and other knowledge gained from her education major and explore the question,“Why does one teach?”
“Their apostolate is teaching, but their whole essence is their relationship with Christ,” Zachman said. “There’s not an extra external thing that they do that we can’t do, but their very life and the charism of being married to Christ — they bring that to their work.Their whole life is rooted in a deep sense of prayer. Everything flows from that.”
Not only did Zachman spend time in the sisters’ classrooms but she also attended daily meetings, visited the convent, ate lunches and prayed with them. While her routine followed the sisters’ school day, she divided her time between the sisters’ three classrooms. Sister Mari Hannah teaches second grade, Sister Mary Seton teaches fourth grade, and Sister Mary Angelica teaches sixth through eighth grade history.
Zachman was impressed by the sisters’ consciousness of their mission to impart truth to the students for more than just academic purpose and truly live out the philosophy she was reading about. “Each child is an unique individual for them whom they really want to lead to the truth,” she said. “[Their] end goal … is to bring you closer to Christ.”
Even in a simple cultural lesson, history teacher Sister Mary Angelica related the subject of God. “Think of all the cultures in the world that grow wheat and how most people, no matter where they live, are able to grow a certain form of wheat,” Zachman recalled Sister Mary Angelica teaching. “It could be a possibility we have the Eucharist because wheat is a staple product … and it’s so simple.”
Zachman often accompanied Sister Mary Seton’s fourth grade class to daily adoration. “The sisters have a great sense of the Eucharistic presence in the school,” she said.The students do as well, Zachman added. “These kids literally understand [Jesus’] presence in fourth grade.”
Zachman was mostly impressed by the students’ knowledge. “The sisters expect a lot, really,” she said. “But it seems that when they have big expectations, the children desire to live up to them.”
Every time she walked into a classroom, Zachman was greeted by the students who stood up from their desks, pushed in their chairs, waited for their classmates, and said in unison,“Good morning, Miss Zachman.”
“[The sisters] teach wonderfully in the subjects, but it’s the whole person [including] respect and proper mannerisms,” she said. “The sisters realize the importance of discipline, so it’s so ingrained.”
When teaching with the sisters, Zachman tried to use what they had taught her.
“They were a great resource right at my fingertips every day, and just to observe them I got a lot of practical knowledge and skill that I will definitely use in my own classroom,” Zachman said.
Every day Zachman remained at school after dismissal to ask the sisters questions.
“The one thing I didn’t really think about [before the internship] is just what a responsibility and what a mission teaching is and how educators have a grave responsibility,” she said. “You have students to form.”
Zachman also learned “how much it requires to live it out faithfully — to really be a teacher, to embrace the vocation of teaching — not the profession, but the calling.”
After four weeks with the sisters, Zachman believes it is vital for educators to reflect on their end goal. “You’re cooperating in God’s divine plan of salvation — this is my mission in the Church for evangelizing,” she said. “If you haven’t thought about it, you’re not going to achieve that in your education … [and] a lot of time the only formation these children are going to get in faith or virtues is in the schools, unfortunately.”
Zachman recommends studying Catholic education for anyone, even if it’s not his or her major, even if “just to see the beautiful witness that [teachers] are, how they apply practically what they believe."