Almost 9,000 attendees arrived in Saint Louis for this year’s National Catholic Education Association Convention. While it had been a few years since I had attended an NCEA Convention, this one did not disappoint. Every NCEA I have been to has reminded me of the size of the Catholic School mission in the United States. It has always been exciting to me to pray, socialize and learn with so many educators committed to a similar Catholic mission.
Another benefit is the chance to connect and reconnect with educators all over the country. It is interesting that while there are so many Catholic educators, the universe is also small. It was refreshing to “catch up” with so many. And, the new connections that are made also serve as reassurance for the mission ahead.
The keynote was given by Dr. Jonathan Doyle, who is a founder of the Going Deeper formation program for adult members of Catholic schools. He released a new book to coincide with the NCEA Convention. Perhaps most inspiring was the uplifting connection to a lived faith.
Masses and prayer services were also uplifiting in faith. Saint Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson celebrated the opening Mass, and Bishop Edward Rice, of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, and former auxilliary bishop of Saint Louis celebrated the closing liturgy. I would also note that many of the workshops I attended began and closed with prayer.
For those who may not have attended before, there are usually more workshops and areas of interest than can possibly be attended. It is necessary to pick and choose which workshops to attend. My unscientific survey found a few themes to this year’s convention. First, there were a number of workshops around the themes of discipleship with Jesus and authentic Catholic identity. Second, an increased emphasis on inclusion, serving students with a variety of needs and reaching out to recognize the blessings that come from accepting a wider net of students. There were a number of workshops about how to do this authentically, providing the resources necessary to meet the needs of a variety of students. Third, a usually mix of technology topics, legal topics and developing authentic service opportunties.
While I would not say that any of the workshops I attended were completely unhelpful, a couple stand out becuase they were in fact so helpful. On Tuesday, Dr. Kenneth Zanca, from Marymount Catholic University in Ranco Palos Verdes, California gave an insightful presentation entitled, “What Catholic College Students are NOT reading”, which served as a good overview of the current state of reading habits, faith information gathering and other traits of college students generally, and Catholic College students specifically. Anyone who has been teaching students recently knows of rapidly shortening attention spans. I found this workshop particularly interesting.
Another workshop I enjoyed was entitled, “Designing Faith-Filled Professional Development Programs for Faculty and Staff”. I am convinced that one of the most pressing needs facing Catholic education is the faith formation of Catholic school teachers, staff, administration and board members. It could also be added that alumni and parents are an important focus as well. This workshop focused especially on the variety of ways in which the various needs of adult faith formation have to be met.
A large number of exhibitors also provided a helpful component as well. Even though technology makes it easier than ever before to connect, there simply is no substitute for personal contact. There were, as always, rows and rows of exhibitors that provided tools, information and resources on a limitless number of topics.
The next NCEA Convention is in Cincinnati on April 3-5, 2018.