School of Faith and Institute for Religious Studies merge
by Kara Hansen
ATCHISON – Two heads are better than one, the old saying goes.
So the Benedictine College Institute for Religious Studies and the Holy Family School of Faith have high hopes for the Benedictine College School of Faith — the product of their recent merger.
The Benedictine College School of Faith will be able to offer twice as many courses as either institute has been able to offer independently in the past.
Just as the institutions are being merged, so, too, are the faculties. School of Faith staff will join with the existing IRS instructors, many of whom are full- time Benedictine College theology and philosophy department professors.
The result, said Matthew Tsakanikas, who until the merger served as the director of the IRS, is quite impressive.
“We’re excited to have staff with such credentials to draw from in the program — from the full-time Benedictine College professors to archdiocesan consultants, all working towards offering Catholics in Northeast Kansas quality faith formation,” he said.
In addition, there will be a choice in course formats. “Intensive” courses will meet six times or less, generally in the evenings, for several hours each session. The cost for the intensive courses will be $65 or less per student.
“Extended” courses will consist of a session a week for 12 weeks, and generally last for 90 minutes each session. Cost for the extended courses is $250 per person, or $400 a couple. Formation for entire school faculties is offered at a reduced price, offset by significant donations made to the Benedictine School of Faith.
“The target audience for extended courses is always first and foremost the Catholic schools, since this is directed during the work day and work week. Certainly the same format is available for parish goals of developing greater fellowship in the evenings amongst participants and where there is more time for exploration.
“The intensive courses at regional locations,” he continued, “take into account those looking for continuing education at a more condensed pace, where scheduling is sometimes the crucial issue.”
Teachers who have already completed IRS courses will be able to continue their course of study through the new institution. All of the previous coursework completed with the IRS, in addition to all new coursework, will count toward completion of archdiocesan requirements for continuing education and toward completion of certificates, said Tsakanikas.
Tsakanikas, who is also a professor at Benedictine College, has overseen the merger, and will now serve as the academic director of Benedictine School of Faith, as well continue teaching for it.
He said the merger of the two institutes was timely, since the Congregation for Catholic Education recently published guidelines on the formation of Catholic school faculty encouraging a permanent formation school of faith for
Catholic school teachers in each diocese. It is in that setting, the document maintained, that school teachers could most easily receive the sort of education in the faith that priests and religious receive during their formation.
The most significant part of the merger, said Tsakanikas, is the new format that will be utilized with school faculties. Rather than teachers taking catechetical courses individually, as in the past, an entire school staff will now undertake the same extended course, allowing for a greater focus on a Catholic school’s mission in evangelizing and teaching the faith in a systematic way.
“School of Faith already had this implicit localized school apostolate model going,” said Tsakanikas. “If we were going to accomplish full-faculty ongoing formation and accomplish the original intent of the institute, we would need School of Faith’s help to be in schools during school teachers’ hours.
“Benedictine’s resources, professors, infrastructure and experience provides continuity beyond this and School of Faith’s full-time quality professors enables us together to accomplish what the Congregation for Catholic Education says should be happening,” he said.
The Benedictine College Institute for Religious Studies began in 1990 as a response to a greater need for the Catholic education and formation of Catholic school teachers around the archdiocese.
The Holy Family School of Faith originated at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas. It began as a catechetical formation program for KU students and later expanded to serve adults in nearby parishes.
The first step down the road to a merger of the two organizations was taken when St. James Academy piloted the School of Faith program on site, with faculty and staff meeting for one hour each week in which they participated in Scripture study, hospitality and prayer.
The program was so well-received that it quickly expanded to several other schools. The program of faculty formation will now be incorporated into 18 archdiocesan schools by this fall, and all 44 archdiocesan schools within seven years.
To accommodate the logistics of the merger, on June 6 Mike Scherschligt, currently the director of the School of Faith, and the full-time School of Faith faculty members were given special status as Visiting Scholars at Benedictine College.
The merger will become official on June 28, coinciding with the kick-off of the jubilee year commemorating 2000 years since the birth of St. Paul, known for his ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.
At that time Scherschligt will become the executive director of the new Benedictine College School of Faith.
“We’re all very excited to be working with the faculty of the School of Faith,” said Kimberly Shankman, dean of Benedictine College. “Together, we will be able to offer an outstanding faith formation program to continue to build up the Catholic culture in our schools and parishes. We are proud to be able to serve the archdiocese in this way.”