by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When the archdiocesan Enflame convocation ended in October 2019, the 1,500 delegates were “on fire” to evangelize.
Among them was Vince Cascone, superintendent of archdiocesan schools.
“After the archdiocesan Enflame convocation in 2019, I had conversations with others about the possibility of extending that to our schools, so we planned the Enflame Our Schools convocations,” said Cascone.
The first, which gathered more than 900 archdiocesan elementary and middle school faculty and staff, took place on Aug. 12, 2020. The second, for 286 faculty and staff at Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, took place on Jan. 4.
Both Enflame Our Schools events were co-sponsored by the archdiocesan school office, the archdiocesan office of adult evangelization and the Holy Family School of Faith. They were funded by the “One Faith. One Family. One Future . . . in Christ” capital campaign.
“The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas is in a three-year evangelization initiative called ‘Enflame Our Hearts, Our Homes and Communities,’ where we are forming leaders to pray, care and share,” said Deacon Dana Nearmyer, archdiocesan director of evangelization. He was also a presenter at Enflame Our Schools.
All together virtually
Although organizers originally envisioned it as an in-person event, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to make the high school event virtual, facilitated by Zoom conferencing software.
The daylong event on Jan. 4 had large-group gatherings in each school for prayer and presentations done remotely on large screens from the “Main Stage.”
These large gatherings were interspersed with breakout sessions called “campfires,” during which individuals participated either alone or in small groups of six to 10 individuals. During the campfires, teachers would discuss various topics with teachers from other schools.
The large-group presentations were “Welcome and Vision Casting,” “The Archbishop’s 10-year Vision,” “A Vision for Catholic Academics,” “Rosary Meditation” and “Closing Remarks and Prayer.”
The Enflame Our Schools high school event was part training, part faith formation and part retreat.
“This was a great way for us to get together with our faculty and to converse with other teachers across the archdiocese,” said Sarah Wise, math and biology teacher and campus minister at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison.
“I found it very helpful. . . . We’re all dealing with the coronavirus and teaching in a ‘new normal,’” she continued. “To be able to talk with other people not only about faith but our school was very refreshing. We’re all facing the same difficulties and believe in the same God.”
The Enflame participants talked about two important evangelization strategies. The first was “Pray, Care and Share,” and the second was “Crowds to Three.”
“Crowds to Three” is in reference to the way Jesus approached evangelization: the three being his inner circle of Peter, James and John, then the Twelve Apostles, then the 72 disciples who were sent out and finally the crowds Jesus taught and healed.
“We were asked to think about who were our three, our 12, our 72 and our crowds,” said Wise. “It made me realize I have to be comfortable in my own skin and faith in order to effectively evangelize. So, I pulled a lot out of it about how to grow in my own faith and be more aware about the people God provides for me in my life, especially my students.”
“Out of all of this, we learned the bottom-line piece of it is friendship and relationship,” said Deb Castinado, academic counselor at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.
“Emily Lopez, lead consultant for the archdiocesan office of adult evangelization, talked about meeting people where they are . . . and using the form of pray, care and share,” she said. “We need to pray for those closest to us and take care of one another and keep on sharing with one another and try hard not to escape the encounter but find goodness and beauty in each human heart we encounter.”
Also, she learned that listening is more important than talking.
“We are in a society where we all want to be heard, and with social media we’re pretty chatty,” said Castinado. “We need to listen better.”
Reigniting the passion
Catholic schools already work to form students in the faith and send them forth to be disciples, but it’s helpful to reignite the passion of fulfilling this primary mission, said J.C. Clark, physics and engineering teacher at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park.
“For me, the biggest thing was to reawaken in me [a sense of evangelization],” said Clark. “It’s easy to get focused in on your own discipline . . . and lose sight of the big picture — that we’re striving to form these young men and women in Christ. It was a really good way to start the semester and be thinking more intentionally about that.”
Having teachers from different schools led to exchanges of good ideas, he said.
“I got lots of good ideas about new ways to do class prayer,” said Clark. “I really loved a couple of the ideas. One teacher writes a Bible verse on the board each day and has a different student read it. It’s very simple. Some students struggle and are at different places on their spiritual journey. [One teacher said] it has led to so much more fruitful prayer in class. . . . It makes class prayer more approachable for all students, and therefore more meaningful and engaging for the class.”
Katie Walters, who teaches technology and serves as director of the community system at St. James Academy in Lenexa, appreciated the way the vision of the October 2019 convocation was brought into the schools.
“I value that the archbishop has this vision to really look at evangelization — to pray together, love one another, to [get us] on the same team working to do what we are called to do: evangelize in our schools,” said Walters.
“I was impressed with the undertaking,” she added, “even to run it on Zoom and put together breakout rooms . . . when so much has had to be reworked [because of COVID-19].”
Cascone said there will be follow up to the one-day Enflame Our Schools event. Instructors from the Holy Family School of Faith will meet with their respective schools to continue to build on the topics that were discussed.
“We pray that our high schools will walk students through the Enflame process of discerning who are their three, 12, 72 and crowds, and how to invest in them by praying, caring and sharing,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “More specific formation and further Enflame plans will be developed next summer for each of our schools to have an active culture of evangelization.”