In 1998, United States bishops issued a statement about the need for greater awareness of the Catholic social tradition in schools, seminaries, universities and parishes. In their nationwide study of Catholic schools from 1995-1998, the bishops’ taskforce discovered that there were many teachers and catechists who were unfamiliar with the social teaching of the Church. Others, more aware of the teaching, were uncertain about how to apply it to their classrooms. In response to this need, the Murray Institute and Catholic Studies now support numerous initiatives for creatively integrating Catholic social teaching into Catholic education.

Last summer, Deborah Ruddy, Catholic Studies, and Bill Hudson, vice principal of Hill-Murray High School and assistant executive director of secondary schools for the National Catholic Educational Association, led a weeklong curriculum-writing workshopwith seven high school teachers from the Twin Cities and two from Boston. The workshop was designed to bring top teachers together to develop Catholic social teaching resources for English and religion. Ruddy hopes to organize a workshop like this each summer so that teachers in all disciplines readily can understand and apply Catholic social teaching to their particular field.

The workshop began in the spring when the participants met periodically to discuss the needs of high school teachers who are entrusted with passing on the Church’s social mission to their students. A few central concerns emerged from those conversations:

  • There are significant gaps in teachers’ understanding of the content of Catholic social teaching.
  • Teachers need a theological framework for understanding the principles of Catholic social teaching and connecting them to central areas of Christian life – such as the Eucharist and Scripture.
  • Teachers want concrete lesson plans that connect Catholic social teaching with the content of English and religion courses. Teachers seek sound pedagogical principles for modeling Catholic social teaching in the classroom.
  • Teachers seek sound pedagogical principles for modeling Catholic social teaching in the classroom.

During the intensive week of curriculum writing, the teachers began the day with prayer and reflection. Throughout the week, some participants worked to define frequently misunderstood terms such as charity and justice, others developed lesson plans, a few wrote about teen development and pedagogy, and several put together an excellent resource guide including short stories, movies and poems that can assist teachers in understanding the Church’s social mission.

Michael Jordan, St. Thomas English Department, helped to edit the material, and Ruddy and Hudson organized it into a useable form for teachers. The final product is a binder that is intended to be a “working” binder at all archdiocesan high schools this year. Teachers are encouraged to develop a give-and-take relationship with the binder – taking what’s useful and adding their own thoughts and notes to the given material. Helpful articles or additional lesson plans and ideas can be incorporated as the year progresses so that each school builds upon the documents in the binder. In June 2002, Ruddy and Hudson will evaluate the usefulness of the binder and make adjustments for upcoming curriculum writing workshops.