Catholic Schools Take New Approach to Religion

By Cole, Bill | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Catholic Schools Take New Approach to Religion


Cole, Bill, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Bill Cole Daily Herald Staff Writer

It was all spelled out in the Baltimore Catechism.

For Catholic school children, the slim pocketbook series succinctly addressed the big picture: Why did God make you? What must we do to save our souls?

And it spoke to the details: At what particular times should we pray? Is it a mortal sin not to hear Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation?

"The author feels that children who have completed the study of this series of catechisms will have a thorough knowledge of the teachings of their church," wrote the Rev. E. M. Deck in Baltimore Catechism No. 3.

Perhaps that was the popular notion of the time. Today, the discontinued guide has about as much currency as a big-finned '59 Cadillac Coupe De Ville.

What's replaced it over the years, some educators say, is a sort-of Total Quality Management approach to religious education, one that promotes interaction with students over preaching to them.

"It (religious education) has changed quite a bit," says Betty Schwab, an eighth-grade teacher at Transfiguration School in Wauconda. Like generations of other kids, Schwab grew up memorizing the Baltimore Catechism's questions and answers.

"We expect kids to know the Ten Commandments and holy days," she says. "But what we look for and how we teach them is how to put that into their daily lives."

At many Catholic schools across Lake County, it's the same.

Rather than hearing a lecture on the Last Supper, for example, kids at St. Joseph's School in Libertyville got to re-enact Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting and learn about his life.

The Rev. Robert Carroll, principal of Carmel High School in Mundelein, points to religious retreats as another example of that change. Thirty years ago, retreats were a meditative and solitary experience for students.

"Now, if you go, it's very interactive. There's all kinds of conversation," Carroll says. "So it's much more directed toward getting people involved in the process. This is a trend all across society."

Keeping with tradition, most Catholic schools still have a class devoted to religion, and an overall emphasis on Christianity.

"Religion is really the core of our curriculum," says Pat Lynch, religion coordinator for St. Joe's. "It's the reason for our existence as Catholic schools. Religion really centers what we do."

But change definitely is the watchword. That evolution includes a greater emphasis on scriptures.

"Thirty years ago, I don't think the church spent as much time as we do today with scriptures," Lynch says.

A Catholic schools teacher for 30 years at schools like Prince of Peace in Lake Villa, St. …

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