We began teaching a short program on Theology of the Body (TOB) many years ago to just our 8th grade students at St. Isaac Jogues School, a Pre-K through 8th Grade Catholic School in Hinsdale, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. As our staff learned more about TOB, we recognized that this theme of self-giving love could be understood by younger elementary students, and should be incorporated, as a great add-on to our ongoing Education in Virtue from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, from Ann Arbor. Thank goodness, Ruah Woods Press’ ROOTED K-12 TOB Curriculum was the answer to our prayer.
My first Introduction to Theology of the Body was from Katrina Zeno, who at the time was the director of the John Paul II Institute in the Diocese of Phoenix, at a retreat in 2005. TOB is St. John Paul II’s gift extraordinaire to the Church! It includes his meditation on Genesis: Who is man? Why male and female? What is man’s destiny? His theology is a deeper development of the human person, as created in the image and likeness of God, to express self-giving love. I realized that the total self-giving, fruitful love in marriage is made manifest in the spousal meaning of the complimentary male and female bodies, and the family is the visible image of God’s Trinitarian love in the world.
As mentioned, the St. Isaac Jogues staff had been looking and hoping for a way to bring the language and lessons of Theology of the Body to children as young as Kindergarten. In 2016, I attended the International Theology of the Body Conference in Ontario, California, and was excited to find Ruah Woods Press’ Theology of the Body Curriculum being developed for Kindergarten through 12th grade. Using award-winning Caldecott Medal storybooks in the lower grades, Ruah Woods Press’ corresponding Teacher’s Guides introduce and elicit the loving relationship between Creator and creation; creation as a gift, an overflow of love; creation has an order and meaning that reflects the intelligent design and beauty of the Creator who leaves His imprint as the generous author of all creation. When I read the little ones a storybook: An Egg is Quiet or A Seed is Sleepy (part of Kindergarten and First Grade curriculum kits, respectively) we focus on creation as a gift. One hands-on activity I implore is to bring in an array of beautiful fruits, with a variety of colors and smells — an easy and age-appropriate way to bring the sacramental truth, generosity and fruitfulness of God’s creation as taught in Theology of the Body.
The final segment of the curriculum developed by Ruah Woods Press, was Grades 6, 7 and 8. We had been excitedly waiting for the Winter 2019-20 release of their middle school materials. Because St. Isaac Jogues’ religion program is rooted in the virtues and the practice of lectio divina, this Ruah Woods Press’ segment proved to be highly complementary to our existing religion program. It relies directly upon Holy Scripture and, John Paul II’s TOB Wednesday audiences as is translated in “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body.” Grade 6 presents themes such as Creation as a Radical Gift; Man as the Pinnacle of Creation in God’s Image; the Sacramentality of the Body; the Original Experiences of Man Before the Fall.
As recommended by Ruah Woods, this middle school introductory year, we are teaching all three grades, 6th, 7th and 8th, the Grade 6 ROOTED TOB Curriculum. We will add in the 7th grade level next year. The Student Common Place Book, a journal-like experience for each adolescent, proves to be a touchstone, to reflect upon as each one of them grow in the understanding of their authentic identity and relationship in Christ. Each lesson is carefully crafted, beginning with a lectio divina from Genesis, so the students can appreciate that this theology is grounded in and springs from Holy Scripture. Each chapter offers three key take-aways and a series of thought-provoking discussion questions the students tackle in small groups. We then review and share insights together as a class. There is also space provided in each chapter for artistic expression, poetry or other creative connections the content inspires.
Thank You, Ruah Woods Press! Your Grade 6 “Receiving the Gift” online educator training and formation, taught by Katrina Zeno, has prepared us to be comfortable and confident with teaching John Paul II’s re-articulation of God’s plan for the human person through ROOTED. Katrina carefully guided us through each lesson, and I was able to take notes directly in my Grade 6 Teacher’s Guide. Participants from all over the U.S. who participated on our virtual training course shared the need and importance for all that we learned. We gained the aplomb and assurance that we could present this material well in the classroom and engage our students.
Our wounded, confused world desperately needs Theology of the Body; this is crucial to evangelize the culture and bring the proper understanding of sacrificial, self-giving love and authentic relationships to our young people. Our staff couldn’t be more excited about Ruah Woods Press’ hard work, fantastic online ideas and practical materials to help us impart these crucial teachings to our students (and apply them to our own lives as well). The care you took in creating the inviting, cleverly designed, and beautifully illustrated Student Common Place Books is so appreciated! As our students move on to high school, we believe they will refer back to their journals as treasured, contemplative-evoking keepsakes for years to come.
Janet Waring, Teacher, St. Isaac Jogues School
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