In the Schools

Catholic Studies Graduates as Educators

Zach Zeckser Zach Zeckser graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 2000 with a major in theology and a double minor in Catholic Studies and justice and peace studies. He also holds a Master of Arts degree in education leadership from St. Mary’s University. Zeckser teaches in the faith formation department at Benilde-St. Margaret’s school in St. Louis Park, Minn.

While I knew before I entered the Catholic Studies program that I wanted to teach, my Catholic Studies courses helped reinforce and shape that desire. In particular, I learned from my Catholic Studies and education courses how faith can give a new perspective to the teaching of certain subject matter.

For example, I teach a lot of courses in social justice. Teaching students about the importance of working for social change is a great good, but I know it is not the most important thing. The first goal of Catholic education is to affect the individual student, helping the heart and mind to be more Christ-like. My Catholic Studies classes showed me how to keep this priority in mind.

The Catholic Studies in Rome study abroad program has also influenced my teaching in a huge way. Although while “I learned from my Catholic Studies and education courses how faith can give a new perspective to the teaching of certain subject matter.” — Zach Zeckser growing up I had some sense that the Church was larger and more diverse than my Midwestern American experience of it, it wasn’t until I studied in Rome that the sense of the universal Church really sunk in. The international character of the Angelicum, in particular, allowed me to interact with Catholics from around the world. Now, in the classroom, even while I work to give my students a piece of this reality, I also try to convey to them that there is so much more – that the Church is so much broader and deeper than they can even grasp.

Tina Rosenthal Tina Rosenthal is a 2005 alumna of St. Thomas with a major in secondary education and theology, and a minor in Catholic Studies. She is now pursuing her master’s degree in Catholic Studies. Rosenthal teaches theology at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn.

Catholic Studies was a perfect companion to my education courses because it was centered on the Catholic faith, and I already knew I wanted to teach in a Catholic school after college. The interdisciplinary nature of Catholic Studies helped me apply a faith perspective to my education courses and, in fact, to all my learning.

While I’d recommend this profession to anyone who might be interested in pursuing it, I’d also say don’t do it just because you want to teach or just because you like the hours teachers get. Teaching faith is different than teaching any other academic subject because it is truly interdisciplinary and can be applied to every area of study. As I tell my students, it also applies to every aspect of life, to the decisions we make every day. Teaching faith requires a strong sense of calling. You’re not just teaching students to pass a test, but you are hoping to effect change in them and feed their faith in some way during that little bit of time you have them in the classroom.

After I graduated from St. Thomas I knew I wanted another academic challenge, so I’ve now returned for my master’s degree in Catholic Studies. It is difficult to teach full time and also take evening classes, but I have a thirst for knowledge, which means continuing my education. I eventually hope to go on for a doctorate degree.

Michael Olson Michael Olson graduated from St. Thomas in 1999 with a triple major in Catholic Studies, English and theology. He is now in his sixth year teaching literature and religion at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minn. Olson also holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Notre Dame.

I pursued a Catholic Studies degree because I had a growing interest in how Catholic culture impacts our society today. My courses and especially my experience in Rome soon made me realize I didn’t just want to just study Catholic culture but to make an impact on it. Teaching is so much more than merely a “profession.” The unique aspect of it is that you are developing ideas, bringing forth talent and helping illuminate for students their own gifts – and all the while you are called to engage the sum of your own knowledge, talents and training. Teaching makes a positive contribution to the development of both the student and the community at large, and Catholic Studies prepared me well to make a contribution.

One way I work to convey a sense of Catholic culture to my students is by offering them brief comments from sharp contemporary Catholic thinkers such as Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, and then tracing those comments back to their source in Catholic tradition or Scripture. Students get a sense of how the words of such authors, spoken from their hearts and minds, are grounded in a larger Catholic perspective.

My Catholic Studies courses also instilled in me a strong sense of service. They helped me understand that giving of oneself in an extraordinary and unique way is important. As a senior at UST, I came across the ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) program at the University of Notre Dame, and after graduation I entered ACE and served two years without pay as a faculty member at Memphis Catholic Middle and High School in Memphis, Tenn. I’m grateful to Catholic Studies because without it I never would have considered such an opportunity for service. It helped launch my teaching career.