by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As school leaders prepare for one of the most unprecedented academic years in their careers, faculty in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas took a day to pause their preparations and refocus on the greater mission.
“It was the moment we all needed,” said Karen Farrell, principal at St. Gregory the Great School in Marysville.
“You can get so bogged down in the safety measures and what it’s going to take to open our classrooms,” she said. “The rest of the stuff gets put on the back burner.
“To bring faith first and center, it was really refreshing for us.”
The daylong event, titled “Enflame Our Schools,” took place Aug. 12, roughly 10 months after the “Enflame Our Hearts: Be Disciples, Make Disciples” convocation brought together leaders from every parish in the archdiocese.
Although it was initially meant to take place in person, “Enflame Our Schools” was moved to a virtual setting due to the pandemic.
Faculty gathered at their own schools and watched live video presentations from superintendent of Catholic schools Vince Cascone, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Deacon Dana Nearmyer and Emily Lopez from the office of evangelization, and Sebastian D’Amico from Holy Family School of Faith.
Principals and teachers interacted with their peers from other schools in small “virtual campfires.” They also worked with their own colleagues in person and spent time in prayer and reflection.
The goal, said Lopez, was to give school leaders the chance “to step away from the uncertainty and anxiety of preparing for so many aspects of the upcoming school year [and] to truly experience fellowship and support in their ministry as Catholic school leaders.”
Lopez hopes the event helped “inspire the hearts of our school leaders with God’s love, encourage their personal faith journey and equip them with resources [and] tools for their great mission of discipleship,” she said.
According to two other Catholic school principals, the event couldn’t have come at a better time.
Lisa Blaes, principal at Sacred Heart School in Ottawa, said that preparing for this school year has caused particular stress for her teachers.
“They have been overwhelmed by just the thought of what this [year] is going to look like,” she said, “and how we’re going to pull this off and keep the kids safe.
“When they got put out into their small groups, it was so nice for them to be with other teachers [from around the archdiocese].
“We just have one teacher at every grade level here. That was something I know made them feel [connected] right now.”
Cathy Fithian, principal of Christ the King School in Kansas City, Kansas, was particularly touched by Archbishop Naumann’s and D’Amico’s words.
“Teachers and all the faculty and staff need to know that they are valued,” she said. “And I think both of them made that message clear to the teachers, who need a boost right now to get started with another unknown next couple months.”
Fithian said the day gave her and her fellow staff members an opportunity to remember why they work in education.
“We do this because we love what we do,” she said. “To be able to hopefully impact the lives of these children — to make their lives not only better here, but in the kingdom of God — is our sole purpose.”
Cascone was gratified by the positive feedback he’s received from school leaders following the event.
“I think it’s important — especially during a time like this with so much chaos in the world and the unknown, uncharted territory of COVID — for the teachers to revisit the profound work that they’re doing,” he said.