Dominican Formation Among Fenwick’s Faculty and Staff

While students sleep in, instructors and school administrators reflect on the spiritual side of their teaching ministry.

By Brother John Steilberg, O.P.

During the course of the school year, the faculty and staff at Fenwick participate in Dominican Formation Days. These late-start dates for students are an opportunity for the faculty and staff to reflect on who we are as a Catholic and Dominican school. Dominican formation stems from our need for ongoing education and formation in Catholic values vital to the mission of our school. We would like to share some thoughts shared by our faculty and staff after attending our most recent Dominican formation day in February.

One faculty member commented, “Dominican formation helps us better understand the Dominican tradition central to our school identity and helps us strengthen community with one another.” Another faculty relayed these sentiments: “It is important for us to participate in Dominican formation so that we can continue to grow spiritually as a community and to continue to remind us of our mission.” Another stressed the need to extend our mission to how we live, teach and preach here at Fenwick every day. “I would see the purpose as continuing to reflect on how we can best understand and live out our Catholic Dominican identity in specific ways.”

Dominican formation centers on the Four Pillars of Dominican Life:

  1. Prayer
  2. Study
  3. Community
  4. Preaching

The Four Pillars are a descriptive way of explaining the essence of and daily practice of Dominican life. The Dominican friars here at Fenwick live out the pillars in a very intentional way and oftentimes in a very external way. But all of our faculty and staff, in a wide diversity of actions, live out the pillars as part of their particular Christian vocation.

“Our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”

One teacher described this shared mission of both the Dominican friars and the staff in this way, “As teachers, we must be able to model the Dominican Catholic values of the school.” Another teacher asserted, “Also, to remind us that our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”

The Fenwick Community

Campus Ministry Director and proud alumnus Fr. Dennis Woerter, O.P. ’86 (with his back to us) co-led the Dominican Formation Day with Br. Steilberg, O.P.

Each year, our Dominican formation programs focus on one of the four pillars in particular. This year we reflected on “community,” how we are called by God to live together as Christian people. As a community, we discussed questions such as:

  • What is the most important thing we do that brings us together as a community?
  • What issues divide us at times?
  • What items do we need to work on?

We also examined where are the margins of our community are and how we can bring the gospel message to those margins. Our conversation was heartfelt and lively around these difficult questions.

What Makes Fenwick Different?

In later meetings we discussed our identity as a Catholic school. What makes us different, being Catholic and Dominican, from other schools in the area? One teacher explained it this way: “Every school prepares its students to lead, achieve and serve. Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.” One faculty member explained, “to be Catholic is to be counter-cultural. Our identity and our values need to be true to who we are — even though that may not be popular or generally accepted.”

“Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.”
Brother John
Brother John

We then discussed how to avoid going too far in emphasizing what makes us different, so that we can preach Jesus’ universal message of the gospel that is meant for all of mankind. This can be a challenging balance: to be true to our Catholic identity yet open to diversity, welcoming to all people, and proclaiming God’s mercy available to every person.

Finally, we discussed where God is in this picture here at Fenwick. Faculty members expressed this idea: “God is [present] in relationships with other people, with our students and our colleagues.”

As we strive to build a faith community, what does that say about what we believe about God? What is God asking of us, as a faith community, as a high school? These are challenging questions. These are questions that may take a lifetime to answer. But that is what we are about here at Fenwick. We seek the Truth.

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Who Is God? Perhaps More Importantly, Who Isn’t He?

“Though they use the same word ‘God,’ they really have no idea what Aquinas means when he uses the word ‘God.’”

By Brother Joseph Trout, O.P.

Who is God? Much of theology at Fenwick revolves around this question. Who is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God-man Jesus? What does it mean to interact with this God? They are big questions, and the answers have significant impact on our lives of faith. It makes a big difference if we think that:

  • A) God tested Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac just to see if he will do literally anything God asks no matter the cost, or
  • B) God tested Abraham to develop Abraham’s confidence in the true goodness of God who will honor his promises (descendants through Isaac) even when it seems completely contradictory to present experience.

Is God demanding beyond our comprehension, or good when it seems impossible? Is faith about blind obedience or profound trust in goodness? Personally, I find hope in the latter and not the former. Most times I read the news I need to be reminded that God truly is good though it just doesn’t seem to be the case in the world.

Christians need to wrestle with these kind of questions both for our relationship with God and our proclamation of Christ. Who is this God we stake our lives on? Who is this God that promises to save us?

However, there is perhaps a more fundamental question for today’s world: Who ISN’T God? What is God not? These are essential questions for a scientific age that dismisses God as superstitious explanation for inexplicable realities by our inferior ancestors. Is God really just our answer for what we don’t understood? Aquinas’ proofs are actually the opposite: God is the explanation behind what we do understand. God is the grounding of science beyond science itself. He is the logos — the very meaning of all existence and truth.

This topic pervades the videos of Bishop Barron. Many conflicts over science and religion come from people using totally different definitions of God. He astutely points out that the God rejected by Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins is also rejected by Aquinas and the wealth of Catholic history. We simply don’t mean the same thing when we talk about God.

Click here to view one video where Barron jumps straight into the issue.

As the season of Lent is kicking off, one spiritual purification to consider is not a moral one, but a theological one. Watch some videos by Barron or other Catholic theologians to get rid of the “Golden Calves” we build up. They aren’t just money and power but misunderstandings of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Ponder again what God we don’t believe in, and look again to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ to see exactly what God we cling to in faith.

This is the third post in our series of reflections on the work of Bishop Robert Barron, upcoming recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum (“Quiet Light”) Award. You can find the first and second posts here:

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