Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills welcomed an estimated 1,700 educators representing 44 Catholic high schools from across three counties for the largest single gathering of Catholic high school educators in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in more than 35 years.

The All-High School In-Service Day inspired learning and collaboration with more than 150 workshop sessions centered on the day’s theme, “For the Greater Glory of God: Innovation and Collaboration for the 21st Century.”

Bishop Joseph V. Brennan began the day with a liturgical celebration in the school’s chapel. Msgr. Sal Pilato, superintendent of Catholic high schools for the archdiocese, and Dr. Kevin Baxter, senior director and superintendent of Catholic schools, gave the welcoming remarks to the participating high school educators in the wall-to-wall packed gym.

“You have been called to be the salt and light to the world,” said Msgr. Pilato. “Your ministry in the classroom has brought the light of Christ into the lives of our students.”

Msgr. Pilato touched on some of the frustrations of being a teacher, noting, “The challenges of being a teacher have never been greater,” but encouraged them to persevere.

“Your hard work at times of frustration may seem fruitless, but it will all make sense and become clearer in eternity,” he reflected.

Msgr. Pilato, who has been working to help strengthen Catholic identity at archdiocesan Catholic high schools, emphasized to the teachers the importance of ongoing faith formation workshops and in-service days to connect with fellow teachers in the greater community.

Baxter commented on the significance of Catholic schools and “how they are the most effective resource for evangelization.”

“Our history is significant and one of greatness. We have great schools. The vision is toward how we can improve in the future,” he said.

Dr. Baxter also stressed the importance of strong leadership and innovation as “an ongoing sense of improvement.”

Dan O’Connell, director of high school curriculum and leadership development, organized the event to build unity and collaboration with fellow Catholic high schools, to demonstrate strength and excellence of the Catholic school system in the archdiocese and to provide practical professional learning for Catholic school educators by Catholic school teachers.

“The impetus for the event was that our schools are better when we are working together. Sometimes the tendency is to become silos as independent schools. The in-service day breaks down those silos and helps to leverage the massive strength of the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” said O’Connell. 

Most of the 150 workshops were conducted by archdiocesan high school teachers with the exception of the keynote speakers, which included Dana Gioia, poet laureate of California; Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop emeritus; Dr. Rebecca Joseph, associate professor, Cal State L.A.; Katherine Clemmer, LMU Mathematics Leadership Corps; Jo Ann Isken, UCLA Center X; Anita Kreide, Ed.D., clinical assistant professor, Loyola Marymount University; Brandon Zaslow, site director, California World Language Project; and Kevin Baxter.

All English and visual and performing arts teachers had the opportunity to hear Gioia’s keynote address, titled “How Literature Changes Our Lives.”

“The best teachers work by sharing their own experiences,” said Gioia. “Students respond more to authenticity, more than organization, though organization doesn’t hurt. If they see a teacher value it, they listen differently.”

Gioia instructed the high school teachers to have students memorize three poems and then recite them in front of the class, which helps to make poetry experiential and less intimidating.

“I believe that poetry is the foundation for literary learning and mastery of the English language, because it is short, emotional and memorable,” said Gioia, who himself is a product of the Catholic school system, which he attended for 12 years. 

“Dana Gioia’s talk was brilliant and inspiring. He relayed that, aside from his family, the most positive influence during his formative years was his Catholic high school education, in his case, at Serra High School,” said Dr. Tim Bengford, who teaches at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena. “The recitation of his own work and his focus on the importance of getting students to love literature by reciting poems were both particularly helpful.”

Bishop Wilkerson, who gave a keynote address on “Faith and Service,” noted the difficulties young adults face in finding God in the world today. He asked the teachers to be examples of God to their students.

“If our students cannot find Christ in us, then we are wasting our time. It has to be us to show the kids, there is a God,” said Bishop Wilkerson.

Positive feedback about regarding the in-service day abounded.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this many people coming together to collaborate and exchange ideas,” said Megan Hoover, director of college counseling at Alverno High School in Sierra Madre. “It has been really helpful to me. I’m part of a small Catholic community and am now a part of a bigger Catholic community.”