by Kara Hansen
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Catholics from around the archdiocese conclude their classes with the School of Faith, they are not awarded a degree for their efforts.
Instead, they walk away with something better — a richer, more profound appreciation of their Catholic faith.
“Rediscovering my faith, with the help of SOF, has been an eye-opening, liberating experience and one I would recommend to everyone,” said Cathy McDonnell, a parishioner at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood. “Now more than ever, I realize the richness of Catholicism and how incredibly blessed I am to have it as the fabric of my life.”
McDonnell began taking classes four years ago after spotting a notice about the program in her parish’s bulletin.
The School of Faith touts itself as a “complete Catholic formation for the common person” — and is geared to the level of the average churchgoer.
Classes are taught at local parishes in the archdiocese and cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from salvation history, Christian virtue, the theology of the body, and Catholic spirituality, to Christian philosophy. All instructors have advanced degrees in theology — many from some of the most prestigious Catholic institutions in the world.
“I feel that I have a better understanding of the Old Testament and how it pertains to me personally,” said Margi Peterson, a teacher at Holy Trinity in Lenexa. “It is like taking a history class of my faith — my family history.”
Peterson attempted to read the Old Testament on her own before, but found it a struggle.
“It has always been difficult to start the Old Testament and finish it,” she said. “This class puts it into a story form where it is sequenced and seems to go in a timely order so that it makes sense.”
The School of Faith began partnering with Benedictine College in Atchison last year to offer continuing religious education for teachers at parish schools. Peterson began taking classes as part of the staff development and religious certification process at Holy Trinity, but she has found the classes as helpful to her work in the classroom as it is in her prayer life.
“Having a better understanding of the Old Testament helps me to better explain it to my first-grade class,” she said. “One of the things we talk about in first grade is the flight into Egypt. I was able to bring the story alive for the kids in a different way than I ever have before.”
“I am also able to better direct my class in their prayer life,” she added.
“Having the time at SOF to reflect and pray, I can better explain how to listen to God in quiet times with my class.”
Fellow Holy Trinity teacher Patrick Gamber agreed.
“I use some of the examples given to us to illustrate to the students God’s love for us,” he said.
Courses run for 12 weeks, with weekly class sessions lasting 90 minutes each. Tuition is $250 per class, or $400 per couple, and scholarships are available if cost is a hardship. School of Faith founder and current instructor Mike Scherschlight emphasized courses are open to anyone, regardless of ability to pay.
“Anyone can come to our classes and tuition should never keep anyone out,” Scherschlight said. “I would estimate a fourth of our students pay nothing. We trust God’s going to work all of that out, and we don’t worry about the finances.”
Audio course recordings are available on SOF’s Web site, should students miss a class or just want a refresher on a particular topic. There are future plans for offering the full range of SOF classes through video online.
John Langer and his wife Lisa had been looking for some adult faith formation when they learned that SOF would be offering classes in Topeka for the first time.
“Becoming familiar with the Old Testament events and seeing the connection of how they relate to the New Testament has been eye-opening,” said Langer, a parishioner at Mater Dei in Topeka. “All the symbolism, parallels, and foreshadowing have brought a completely new awareness to the faith.”
Most recently, Langer said his Catholic men’s group was using some of the information presented in SOF courses as a study tool for reading and studying the Bible. He also said the courses had helped deepen his personal prayer.
“What I’ve learned in the classes has really helped the psalms make more sense whenever I pray the Liturgy of the Hours,” he said.
McDonnell, too, said SOF has had a major impact on her prayer life.
“My relationship with God has deepened, in large part due to daily prayer and eucharistic adoration, which is strongly encouraged in SOF,” she said.
That deepening experience of faith is exactly the point of courses offered through SOF, said Scherschlight.
“We have two main goals in our courses, and the first is to lead people to a deep encounter with Christ, largely through prayer and the sacraments,” he said. “The other goal is a growth in virtue, which manifests itself in a deeper sense of peace and joy.”
For many students, the most fundamental truths of the Catholic faith have taken on a much deeper significance through these classes.
“I have learned that God can bring the greatest good out of the worst evil,” said Gamber. “Original sin brought the promise of salvation. The death of Jesus brought redemption.”
Adults who are interested in taking a course through the School of Faith can visit its Web site at: www.school offaith.com.