Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

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August 24, 2017

Updated Religious Education Resources for September

Theology teacher Charles Beach from Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis keeps complies and excellent thorough newsletter of religious education resources that are appropriate and helpful to enhance a high-school theology curriculum. You can view this the September 2017 newsletter here. Go to the bottom of the page for a link to information to subscribing to the newsletter on a monthly basis.



August 14, 2017

First Week of School Introductions

Here’s a brief introductory activity you might use on the first day or in the first week of school to help you and your students get to know each other better.

Prepare pre-printed name tags that are big enough for the students to add several other words and symbols. Display the name tags on a table when the students come into the room and have them take their name tag but not put them on. Also make sure they have a pencil or pen.

Share the following instructions. Say:

Write or draw the following items on your name tag. There will be five items. (List one at a time. Pause briefly between each item to allow for making.)

  1. Your favorite childhood toy.
  2. The logo of your favorite sport’s team.
  3. Three words to finish this sentence: “My friends think I am….”
  4. The name of an adult you admire and/or love.
  5. The name of a child who loves and/or admires you.

After everyone has finished writing tell the students to pair up with someone they do not know well. When everyone has settled, say:

Now give your name tag to your partner and take turns explaining the symbols and words to each other. Talk about one symbol at a time. Listen carefully because you will be using what you learn about your partner to introduce him or her to the entire group.

Allow about five to ten minutes for this sharing. Then call on the partner pairs to come, one at a time, to the front of the class. Say:

Introduce your partner to the class. Tell one interesting thing you learned about him or her using one of the items on the name tag. For example, say something like: “This is Mary Jones. I just learned that….”

Continue in this format until everyone has been introduced.



August 4, 2017

Save the Date: Global Campaign in Support of Refugees


Pope Francis is being joined by bishops across the U.S. and around the world in launching a global campaign to support our brothers and sisters who have fled their homes seeking a decent and safe life for their families. This historic campaign, “Share the Journey,” will respond to some of the most desperate of God’s children and your leadership and inspiration is needed.

You can help your diocese, parish, school or other organization participate in the “Share the Journey” campaign along with Pope Francis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Charities USA, and the Church’s global charitable network, Caritas Internationalis. Through prayers and acts of compassion and support, you can help shape conversations and actions to answer the Gospel call to love our neighbors.

September 27: The official launch in Rome by Pope Francis

October 7-13Week of Prayer and Action across the U.S.

A website with resources for parishes, schools, universities, national organizations and other groups will go live the week of September 5.


July 31, 2017

Disney's Version of the Ave Maria

An interesting piece of information you may wish to share with your students is Walt Disney's inclusion of Schubert's classic Ave Maria in the full-length animated motion picture Fantasia.

The idea of a popular, secular film containing explicitly religious music may seem foreign to their sensibilities today. However, as this article explains, Disney's decision to use the Ave Maria was not without some controversy when it was released in 1940.


July 21, 2017

People Who Met and Recognized Jesus

During Jesus’ ministry many would-be friends and enemies did not recognize him or his mission as the Son of God. But several people did. Give the following list to the students and ask them to name some of the people who met and recognized Jesus. Have them write their answers before looking up the Scripture reference to check if they were right

  1. This person said, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (Jn 4:29)
  2. This man said, “Who are you, sir?” After Jesus revealed himself to the man, he found out that he was blinded. (Acts 9:5–9)
  3. They traveled with Jesus for seven miles without knowing who he was, but came to realize who he was when they had dinner with him. (Lk 24:13–31)
  4. He said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16)
  5. This man thought Jesus was the Son of God because Jesus told him, “I saw you under the fig tree.” (Jn 1:48–50)
  6. They recognized Jesus as a king when they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mt 2:1–11)
  7. Some thought this man was the Messiah but he said, “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” (Lk 3:16)
  8. This person said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus answered him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:28–29)
  9. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him; in a loud voice he shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” (Lk 8:28–30)
  10. Jesus refused to perform miracles for this person. In talking with him, Jesus quoted some passages from the Old Testament including, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Mt 4:1–11)

Journal Assignment

  • If you met Jesus face-to-face, what would you say to him?

July 14, 2017

The Issue of Glutton Free Holy Communion

Recently the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a Letter to Bishops on the bread and wine for Eucharist. The letter became the stir of the internet as it was promoted as "The Church Bans Glutton-Free Hosts." In fact, the letter was a reiteration of current Church teaching. In any case, this issue may have an impact on liturgies at your school.

This is a good opportunity to review with your students the importance of the matter and form of the sacraments. The host, made of unleavened wheat bread, and the natural grape wine are the "matter" of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

More, in the sacraments, the Church uses elements from creation (such as water, bread, and wine) and human culture (such as washing or anointing) to make God’s grace available to us. The traditional physical element(s) and/or gesture(s) used in each sacrament are called the matter of the sacrament.

The celebration of each sacrament also involves solemnity. The traditional words said for each sacrament are called the form of the sacrament. When you hear these words, you know that the sacrament is taking place. God is truly present, filling you and others with his love and grace.

As far as the current announcement from the Vatican, this article "The Matter Matters: Unpacking the Vatican Guidelines on Bread and Wine for the Eucharist" is an excellent resource.



July 5, 2017

St. Kateri Tekakwitha: Feast Day July 14

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior, was born in 1656 in what is now upstate New York. “Tekakwitha” was her Native American name. It means “she who bumps into things”! Her feast day in the United States is on July 14. Check the events being celebrated at her national shrine in Fonda, New York.

When European settlers arrived in North America in the sixteenth century, they inadvertently brought with them deadly diseases, including small pox. These diseases often spread among Native American populations, killing countless people. Tekakwitha’s parents were among those killed by small pox, when she was just four years old. Tekakwitha also contracted the disease. Although she survived small pox, she was left badly disfigured and with impaired eyesight. Orphaned and sickly, she was taken in by relatives who tended to her care.

In 1667, when Tekakwitha was around eleven years old, Jesuit missionaries arrived in her village. Tekakwitha’s uncle forbade her to have any contact with them. He did not want her to convert to Christianity. Over time, however, as she learned more about Jesus and his message of compassion and love, she was drawn to the Catholic faith. On Easter Sunday, in 1676, when she was twenty years old, Tekakwitha was baptized and received into the Church. It was then that she took the name Kateri, Mohawk for Catherine.

More members of Kateri’s tribe opposed her conversion and treated her with cruelty. Kateri faced this treatment with patience and courage. Eventually, Kateri left her village and went to live among other Christians, where she could freely practice her faith. She lived a life dedicated to prayer and to the care of the sick and aged, and had an intense devotion to the Eucharist.

When Kateri was twenty-four years old, she became ill and soon died. Moments after her death, her body was transformed. The scarred complexion was replaced by beautiful radiance. There were many witnesses to this occurrence.

After her death, Kateri became known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Because of her example, many Native Americans were baptized. Kateri was beatified in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.


  • Share this video reflection on her life.
  • Research and name five hardships faced by St. Kateri and how she handled them.
  • Read and report on the events of St. Kateri's canonization.

June 20, 2017

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati: Growing in Holiness

Named “the man of the eight Beatitudes” by Pope John Paul II at his beatification ceremony in Rome in 1990, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati was a joy-filled man who lived only to age twenty-four, but who remains a model for bountiful love and service today. Bl. Pier Giorgio’s feast day is on July 4.

St. John Paul II noted that Bl. Pier Giorgio “bears in himself the grace of the Gospel, the Good News, the joy of Salvation offered to us Christians.” His sister said of him: “He represented the finest in Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.”

Pier Giorgio was born on April 6, 1901, to a wealthy and politically connected family in Turin, Italy. He was an average student but a great athlete and mountain climber. His peers adored him and called him “Terror” because of the practical jokes he played. After high school, he studied mineralogy in an engineering program. He participated in Catholic groups like the Apostleship of Prayer and the Company of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Both of these groups were known for helping poor people and for promoting Eucharistic adoration, Marian devotion, and personal chastity.

Pier Giorgio also became active in political groups—like the Young Catholic Workers, Catholic Action, and Milites Mariae—that ministered to poor people, fought fascism, and put into practice the Church’s social teachings. He gave his money to needy people and visited the sick. It was while ministering to the sick that he contracted an acute case of polio that took his life. He died at age twenty-four on July 4, 1925. Bl. Pier Giorgio offers these words of advice on how to grow in holiness:

With all the strength of my soul I urge you young people to approach the Communion table as often as you can. Feed on this bread of angels whence you will draw all the energy you need to fight inner battles. Because true happiness, dear friends, does not consist in the pleasures of the world or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which you have only if you are pure in heart and mind.



  • Summarize Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati’s advice for how to grow in holiness. Conclude with a sentence that begins, “My personal plan for growing in holiness involves . . .”
  • Read “10 Reasons to Love Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.” Choose five of the reasons listed and tell how you model them in your own life.


June 13, 2017

Summer Activity: Dinner on Wheels

This is an activity that is appropriate for a group of teenagers originating at a parish in a youth ministry setting.


This is a progressive meal in which the teens travel by bikes (or in-line skates) to several different restaurants in your area. Divide the meal into at least four courses. Start out with something healthy like a green salad or fruit salad at a health store or coffee shop. Next, move to bakery for a slice of fresh bread. (Send one person into the bakery to buy the bread and bring it outside. Have the group sit on a curb or nearby bench to eat the bread.) Then, move to a popular pizza place for the main course: pizza! Finally, have dessert at a local frozen yogurt or ice cream shop.


Begin each part of the meal with a blessing over the food. Choose different teens to lead the blessing at each stop.


Grace Before Meals

Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts

which we are about to receive from your bounty,

through Christ our Lord.



Grace After Meals

We give you thanks, Almighty God,

for these and all your blessings;

you live and reign for ever and ever.



June 6, 2017

Ave Maria Press Catholic High School Textbooks: Our Mission to Divine Pedagogy

Ave Maria Press is a ministry of the United States Province of Holy Cross and carries on the tradition of the order’s founder, Bl. Basil Moreau, as “educators in the faith.” Our textbooks seek to form the “heart, minds, and hands” of students to know, love, and serve Christ in his Church.

      Inspired by the National Directory for Catechesis, Ave Maria Press uses “God’s own methodology as the paradigm, and with that divine pedagogy as the reference point, chooses diverse methods that are in accord with the Gospel” (NDC 29). Following the pattern of Divine Revelation, our textbooks seek to communicate the Word of God and the beliefs of the Church, leading students “on the journey toward the Father in the footsteps of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (NDC 28).  As they progress through their high school years, we seek to both evangelize and catechize them, to strengthen their faith and encourage an ongoing change of heart to follow Christ more closely. This process of formation involves four key dimensions: knowledge of their Faith, participation in the Church community, especially through her liturgy and the sacraments; the Christian moral life of service to others and the promotion of justice; and growth in prayer and reflection (NDC 28).

      Our textbooks employ two complementary methods: the experiential or inductive method and the kerygmatic or deductive method. Because “human experience is a constitutive element in catechesis” (NDC 28), our method regularly asks students to consider concrete personal experiences: their own and those of people they know, people of faith, saints, and other heroes. Our texts build on this foundation by helping students understand how the principles and truths of the faith give meaning and purpose to their lives. Through the study of Scripture, the Creed, the Church, the liturgy, the sacraments, and Christian morality, they are led progressively to a deeper understanding and practice of their faith.

      Our goal is not only to prepare students for further study of theology in college, should that opportunity be possible for them, but more importantly to form them in the faith that will guide and strengthen them in the next stage of their lives, whatever that may be.


For more information on Ave Maria Press Catholic High School Textbooks visit: https://www.avemariapress.com/category/HS10/Catholic-Textbooks/

May 23, 2017

Holy Spirit in Scripture

Pentecost Sunday is approaching. Create a worksheet with the following Scripture passages. Pass out one worksheet and one Bible to each student. For each passage, have them write a sentence telling what it says about the Holy Spirit. When completed, discuss and check their answers.



  • Genesis 1:1—2
  • Genesis 2:7
  • Exodus 19:16-19
  • Exodus 37:1-14
  • Luke 1:26-35
  • John 14:14-17
  • John 20:21-23


  • Genesis 1:1–2:   The Hebrew word for “wind” is ruah. From the time of creation, the Spirit’s creative powers were active and present in the world.         
  • Genesis 2:7:   The Spirit also gives life to humans.
  • Exodus 19:16–19:   The Spirit—and God’s power—is revealed in thunder, lightning, and fire.
  • Ezekiel 37:1–14:   In the well-known story of “dry bones,” it is the Spirit who brings life from death.
  • Luke 1:26–35:   Jesus’ conception is brought about by the Holy Spirit who overshadows his mother, Mary.
  • John 14:16–17:   At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his Apostles not to be afraid for he is sending them the Holy Spirit.
  • John 20:21–23:   Just as the Spirit brought life to the first humans in Genesis, Jesus brings new spiritual life on the Apostles by breathing on them.


May 15, 2017

Reflection Exercise: I Forgive Me

Here is a short exercise on how to forgive oneself. Use the following information to make a handout. Distribute to the students and have them work individually to complete the items. Tell them you will check to see that they did the work, but that you will not read the note they write to themselves. You may wish to do a general follow-up classroom discussion on the topic. Ask:

  • What do you find difficult about forgiving yourself?
  • Why is it important to forgive yourself?
  • How does forgiving yourself coincide with forgiving others?


Handout Items

  1. Place a check by any area where you have been negative or critical of yourself:


Relationships with friends ____

Relationships with family____



Physical appearance____

Something I did____

Something I did not do____


  1. Focus on one of the areas you checked. Write the first five words or phrases that come to mind in relation to that area.


  1. Place a plus (+) sign by any of the words or phrases that are positive memories. Place a minus sign (-) by any of the words of phrases that are negative memories.



  1. Choose any one of the negative memories. Write a note forgiving yourself for this memory. (If you don’t have a negative memory to be forgiven of, write a prayer of thankfulness in this space expressing your appreciation for your positive outlook.)

May 10, 2017

100th Anniversary of Our Lady's Apparitions at Fatima

Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings He sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?

"Oh, we will, we will!"

Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you.

Lucia relates that as the Lady pronounced these words, she opened her hands, and

we were bathed in a heavenly light that appeared to come directly from her hands. The light's reality cut into our hearts and our souls, and we knew somehow that this light was God, and we could see ourselves embraced in it. By an interior impulse of grace we fell to our knees, repeating in our hearts: "Oh, Holy Trinity, we adore You. My God, my God, I love You in the Blessed Sacrament."

The children remained kneeling in the flood of this wondrous light, until the Lady spoke again, mentioning the war in Europe, of which they had little or no knowledge.

Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.

After that she began to rise slowly in the direction of the east, until she disappeared in the immense distance. The light that encircles Her seemed to make a way amidst the stars, and that is why we sometimes said we had seen the heavens open.

This conversation between the Blessed Virgin Mary and three children--Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco--took place one hundred years ago, May 13, 1917. This Saturday's anniversary of the first of Mary's six apparitions to the children on the thirteenth of each month from May until October 13 are worthy of study and prayer. Pope Francis will make a pilgrimage to the Fatima site this weekend and will canonize sister and brother, Jacinta and Francisco, who were ages seven and nine at the time of the apparitions.

Take some time to explore with your students the remarkable history and message of Our Lady of Fatima that is offered in great detail at a website prepared by EWTN.

Prayer to Our Lady of Fatima

O Most holy Virgin Mary,

Queen of the most holy Rosary,

you were pleased to appear to the children of Fatima

and reveal a glorious message.

We implore you,

inspire in our hearts a fervent love

for the recitation of the Rosary.

By meditating on the mysteries of the redemption

that are recalled therein

may we obtain the graces and virtues that we ask,

through the merits of Jesus Christ,

our Lord and Redeemer.


May 3, 2017

Current Event: Teenage Protestors Confronted by School Official

You may have seen the video of a teenage brother and sister protesting against abortion on the sidewalk near a Philadelphia area public high school.They were confronted verbally by the school's assistant principal. The incident brings up several questions that can serve as an important classroom discussion.

The full video (18 minutes) includes one scene of inappropriate language. An edited version is shorter (4:56) and the language has been edited out. You might also want to note an online petition being circulated to save the school official's job, as he was suspended after the incident.

If you show the video to your students, here are some questions that may spark a discussion.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a lesson of Christian witness in this video?
  2. What is a lesson of free speech in this video?
  3. What is your feeling about the student protestors and their actions?
  4. What is your feeling about the assistant principal and his actions?
  5. The students described a “holocaust” taking place in the United States today? What did they mean?
  6. How might students at your school react if greeted by this scene on leaving campus?
  7. How might students at a neighboring public school react if greeted by this scene on leaving campus?
  8. What discipline should the school official face for his role in this incident?




April 26, 2017

Pope Francis Gives TED Talk

Pope Francis offers a TED talk on solidarity, hope, and tenderness and how each person ("Tu!") can bring a lit candle to a dark world. The talk is approximately 18 minutes in length.



April 21, 2017

Your Patron Saint

One way to increase devotion to the saints is by developing a relationship with one particular saint—your patron saint. This exercise will help your students to choose their own patron saint.  Create a document based on the following material.


Write your first and middle names here:___________________________________.

Using a Catholic encyclopedia, or a book of saints, or an Internet site such as www.catholic.org/saints or http://saints.sqpn.com, list as many saints as you can find that share one of your names.

Write your birthday and the date of your baptism here:_______________________.

List those saints whose feast day is one of the dates written above.


List as many hobbies or regular activities as you can think of that are important to you here:______________________________________________________.

Find out if there are patron saints for those hobbies or activities. List them here.


Now read the short biographies of the saints you have listed above until you find a story that inspires you. Write that saint’s name here:____________________.

Begin your research into this saint’s life by finding the following information:


Date and place of birth:


Lifelong Catholic or convert?:


Date and circumstance of death:


Best known for:


Virtues exhibited by this saint:


Temptations or struggles faced by this saint:



April 10, 2017

Scripture Spiral: After Easter Exercise

Here’s an activity for your students when they return to school after Easter. Make copies of the Scripture Spiral. You can also make copies of the questions below to give to each student or read the questions one at a time as the students work to fill in the answers around the spiral. The last letter of one answer is also the first letter of the next answer.




  1. What did the women take to Jesus’ tomb? (Lk 24:1)
  2. In Matthew’s Gospel, what was the angel doing on the stone? (Mt 28:3)
  3. Who did Mary Magdalene think Jesus was? (Jn 20:15)
  4. How did Peter get to the tomb? (Lk 24:12)
  5. In Mark’s original ending, what did the women say to Peter and the disciples about the message given to them by the angel at the empty tomb? (Mt 28:16)
  6. Where did the risen Jesus meet with his disciples? (Mt 28:16)
  7. What natural disaster accompanied the angel’s descent? (Mt 28:2)
  8. What was the village seven miles from Jerusalem where the two disciples were traveling when they met Jesus? (Lk 24:13)
  9. What day of the week was the empty tomb discovered? (Mk 16:2)
  10. How did Peter answer Jesus’ question “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:16)
  11. Jesus breathed on his disciples and promised he would send the Holy ______. (Jn 20:22)
  12. In Luke’s Gospel, who appeared to the women inside the empty tomb? (Lk 24:4)
  13. What did the women’s story of the empty tomb seem like to the Apostles? (Lk 24:11)
  14. What did the risen Jesus want to do when he met with his disciples in Jerusalem? (Lk 24:41)
  15. What was the name of the sea where Jesus revealed himself to seven disciples? (Jn 21:1)


After the students have completed the Scripture Spiral tell them to use the circled letters on the spiral to answer the following question: What is the most important feast day in the Church Year?


Answers: 1) spices; 2) sitting; 3) gardener; 4) ran; 5) nothing; 6) Galilee; 7) earthquake; 8) Emmaus; 9) Sunday; 10; Yes; 11) Spirit; 12) two men; 13) nonsense; 14) eat; 15) Tiberias; Bonus) Easter.

April 3, 2017

Scholarship Opportunity for Catholic Students Entering College

The Catholic Door online bookstore is offering three scholarships for Catholics entering college in the fall. The awards total $750 dollars. Students are to write a 400 to 600 words essay under the prompt "Why I Love Being Catholic." The deadline is June 29, 2017. More information is available here.



March 27, 2017

A Reflection on the Threefold Purpose of Catholic Education

In 1972, the United States Bishops released a popular and often-cited pastoral letter on catechesis: To Teach as Jesus Did. One of the main purposes of the letter was to give form to the vision of Catholic education, reeling in many ways at the time in the post Second Vatican Council years. The letter addresses aspects of Catholic education like education for adults, Catholic colleges, religious education in a parish, and youth ministry. One of the sections pointed a vivid and honest assessment of Catholic schools in the United States, already suffering from loss of enrollment and a changing model from which religious sisters, brothers, and priests were primary teachers.

Take some time to read the final paragraph (118) of the section on Catholic education. Share it with your students. Ask them to note the threefold purpose of Christian education as articulated in this paragraph: “to teach doctrine, to build community, and to serve.” Have the students write three or four full paragraphs that:

  1. Define each of the purposes
  2. Share how well their school enacts these purposes
  3. Offers suggestions for how their school may improve in acting on these purposes.

Paragraph 118, To Teach as Jesus Did:

We are well aware of the problems which now face the Catholic school system in the United States. WE also wish our position to be clear. For our part, as bishops, we reaffirm our conviction that Catholic schools which realize realize the threefold purpose of Christian education—to teach doctrine, to build community, and to serve—are the most effective means availed to the Church for the education of children and young people who thus may “grow into adulthood according to the mature measure of Christ” (cf. 2 Eph 4:13). WE call upon all members of the Catholic community to do everything in their power to maintain and strengthen Catholic schools which embrace the threefold purpose of Catholic education.


March 20, 2017

Entertaining Angels: A Film on the Life of Dorothy Day

Entertaining Angels, a 1996 film on the life of Dorothy Day, is available online free of charge. The film runs 1:51:31. The film traces Dorothy’s spiritual and religious development as she leaves her career in journalism to live a bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village while advocating for women’s rights and the rights of the poor. The film covers her conversion to Catholicism and her ensuing lifelong dedication to helping the poor.

The following study questions (from Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching, Ave Maria Press, 2015) are a helpful film guide. Distribute the questions prior to watching the film so that the students can be aware of what they will be responsible for answering. Each item can be answered in one or two detailed paragraphs.

Study Questions

1. The movie opens with a quotation from Dorothy Day: “I wanted the abundant life….  I did not have the slightest idea how to find it.” At first, how does Dorothy try to find the abundant life? Is she successful? In the end, do you think she found the “abundant life”? Why or why not?

2. Much of Dorothy’s view toward justice revolves around the notion of seeing Christ in his people: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). How is this Scripture verse exemplified in her words and actions? Share at least two examples.

3. Pick three quotations from the movie (from any of the characters) and explain how they illustrate the meaning of justice.

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