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Focus on Service

Fr. Chris Saenz, Director

From the Director

By Fr. Chris Saenz

In 2000, upon graduating from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago with my Master’s of Divinity (theological degree for priesthood), I vowed that it was the end of my formal studies. Growing up, I was an above average student and didn’t dislike studying. Yet, years of attaining a bachelor degree and then a masters, I wanted to be free of deadlines, papers and grades. I consider that I did enough to get what I wanted, ordination to the priesthood.

Silhouette of a boy sitting against a tree reading a book.Years later, I acquired a Master of Arts in Spiritual Direction from Boston College. It was in preparation for formation work with Columban seminarians. And, recently, at the bequest of my superior, I completed a Master of Science in Church Management from Villanova University. Certainly, this was never my plan. Yet, I came to value these degrees not for a status or more titles, but a focus in the service I was to give to my congregation and church.

This shift in motivation of education as a personal goal to a service for others was taught to me by a poor humble woman with no formal degrees. In Chile, I began to develop a series of workshops entitled “The Spirituality of Jesus” which had its aim to provide theological and biblical studies on the life of Jesus. The goal was to make it accessible to those who did not have the time or money to enter into higher education. When I initially offered the workshops, I would present a power point expounding upon a topic. After, I gave reflection questions for small group work upon which I would comment in the large group. However, one day a catechist questioned my methodology. She said, “Father what you present is very interesting, but it’s quite boring listening to you for over an hour. Why don’t you give us the material to read in small groups and after you comment on our answers and guide what is shared.” Initially, I was a bit offended that someone should critique me as the teacher. After all, wasn’t I the one with the formal training? For a couple days I mulled over what she said feeling aggravated by her comments. Eventually, I realized that she might be more insightful than I was. Guided by her wise advice, I went back to the workshops with a new tactic.

This shift in motivation of education as a personal goal to a service for others was taught to me by a poor humble woman with no formal degrees.

I asked the people to read the material in small groups (I made small pamphlets), discuss the questions and present their findings creatively if they so wish, such as a small skit or in drawings. It completely changed the dynamic of the workshops and provoked greater enthusiasm and learning. I gave what I formally learned to others. In return, they gave me their wisdom. Education is a paradoxical process, simultaneously we are teachers and students. Education at the service of others is the key. We don’t study for ourselves, we study so that all can be lifted up.