Dr. R. Jared Staudt, right, speaks with Chris Hurtubise, director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, on Nov. 4 at St. Joseph, Rice Lake. Staudt gave two keynote addresses

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

A “troublemaker” who was expelled from public school in seventh grade, Dr. R. Jared Staudt was taken in by a Catholic school despite the principal’s misgivings.

It was the priest who gave him a second chance and then asked him to come and serve a daily Mass for his jubilee anniversary.

Staudt agreed. For the first time, he felt the Lord calling him to be a disciple.

“For me, that was my first encounter with Jesus Christ … really encountering him as a person,” Staudt recalled.

The moment changed his life, setting him off on a journey of service to the church as a theologian, professor, Benedictine oblate, archdiocesan employee, husband and father of six.

Helping students toward such encounters – introducing them to Jesus, directing them toward heaven – is the mission of Catholic schools, he told the 250 educators, catechists and clergy gathered for the Diocese of Superior’s 60th annual Fall Conference on Nov. 4 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Rice Lake.

Staudt’s first morning keynote address focused on forming disciples in Catholic education.

“Why do we take the time and effort to run Catholic schools?” he asked. “What is distinctive about the Catholic approach?”

The answer, he said, is “We aren’t just teaching them about things. We are teaching them how to live.” Unlike animals that survive on instinct, “We as human beings need education because we need to learn how to be good human beings.”

We want them to be successful, he agreed – good careers, good jobs – but the ultimate goal is preparing them for heaven. “When we think about our students going through all these years of education, we are teaching them about what matters most,” he said.

Challenging Catholic schools in their mission to achieve Jesus’ great commission – “go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” – is secularism.

“Our culture says sure, you can have faith, but that’s your own private and personal opinion,” added Staudt. The danger of that thinking is it compartmentalizes faith, keeping it isolated from everything else we do.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is not part-time, he advised. “It is something that is all-encompassing. Secularism is a fundamental challenge to discipleship.”

Everything else tends to overwhelm our faith if we live that way, he explained. Individualism, deeply valued in secular culture, is also an obstacle of discipleship, because in discipleship we are to be in communion with someone else, not isolated.

“We are called to live in the trinity, to share in the relationship that Jesus has with his Father,” he explained.

Some educators, whether in Catholic schools or in faith formation, say it is too difficult a task to form disciples. Some say it is the parents’ job. But, Staudt believes it is a combined effort. School cannot do it alone, but they can teach students good habits and be mentors in the faith. The process works better in partnership with parishes and parents.

Staudt’s three-part process for forming disciples includes encounter and response, growth through mentorship and a life lived in mission.

Mentorship is the most effective way to grow as disciples, he explained. Educators should speak and pray with students. They may not have time to mentor individually, but they can mentor in groups.

Returning to his own story, Staudt said he started going to Sunday Mass after the jubilee Mass. Then, he started serving daily Mass. His friends noticed, so they got involved too.

His best friend asked him to teach him what he was doing when they were in eighth grade. Now, he teaches at their old Catholic high school in Pennsylvania.

The third part of evangelization “actually happens pretty naturally,” he added.

Educators’ role is creating space for interaction with God: “We can’t control whether or not students are really going to encounter God, but we can create those opportunities.”

To be mentors, Staudt said we need to talk about our own faith, talk about how God has impacted us, get comfortable with spontaneous prayer and learn relational prayer.

Parents, religious educators and teachers can show witness through what Staudt calls “CRED” – credibility-enhancing displays – that include going to adoration, joining in processions and other public displays of faith.

It can be difficult to talk about faith in a deep and meaningful way in the classroom, Staudt observed, so they are looking at doing small groups at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Denver, where he works. Not only do small groups give stronger opportunity for witness, they also result in stronger friendships being formed.

In another school, parents are leading small groups with other parents, which Staudt said has been very successful.

He advises that small groups begin with lectio divina – God’s words. Then, they should communicate the lesson, have discussion, do something active to help them experience or engage with the material, and end with a closing prayer.

“We are always trying to be evangelical,” he said, but “you have to have faith to grow in faith.”

To do that, we need to become a reservoir – replenish our own faith, so we can share it with others.

Ultimately, “we want them to be inspired to pursue their own mission.”

Teaching from a Catholic worldview

In his second keynote address of the morning, Dr. Staudt began with the premise that wisdom and virtue are the two goals of Catholic education, but not to the exclusion of reason, because there is no conflict between faith and reason.

“We’re no longer living in Christendom,” he commented. In this new apostolic age of post-Christendom, we must be attentive to the differences between how we think about the world and how the culture thinks.

“We want our students to have a Christian worldview,” he said. “Worldview” encompasses an “imaginative vision that helps you conceive of life, its meaning, its purpose, everything in it, from the viewpoint of faith” and includes “a way of seeing things, a moral code, accepted ideal of good person, clear categories of success and failure, economic and political values and practices, legal codes and public policy, manners, modes of entertainment” and more.

While there may be elements of a Christian worldview in people’s lives, the secular worldview is becoming dominant, Staudt continued. “If our students are thinking about life from another view that is not Christian, they are going to be conflicted.”

The goal is for students to be “thinking and living like a Catholic,” so their faith fuels their desires, imagination, hopes and aspirations.
We “need to till the soil of humanity for it to grow,” he added.

Staudt’s undergraduate and master’s degrees were in Catholic studies at the University of St. Thomas; in that program, he learned about integrating all the disciplines – history, art, theology, psychology, business, and more – together.

“In Catholic education, we have such an amazing heritage to share with our students in every area,” he said. He cited a couple of examples of how Catholics have shaped modern education – the scientific method was created by a priest and public school systems are based on Catholic schools, which were the first network of schools.

Staudt cited Bishop Robert Barron’s introduction in the series Catholicism, where he talks about “the Catholic thing” – what makes us different. It’s the incarnation, which is not “once and done,” but continues in the church to this day. Jesus continues to take on flesh in the sacraments and in the whole life of the church.

Therefore, it’s not enough to just study theology, he added. Students need to be immersed in the Catholic tradition of art, music and more. As humans, “we can crack the code of creation” and understand the beauty God has created in a way an animal cannot.

“Building upon the gift of reason, we are helping our students to think,” he said. “In this world, if they could think logically, rationally, that would be huge.”

In secular relativism, truth is perceived as an individual’s experience, but definitionally, truth is the “conformity of the mind to reality.”
He used math as an example.

“Why does math work?” he asked rhetorically, and explained that math works because a logical order pervades creation. “Math is actually an intellectual language.”

For most people, thinking about math is hard. “It expands your mind. It makes you think.”

Quoting from C.S. Lewis, Staudt spoke of how reason is the natural organ of truth, and imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination is not the cause of truth, but its condition.

Essential to education is learning the dignity of the person, he added. Catholicism teaches that humans are body and soul, but the current gender confusion in society is a body/mind split, “not conceiving of what it is to be a human being in the right way.”

Inspiring students with transcendent beauty, especially Catholic art and music, is also central to handing on a Catholic worldview.

“Beauty helps us to desire what is truly worthy of love,” he said, and culture plays an important role in passing on and preserving the faith.

Faith that does not become culture – a shared way of life – is “not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, nor faithfully lived.”

We are continuing a legacy, and using our history as the story, Staudt observed. In Denver, for example, they’ve switched out social studies – which looks at history in isolated events – for the more story-based approach of history, where art, music and culture can be integrated.

In teaching history in Denver, they also emphasize Catholic as universal: unity in diversity. He calls it “a huge area of strength for us” – the story of the church as embracing all people and cultures.

Technology, which Staudt believes should be used as a tool and not pervasively, is creating additional challenges in Catholic education. In Denver, he’s seeing kindergarteners, first-graders and second-graders having problems with sexuality because of technology.

“They are just being decimated by technology right now,” he added. Deep thinking only comes when one is not distracted, so the challenge is learning how to think in a time of relativism, and being inspired by beauty in an age that “is ugly in too many ways.”