Evaluation Conversation #2 – “We should be putting our faith into practice.”

(As I read the evaluations for Sustaining the Mission sessions, I often run across statements or questions that I feel deserve a response.  Unfortunately, with anonymous evaluations, I can’t reply directly to the person writing the comment.  I can, however, respond in this format so that the person who wrote the comment – and any teachers who were thinking the same thing – can read the response.)

Comments:  “Why are we listening to all of this information? We should be putting our faith into practice. Instead of these in-services, why don’t we go as a group and volunteer at different service agencies?”

“I wish these days were more like a retreat – less information, more time for reflection, more prayer, even Mass.”

Response:  I agree wholeheartedly with part of what you are saying.  Faith formation is about much more than religious knowledge.  There does need to be time for active service, and for more extensive reflection and prayer.  I believe, though, that this is a matter of “both…and” rather than “either…or.”  Sustaining the Mission is intended to be in addition to active service and days of reflection, not instead of.

Sustaining the Mission is designed to meet the requirements of the Wisconsin bishops for religious education certification, so it is appropriately focused more on the content of the faith.  Each school can plan other programming to address other areas of faith formation in ways that are meaningful to that specific school. There are schools that do set aside a day for staff members to go out and serve in the community, and then come back and discuss their experience together.  We applaud that.  Many schools continue to do days of reflection or retreat in addition to Sustaining the Mission, which we strongly encourage.

In other words, we believe strongly that Sustaining the Mission should be just one part of a school’s plan for faith formation.

– Michael Taylor


O Come, O Come Emmanuel

“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  How are teachers and students in Catholic schools celebrating Advent?


Throughout the Archdiocese, prayer is a central part of how our schools observe Advent and prepare for Christmas.

At All Saints in Kenosha, teachers and staff all gather for morning prayer just prior to welcoming the children into the building.  Gathering informally in a classroom, they offer intentions and pray from the Magnificat Advent Reflections book.

At St. Charles Borromeo, they are making a special effort to remind faculty and students that Advent calls us to take time for quiet preparation.  They are spending one minute each day in all-school silent meditation, reflecting on the hope that Christ’s coming brings.

At Holy Family, all the students gather in the lobby each Monday for a short prayer service prepared by their Campus Ministry students.  

And at another school, teachers will receive a candle and the name of a parishioner on the parish Prayer list to pray for.

At Dominican High School, students will receive an Advent prayer each Monday with a different theme each week. The first week is “Care for Others during Advent.”  The students are also given a “task” that coincides with the prayer.  For the first week, they are encouraged to forgo a trip to the coffee house or some other small indulgence, and give the few dollars to an organization that offers help to the poor.



Indeed, prayer naturally leads to service, and Catholic schools put a special focus on service during this season.  This can range from collecting food for St. Vincent de Paul to giving gifts to children whose parents are in prison, from donating sleeping bags to the Salvation Army to give to the homeless to decorating Christmas cookies to give to the retired School Sisters of Notre Dame in Elm Grove.  One school has a mitten tree for the House of Peace, and another school has a gift tree where students are asked to take a paper angel ornament off the tree and buy the gift on that angel cut-out for a child/family in need in the community.


Peace and Love

Service is not limited to those outside the school community.  During Advent, our schools renew their emphasis on making peace and choosing goodness in our classrooms and on our playgrounds.  At Holy Family, students are preparing special homemade gifts , prayers, and cards to share with their younger “buddies.”  To celebrate the theme of Peace, one teacher is giving each student a tattoo of a peace sign to wear and then one to share with someone with whom they might need to make amends. 

At Catholic Central, instead of “Secret Santa,” one teacher is doing a “Secret Saints” activity with students.  For two weeks, students will do random acts of kindness for a particular classmate.  Students are also encouraged to pray for their assigned classmates every day.

Another school has created a Tree of Peace. Each student traced his or her hand on green paper. On each hand the child wrote anonymously what he or she will do to bring about peace. The starters are: “I promise to…”, “I never meant to…”, “I am sorry for…”, “I can make things better by…”     The hands have been assembled into the form of an evergreen tree. During the Christmas season, they will write on an ornament one “peace gift” they completed during Advent. The ornament will decorate the tree.

At All Saints, each teacher was given a large candle made of construction paper to hang outside of the classroom door and an empty (white space) flame.  They were also given small flames in red, orange and yellow.  When a student sees another student doing a good deed they are to write it on the flame, cut it out and tape it inside the large flame.  They are hoping to fill the flames with Goodness this Advent season!

And at St. Anthony in Milwaukee, the students are preparing a manger for Baby Jesus.  Every student has made a paper chain counting down the days until Christmas (25 links). All of the links are yellow/gold. Each day when the students take off a link they will think of a good deed they have done and write it on the strip. Additionally, teachers can hand out yellow strips to students that they catch doing good deeds. The students save these strips and bring them to Mass each Tuesday, where they are put into a manger like straw.


Preparing Our Hearts

St. Charles Borromeo has another way of using the symbol of a manger.  While many schools are used to having reconciliation during Advent, the growing demands on the clergy don’t always make that possible.  At SCB, they are having a “forgiveness” service as a school.  This a prayer service that will use the image of straw in the manger to remind faculty and students that we have to prepare a place in our hearts to receive Jesus just like the manger had to be prepared to receive Him on the first Christmas.

Another school has created a school wide Advent wreath using student and teacher handprints for leaves made out of construction paper, and students, teachers, and staff members wrote down how they are going to prepare their hearts for Christmas. 

Finally, at Pius High School, they began Advent with a prayer service centered on the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  They used it to introduce the theme of “recognizing the presence of God in our lives” (Emmanuel), and how we are too often skeptical like the church official and too rarely as open as Juan Diego.

As you prepare for Christmas, may you and your students also be open to the presence of God in your lives.  Wishing you a blessed Advent!


(Feel free to add comments if you would like to share other ideas.  And thank you to the teachers and principals who helped with this blog post:  Michael Coffey, Jackie Lichter, Jeanne Bitkers, Pam Pyzyk, Emily Naczek, Jessie Machi, Trinette Stillman, Teresa Amman, Susan Celentani, and those who preferred to remain anonymous…)

Evaluation Conversation #1 – “Does anyone read these evaluations?”

(As I read the evaluations for Sustaining the Mission sessions, I often run across statements or questions that I feel deserve a response.  Unfortunately, with anonymous evaluations, I can’t reply directly to the person writing the comment.  I can, however, respond in this format so that the person who wrote the comment – and any teachers who were thinking the same thing – can read the response.  So this will be the first of several posts in “conversation” with teacher comments on evaluations.)

Question:  “Does anyone read these evaluations?”

Answer:  Yes!  In addition to recording and crunching all the numbers that teachers circle on the evaluation forms, I read through all the comments.  Each instructor receives a summary of the evaluations for his or her presentation:  all of the numerical responses, and a representative sample of the comments.  I do only a sample of the comments for two reasons:  typing up all 100 comments from a large group would take a lot of time, and many of the comments are similar.  We have communicated to the instructors that we care about these evaluations, and we want them to pay attention to them.  In addition, we had a “Faculty Institute” day back in June where we discussed the overall feedback we got from the evaluations and talked about where we wanted to improve.

So please know that we do read the evaluations, and that they are important to us.  They do send mixed messages, of course.  For the same presentation, we can get several comments that say the presenter was very engaging, along with a few comments saying the presenter was not engaging at all.  Along with all the comments that say “We need more discussion questions to talk about with our table groups,” we get comments like “Too much discussion – I don’t want to hear what my peers think, I want to hear from the instructor” and “Thank you for not making us talk with each other – I don’t like sharing at these kinds of in-services.”  So it is clear to us that not everyone has the same experience or opinion, and that there is no way we will ever make everyone happy at the same time.

Still, in spite of the variability of the responses, there are some comments that come up repeatedly to create an overall pattern, and we focus on that pattern as we work to continue to improve the program.

– Michael Taylor


With Thanksgiving approaching, it is a good time to reflect on the many people whose efforts call forth from me a response of deep gratitude.

I am, today and every day, profoundly thankful:

for instructors who believe in the mission of Catholic education so strongly that they are willing to take on this extra work;

who are willing to do their best to share their knowledge, use their talents, and model their faith, in spite of the vulnerability that comes with presenting to teachers, (a group that admits to being a tough audience);

who consider feedback from evaluations, who ask for ideas from other instructors, who adapt their approaches that worked in other situations and who keep working at crafting presentations that fit the unique dynamic of this program;

who say yes.

for teachers who understand that it is not only the presenter’s energy but also their energy that can affect the quality of the presentation, and who answer questions and contribute actively to discussions;

who offer specific feedback and helpful suggestions when they encounter a presentation that isn’t the best, and whose tone makes it clear that they want to help improve the program rather than just complain about it.

for principals and other school administrators who host STM in-service days, lining up technology, arranging for food, making coffee, and finding ways to make teachers feel welcome and valued;

who communicate and set a tone with teachers, affirming the importance of faith formation;

who share their thoughts and participate in focus groups for the ongoing improvement of Sustaining the Mission.

for a superintendent and a group of associate superintendents who provide real leadership from the Office for Schools, who have made faith formation for educators in Catholic schools a priority, who provide important support and meaningful advice, who are true collaborators.

for colleagues at the Saint Clare Center and Cardinal Stritch whose commitment to Catholic education and adult faith formation helped give birth to this program, and whose ongoing support for this ministry is vital.

To all of you, I say something I should tell you more often, because I am thinking it constantly:  Thank you.

Letter from Kathleen Cepelka

Dear Teachers:

Thank you for accepting the call, the privilege, and the challenge to teach in the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and to “sustain the mission” of Catholic education which has been an integral aspect of the teaching mission of the Church in the United States for over 150 years.  You are truly following in the footsteps of all who have preceded you in this important work, especially the thousands of religious sisters, brothers, and priests who built the Catholic educational system in our country.  The torch of that responsibility, for strengthening and sustaining Catholic education, has now been passed into your capable hands and generous hearts!

“Sustaining the Mission” is a program, developed and sponsored by the Saint Clare Center at Cardinal Stritch University, to increase and solidify the religious knowledge of Catholic school educators through systematic, cohesive, and high quality instruction in the faith.  “Sustaining the Mission” is, furthermore, the authorized program for the religious education certification of Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, focusing on six core theological areas:  Scripture; Creedal and Doctrinal Concepts; Justice and Morality; Liturgy, Sacraments, and Prayer; Church History, and Methods/Vocational Formation.  Some of the finest instructors in the Archdiocese, including scholars from each of the five Catholic colleges and universities and both Archdiocesan seminaries, have been invited to deliver the “Sustaining the Mission” courses.

This program is long overdue.  It is a substantive and structured approach to better preparing you, our dedicated Catholic school teachers, to further the Kingdom of God in our midst through your invaluable work.   In the words of Pope John Paul II, “Jesus shared with you his teaching ministry.  Only in close communion with Him can you respond adequately….If you continue to be faithful to this ministry, you will be doing much in shaping a peaceful, just, and hope-filled world for the future.  Yours is a great gift to the Church, a great gift to your nation.”   Yours is also a great and priceless gift to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.


Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools
Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Instructors for STM

The following people have agreed to be instructors for the Sustaining the Mission program for 2011-2012.

  • Ben Brzeski, St. Joseph Parish, Grafton
  • Jon Brzeski, Catholic Memorial High School
  • Fr. Javier Bustos, S.T.D., Sacred Heart School of Theology
  • Patrick Carey, Ph.D., Marquette University
  • Nancie Chmielewski, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish
  • Fr. Keith Clark, OFM Cap., Monte Alverno Retreat Center
  • Fr. Tom DeVries, Saint Francis de Sales Seminary
  • Mike Donahou, Ph.D., Cardinal Stritch University
  • Deb Dosemagen, Ph.D., Mount Mary University
  • Sr. Coletta Dunn, OSF, Ph.D., Cardinal Stritch University
  • Mary Gentile, Catholic Memorial High School
  • Judy Gillespie, Divine Savior Holy Angels High School
  • Rich Harter, St. Dominic Parish
  • Dan Holahan, Marquette University High School
  • Bishop Don Hying, Archdiocese of Milwaukee
  • Fr. Joe Juknialis, Shepherd of the Hills Parish
  • Fr. Niles Kauffman, OFM Cap., Saint Clare Center, Cardinal Stritch University
  • Fr. Ken Knippel, St. John Vianney Parish
  • Fr. Steve Lampe, Ph.D., Cardinal Stritch University
  • Andre Lesperance, Marquette University High School
  • Bill Lieven, St. Eugene Parish
  • Lydia LoCoco, John Paul II Center, Archdiocese of Milwaukee
  • Anthony Maas, Catholic Memorial High School
  • Jane McAuliffe, St. Victor Parish (Diocese of Madison)
  • Alan McCauley, Pius XI High School
  • Monica Meagher, Ss. Peter & Paul Parish
  • Jon Metz, Cardinal Stritch University
  • Lisa Metz, Divine Savior Holy Angels High School
  • Sr. Cyndi Nienhaus, CSA, Ph.D., Marian University
  • Brigid O’Donnell, St. Mary’s Parish Hales Corners
  • Eamonn O’Keeffe, Saint Clare Center, Cardinal Stritch University
  • Lynn Ann Reesman, St. Gabriel Parish
  • Henry Reyes, Doctoral Student at University of St. Mary of the Lake
  • Sandi Schmitt, Holy Cross Parish
  • Dan Scholz, Ph.D., Cardinal Stritch University
  • David Stosur, Ph.D., Cardinal Stritch University
  • Michael Taylor, Saint Clare Center, Cardinal Stritch University
  • Jean Marie Weber, Saint Clare Center, Cardinal Stritch University
  • Mike Witte, St Anthony on the Lake Parish
  • Fr. Tony Zimmer, St. Anthony on the Lake Parish

About Sustaining the Mission

“Sustaining the Mission” is a faith formation program for educators in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It was developed by the Saint Clare Center for Catholic Life and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Office for Schools, in collaboration with the colleges and universities of the GMCEC:  Alverno, Cardinal Stritch, Marian, Marquette, and Mount Mary.

“Sustaining the Mission” provides a systematic, coherent curriculum in six core areas: Scripture; Creedal and Doctrinal Concepts; Justice and Morality, Liturgy, Sacrament, and Prayer; Church History; and Methods and Vocational Formation.  (Click here to see a list of classes.)

Using a cohort of effective presenters, we plan to provide you with quality instruction that relates to your own experiences.  At the same time, we know that your own reflections and discussions after the presentation are just as important for your own learning.  So, we offer this blog to support those reflections and discussions.