How Do We Teach Saint Augustine in the Classroom
By taking on the name of Saint Augustine, one of the Church’s most influential theologians, the Augustinian friars recognize him as their “father, master, and spiritual guide” (Constitution). Above all, this means that Augustinians lead a life in Christ-centered community, directed by the example and writings of St. Augustine. Yet, the Augustinian friars are also called in a special way to promote the writings of St. Augustine through their schools and parishes. As stated in the Constitution of the Augustinian Order, friars should answer “the Church’s call to keep alive the spiritual and doctrinal legacy of Saint Augustine.”
Any Catholic who was blessed enough to be introduced to the Confessions in school, knows the importance of this call.
To understand how the Augustinians keep the legacy St. Augustine alive, we spoke with Fr. Rich Young, O.S.A.. Fr. Rich professed his solemn vows to the Order in 2014, and currently serves as the Chair of the Theology Department at Providence Catholic High School.
What writings of St. Augustine have you taught at our high schools?
When I was at St. Rita High School, I initiated a senior level honors theology class called “Augustine for Our Time.” I focused on the Confessions and a number of his Sermons, as well as parts of his other writings. Now I am at Providence Catholic High School, and am the newly appointed Department Chair as well. This past year we were looking at curriculum, and although we do not have an Augustine class as such, we teach the first year students about Augustine, touching on his life and works. I try to integrate some of Augustine's insights in the classes that I do teach. In our planning, we are hoping to have a more intensive study of Augustine and Augustinian spirituality as an elective for the seniors.
What do you find is the most appealing aspect of St. Augustine for High School students?
I think Augustine, when we look at him in his own words, becomes much more human and accessible. I try to focus on his personal journey, and try to help the students to find how God is moving in their own journey as well. Let's be honest, he had family issues, had a very adventuresome youth - in thought, word and deed! - and he pondered the big questions. I think we need to assist our students in exploring the big questions: Who is God? Who am I? Where am I going? Who am I going with? Am I valued? Who and what do I value?. Augustine was all about dialogue and he was even willing to change course mid-stream. If we keep to Augustine the "theologian" - and I am not saying that is a bad thing, just not helpful to high schoolers if that is all they get - then he becomes unreachable (even for me!). However, I like having them read the Confessions, and even our Rule. There is something refreshingly real and timely about his journey and the way he invites us to live as one mind and one heart, on the way to God.
What is the greatest challenge when teaching St. Augustine at the high school level?
The greatest challenge is getting the students to believe that they can actually "get" Augustine. He can be pretty convoluted and plumbs to depths we are sometimes afraid to pursue. It is important to, like Augustine, use the world around them and within them, to assist in the journey to understanding him.
What are the common reactions from high school students to The Confessions? Or, have you been surprised by any reactions?
I love when a young person can suddenly relate to his questions or his life experience. Who doesn't struggle with family, friends, meaning and purpose? Augustine doesn't give answers (and neither do I); I invite the students to be willing to enter the journey, to be ok with being unsure, and to stop worrying about "being right" and having the "right answer." It can drive them nuts sometimes, especially in modern grade-driven education. I tell them to ask the questions and enjoy the questioning.
My hope is that they really can discover the Teacher within. As you know the core values of Augustinian Education are TRUTH, UNITY, LOVE. My hope is that in the Augustinian community that is the classroom, that is the school, they can discover that Truth is truth-telling, truth-seeking, and even questioning, Unity in community-sharing, and Love is befriending, brothering or sistering, and all this as they are, in their journey, because we are all on that journey to God - one in mind and heart.