The School of Social Work featured its Social Work for Social Justice initiative at a national conference in June 2007. Representatives of 37 institutions from across the United States visited our campuses for a three-day conference focused on strengthening social work practice through the integration of Catholic Social Teaching. The conference provided an opportunity for faculty and program directors of Catholic-sponsored social work education programs to connect, collaborate and celebrate their mutually shared commitments to social justice. Numerous practitioners and SCU/UST alumni joined educators in a program that included a blend of scholarly presentations on social justice, breakout sessions on curriculum innovation, opportunities for worship and prayer and a social component for networking and dialogue.
Three plenary presentations framed the conference by exploring the responsibility incumbent upon Catholic-sponsored social work education programs to prepare a cadre of justice-seeking social work practitioners. Rev. Steve Adrian, pastor of St. Matthew’s Parish in St. Paul, opened the conference with a call to action emphasizing that service and justice are not an “either or” but rather a “both and” responsibility of the profession and individual social workers. Amata Miller IHM, director of St. Catherine’s Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity, inspired a vision for living justice as she outlined the principles of Catholic Social Teaching with a compelling case that social justice is imaginable and attainable. Dean Barbara Shank and Professor Mary Ann Brenden, both of the SCU/UST School of Social Work, presented a comprehensive model of teaching to mission by reviewing the outcomes of the School’s initiative to integrate Catholic Social Teaching into social work education. As a conference bonus, Dr. Candy Hill, of Catholic Charities U.S.A., and Rev. John Estrem, CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, presented two Catholic Charities policy papers: Poverty in America and Justice to Newcomers. These documents outline an ethical response to poverty and immigration, which reflect Catholic Social Teaching and demonstrate a strong commitment to both service and justice.
While the conference provided an opportunity to showcase our pioneering efforts to transform social work education into a justice-centered enterprise, it also provided a forum for educators from around the country to share best practices and dialogue about the integration of Catholic Social Teaching into undergraduate and graduate curricula. Twenty-eight workshops, selected in response to a call for presentations, offered a rich and diverse mix of curriculum modules. Educators shared innovative strategies for integrating Catholic Social Teaching in the classroom, engaging faculty and students in teaching/learning to mission, and collaborating with community partners to advance the profession’s social justice mission.