Logo for the 2020 Fall Conference.

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Every year, educators, parish staff, faith formation leaders and clergy gather in Rice Lake for the Diocese of Superior’s annual Fall Conference.

After leading off with Mass celebrated by Bishop James P. Powers, attendees meet and mingle at breakout sessions, break times and lunch. They take in keynote addresses and peruse vendor booths.

Now in its 58th year, Fall Conference is usually a homecoming of sorts for educators and catechetical leaders across the diocese. But this year, things will be different.

“Due to the circumstances, we had to become creative in providing the Fall Conference for Catholic school and parish religious education teachers and personnel,” said Peggy Schoenfuss, superintendent of diocesan schools and director of the Office of Catholic Formation.

After initially planning an in-person conference, the department had to cancel it, “due to the difficulties of gathering in a large group with attendees from across the diocese in this uncertain time,” Schoenfuss explained in a Sept. 10 letter distributed across the diocese.
So, the conference will be virtual.

“To emphasize and help draw support at the local parish and school level, we’ve asked each local parish or region to offer this day as a day of retreat and in-service,” she added. “We hope that most take the already scheduled day of Oct. 30 for this opportunity, but we are aware that some locations will use a different day to utilize these great resources.”

While Fall Conference is always an important opportunity to foster and build community, share knowledge and resources and offer continuing education, in recent years the retreat aspect of the conference – creating space for reflection, insight and inspiration for busy school and parish workers – has been emphasized.

This year’s theme is “Spe Salvi: In Hope We Were Saved.”

“We know this has been a tremendously difficult time for everyone, so we honed in on the theme of ‘hope’ for our conference,” Schoenfuss explained. “Fr. Adam Laski has been providing messages of hope in a series of Facebook video posts, and it seemed appropriate to pull on that inspiration to ask him to provide our keynote for this event.”

Just back from earning his Canon Law degree at St. Paul University, Ottawa, in Ontario, Canada, Fr. Laski is currently serving his home parish of Holy Trinity, Haugen, and its cluster parishes. He is also adjutant judicial vicar for the diocese.

“Fr. Adam will record his presentation for school and parish personnel to view,” Schoenfuss said. “In addition to this, we will provide discussion questions and topics for individual or group reflection.”

Fr. Laski’s address will be released on the diocesan website, and links for webinars and other resources are also at catholicdos.org/fall-educators-conference.”

Videos, including Fr. Laski’s keynote, will be posted on the Fall Conference webpage the week of Oct. 12. Links to webinars for this year’s breakout sessions are divided topically.

“The ‘breakout’ materials are focused on needs that local parishes and schools have at this time,” she said. “Schools will reflect on standards-based learning and how they can improve their curriculum and instruction by focusing on prioritized standards.

“Parish programs,” on the other hand, “have been given an array of links that focus on the domestic church, evangelization and discipleship ministry which have been some of our biggest focuses diocesan-wide for the past several years.”

Although attendees’ ‘homecoming’ will be only spiritual this year, Schoenfuss still hopes they enjoy a strong sense of retreat.

“We hope and pray that this opportunity to step back from the rigors of ministry in these trying times will bring our schools and parishes a renewed sense of hope and inspiration for all who do the great work of handing on the faith to our youth,” she added.