Ten Years of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity Summary by Brian Dusbiber & Kate Barrett

(photo provided by St. Catherine University)

(photo provided by St. Catherine University)

The following is an excerpt from the Summary Report of Myser Workshop focus group discussions created by Brian Dusbiber.  If you are interested in the full report, please contact Kate Barrett.

From April 18 to 22, 2016 four focus group discussions were conducted with 25 past participants of the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity summer workshop. The Myser Initiative recently celebrated 10 successful years of robust learning and collaborating as participants designed and implemented a project of their choosing on campus. The focus group discussions encouraged participants to reflect upon and discuss the outcomes of these workshops and the projects that came from them.

Throughout all four focus groups there was positive support for continuing and building upon the summer workshops. Some major themes emerged readily from the discussions. In several cases they were cited by all four focus groups.

Catholic Social Teaching very positively resonated with participants and brought insight into the University’s Catholic identity

Coming to better understand Catholic Social Teaching became the focus for many of the workshop participants. A few participants mentioned that they were not Catholic, and didn’t have a personal background in the Church. A few more identified themselves voluntarily as “fallen away Catholics”, leaving the Church after K-12 schooling, or in early adulthood. Their frame of reference was the Baltimore Catechism as all they had come to know about the Catholic Church. This opened doors for many of them to better understand what it means to be Catholic.

“Key learning was understanding Catholic Social Teaching....through the discussions with Sister Amata and the guest lecturers, group discussions, films, etc. So much was new to me and the week provided me with a whole new perspective.”

“This week was one of my two favorite overall learning opportunities at St. Kate's. I learned more about Catholic Social Teaching and our Catholic Identity in that week than in my prior years of Catholic School education. It was a blessed, meaningful experience.”

“The project brought us all together on how to best talk about our Catholic mission, Catholic Social Teaching and how to represent the concepts in very real, day to day suggestions as to where students can connect to these.”

“It brought us back to our roots at a very critical time. Our population of students and faculty has changed and Catholic Social Teaching has helped us continue the integration.”

“I was raised Catholic and yet Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Intellectual Tradition was sort of this gem that I didn’t really know existed. Learning about it in that environment and then finding ways to bring it into my daily teaching was just so empowering.”

“The Myser Initiative has provided our community with a common vocabulary for describing social justice and the reasons for pursuing justice. This common vocabulary draws us together across diverse roles and it provides a thread of continuity in the education that students might experience.”

Groundings in the University’s Mission were renewed

(photo provided by St. Catherine University)

(photo provided by St. Catherine University)

The focus on Catholic Identity renewed interest in the entire Mission and how it worked in concert with women’s education, and the liberal arts. Workshop participants spoke of feeling more aligned with the Mission and a renewed sense of accountability to bring it to life in their classroom and through their work. Comfort levels with classroom discussions improved, as did conversations within academic departments. There became a common consciousness of what it means to be a Catholic institution. Collaborations were improved, both within departments and across campuses.

“It has infused Catholic Identity into more aspects of the daily life of our University. We have a more fully realized mission because of the Myser Initiative.”

“There was a sense of better understanding on how each person lives and contributes to us ‘being’ a Catholic university, a sort of ‘belonging’ to who we are as a Catholic institution.”

“It has begun to cement an authentic culture of mission.”

“It has complicated and enhanced the President’s call to mission. It has empowered all who participate/engage and those who are open to be transformative agents of renewal in our institution, our world.” “It centered and strengthened the mission – not just Catholic but all elements. The bold embrace of the social justice mission of St. Catherine.”

 “I believe it has allowed many of us to 'take ownership' of the Catholic identity of the University in a way that we hadn't before. It previously felt like something that Campus Ministry or the Theology department should 'own' or be responsible for. Now I think there are many, many people who feel able to articulate what it means to be a Catholic university.”

 “I think attention to the Catholic mission via the Myser has actually elevated the women and liberal arts mission also in that we see them woven together, maybe, in a different way than we did before.”

Connections and collaborations on campus multiply

Collaborations on campus grew as a consequence of this new common language for workshop participants. They could ground themselves in the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, and recognize their connections to the University’s Mission. There became a common consciousness of what it means to be a Catholic institution. Collaborations were improved, both within departments and across campuses.

“I think they have really helped develop a connection across departments in the university. There is a way of being that these projects all embody and I think that spreads to others through interaction and the projects.”

”And so I think, for me, this question of how has my participation changed my work is it’s opened the door to conversations that would never, I would not have been privy to those conversations. It has opened the door to relationships that would not have been there before.”

“The week provided our team, as well as others in their projects, with a common language, a common understanding. We all learned from one another and left with appreciation for others work. It also provided us with an opportunity to learn from others, see how their work was being interpreted and expressed.”

“I think especially one of the key learning experiences, for me, was this idea of social justice and Catholic Social Teaching and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition being a focus on interdisciplinary, crossing the silos and collaborating as a model of what social justice can look like when we work together, that it requires us to be collaborative across our disciplines.”

“This is a decade where it hasn’t necessarily been easy to be Catholic in our country, in our church, in our Archdiocese. And so I, we, met a lot of resistance in our School from our faculty. It was really hard, there was a lot of suspicion about what we were doing and what the implications for this work were in relation to academic freedom and in relation to what was happening in the Church. As I reflect on the recent years, that conflict has virtually dissipated and I think that’s a reflection of a growing trust in how St. Catherine’s embodies and lives out its Catholic identity. I feel less resistance from students, I think, as we’ve gotten more comfortable and we’ve worked through some of these identity issues, it’s been much more relaxed with students.”

The craft of teaching, scholarship and learning was directly impacted

(Sr. Amata Miller)

(Sr. Amata Miller)

Faculty members were quick to reveal that they experienced a renewed shaping of their scholarship, whether it be in the classroom or their research. The intellectual rigor of fully realizing the Catholic Intellectual Tradition challenged them in new ways. It frequently made them pause and reconsider approaches to their work. The approach to teaching was dramatically influenced in several cases, including bringing in new perspectives to classroom discussions. Faculty spoke of transforming some of the interactions with students, in their learning and in their communication style. There was also an impact on how to approach ethical implications in professional practice, beyond the academic discipline.

 “It’s changed my teaching, it’s changed my understanding of what it is to do theology, it’s changed my vocabulary, it’s made me accountable in a way that I don’t think I was accountable before.”

“During the week I did scholarly research on the idea of the common good. What I ultimately did with it has informed both my teaching and my scholarship on leadership because I became convinced that leadership is actually always about pursuing common good or common goods. I am continuing to develop it, both in how I talk about leadership with my students, and also through a paper I hope to get published.”

“This calls our students attention to the importance of their Catholic identity and demonstrates to those who come to campus for speakers that we have this specific way of relating to one another through faith.”

“I think one of the ways that I find this so meaningful is the fact that the identity of being Catholic can be broadened, especially for the students. I think we have students that come and maybe kind of don’t understand, or have probably not thought about social justice principles, and consequently to be able to have the opportunity to widen their perspective of the Catholic faith.”

“So the experience was a real education for me, in the way it has continued to shape my teaching which is important to me. Recognizing that those two pillars of the Initiative, the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and social justice teachings, are not separate, they’re a part of the same enterprise. I think now about the ways in which I conduct discussions in class. I do a lot less lecturing. I do a lot more risk-taking in terms of just thinking through ideas with students as opposed to telling them how to think about things. That is activating social justice as an intellectual practice.”

Personal transformations were abundant

Faculty and staff reported that through full engagement in the summer workshop, and during the months and years that followed, they experienced much stronger connections to their work. Learning deeply during the workshop empowered them to rethink their professional practice, locate new sources of perspective in their work, and re-energize their commitment to growing and learning themselves. A few faculty and staff spoke of finding new inspiration for their work, and to trying to be a better self, in their work and elsewhere.

“I don't think we have to force this; we simply have to be like weather vanes, open to moving in response to the breadth of the Spirit of God, who makes all things new.”

“There are times that I wish I could engage in a forum of Catholic administrators to dream about how CST shapes who we hire and how we nurture them in their new roles.”

“The inscription in the altar in our chapel says, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ from Revelations 21:5. Whenever I look at that I think of our students and how that is the ultimate mission of St. Kate’s. We do this by educating our students and sending them into the world, because they are our agents of renewal in the world. I don’t know that I would connect dots that way if it hadn’t been for this work.”

“I now always ask, Who is benefiting in this situation? Who is suffering? And, What am I going to do about it?"

“The Myser work has provided me with a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of Catholic identity that has been applied to all my work; I see common understanding and common language used in many forums/discussions/workshops.”

“I remember most strongly how personal this work is for many, many people and how different that can be, but also how personal it is and that’s a beautiful thing. The depth of the Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic Intellectual Tradition and how profoundly powerful it is when you really pull it apart and understand it and link it to the teaching learning that we’re doing.”

 “It really enriched and transformed my understanding and appreciation for the depth of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the sacramental tradition and obviously the social justice tradition. These were just names and words that had kind of been floating out there that I felt like I should probably know more about. So it allowed me to dig deeper and have a respect and understanding of some of these labels that I had not had before. It was very affirming, the openness and the respect and the safety and the opportunity to hear what other people’s hearts and minds were grappling with. I didn’t feel like an imposter anymore. I would talk about the Catholic Social Teaching without really understanding it. Now I feel like OK, now I have some claim to that work.”

“So this was a really personally moving experience for me. I was raised Catholic and I had left the Catholic Church and never imagined that I would be in relationship again with the Catholic Church. When Sr. Amata taught about the Catholic social teaching principles, I was like I can be so on board with these – like ethically and always if this is the basis of the Catholic Church, I can be on board with this. And so it was this incredibly personally transformative week with tons of healing.”

Dates for the 2017 Myser Workshop: June 26th-30th.

Sr. Amata Miller is returning to facilitate the workshop.