A Ready and Open Heart

The Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership’s Mission and Culture Apprenticeship in Catholic Schools helped Emma Dingbaum '20 discover that the role of a Catholic educator not only includes teaching, but often development, admissions, athletics and administration.

Within the ever-spinning pinwheel of career options and my own indecisiveness, I felt both grateful and overwhelmed as I navigated the many study and career options at St. Thomas. Thus, when I heard about the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership’s new Mission and Culture Apprenticeship in Catholic Schools, I eagerly pursued the opportunity. The apprenticeship allows students to experience the daily life of a Catholic educator. What the apprenticeship particularly helped me discover is that the role of a Catholic educator not only includes teaching, but often development, admissions, athletics and administration. This revealed a world of hands-on professional experiences I did not anticipate.

My apprenticeship placement was Saint Agnes School in St. Paul, and the students, staff and faculty could not have been more welcoming. After expressing interest in shadowing a high school English teacher, they paired me with Dr. Pentecost for his Great Conversations course as my first assignment. Observing Dr. Pentecost’s classroom provided a firsthand experience with a vibrant, living Catholic philosophy of education. At the same time, the graduate course The Heart of Culture: The Story of Catholic Education gave me a deeper understanding of the integration of philosophy, theory and history in Catholic education. I saw the mission and culture of Catholic education lived out concretely in the commitment of Saint Agnes faculty and staff to forming the whole student – mind, body and soul. They exemplified how this commitment can positively influence students. During my time shadowing Dr. Pentecost, I witnessed dynamic class discussions during which students asked the deepest questions of life: Why is there suffering? Who am I? Who is God? The questions continued to germinate throughout the semester, and I saw a desire for truth awaken in the students. Dr. Pentecost’s receptivity to their questions allowed the discussion to be animated by a freedom of thought, which gave them an understanding that truth is much more than personal opinion.

Now in its second year, the new Habiger Institute Mission and Culture Apprenticeship in Catholic Schools is designed to help cultivate the next generation of Catholic educators in partnership with St. Paul-area Catholic primary and secondary schools.

We know that the future of Catholic schools depends on the passion, commitment and vision of the next generation of educators, and that this fire can be stoked at a young age. Throughout the apprenticeship, students learn about the distinct mission of Catholic education while providing hands-on support to Catholic schools in a range of areas including development, admissions, athletics, teaching and administration.

Observing Dr. Pentecost’s course helped me understand the vocation of the educator as a gift and the responsibility to teach the truth, an imitation of Christ’s words: “My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me” (John 7:16).

Along with classroom observation, I gained a broader understanding of each department’s role. Experiencing the various aspects of the school: sports, after-school programs, campus ministry/chaplaincy/spiritual formation, social events and administrative functions, allowed me to consider where my gifts and skills would flourish.

Through apprenticeship mentor discussions, I decided to work with the Advancement Department, which included learning how to improve donor relations through various initiatives and fostering familial involvement in school activities. I realized that working in education is not limited to a classroom.

Today, thinking about my next career steps, I carry with me the apprenticeship experience. I applied to the ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) Teaching Fellows program through Notre Dame and other opportunities within the different fields I sampled at Saint Agnes. For example, experiencing the large group setting of a classroom made me realize that I am more attracted to job functions that require one-on-one relationships such as speech pathology.

Regardless of my professional path, this apprenticeship helped me receive what the Lord longs to give with a ready and open heart.