Faculty Dig Deep in Engaging with the Mission Seminar

Twelve faculty members spent the past year engaging the St. Thomas mission as part of the Office for Mission’s inaugural Engaging with the Mission seminar, culminating in a weeklong trip to Rome in June.

The seminar – which met 10 times throughout the fall and spring semesters – helped faculty explore more deeply what the mission means and how they can more fully bring it to life in their teaching.

“When push comes to shove, faculty own the mission. If there’s no buy-in from faculty it’s going nowhere, because of the role they play in teaching and working with students,” said Father Larry Snyder, St. Thomas’ vice president of mission. “If they don’t have an understanding and commitment to that mission it’s not going to happen.”

Emphasizing the mission

Expanding faculty’s understanding and belief in the mission has been an increased area of emphasis for the university: Bernard Brady’s role created in February as associate director of the Office for Mission is dedicated to working with faculty across the university about mission. Brady and Snyder worked to create a yearlong curriculum for reading and discussion (as well as one for the same cohort next year, which will be added as a 2.0 version as 25 faculty members start the seminar next year.)

St. Thomas faculty pose for a picture in Rome.

St. Thomas faculty members pose for a photo during their trip to Rome as part of the Office for Mission's Engaging with the Mission seminar. (Photo courtesy of Susanne Wagner)

“We wanted to look at what the idea of a Catholic university is. What makes us different? When you study physics at St. Thomas is it different than physics at other universities? So, give our faculty an acquaintance with the foundational documents that define what a Catholic university is, and Catholic social thought and teaching,” Snyder said. “Secondly, how they take that into their classroom. We did several sessions about that. If you’re teaching chemistry, how do you bring Catholic social thought into it? It might not be immediately obvious, but once you get that group of faculty speaking you get all kinds of windows opening to what it could be.”

The seminar included faculty from across the university, including:

  • Bryana French (Graduate Psychology)
  • Cornelius Gilbert (Educational Leadership)
  • Monica Hartmann (Economics)
  • Sarah McCann (Dougherty Family College)
  • Steve McMichael (Theology)
  • Nathaniel Nelson (Graduate Psychology)
  • Paul Niskanen (Theology)
  • Jerry Organ (Law)
  • Codrina Popescu (Chemistry)
  • Lesley Scibora (Health and Human Performance)
  • Joshua Stuchlik (Philosophy)
  • Susanne Wagner (German)

“The seminary was called engaging the mission, which is true, but it also implementation of the Catholic intellectual tradition in our curriculum,” Wagner said. “I think these seminars are important to me as a teacher because I learn something and it gives me an opportunity to think more deeply about it. While I’m sitting in these seminars I’m always thinking about how I can take what I just learned and make it applicable to my own field and my teaching.”

Gelling in Rome

Faculty dove even deeper in Rome, Wagner and Snyder both said, as they had meetings with three Vatican offices, including the Congregation for Education, which Snyder said included “very frank discussions about the benefits and challenges of Catholic education.”

“We really got to know each other well and got very comfortable talking about meaningful, deep topics,” Wagner said of the faculty in Rome.

Faculty facilitators Cara Anthony, Hans Gustafson, Terry Langan and Sister Katarina Schuth also took part in the Rome trip.

“The whole trip was incredible and had so much to it that I’m still thinking about now,” Wagner said. “The whole goal of the seminar was definitely met for me.”

Snyder said there are plans to develop a similar Engaging with the Mission seminar in the future for staff cohorts as well.