I’ve learned that you don’t explicitly “teach” faith to high school students. Yes, all of our students take Theology classes including Sacred Scriptures, Ethic, and World Religions. They attend masses, go on retreats, and participate in service projects. Faith is more than acquiring intellectual knowledge or simply taking action, however. Faith must be made personal.
The late Italian theologian, Fr. Luigi Giussani (1922 – 2005), who began his career as a high school teacher, taught his students a method to personalize faith, a method that would allow everyone to see the reasonableness of faith. As a young priest, he told his students that his job was to “teach you a true method that you can use to judge the things I will tell you. And, what I have to tell you is the result of a long experience, of a past that is two thousand years old.” The method that we use to help students “judge the things we tell them” requires a true education in the use of reason and freedom.
An education in reason means we teach students to be open to “reality in all its totality” and not to reduce our interest to what is just entertaining, pleasing, or just familiar but to be truly curious and open, traits every faculty and staff member has to possess as well.
An education in freedom is about responsibility, which comes from the word “respond.” We teach our students to respond to the world by paying attention to everything they see, hear, feel and touch. We want them to dismiss any preconceptions they might bring to school, and through our teaching we give them the capacity to be wide open to all possibilities without precluding any.
Reason and freedom. These concepts underlie every aspect of our school from our curriculum to the way we teach to extracurricular and campus ministry activities. How has this approach worked out for us? Well, this year 40 students voluntarily signed up for a Teen Christian Initiation Program at a local parish (St. Thomas/Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Jamaica Plain/Roxbury), in the summer of 2013 ten students spent two weeks in Kenya living and working with missionaries from the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, and dozens of students have become more involved in their local churches.
These kids, who are growing up in the Internet Age, have personalized their faith. They are making their own way to God, and we, their teachers, are graced by the wisdom of a 1950s Italian high school teacher who has given us a method to help a group of 21st century Boston teenagers connect the world they are experiencing to the deepest desires of their hearts.