Edmund: Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Real+ True Podcast. I’m one of your co-host Edmund Mitchell.
Emily: And I’m your other co-host Emily Mentock.
Edmund: And we’re really excited today to be joined by John Galvan. Emily, maybe you could tell us a little bit about John before we get into this exciting conversation about Catholic education.
Emily: Yes. So John is the Vice President of Assessments for NCEA, the National Catholic Education Association. And he’s been in the Ministry of Catholic Education for over 30 years and has a really wonderful story about his involvement with Catholic education and Catholic schools. He’s well versed in catechetics which makes him a perfect guest for our podcast today, and especially what it means for our sense of belonging in life and for our Church. Where does catechesis have a role in, for both our Church as a whole and specifically for our schools? He has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Practical Theology and a Master’s of Education in Educational Leadership and Administration. Um, so we’re really excited. Welcome, John. Thanks for being with us today.
John Galvan: It’s great to be with you friends.
Emily: So we wanted to just kind of get started out by hearing from you, um, directly with all this experience that you have in education and in catechetics Um, what does it mean to you? How would you describe what is a Catholic approach to education?
John Galvan: That’s wonderful. And it’s a great question. What makes a school Catholic? I think it boils down to mission, right? And what I’ve always taught is Catholic education mission isn’t a philosophy. It’s not a mission statement, it’s not a concept, it’s an encounter with a person. It’s an encounter with the living God through Jesus Christ. And friends, that’s the work of the Church, right? That we are transformed by God’s grace. And we do that in an integrated way in Catholic education. So I’m on fire for this mission. I took a, like many people in ministry, I took a roundabout path to come into education, but it has been a wonderful, wonderful journey.
Edmund: Yeah, I think, I think there’s gonna be two camps of people listening to this. There’s gonna be people that either have attended Catholic school, uh, or have kids that are in Catholic school, or there’s gonna be people that, um, have never attended Catholic school or have kids that are not in Catholic school, and so frustrated with maybe the public or private school system. So it’s interesting, uh, I love that you’re saying that the Catholic approach to education is this person, this encounter. Um, what has been, what has been throughout this process, you know, or, or this, your experience working at Catholic schools, what has been something that’s been the most surprising to you from before you got involved helping Catholic schools be better to, to now? What’s like something from your experience that’s really surprised you?
John Galvan: Something that’s been surprising, maybe not surprising, is I am incredibly encouraged by those who are called into this ministry. Um, particularly during the pandemic. I know I live in the diocese of San Diego. I’m the former director of Catholic schools here in San Diego. I served eight years, including through the Pandemic, and friends, I saw what Church does best. We leaned into one another. We relied on the grace of God to fortify us, to give us strength, to give us wisdom to navigate that path. But, you know, I worked alongside saints in our Catholic schools, all for the betterment of our kids. And you know, it’s a point you made a little bit earlier, Edmund, too, about Catholic education, what makes it distinct for people who are not familiar with Catholic schools, who’ve never had that experience, I fortunately did. I attended a small, uh, parochial school in El Cajon, California, Holy Trinity, the current principle is one of my former students. Um, that’s, that’s the, I know it’s incredible. She still can’t call me John. It’s always Mr. Galvan. But, but my point is there, there are some real saints that are called to this ministry, and that’s what differentiates us. Um, it’s a vocation to be sure, and throughout everything we do in a Catholic school setting, it has to be imbibed in that Catholic mission. I often would, would tease our principals, but it, it’s not a rhetorical question, what does Catholic math look like? Um, this work is not just relegated to campus ministers and religion teachers. It belongs to everybody. Everybody has a responsibility in that. And if we get into, you know, any conversation about kids’ mental health and emotional health, all that research shows that the presence of adults, trusted adults in a school, in a Catholic school community, make all the difference in the world. And community is what defines our Catholic schools, and the glue within that community is the person of Jesus Christ.
Emily: Yeah, I also attended Catholic school for my, literally my entire education, kindergarten through college. Um, and I can, you know, looking back, especially as an adult now, um, as someone who has had an encounter with Jesus, but mine came in adulthood, look back at, um, all the ways that my Catholic education did prepare me for that encounter, even if it, if it didn’t happen right in that moment. Um, I think an interesting thing for this project, and something that, um, I really brought, like with on my heart when we were dreaming up Real+True was the awareness that a lot of people do receive an education in Catholic schools where they are being instructed in the faith, but they aren’t necessarily encountering Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that we, we don’t want them to do that and strive to do everything we can for that encounter. Um, and one thing that I think is important to sort of talk about, especially because we know we do have a lot of catechists and teachers who use Real+ True in their classrooms who listen to this podcast, how do you, um, in, in your role or in your experience of Catholic leadership, really encourage teachers to help form students with in Catholic education while also knowing that some of it’s just up to God’s grace, it might not necessarily happen when you’re standing in front of a classroom?
John Galvan: That’s a great question, Emily. Like you, my own faith journey, I went to Catholic school and like many young adults in the research on dis,affiliation, it shows this clearly I was one of those drifters. I mean, the world was very, titillating to me, let’s just say, you know, in my years of San Diego State, studying art. But that seed that was planted by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, I was one of the fortunate ones that were taught by a beautiful community of Religious women that all came flooding back to me when I hit an existential skid in my young adulthood. It’s not unusual in late adolescents, early adulthood where we start questioning the meaning of our life, what gives us purpose. And it’s no coincidence you mentioned, you know, God’s grace and God’s time. Right? Um, God found me again and it absolutely turned my life around. So Catholic schools, I think we can we can distinguish between catechesis and religious education, right? Think about catechesis as doctrine. And what’s important is, I just wrote a blog on this, the reason why catechesis is important is because it really tells what, what do Catholics believe and how do we pass on faith and morals to the next generation without error? Because the Catholic Church, since its inception, has seen its fair share of heresies. I mean, that was how the Nicene Creed was born, and so even the Second Vatican Council said that, you know, the, the deposit of faith is one thing, but it’s transmission is something else. And that’s something that needs to be protected in the preface to the, uh, to the Catechism, Saint Pope John Paul II said, you know, this is something that we need to maintain its integrity because I think you and I both know, even the most well-intentioned Catholic, if not equally well-informed, can possibly lead kids down the wrong road. So think of catechesis as kind of, you know, from the neck up. But in Catholic schools, we educate the whole child with parents as the primary partners in that work. And so Catholic education is much more broad. It includes catechesis. But I think what you’re getting at is, um, relationships matter. And if, when it comes to faith and having a real deep and meaningful encounter with Christ, um, I often do some reflecting about my faith journey and those moments in my life where God has touched me most profoundly, and not surprising, it’s the face of friends, it’s the face of my family. It’s the face of priests and deacons and Religious women who were able to meet me where I was at. That’s very important that accompaniment of others, other trusted adults to really pass the torch to the next generation. And we as adults are the current torch bearers. There’s a lot of responsibility in that, and I’m overjoyed to be a part of it.
Edmund: I love John the things that you’re touching on, because I can see, um, just so many themes that can connect what we’re talking about with Catholic schools and the catechism. It’s almost become a trope the number of generations or the number of people from a generation who went to Catholic school and learned a lot about the faith. Like they, they know a lot, but they’re not practicing, or they had a very bad experience. And I, I could see the same thing with the Catechism. You could present the Catechism to someone in a way where it’s like, you know, you memorize this whole thing, but you never met the person of Jesus. And I love, I love what you’re mentioning, John, about how there’s the relationship with Jesus, and then there’s the relationship with the teacher and how these teachers had a big impact on you. It’s almost like I, I heard three things that Jesus, the teacher, and then kind of the culture of the school and, and everything we do Yeah. You know, kind of leads back to Jesus, even math. And so I wonder if you have any other examples or, or stories or, or if, if you find that to be true, that, uh, both in the Catechism, in catechesis and in Catholic schools, it’s like Jesus, the relationship with Jesus, the relationship with the teacher, and then the culture that we’re building, those things are all so important to make sure that people aren’t just informed.
John Galvan: Yes, I think you touched on something extremely important, Edmond. If we don’t get climate and culture right within the school or the parish community, I don’t think anything by way of effective evangelization is going to occur. I mean, the Church needs to be a second home. I, uh, I was just reflecting on this recently when I was growing up, my brother and I were both really involved in our youth group at the local parish where we went to school after we graduated and all that. Um, that place was like a second home to us. So, and, and as a former superintendent, I can say that, you know, in all the school visits, I would, I would, I would attend, uh, there’s an “it” factor on a Catholic school campus. When things are right, you just feel it. My daughter attends a Catholic parochial school. You talk about a healthy, robust Catholic school community. Um, what they try to do is create a stacked approach to engagement of families and kids. You gotta meet them where they’re at, build that community with different ways of engaging parents and kids. Um, I worked at a high school for 20 years. I think I directed something like 30 Kairos retreats, those kinds of experience, yes, it’s, it’s partly catechetical, but it’s largely experiential of sharing our faith and why is it important and what are the effects. So I think all of that matters. I think getting student input and, and direct participation in the life and ministry of Catholic identity and mission is vitally important. Um, they’re not just recipients, they’re participants. And the sooner we can get them engaged, the more likely they are to stay in the Church.
Emily: Yeah, I think that’s so true. You know, um, something that we’ve, uh, sort of a phrase that we’ve used since the, the launch of Real+True is that, uh, “the Catechism is not a textbook.” Right? And that, you know, has a little sort of context that a lot of us did study the Catechism in school, but it didn’t lead to a life-changing encounter with Christ the way it was presented at that time. Um, but of course, the, the qualifier for that is that we know that it can be once it is sort of opened up to you. And I think that what you’re describing here, um, is presents exactly what the model Catholic schools should be, where if you’re involving students in those experiences, then it’s gonna be seen as not just information, but more relevant to their lives.
Emily: And I, it’s really encouraging to hear that, you know, you and your experience and in your role now with N C E really understand like that we can’t just teach the catechism. We really need to give these students a life-changing experience, uh, to encounter Jesus within it. And within those teachings, um, have you seen anything, um, in, in the schools that you’ve worked with, uh, that, uh, for our, our teachers especially who are listening now, um, what would you say to them to really encourage them to, to do that, to present the Catechism beyond just what their formal teaching requires, but to really help students have that encounter?
John Galvan: Yeah, that’s a great question. Whether you’re a parochial school, elementary school, or a high school, you used an important, an important word. And that’s relevance. And I think throughout the curriculum, I joked about Catholic math, but anywhere in our curriculum mapping, we can plug in connections to our faith with real world relevance. And real world relevance would also mean service learning experiences. I mean, connecting our kids to the needs of the world, which is so desperate for the love of God right now. I mean, we live on a divided planet, and it’s concerning to many of us. So I think the more that we can, yes, we inform, we educate, we catechize our kids, but at the same time, we have to build those bridges to their other learning and to experiences in the world and make those connections for them. And again, we as the adults are the, are, you know, we’re the Sherpa’s, we’re accompanying those kids along that path. And I also, um, as a, as a former teacher, if we’re talking to teachers, uh, when I was a, a young teacher, I had one of the veterans say to me once, and I cringed, um, this person said, no good can come from leaving your classroom. I thought, I thought our whole point here is to, you know, is to work with kids. So every recess and lunch, I would be out on campus. This is a high school, um, talking to those kids and, and specifically the kids that seem to be on the margins and just say, “Hey, how’s your day going?” “How’s freshman year?” You know, all, even as an administrator, a a Catholic high school administrator, I always kept at least one class. So I’d have my, you know, my finger on the pulse of what’s happening with the kids. And what that ended up doing was building trust. That’s, you know, that characterizes a Catholic school community. That culture and climate that is, you know, wrapped, you know, the wraparound is community, but it’s one of trust. Um, some time ago I wrote about this, but I received this anonymous email, um, with a photograph attached, and it was a photograph of a young woman standing at a podium. I recognized it as the Catholic Retreat Center here in the diocese of San Diego. And at her feet were dozens and dozens of what looked like teenagers. I didn’t recognize the young woman in the photo, but as this email explained, uh, this was a mom who was on a Confirmation retreat, and apparently this young woman was given a testimony of her faith journey. And she talked about when she was in high school, there was a trusted religion teacher that she had, and she had lots of questions about faith and about God and this teacher, never judged, didn’t, um, give unsolicited advice, but just listened. I mean, throughout this kid’s time, because in high school you have such a short window of time to get it right with these kids. And she divulged that that teacher was Mr. Galvan. And honestly, friends, that you don’t get those very often, but it brought me to tears. I thought, “thank you Lord, for using me in that moment.” And I may never see this young woman again, but, you know, we keep going onward and, and keep planning those seeds because, you know, to go full circle from our, our initial, uh, comments, it’s all in God’s time.
Edmund: That’s a beautiful story, John. Um, shifting gears a little bit, you know, Real+True’s project is to really help people rediscover the Catechism. And, um, we see that, uh, you know, the NCEA uses assessments and, and is really working with schools to try to, um, assess, you know, based on the four pillars of the Catechism and the five tasks of catechesis. And so I’m just wondering, you know, for for either for people who are involved in the school system or maybe have kids or, or just sort like rediscovering the Catechism, why is that so important? Um, why is it important that the school systems and ministry and evangelization are, are kind of assessed in light of, uh, the Catechism? Besides the obvious of like, it’s the true teacher of the faith, like there it is written, but like, I think a lot of people, um, other than that, they wouldn’t know what what else is being assessed by, you know?
John Galvan: Yeah, that’s a great question, Edmund, I think what it does, it ties to everything we’ve been talking about in a nice bow and what we’re doing at NCEA Rise. Um, and my work as, as VP of assessments, I’ve been at this about seven months now. Um, our assessments, particularly our ACRE and our IFG, our IFG is the information for growth. The ACRE is the Assessment of Catholic Religious Education for Youth. Those assessments, as you said, they follow a strict blueprint in alignment with the four pillars of the Catechism. And formally six, now five tasks of catechesis. Uh, we underwent a revision of our ACRE because of that, uh, that revision to the tasks of catechesis. So it impacted our reporting categories. But the way that the ACRE, for example, is set up, I think this will be useful to your listeners, two parts. There’s the cognitive and there’s the affective of dimension. The cognitive dimension is what we’re talking about. It’s, it’s catechesis, it’s, you know, terminology, understanding of concepts that are essential to the Catholic faith. And so schools get their reports back and they can, we’ve got this new online data dashboard that’s interactive. Uh, you can see your visualized data at a glance, and you can carve up that data however you need to. But what I think is equally important is the second part of the assessment. It’s one thing to measure from the neck up. What do our kids know about the faith, but what do they actually think? What do they believe? What do they practice? What do they opine about the faith? And as a former high school religious studies chair, that part of the ACRE was really important to inform us. It’s almost like getting a peak under the tent of, you know, where our kids are at. And if you’re using the Information For Growth for adults, it’s essentially the, the catechists or religion teacher equivalent to the ACRE. You can make correlations and provide professional development for your teachers in areas where they may be lacking. Um, so I think it’s, it’s an incredibly useful tool. It’s important to measure. Uh, as, as a, you know, again, as a former religion teacher, I would often have my kids say, Hey, Mr. Galvan, my faith is something personal, man. You can’t be grading me on that. And well, yes I can. It’s called doctrine, and you either know it or you don’t. And so, you know, you can, you can have it both ways, but we do have an ulterior motive. We want to evangelize our kids. Um, it was interesting when I was in seminary many years ago, um, and clearly the, the process discernment did precisely what it was intended to do. It led me into Catholic education and not ordained ministry. Um, but my heart was on fire for the Lord. And when I entered seminary, I had a prayer and I would say, Lord, don’t let my heart be captured by my head. I didn’t want intellect to, to flood and drown this fire that was in me. But what I found was by studying the Catechism and the various documents of the Church and encyclicals, it informed that fire and that fire got bigger, and I got hungrier to learn more about the history of our Church and the ‘why’ we do this and ‘why’ we do that. Um, so the assessment can help bring some understanding to all that you have better informed religion teachers, better informed religious instruction. If you want to get a handle on what your kids know and what they actually feel about the faith and adults for that matter, your bishop or Cardinal might want to know about that. Um, I think it provides a comprehensive contextual for NCEA, our assessment is curriculum neutral or curriculum agnostic to get a really good picture of Catholic identity and mission across, across your school or across your parish, faith formation programs.
Emily: Yeah, that’s a really interesting concept. I love the part where yeah, you’re, you’re not just evaluating whether or not the students are learning the material. Um, again, we, Edmund and I know so many people, you probably do too. It’s, it’s sort of a founding, uh, belief for this project that a lot of us have been taught the material. But that doesn’t mean that it’s really pierced our hearts. Um, it’s in our heads, but not in our hearts. And so our mission for Real+True is to help move people to that, towards that encounter to help them see how they can encounter Jesus in their hearts by including, uh, with the Catechism. Um, but that listening part and sort of meeting people where they are understanding like what are those lived experiences of the students’ lives, I think is really important. Um, what we’ve learned and, and sort of in the Catechetical method that we’ve, um, adopted for our content strategy for the videos is, um, that you first have to sort of open their minds, get them, get the audience, um, curious and open to hearing about what our Church teaches by inspiring curiosity that has them asking questions that we know our faith has the answer to. And so I can see how in the sort of assessment model that you’ve described that really, um, gives teachers not only a sense of what material are the, the kids observing or not, but also gives them, um, sort of, uh, inspiration for how they might, uh, be innovative in their approach to presenting it the next time so that we can see how is it actually impacting the lives of the students. So I think that’s really great.
John Galvan: Yeah. Yeah. I know, I agree a wholeheartedly,
Edmund: Well, maybe, uh, I think it might be helpful maybe John to hear from you of all the different, you know, there’s so many different ways that a school could implement culture or practices or things to help foster a relationship with Jesus, a transformational culture like transformational education. And I wonder, especially for people who, um, don’t have the ability to send their child to Catholic school, I wonder what they could learn, uh, if there’s any, you know, practices or things that they could learn that they could bring back to their home, uh, like you said, like to kind of make their home, you know, the domestic Church in some ways. Yes. I wonder if there’s any things that maybe you train, um, principals or, or teachers, like things that they could do to just little things like little wins that they could implement that you found have a big impact on creating that culture of encounter for students.
John Galvan: Yeah. The domestic Church, you know, let’s, let’s not kid ourselves too. There’s a lot of, you know, kids that go attend Catholic schools, um, that don’t experience a domestic Church, right? And so that’s important. But there, you know, if, if our listeners, you don’t have to, you don’t have to research far. There are numerous free resources to help families in prayer. Um, I find something that’s very, a very simple, very simple, you know, uh, exercise. I started when my daughter was quite young, young. She’s in sixth grade now. Um, every night when she goes to bed, I give her a blessing. You know, I just lean over her and put my hand on her forehead. And, you know, and just, and just bless her and, and, and to talk about the faith, uh, is very important. But, you know, I talked about a stacked approach of engaging parents. If they’re not attending a Catholic school, um, you know, that’s the work of the parish, you know, and the work of us. You know, how do we get to those people and how do we equip them with what they need? I think what’s really important in terms of building community and a sense of the parish or the school is home is, is by invitation. And we sometimes lose sight of that. Sometimes people just need to be invited to the table. Um, I remember, um, I was attending an urban parish, and this is many years ago. And the, the pastor clearly knew who I was. I was coming up to the communion line. And before he, before I received the host, he says, I want to talk to you after Mass. I thought, oh, boy, am I in trouble? Um, but, you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t involved in the parish cause I was so involved in other stuff, and he said, “I could really use your help.” And I said, “you know what? I’m in.” And that’s not just true for adults, it’s also true for our kids. You know, that invitation goes a long way. Invite them in, lean into them. Um, so I think, I think that’s important. I think also during the pandemic, uh, we saw in so many regions of our country, you know, people attending Mass online, there is so much content and resource available online to help families. Um, so those are just, are some things I think about. And Catholic schools, you know, if I can go full circle there, what’s interesting is very often the children are the ones who are evangelizing their parents. You know, they’re catching fire in their Catholic schools because they’ve got committed teachers, they’ve got committed counselors, leaders, and the kids are coming back and talking about this. So I think that’s important. Um, but I say all that with a caveat because, you know, the trends, as you know, the trends, uh, with regard to religious dis-affiliation are growing. Um, fewer and fewer people are, are maintaining their religious identity. It’s not that they’re walking away from the faith, but they’re walking away from the practice of the faith. And so, you know, that’s, you know, we have to think tactically, strategically, and how do we, how do we find these people again and bring them back?
Emily: Definitely. That’s great answer. Yes. I think that a culture of encounters is so important because again, the, you know, the bishops have been talking a lot about this idea of evangelizing catechesis, and we talk a lot about it for, you know, people who are encountering our videos or other catechists in a parish setting, um, that we’ve talked to. But the schools are like the ideal setting to have evangelizing catechesis. And I love those stories of, um, children who do go home to their parents and evangelize them and catechize them, you know, too, we help them explain the truths to their faith that maybe their parents have struggled with as well. Um, okay. Last question for you, John. Um, what, what inspires you or gives you hope? What excites you about the future of Catholic education? We, we’ve talked a lot about the impact of the pandemic, what we’ve seen coming out of the pandemic. I think that was kind of a, um, a particular moment in the history of education and Catholic education, um, all around the world. Um, but what gives you hope for Catholic schools and Catholic education, um, in the future?
John Galvan: And when you started to first pose that question only, the first thing that came to me was, God is eternal. And, you know, we’ve seen our fair share of challenges in the 2000 years of our faith history. Um, we’ve seen a lot, and God has been with us walking beside us every step of that way, even in our darkest moments that could be said collectively, that could be said for each of us as individual disciples and pilgrims. Um, you know, God is my strength and, you know, the, the worst times in my life and the most challenging times, um, that has been my strength. And I see that throughout the Church. I see, I see it throughout Catholic education. Again, it’s the people, the saints who are, who are driving this. And I also think, you know, we’re living in a, in a world now where, you know, I think there’s great opportunity with, you know, the technology we have available to us and some of the innovations that are, are being discovered, um, to spread that good news in ways that we, you know, we haven’t imagined before. The Church and the world is quite different now than when, let’s say I was in high school. Um, I wouldn’t recognize it, frankly, but, but I mean that in a very good way. It’s, there’s a lot of blessings at our fingertips to do what we do. But, um, again, to be able to share this faith with great people like you is, uh, is what gives me hope because, uh, I know that others in the vineyard are working hard to bring the light of Christ to the world, which is in such need of it.
Emily: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, John, for your time today, for sharing, um, your own experiences and for, uh, giving our listeners some helpful tips for, uh, more evangelizing Catholic education, in their own lives and maybe for the lives of the people that they are catechizing. Um, and thanks for joining our podcast for Real+True. Uh, we’re on a mission to unlock the beauty and truth of the Catechism for the modern world all over the world and including in our Catholic schools. Um, and we believe that the Catechism is not just a textbook, but it’s actually the faithful echo of a God who desires to reveal himself to us. Um, and we hope that by transforming the letter into a living voice, um, people will encounter the Catechisms, pulsating heart Jesus, um, in all settings where they encounter it. Uh, you can listen, uh, to this podcast on any podcast platform or watch the video on YouTube. Thank you so much for joining us today.
John Galvan: And to that, the people of God said, ‘Amen!”
Edmund: And we’ll see everyone on the next episode.