Musings on the Myser Workshop

By Kate Barrett

The Myser Workshop is designed to give faculty and staff the opportunity to work on integrating our Catholic identity into their work, teaching, scholarship, and service. The workshop offers time for reading, reflection, discussion, and planning on ways in which the Catholic Intellectual, Social, and Sacramental Traditions can inform, shape, and enrich our work at St. Kate’s.

I co-facilitated this year’s workshop with Bill McDonough, professor of theology, and Jill Underdahl, CSJ, co-director of Celeste’s Dream. Our discussions ranged from syllabus development, pedagogical approaches, campus integration, shared governance, and the deep value for Core courses now taught across two of our colleges. We reflected on the ways in which we do good as well as the blocks that we experience in our attempts to do good.
The recurring theme that we continued to come back to this year is a quote by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ: “The future [is] promised, yet unknown.” Johnson also says, “We have no magic key that will unlock the future.” We reflected on how we are moving into the future as we continually seek to become more whole — as individuals, and as a university community. We discussed how we can use our words and actions to be bridges, build trust, and act with humility as we move toward our more whole selves.
Sister Jill offered us her reflections on the Sacramental Tradition through the lens of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. We read an essay by Marcia Allen, CSJ, of the Concordia, Kansas congregation, titled “Acatamiento — Seized by Love.” In it Allen explores the spirituality of the CSJ mission:  to love God and Neighbor without distinction and how through a practice of observation and reflection she becomes aware of God’s loving (sacramental) presence. We learned how the first Sisters of St. Joseph came together to address the needs of those suffering the effects of war and disease in 17th century. We discussed how we can orient (open) ourselves to experiencing beauty (sacramental presence) even in unlikely and difficult places. We shared ways in which we behold beauty, how we experience beauty through all of our senses, and how beauty and joy enrich and bring meaning to our work and learning. What are ways in which we can use beauty and joy in our work in more intentional ways? How can beauty and joy help us to slow down in our work and become more attentive to that which is around us?
To highlight the significant, impactful energy within sacramental presence, Allen highlights the word, Acatamiento, from the Ignatian/CSJ tradition. It is a word that St. Ignatius used to describe the indescribable. Myser participant, Camilo Malagón, assistant professor of international languages and literatures, helped us further understand the word by looking at several related words: 
Acatar – to comply with, to respect, to follow (rules),
Captar – to understand
Catar – to taste, to experiment, to try, to examine
Capturar – to capture
Cautivar –to influence, ser cautivado (to be captivated by)

What are the various ways in which we become captivated — captivated by beauty, by mystery, by inspiration, by the sacred? What is it inside of us that allows us to be captivated? 

We referred to Pope Leo XIII’s writing of Rerum Novarum in 1891 to ground our discussion of Catholic Social Teaching. While often referred to as a list of virtues or actions, Catholic Social Teaching is much more encompassing and challenging. Catholic Social Teaching is often best learned through relationships with others with vastly different backgrounds which lead to new ways of seeing and understanding the world, and transforms how we understand and see ourselves in the world. Providing students with opportunities to work with and learn from people’s stories who are living on the margins — who have been imprisoned, who have lived in severe poverty, who have had to escape their home for their own safety — teaches us about systemic oppression, injustice, and privilege. It has been my experience that through building authentic relationships with people who have been marginalized by dominant cultures, my understanding of the world has been transformed, as has my understanding who I am and how I want to be in the world.
We ended our week with a powerful discussion of Pope Francis’s four principles outlined in Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), his first Apostolic Exhortation, which is his first letter to the world, written just months after he began his tenure as Pope in 2013. These themes continue to appear in Pope Francis’s writings and speeches. The four themes are the following:

  1. Time is greater than space: This principle speaks to the “constant tension between fullness and limitation…encouraging us to work slowly but surely…without being obsessed with immediate results.” It calls us to “give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage people to the point where they can bear fruit in significant historical events.”
  2. Unity prevails over conflict: This principle encourages us not to avoid or ignore conflict, nor to remain trapped in conflict, but rather to “face conflict head on, to resolve it, and make it a link toward a new build communion amid disagreement…this requires us to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity.” This principle calls us to work toward becoming a place in which “conflict, tensions, and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity…that preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.”
  3. Realities are more important than ideas: At the heart of this principle is that “ideas disconnected from realities give rise to ineffectual forms of idealism and nominalism, capable at most of classifying and defining, but certainly not calling to action…This principle compels us to put word into practice, to perform works of justice,” which make the ideas fruitful.
  4. The whole is greater than the part: This principle speaks to the tension between globalization and localization. We need both to prevent us from falling into narrow-minded thinking (globalization) as well as to keep us grounded where we are (localization). “We can work on a small scale, in our own neighborhood, but with a larger perspective.”

I encourage you to read more from Evangelii Gaudium. How might these principles challenge and shape how you think about your work at St. Kate’s?

“Our future is certain, yet unknown." We ended our week together in agreement about a few things:

  1. Our struggles are not unique in higher education, but our work is. What makes us unique at St. Kate’s is how we teach, who we teach, where we teach, and why we teach. We are all a part of this work, in all the roles we inhabit — faculty, staff, and administration.
  2. It is important to stay connected to where we find joy. Overwhelmingly, we find joy in our students. Let’s make sure we are staying connected to them and being intentional about creating time and spaces for students to experience joy in our classrooms, on our campus, and in their lives.
  3. We learn through storytelling and through listening to voices different from our own, voices outside of the dominant discourse. We need to be listening and learning from all voices as we move toward our greater whole, toward our future.

Kate Barrett, OTD, is the Archbishop Harry Flynn Endowed Chair in Catholic Identity and Director of the Myser Initiative at St. Catherine University. She is an associate professor of occupational therapy.