CHICAGO — In his search for a Church history textbook for Cardinal Stritch High School in Oregon, Ohio, Father David Reinhart wanted something that wouldn’t “dumb down the faith.”
He and his staff chose a text from the Didache series, a set of four books developed by the Midwest Theological Forum at the request of Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Archdiocese.
The cardinal asked Midwest to write and publish a high school series “that would set out clearly and adequately the teaching of the Catholic Church.” In a review on the back of each text, Cardinal George recommends the books for “high school teachers and students, those responsible for RCIA and all who serve in positions of lay ecclesial ministry.” All the books have been reviewed and found to be in conformity with the Catechism by the U.S. Bishops Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism.
Father Reinhart, president of Cardinal Stritch, said he and the school’s theology teachers like the Didache books not only because they conform to Church teaching, but because they treat the material academically. “So many theology books are cartoonish and sort of assume everybody has a short attention span,” he said. Cardinal Stritch has adopted the Didache morality text as well and hopes eventually to expand to the full series as older books wear out and funds become available.
The Didache books are among 27 texts and series currently on the U.S. bishops conformity listing, which contains materials that have been reviewed by the bishops for consistency with the Catechism and completeness of presentation. Although the review process has been in place since 1996, most of the 132 books and series on the list are for elementary students. This is because most publishers decided to submit and obtain conformity designations for their elementary texts first.
Msgr. Daniel Kutys, executive director of the bishops’ Office for the Catechism, said the high school list is growing as publishers have submitted more texts over the last few years, but it remains relatively short because some publishers are awaiting approval of the “National Doctrinal Curriculum Framework for High School Age Students” before developing new texts. The bishops’ committee on catechesis plans to ask permission in March to release the framework so that it can go on the agenda for the bishops’ November meeting.
Seven years ago, when even fewer high school texts in conformity were available, Cardinal George began talking with Father James Socias, an Opus Dei priest who is vice president of the Midwest Theological Forum, about developing a high school series. Founded in 1994, Midwest Theological is a nonprofit organization that publishes materials and organizes workshops for Catholic bishops and priests.
Stephen Chojnicki, Midwest Theological editor, said the effort was the first of its kind for the forum, known mainly for its books on theology and publications like the Daily Roman Missal.
The Didache series made its debut with two titles (Introduction to Catholicism and Our Moral Life in Christ) in 2003 and two more (The History of the Church and Understanding the Scriptures) in 2005. It is named for a summary of Christian teaching from the first century that is believed to have been written by disciples of the 12 apostles. The word means “teaching” in Greek.
Chojnicki said response to the series has been overwhelmingly positive, adding that at least one of the textbooks — Understanding the Scriptures — is in use at 30% of the Catholic high schools in the country. The series also is used exclusively in Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Scranton, Pa.
“We found [the books] to be very reliable, very Catholic, sound and detailed,” Janet Benestad, secretary for parish life and evangelization in Scranton, said. “They give the impression of being as serious a textbook as a typical math or science textbook.”
People who like the series often comment on the presentation and layout, which includes various types of artwork, but the content is the strongest selling point, Chojnicki said.
“We quote from Church documents, papal encyclicals and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and really try to explain these things so we’re making it as much in conformity with the whole of Catholic teaching that we can,” Chojnicki said.
He said the series poses real-world scenarios, but avoids asking “what do you think?” or “how do you feel?” types of questions. “We really tried to give enough information that the student can answer based on what he learned in the chapter,” he said.
Chojnicki said that rather than set students up to question Church teachings, the series seeks to help them deal with common objections and questions by directing them to the reasoning and arguments against such positions.
— Judy Roberts