The student news site of Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, MN

Knight Errant

The student news site of Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, MN

Knight Errant

The student news site of Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, MN

Knight Errant

How do Theology Classes Influence Students’ Faith Journeys

Al Brown
Through the lens of theology, students are exposed to different cultures and religions.

From the creation story to the ethics surrounding current events, students explore countless topics through a Catholic lens in their theology classes. However, many students are divided on how useful they are.

While not every student at Benilde-St. Margaret’s is Catholic or religious, BSM is a Catholic school. Because of this, theology teachers strive to create an inclusive space in the classroom. “We know not 100 percent of our families choose Benilde-St. Margaret’s because it’s a Catholic school. [However,] we can’t let that dictate how we embed our faith, vision, and mission in everything that we do,” theology teacher Becca Meagher said.

After taking theology seminar classes at BSM, sophomore Kaylin Konkoly-Thege has found increased confidence in her faith identity. “I’ve always had kind of a rocky relationship with religion. My theology classes have actually helped me understand that I don’t consider myself religious. [My teachers are] also understanding, [and] they don’t force anything upon me. They just want me to learn [about what religion is],” Konkoly-Thege said.

Senior Emma Grniet finds the theology classes at BSM helpful but understands that that isn’t always the case for everyone. “It helps in different ways. If you aren’t super religious, you don’t have to get super involved if you don’t want to, but I know for people who maybe are more religious… that there are plenty of opportunities to talk to theology teachers and go to prayer services. It’s up to everyone what level of involvement they want,” Grniet said.

Some students’ experience in religion classes depends on which teacher they have. Junior Caitrin White has had a varied experience. “Ms. Garcia does a good job of trying to make [me] understand more [about my faith journey] but a lot of the other religion classes that I’ve taken have not helped me at all,” White said.

Despite positive experiences and feedback, there are many students who feel that theology classes are not helpful, and would prefer to not take them at all. Junior Camila DuarteNava has taken theology classes since freshman year and hasn’t benefited from them. “It’s very repetitive. Each year I don’t feel like I learn anything new, and it feels like added-on work when I could be taking a class that could help me with whatever I want to go into for college, or even a free hour would be better [for my time],” DuarteNava said.

Like DuarteNava, junior Amelia Lynch hasn’t found theology classes helpful over the last 4 years at BSM. “I don’t feel like it’s necessary. I feel like it’s a little weird to force [students] to talk about God and the Bible when not everyone is Catholic. Even though it is a Catholic school…if [Benilde-St. Margaret’s is] going to be open to other religions, I think they need to have more of an open mind,” Lynch said.

BSM offers a World Religions class which focuses on exploring other faiths and cultures from around the world. This class serves to expand students’ knowledge about other cultures and their beliefs, but the fact that it’s only available to seniors excludes interested younger students.

Junior Ben Wolfson is religious but hasn’t found theology classes helpful on his faith journey due to the type of material covered. “We were talking about philosophers from Ancient Greece, and I know it’s the history of our church but I’d rather learn about the Bible… and what it means to me,” Wolfson said.

While Wolfson’s faith has grown, he does not believe that BSM’s theology curriculum has helped him since he joined BSM as a seventh-grader. “I’m much more religious now than when I started, and that has nothing to do with the school at all. It has more to do with the people around me and how they impacted me and… what’s happened in my life,” Wolfson said.

In the past, Meagher has questioned how effective her classes were at growing students’ faith. However, she has recently received positive feedback from both students and parents. “I was at a point where I was like, ‘Gosh, is seminar the right way to go?’ But then I got really good feedback from parents at conferences, [and] super good stuff from students recently, so I’m convinced that we are moving in the right direction,” Meagher said.

Jeremy Cramer, a theology teacher, has seen a notable pattern of underclassmen behavior in his classes that prevents students from learning the lessons he teaches. “I teach all ninth-grade discussion [classes this semester]. What I’m seeing is the anxiety …about the discussion format…in speaking opinions, [asking] questions, or being vulnerable in front of their peers. That [anxiety] kind of supersedes whatever lesson it might be that I’m instructing,” Cramer said.

For students taking the seminar style of theology class, their ability to be vulnerable greatly impacts how they take in class material, and finding ways to reach students is an obstacle that theology teachers have been trying to surmount since the start of seminar classes at BSM. “It’s developmentally appropriate to be nervous about being vulnerable in front of your friends, or your peers. That’s one definite mountain we face,” Cramer said.

Meagher has found that students who feel that religion classes are not useful usually think back on their experiences, and in hindsight see the true impact that they had. “My hope always is that if [the understanding] doesn’t happen in the moment…they might reflect upon [it later]…like, “Oh, I really get now how radical kinship can change environments or I can really get how this idea of love [thy] neighbor crosses all cultures, and all theologies and all experiences,” Meagher said.

The Catholic values that BSM fosters have given students valuable knowledge while navigating their faith journeys. “Theology classes are special because while we want to hold our students to high academic standards and rigor, we also have to create that space to think and soften hearts, which sometimes is hard to do when you have 80 minutes [of class], then you go off to math class,” Meagher said.

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    IsaacDec 18, 2023 at 11:26 am

    Great article al!