Anita Draper
Catholic herald staff

Building and maintaining a strong Catholic identity in the diocese’s 14 Catholic schools will be the focus of the Diocese of Superior’s first in-person Fall Conference in three years.

“Life Centered in Christ” is the theme of the 2022 gathering, which will take place at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Rice Lake, on Friday, Nov. 4. The day kicks off with registration at 8 a.m., followed by a 9 a.m. Mass with Bishop James P. Powers. The event concludes at 3 p.m.

For the past two years, the conference has been virtual – due to the pandemic in 2020 and a late resurgence of COVID across the diocese in 2021 – so Peggy Schoenfuss, superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools and director of the Office of Catholic Formation, said this year she wants to take the opportunity to go back to basics, emphasizing that the primary mission of Catholic schools is to share the faith.

The annual conference has always functioned as a sort of diocesan family reunion for educators, school staff, catechists, those serving in parish-level ministries, clergy and religious, who typically attend Mass and two keynote presentations together before dividing into smaller groups for afternoon breakout sessions.

This year, to promote community-building, everyone will go to Mass in the morning, then watch one keynote address in the morning and two in the afternoon, Schoenfuss explained. She anticipates the traditional format with breakout sessions will return next year.

Keynote addresses will be given by two prominent Catholics. Dr. R. Jared Staudt, a professor of theology and Benedictine oblate who is married with six children, has authored books on catechism, Catholic education, culture and more. He also writes the “Catholic Culturalist” column, which runs periodically in the Superior Catholic Herald, and serves as the associate superintendent for mission and formation for the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado.

Staudt will give morning and afternoon talks. His presentations are titled, “Forming Disciples in Catholic Schools” and “Teaching from a Catholic Worldview.”

This year, all diocesan Catholic schools are implementing a Theology of the Body curriculum from Ruah Woods, a formation institute that offers a K-12 curriculum, courses, educator support and psychological services. Michael Grasinski, president of Ruah Woods, will give an afternoon talk entitled, “You Are Not Who They Say You Are: The Joy of Reclaiming Our Identity.”

“For the Fall Conference this year, we decided to go with kind of a theme the principals have been working on … the Catholic identity of our schools,” Schoenfuss commented.

Last year, principals did a book study of “Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age,” edited by Dr. Staudt, which is why he was invited to speak at this year’s conference, she said.

Schoenfuss, whose department also works with the Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship and its director, Chris Hurtubise, said this year’s topics will focus more on Catholic schools; however, catechists will also benefit from attending the presentations.

“It can only help them, too, with their teaching in the classroom,” she added.

There’s a growing number of students who are not Catholic attending diocesan schools, Schoenfuss explained, plus some of the Catholic students “don’t necessarily know what we teach.” This year’s theme is designed to bring everyone together, both physically and spiritually.

“Maybe trying out this new format is what we need to re-liven the Fall Conference,” she added.

R. Jared Staudt