A faith-based professional development workshop once launched in the 1970s has transformed into a widely popular annual conference that welcomes attendees from across the country.
The Canadian Forum on Theology and Education is set to take place from March 31 to April 1, 2017 in Oakville, Ontario. Last year, more than 450 people attended the conference, and it’s expected to bring in large numbers again this year.
CCSTA chatted with organizer, John Quinn, who gave us a history lesson behind the forum as well as what it offers to its participants today.
CCSTA: How did the Forum Start?
JQ: The Canadian Forum on Theology and Education (www.cfotae.ca) is a successor to High School Forum that was started in 1979 by myself, Alan Green and Wayne Debly CR.
High School Forum was focused on religious education teachers in Catholic secondary schools and annually offered three-day workshops that offered theological renewal along with pedagogical suggestions.`
The presenters in 1979 were Wilf Murchland CSC, who had worked at NORE – The National Office of Religious Education – where he had done a research project on “Adolescent Catechesis in Canada” and Ernie Nedder, national consultant for WC Brown and Company whose texts were in use in many Catholic secondary schools in Ontario.
For the next 14 years, Forum presented as many as six workshops a year led by the authors of the texts and teacher guides that were in use in religious education courses in Catholic secondary schools in Ontario. Participants spent three days working with them and with the texts that students used. Forum also hosted Canadian Catholic theologians (published) and high school teachers (mostly unpublished) who were currently teaching.
In 2000, at the request of many teachers who were then attending When Faith Meets Pedagogy,
I restarted High School Forum and soon after (2007) it became the Canadian Forum on Theology and Education. CFOTAE continues to this day.
CCSTA: So what does it look like today?
JQ: Since 2007, Forum has focused on inviting adult participants to engage with presenters offering the best contemporary Catholic theology and examining issues of significance for 21st-century Catholics. I believe that listening to, questioning and dialoguing with the presenters allows teachers, administrators, trustees and parents to return to their schools and homes better prepared and better able to educate their children and students….who are tomorrow’s Catholics.
Another major component of Forum since the beginning is the opportunity to listen to and dialogue with peers who are involved in the same Catholic educational process. With High School Forum, that was essentially high school religious education. Today it is Catholic education.
CCSTA: Who should be coming to this event?
JQ: The Canadian Forum on Theology and Education continues to have many teachers attend. However it is no longer designed just for religious education teachers and it is most certainly not focused on high school religious education curriculum. In fact, at the most recent Forum (2016), more than 50% of those attending were not teachers or directly engaged in schooling.
There is definitely a need for FORUM! Adult faith formation at the parish and diocesan level is generally very limited and restricted to catechesis and Scripture study when available. Having access to distinguished international speakers and theologians is a privileged opportunity for serious spiritual seekers. The FORUM experience offers individuals the occasion to connect with others on the same journey.
CCSTA: What do you hope participants get from it?
JQ: Adult faith needs to be nourished not only in regular habits of the heart (Eucharist, prayer, service) but also by seeking the fullness of God across an ever-expanding horizon envisioned through the lens of contemporary theology and science. Each year, FORUM provides just that opportunity with others so interested. The immeasurable value of varied and renowned presenters rests in their deep personal appreciation of Catholic faith and Catholic tradition, their prophetic witness to the Gospel and their willingness to push theology to new limits of understanding. FORUM is not for the faint-hearted. It’s another step on one’s faith journey toward a more profound relationship with the Spirit of the living God.
CCSTA: Tell us more about this year’s keynote speaker, Teresa Forcades, OSB
JQ: Teresa will be joining us from Spain and presenting in six sessions over two days on Faith and Freedom.
Teresa Forcades i Vila, O.S.B., a Catalan physician and a Benedictine nun, and is a prominent social activist.
Born in Barcelona in 1966, Forcades grew up in a home where her parents rejected religion. She was sent, however, to the Sacred Heart school where she discovered religious faith through the study of the Bible. Her vision, she said, has also been shaped by liberation theologians Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez as well as mystic Simone Weil.
Forcades completed a residency in internal medicine from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in 1995 and received a Master of Divinity from Harvard. In 1997, Forcades entered the Benedictines at their mountain monastery in Montserrat, Spain. She later earned doctorates in public health and theology. Her first published book in English will be out in time for Forum 2017. And, if you are curious about whether the impressively multi-lingual Teresa Forcades speaks English, then I’ll say this: you will understand Teresa better than you will understand my Liverpool-Irish-Scouse.
CCSTA: How can people register for this year’s Forum?
JQ: They can either registration online or by mail. They can learn more about registration by visiting, cfotae.ca/forum-registration/.