Innovation at a Notre Dame Seminar Helps Students Grasp the Interface of Two Subject Areas

A team of five teachers from Billings Central Catholic High School in Billings, MT, recently participated in a Science & Religion Seminar, an initiative of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Karla Kelly, Ashley Nelson, Craig Pierson, Miranda Schmitt and Deb Wines represented the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings at the week-long seminar June 18-23, 2017. In lectures and workshops, they worked with leading researchers, as well as other educators selected from 25 Catholic high schools across the nation. They collaborated on innovative plans to explore with students the dialogue connecting science and religion courses. The leading researchers included Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory.

“When our high schools excel at exploring that interface, students take two giant steps forward,” said Jay Martin, co-director of the initiative along with Patricia Bellm at Notre Dame’s nationally known institute serving Church apostolates. “The students gain theological insights grounded in reason, plus scientific knowledge that boosts them toward faith-filled lives, as well as tomorrow’s careers.”

The initiative assists schools in deepening the collaboration among teachers and principals. Selected from about 120 Catholic schools that applied for this summer’s introductory Foundations Seminar, the team from Billings Central Catholic joined with other participants to better understand the coherent pursuit of truth that spans different high school subjects, the leaders of the initiative said.

Twin sessions of the seminar, one held on the Notre Dame campus and one in New Orleans, LA, prepared educators to return to their schools this fall as advocates among their colleagues, ready to implement new lesson plans.

“Our resources help to produce effective plans that nourish the Catholic imagination and allow science and religion teachers alike to feel comfortable in their own skin” said Patricia Bellm at the McGrath Institute.

Participants agreed that scholars addressing the seminar shed new light on the compatibility of modern science and the Catholic faith.

“The schools represented here gained the confidence and tools to break down the silos between faculty members, as well as the conflicts some people see between religion and science,” said one teacher who attended the seminar. “Students are going to benefit from integrating what they’re learning.”

A principal of a participating school praised those teachers who had assembled the application that earned them entry into the seminar. “Our school is incredibly blessed to have teachers who view what they do in their classrooms as a vocation, and not just a job,” he said. “Their commitment of time and energy in attending this seminar truly illustrates how they are striving to serve the Church by working toward an authentic integration of science and religion.”
The McGrath Institute’s Science & Religion Initiative, now in its fourth year, is funded by a generous grant from the Templeton Foundation. The initiative also supports Capstone Seminars, where alumni of the preliminary workshops apply their “big-picture” insights to currently hot topics, such as quantum physics. Another offering supports schools in designing high-quality programs of professional development for a school’s entire faculty; these “Institute Days” are offered in dioceses nationwide.
The McGrath Institute is now accepting Catholic high schools’ applications for the 2018 Foundations Seminars, as well as inquiries about Capstone Seminars and Institute Days. Visit for information.