U.S. Church News

Catholic educators urged to talk about, 'grapple with' racism in the church

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

Shannen Dee Williams, assistant professor of history at Villanova University, is seen in this 2018 photo. (CNS photo/John Shetron, Villanova University)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Catholic educators met virtually this year at their annual conference, they took a close look at racism and how teachers should talk about its existence and work to promote an anti-racist environment in their schools.

"The challenges are already there; talking about them doesn't make them appear," said a presenter in an April 7 workshop on schools' anti-racism efforts. Other workshops highlighted culturally responsive classrooms or diversity and inclusion.

But an April 6 presentation by Shannen Dee Williams, an assistant professor of history at Villanova University, set the tone for talks that followed with its upfront challenge to Catholic educators. Williams urged teachers to share Black Catholic history that not only highlights Black Catholics but also tells difficult truths about the Catholic Church's involvement in slavery and segregation.

"We have to grapple with that," said Williams, who pointed out that even St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the Sisters of Charity and is described as the patron saint of Catholic schools, was a slave owner.

Williams, who specializes in African American, women's, religious and civil rights history, spoke frankly about the church's involvement in the slave trade from religious orders owning slaves to building churches in New Orleans with slave labor.

"Every Catholic should know how the church is deeply implicated," she said, after debunking myths the church was "at the forefront of desegregation."

Williams, who writes a column for Catholic News Service, urged Catholic educators to see their roles as vanguards in helping the church make reparations for its wrongdoings.

She also urged teachers to tell the stories of Black Catholics who endured in their Catholic faith despite discrimination they suffered and gave the church a great gift by their presence.

Educators commenting in the workshop chat section effectively served as applause for the online presentation. Many said they hoped to incorporate her points in their classes.

"Thank you for teaching us," one comment said.

A keynote speech the next day by Gloria Purvis highlighted how racism in the church isn't just a long-ago experience but something more recent. She also said it needs to be eradicated by looking at it through the lens of faith that recognizes the God-given dignity of each person.

Purvis was the longtime host of the EWTN radio show "Morning Glory" before the show was canceled following frequent on-air discussions of race after the death of George Floyd.

In her virtual address, she recounted how she experienced racism in her Catholic high school from a student's repeated comments to her, the blatant lack of support from a school guidance counselor and a history teacher who said slaves were "treated honorably" by the Confederacy.

At the time, she said, there were "no rules that talked about racism and no way to talk about it."

She urged Catholic school teachers today, speaking to their students against the backdrop of the nation's racial reckoning moment, to help them recognize that "racism rends the bond of the human family," which is contrary to word of God. That's the starting point, she told them.

"You need to frame everything in light of faith, " she added.

She also advised them to listen and hear what students are saying and not just from the lens of politics. "Don't shy away from this. It's a moment," she insisted.

Purvis, who is a convert to Catholicism, also spoke about teachers at Catholic elementary schools, women religious in particular, who led her to a deep appreciation and love of the Catholic faith.

Her presentation's chat section also was lit up with educators' comments. Thanking her for her message, the teachers and school administrators essentially gave her a good grade, but also gave her homework: They want her to write a book about her experiences.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

NET Ministries inspires teens through in-person and virtual retreats

By Debbie Musser Catholic News Service

NET Ministries team leader Anthony Hollcraft leads a small group discussion during a Feb. 27, 2021, confirmation retreat at the NET Center in West St. Paul, Minn. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Musser writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- A nationwide teen evangelization program is gaining renewed interest after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the ministry for several months in 2020.

Minnesota-based NET Ministries has seen both in-person and newly developed online retreats grow in popularity as teenagers seek companionship and new avenues for prayer and reflection, said Mark Berchem, the program's founder and president.

"When the pandemic became real last March, we made a tactical decision to bring all of our teams back, sending all our missionaries home and ending the retreat year," Berchem said of the program that has reached more than 100,000 youths in 110 U.S. dioceses since being founded in 1981.

"God said we needed to do this, and I believe it was providential," Berchem told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "If we had waited, they would have been stuck, as a week later, the entire country shut down."

NET Ministries invites young Catholics ages 18-28 to devote nine months -- August through May -- serving with its National Evangelization Teams in offering youth retreats. NET Ministries also has been replicated in Canada, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Uganda.

"The work of NET is relational evangelization," Berchem said. "Our focus is on sharing the basic Gospel message with teenagers, to awaken faith and bring it alive in their hearts and minds."

As the pandemic continued last summer NET Ministries began planning to resume travel in the fall to Catholic parishes and schools.

"We were seeing churches across the country closing their doors, stopping Masses and youth programs. This was happening as today's young people are suffering the highest level of anxiety, depression and loneliness that we've ever seen, some from COVID, but some even deeper than that," Berchem said.

"And we had these young adult team members still wanting to serve, saying 'I will go. I want to go now,'" he added. "That was inspiring to see."

Designed for students in grades 6-12, the retreat format calls for alternating between large group sessions and small groups, using dramas to put the Gospel in visual form, prayer ministry and guided reflection time.

"We worked with three Twin Cities medical doctors to come up with COVID protocols to bring our missionaries and staff together safely in August," Berchem said. "As we go throughout the country, we follow that guidance, which includes wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, as well as local protocols such as capacity limits in a church."

Despite the extra safety precautions, retreatants are eager to participate.

"The majority of teens are doing online school and are used to being at home, so they are grateful to be there in person, with the gift of being face-to-face -- even if it's only half-face to half-face with masks," said team leader Collin Towns, 22, of Fenton, Michigan.

Team members are typically young adults right out of high school or college with a desire to serve before completing their college education or beginning a career.

Team leader Lindsey Streeter, 24, of Okemos, Michigan, joined NET Ministries in August. Her team covers the Midwest but will soon head to the South and East Coast regions.

"I had moved to California to teach middle school band and choir," Streeter said. "After the pandemic hit and I went from working 60 hours a week to 10, I started a consistent prayer life for the first time in my life. I felt the Lord calling me towards missionary work, which I thought was crazy because I had just settled in California with a dream job."

Streeter has led 35 of the 69 retreats her team has directed since August.

"Helping young people see the love and light from God -- to remind them that they are always seen and loved by Jesus -- has been one of the biggest gifts of my life," she said.

In response to the pandemic NET Ministries developed a virtual retreat option. Berchem said that of the nearly 300 retreats from September through December, 90 were virtual. Plans call for doubling the number this spring.

Rachel Dolby, 20, of Stayton, Oregon, a NET team leader doing both in-person and virtual retreats, was a little apprehensive about the online offering. Her concerns have eased, however.

"Sometimes, that's the very first time they've prayed in their own room, outside of church or school, so that's a really unique opportunity," Dolby said. "Today's youth need the message of hope, and Jesus is our hope; we share that Jesus wants a relationship with them, wherever they're at in their faith journey."

The retreats make an impact on teens, and responses teens share on the ministry's experience forms are overwhelmingly positive.

"NET taught me how to have a better relationship with God," said a 14-year-old retreatant from Missouri. Another 14-year-old from Minnesota said, "It was a good reminder that there is still good, not only around, but in me."

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Editor's Note: More information about NET Ministries is available on its website, https://netusa.org.

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Even bullying has changed in pandemic, says NCEA presenter

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

Students sit in a Spanish class at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Henderson, Ky., March 29, 2018. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bullying in schools is nothing new, but in the COVID-19 era, it has taken different forms.

And at this year's annual National Catholic Educational Association convention, Catholic educators, who have already adapted to new ways of teaching and monitoring safety protocols this past year, were advised to be on the lookout for new ways of bullying they may have already witnessed.

Jodee Blanco, an anti-bullying advocate and author who has written about her own experience of being bullied and has been a repeat NCEA workshop presenter, told participants April 8 that there has been a "deeper edge to the meanness and nastiness" this year.

During a workshop in the convention's virtual format, she said that before the pandemic, she would go to schools and address students in gyms about bullying, stressing it crosses the line from just joking around if behaviors are unkind and people are excluded.

Now, she isn't visiting schools, but she is still getting calls from principals of public and Catholic schools about bullying -- including just days before her presentation -- who are talking about the rise in students' sarcasm, criticism of each other and ready to "jump at the chance to make a snarky comment."

This has been particularly true among middle school students toward each other and their teachers. School administrators also have seen an uptick in parents engaging in bullying on social media.

"Kids are like sponges," she said, noting they are "absorbing an edge at home and in school" in this unusual time and sometimes they act out on that.

She advised principals and teachers to "push their compassion button," cut themselves some slack and also try to understand where some of this negative behavior is coming from.

"This has been a learning curve for all of us -- a social emotional learning curve," said the author of "Please Stop Laughing at Me," "Please Stop Laughing at Us" and "Bullied Kids Speak Out." She also has written publications specifically for NCEA on bullying intervention, compassionate discipline and handling challenging parents.

One bullying trend for schools that are still operating virtually is students taking unflattering pictures of other students on the Zoom platform and then posting them online, which she said is a variation from when students were taking unflattering pictures of each other in the cafeteria and posting them.

For the schools with in-person learning, a new challenge has come from the face masks where students see only each other's eyes.

Before the pandemic, she said, one of the meanest ways students could be bullied was just from the look of disgust another student might give. The look is "even more pronounced now" with the dynamic of face masks.

A new challenge for teachers, she said, is that their humanity shows even more now, particularly if they lack technological savvy in their Zoom classes. Students pick up on that and make fun of it.

Students might feel more free to demonstrate this kind of mocking, she said, since many parents have acknowledged "letting things slide" this year, being less restrictive with their children amid the pandemic and also being edgy themselves with everything they are dealing with.

For in-person schools, which is about 90% of Catholic schools in the U.S., according to the NCEA, Blanco urged teachers to try not to send disruptive students to the principal's office which she likened to "giving away your power." Instead, she suggested redirecting these students, giving them a task to do, even one that might take them outside the classroom.

And for online bullying, from students or parents, she urged teachers never to respond publicly but always in a private message or conversation.

She also had advice for how students might help their parents behave better online, since she said there has been an "uptick in parents being snarky in social media." Blanco suggested teachers help students come up with a "code of mindfulness" for social media that hopefully they could in turn bring home.

In the workshop's chat section, some educators echoed these observations, saying they have seen examples of this bullying during the year. Others showed they need help in responding to this trend, requesting links for suggested responses.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

Inspired by a priest in the family, a mother and daughter become Catholic

By Ed Langlois Catholic News Service

Kellie Halsted and her mother, Judy Crowe, pose for a photo before their confirmation at Sacred Heart Church in Medford, Ore., April 3, 2021. Father Brent Crowe, Kellie's brother and Judy's son, is administrator of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in nearby Ashland. (CNS photo/Courtesy Kellie Halsted via Catholic Sentinel)

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- As a Presbyterian teen in the southern Oregon town of Medford, Judy Crowe would walk past Sacred Heart Church on the way to school. The sturdy brick church and the children in tidy uniforms intrigued her.

Now 77, Crowe has become Catholic, confirmed in the very same church April 3. It's not the building and uniforms that draw her these days, but the chance to participate in liturgy that makes Jesus present.

"You don't just sit and have someone preach at you," she said. "In the Catholic Church, you are involved all the time."

Her interest in the Catholic Church rocketed 15 years ago when her son became a Catholic at Sacred Heart and then was accepted at Mount Angel Seminary 250 miles north in St. Benedict, Oregon.

Father Brent Crowe, a former fish and wildlife biologist, was attracted to Catholicism when he read Pope Benedict XVI's essay showing that faith and science are compatible partners. Father Crowe now is administrator of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Ashland, Oregon, near the California border.

"Watching him is what led me to the church," Judy, a retired teacher, told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland. "He never pushed me at all. It just happened. He was a quiet example."

While in formation for seven years, he brought fellow seminarians to the family farm in Applegate, Oregon, for visits. Judy was touched, recalling the young men as kind and devoted.

She would attend Mass with her son and be drawn to the Eucharist. Father Crowe was ordained in 2018. Last summer, she asked him why she couldn't receive Communion. She loved Jesus, after all. He informed her she could receive if she joined the church.

OK then.

Each week for seven months, Judy made the 40-minute drive to Medford for sessions of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. She embraced the learning, saying she now is more aware of who Jesus is. She also loves being involved in this part of her son's life.

Judy didn't trek to Medford and become Catholic alone. Kellie Halsted, her daughter and Father Crowe's sister, also was confirmed April 3.

Halsted, 51, teaches in the same room of the same century-old schoolhouse where her mother worked for almost four decades.

Halsted, whose husband is a retired Marine, spent years on the move and popping in and out of various churches. When her brother became Catholic in 2007, she took notice.

"I always knew there was something very special about the Catholic Church," Halsted said. Her brother, then a seminarian, invited the family to attend Mass. Later, Halsted's husband joined the church. Before long, she was the one planning ahead about when to attend Mass.

"I felt I wanted to know more," Halsted said. "I wanted to be more included in all the things Catholics do."

She is drawn to the universality and unity of the church and is in awe of the seven sacraments. Halsted has seen her prayer life become more consistent. The message that comes through is that she need not try to fix everything but can trust in the work of God.

"I've been very excited and happy about their journey," Father Crowe said of the new Catholics in his family. "Although I couldn't be in Medford for their initiations, knowing what was happening there made my own celebration of the vigil in Ashland even more special."

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Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

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