Knowing and Praying with the Gospels: The Catholic-School Teacher’s Best “Professional Development”

Catholic-school teachers are called to a life of deep prayer and awareness of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Mr. Justin McClain, OP

The Catholic Church recognizes that we are each called to a certain vocation: many men and women to the sacrament of marriage, while others to the single life, consecrated life, or to a religious community, and some men to the priesthood. Within these “official” vocations, we also have particular vocations, in light of the Lord’s reminder: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (John 15:16).

Those whom the Lord has called to the particular vocation constituting the ministry of educating in Catholic schools are in a unique role – one in which they are called to partner with their students’ parents in reinforcing the Lord’s teachings for their students. Therefore, Catholic-school teachers are, in a way, ministers whose professional responsibilities comprise reflecting Gospel values and the Church’s subsequent teachings. As such, the best “professional development” that underpins any additional pedagogical duties in which a Catholic school teacher may engage comes in the form of fostering a life of deep prayer and awareness of the Lord Jesus Christ per the Gospels.

When I was in elementary school at Saint Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, followed by Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland (where I just concluded my twelfth year of teaching theology and Spanish), I was privileged to have teachers who – no matter their assigned content area – embraced opportunities to both live the faith themselves and to share it with their students. Of course, I was one of those students, but I was not yet prepared to take seriously the Lord’s call to follow him; that would not come until well into my college years at the University of Maryland – College Park. Nevertheless, my teachers at Saint Mary’s and McNamara patiently continued planting those seeds that would later bloom. Who knew: they were teaching a future theology teacher!

A key component of the faith that my teachers exhibited was that they were men and women of profound prayer. Invariably, class began with prayer, and I could tell that my teachers were not somehow simply going through the motions; rather, they looked forward to beginning each class session by dedicating it to the Lord, no matter the material that was to be covered. Similarly, when it was time for a school-wide Mass (recalling that “the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1324, referencing Lumen Gentium, paragraph 11]), my teachers eagerly led us to that sacred space. On one such occasion, I remember fondly how my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Rose Hartman, told a classroom full of students to be sure to sing during Mass. That did not mean very much to me at the time, but I can now see how Mrs. Hartman was telling us to be sure to give our all at Mass. It meant so much [more] to me coming from someone who taught a subject other than religion per se (Mrs. Hartman’s specialty was science).

Catholic school teachers should look for ways to deepen their own prayer lives, and to know Christ’s teachings, per the Gospels. Throughout any teacher’s career, there will be numerous opportunities for standardized (or otherwise) professional development in the form of faculty in-service meetings, conferences, continuing education courses, and the like. Clearly, they tend to have their pertinent merit. Yet, in light of the ultimate mission of Catholic education, a Catholic-school teacher’s goal of forming current disciples and future saints is that much more effective when he or she is familiar with God’s expectations and has a meaningful, prayerful relationship with him. If you are looking for a prayer resource to use in your classroom, you might consider my forthcoming book Called to Pray: Daily Prayers for Catholic Schools (Ave Maria Press, 2018), which is a follow-up to my book Called to Teach: Daily Inspiration for Catholic Educators (Ave Maria Press, 2016 [now in its second printing]). Fortunately, when it comes to the Bible, the Catechism, and other texts that are foundational to the Catholic faith, they are available online for free – after all, your administrators will be pleased to know that you do not have to later seek tuition reimbursement for a “pearl of great price” (see Matthew 13:46)!

Photo credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.

Mr. Justin McClain, O.P., is a lay Dominican. He teaches theology at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland. He has written for various Catholic outlets. He and his family live in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Photo credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.