Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 5, 2007
Grade 12 class blends history, theology, art
Students introduced to the wealth of Church experience
By STEFAN JOHNSON
Special to the WCR
Students at Elk Island Catholic Schools are engaged in a new kind of religious education, one which focuses on history, identity, and what some might consider an Old World answer to what it means to be Catholic.
Students at three of the division high schools are taking a new course called Vatican Studies 35. The course, locally developed by Paul Corrigan and myself, is a blend of history, theology, philosophy and art in an attempt to capture the breadth of Church experience.
The course sprang out of the idea to transform the common and popular high school "Europe trip" into a pilgrimage.
"Students often find themselves in places like Rome," said Corrigan, the chaplain at John Paul II High School in Fort Saskatchewan.
"But they rarely have any idea of how rich such a place truly is. We thought it would be exciting to teach a course and then take students to Rome. The teaching would enrich the experience, and vice versa."
Student response to the course itself, however, was stronger than anticipated. About half of those taking the course went on the trip last spring, and word of mouth tripled the enrollment in one year. We feel that it has to do with identity.
The course explores the "collective memory" of the Church. Identity and memory are so closely linked that you don't have one without the other.
Through the study of history the students understand the depth of their own identity as Catholics and break out into a broader sense of community than anything they've experienced.
Students study the confluence of the three great civilizations that come together at the moment of Christ's birth.
"There is something special, even providential in that the world is governed by Rome at a time when Greek thought is at the fore," Corrigan said.
Three great cultures
"At this moment, Christ enters history born in a place dominated by the radical monotheism of Judaism. The blend of these three great cultures, illuminated by the light of Christ, is the beginning of the West."
Students begin with the history of Rome, starting with its Republican roots, its rise in the Mediterranean and Europe, and the empire's eventual Christianization. The course moves into a discussion of the fall of Rome and the Church's role in preserving much of what was worth saving of Rome.
It ends with an examination of the medieval West and the Church's role in shaping society, medieval and modern alike.
There is also a strong theological component, studying biblical tradition and the Catholic institution of the papacy. Students explore concepts like apostolic succession, the authority of tradition in the Catholic Church and the biblical roots of Catholic hierarchy.
Judaism and its role as the root of Catholicism are also studied.
Throughout the course students explore various pieces of art and architecture in preparation for the pilgrimage as well as case studies in various themes explored in the course.
(Stefan Johnson teaches at Archbishop Jordan High School in Sherwood Park.)