General and Introductory Materials
Part 1 Introduction

Chapter d11 General Introduction
to My Teaching Method

To Think About

Osborne on Catechetics

The Catechetical Method of Thomas Groome

Teaching Method

Notes on the Writing Assignments

Notes on the Discussion Postings

Discussion Policy


Tips on the Final Thirty Page Paper

To Think About

"Who we are is how and where we've traveled." (Murray Bodo, The Place We Call Home: Spiritual Pilgrimage as a Path to God, Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2004, p. 70.)

"Good theology is poetry. The poet spends a lot of time examining the subconscious." (Karen Armstrong on "Speaking of Faith") That is why the good theologian must continually try to "look under the iceberg."

During class at Saint Meinrad, a monk related this experience:  "One day during novitiate my head was spinning with so many new ideas that I scolded the Master of Novices, 'You are causing me to loose my Faith!'  'No,' he replied, smiling kindly, 'I am trying to help you lose your prejudices and become aware of your presuppositions.'"

"Even more important than knowing the right answers, is knowing the right questions."  (Frequent saying of P.-M. Gy, O.P. during his lectures at the ISL in Paris)

"The mere formulation of a problem is often far more essential than its solution.  To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science."  (Albert Einstein.  Quoted in Who Speaks for Islam, p 176.)

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Osborne on Catechetics

At the very beginning of his book Sacramental Guidelines, Kenan Osborne offers some very important advice which is applicable to this course.  Before discussing the sacraments, Osborne inserts a page which warns:  Stop!

"Before you turn another page, remember you are entering the area of sacramental theology with major presuppositions.  Presuppositions about God, Jesus, Church, Religion, and the Meaning of Life.  You also have a complex personal background of human experience -- human experience about relationships, self-identity, self-image, self-determination, the meaning of male/female."  (Kenan Osborne, Sacramental Guidelines, pp 18-19)

Both the teacher and the student enter the course with multiple presuppositions and backgrounds.   When issues and confrontations arise during the course, it may well be that the issue is not with the topic of the course but the difficulty may lie in the area of one's presuppositions or in the area of one's life experience.   Osborne offers what I think is very sound advice at this point.  He suggests:  "When this happens, back away from the sacramental issue under consideration and begin to unpack with your students the presuppositions which are involved and the life experiences which are also involved."  (Osborn, pp 18-19) 

During class at Saint Meinrad, a monk related this experience:  "One day during novitiate, my head was spinning with so many new ideas that I scolded the Master of Novices, 'You are causing me to loose my Faith.'  'No,' he replied, smiling kindly, 'I am trying to help you lose your prejudices and become aware of your presuppositions.'"

What presuppositions and life experiences do you bring to this course?  Some of the things that I bring are:

1. A brief biography can be found on my website at About Fr. Tom Richstatter OFM.   I am an INFJ  and an Enneagram 4.  The quotation from St. Bede the Venerable under his statue on Bede Hall at Saint Meinrad states: "Along with the observance of monastic discipline and the daily charge of chanting in the church, my delight has ever been to learn, teach or write."   Like Bede, I love to learn.  I love to teach.  I love preaching and parish work.  I find writing difficult, but many people have found my publications useful for their teaching and their own faith formation. 

2.  I am a Franciscan, not a Benedictine.  We friars have a different "founding image" than the monks and different philosophical underpinnings (e.g. Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, etc.)

3.  I studied in Paris, not Rome.  This fact brings a different flavor to my courses.  [Analogy:  Italian cooking is different from French cuisine.  Some people enjoy both.  Some enjoy both, while preferring one over the other.   Some people only want Italian and hate French cooking; some only want French cuisine and refuse to taste anything else.  Happy are those who can appreciate a variety of tastes. -- But I prefer French!] 

4.  Ordained with pre-Vatican II theology, I re-did my theology studies after the Council  at Notre Dame University in Indiana.  My doctoral work was done in Paris, France 1971-1976.  Many of the professors at the Institut Catholique and the Institut SupĂ©rieur de Liturgie were the authors of the revised rites.  My doctoral thesis was Obedience to Liturgical Law.  Since the doctorate, I have studied in Cuernavaca Mexico and Antigua, Guatemala (Hispanic Studies); Seville, Spain (Popular Devotions); Cairo, Egypt (Arabic and Islamic Studies); and Kottayam, India (Syriac and Syro-Malankara Studies). Before coming to Saint Meinrad I was the Executive Secretary of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) in Washington DC and an advisor to the Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship.

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The Catechetical Method of Thomas Groome

Many of you who have studied Catechetics are familiar with the five "movements" of Thomas Groome.  He describes his method as follows: 

First Movement: Present Action -- In this movement, the primary question is "What are you presently doing regarding the issue at hand?" Each participant makes a personal statement of his or her feelings, ways of acting, or valuing the issue at hand. The important task is to make a personal statement of one's own activity. This is not the time to give a report of what someone else is saying about the issue.

Second Movement: Critical Reflection -- In this movement, the primary question is "Why are you doing that?" This movement explores the assumptions (theological, Catechetical, psychological, ethical, etc.) that lie behind what you are doing, as well as the consequences of what you are doing. Each participant explores one's own story and vision by reflecting on reasons for doing what one does as well as envisioning desired or likely consequences of this way of acting. This reflection does not stop with surface observations of the obvious. This is not to be an examination of what you think you should be doing or why you think you should be doing that. Rather, it is after the assumptions and the visions which our actual practice reveals. We draw out the meanings revealed by what we are doing now, not by what we should be doing. This point is too easy to miss. We want to sneak in our "should's" too early, and consequently miss the call to conversion in our actual practice and vision. Critical reflection also looks to the future and imagines likely consequences of our way of acting.

Third Movement: The Christian Story and Vision -- This movement explores the faith Tradition of the Christian community on the issue at hand as well as the lived responses and promises which the Tradition invites. The course itself -- the reading, the discussions, the lectures -- are intended to put us in contact with our Christian story and vision.

Fourth Movement: Appropriating the Christian Story -- In this movement, the primary question is "How does the Gospel and the Christian Tradition, along with insights from our culture, affirm or challenge what you are doing and why you are doing it?" This step invites each participant to appropriate the faith Tradition of the Christian community into one's own life of faith. The goal of this movement is not only to affirm each participant in one's faith experiences, but also to challenge and invite each to rediscover the Tradition of faith as one's own. Also, the dialogue that goes on between our experience and the Tradition can also expand and challenge the Tradition. Typical questions to be answered in the fourth movement: I realized that I . . . I relearned that I . . . I was surprised that I . . . I wonder if . . . I wonder why . . . I wonder when . . .

Fifth Movement: Choosing a Faith Response -- In this last movement, the primary question is "What adjustments do you want to make in your future practice?" The reflection of the previous movements leads into decisions, possible changes, a new agenda. This is the opportunity to choose a personal faith response to the Tradition of faith newly discovered and in the process of being re-appropriated. Typical questions to be answered in the fifth movement: Next time, I want to . . . I need to think more about . . . I hope that I . . .

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Teaching Method

1.  I presume that all the participants in the class are adult learners.

"Androgogy is the education of adults. While pedagogy, the teaching of children, of the young, involves conveying information and skills and concepts selected by some authority to students who are expected to accept it rather passively, the education of the adult learner is a different matter. The adult learner generally exercises choice over what he or she wants to learn, and makes that choice in connection with wanting to master some situation or problem with which he or she is confronted. The adult learner is self-motivated, and comes with an agenda. He or she takes a more active role in determining the direction and course of the educational process." (Antaeus and Androgogy: Negotiating Paradigm Exhaustion and Pursuing Professional Growth in Clinical Practice. Richard P. Kluft, Temple University School of Medicine.)   

2.  Various "models" have been proposed for Adult Teaching/Learning.   The model that best fits my idea of what I am doing when I am teaching adults is that of Tour Guide.

3. I once took a mini course on how to be a tour guild for the Holy Land.  We learned how to approach Jerusalem so that the people on the tour got the best "first impression."  We learned how to visit the shrines at the best time of day for photographs.  We learned which shrines were historically authentic.  We learned the background and history of the various places and their connection to the Bible and salvation history.  We learned which tour books to recommend; the best places to stay; the most economical places to eat.

4.  While a good guide can help you have a good experience of your visit, it is you, the tourist, who has to do the real work.  No one can "see it for you."   You have to look, see, explore.  You have to get out of bed and get on the tour bus on time before it leaves.  The visit is richer or poorer depending on what experience and knowledge you bring to the trip.  A lot depends on how well the tourist prepared for the trip before leaving home.  (I find this method of teaching adults very similar to the Greek notion of Mystagogia

5.  My experiences of being both tour guide and of being a tourist help me explain what I think I am doing when I am teaching / learning.  I can select what I consider the most important things to see, but you have to do the seeing.  I can point the direction but you have to look.  I believe the great educator William James was on to something when he said All learning is self-activity.   There is a Chinese proverb:  "Teachers open the door, you enter by yourself."

6.  I have developed my website in order to help you during (but especially after) this course.  As the lecture material is available to you on the web, there is less need to take notes during the class periods.  However, if not taking notes means that you are "not doing anything", this runs contrary to the principle "All learning is self-activity" and "not doing anything" might mean "not learning."

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Notes on the Writing Assignments

1.  The grade for written assignments is based on both content and style. Typing, grammar, spelling, sentence structure, readability, etc. are a part of the grade.  On November 14, 2006, the faculty voted to select the Chicago /Turabian Style as the preferred style for formal papers submitted here at Saint Meinrad. StyleEase software has been purchased and installed on the public computers for the use of the students. Students can purchase their own copy of the software from the publisher at   (Be sure to order the Chicago/Turabian Style)  [Students at Saint Meinrad can receive a $10.00 discount by using the code "Meinrad" in the purchase form.]

2.  As a help to understanding how I grade the essay type home work postings, refer to the following scale: 

Performance Elements






Purpose and Method

The paper's central purpose or argument is readily apparent to the reader. There is a clear and appropriate strategy for achieving the purpose.


The paper has a clear purpose, but the writer sometimes digresses from it. The strategy for achieving the purpose is generally clear and appropriate.

3            2

The central purpose or argument is not consistently clear throughout the paper. The strategy for achieving the purpose is neither always clear nor appropriate.


The paper's overall purpose or argument is generally unclear. There is no clear and appropriate methodology for the paper.





Balanced and persuasive presentation of relevant information that clearly supports the topic and shows a thoughtful, in-depth analysis. The writer acknowledges alternative points of view. Reader gains important insights. (4)

Information provides adequate and persuasive support for the topic and displays evidence of a reasonable analysis. Reader gains some insight.


3            2

Information supports a central purpose or argument at times. Analysis is basic or general and not particularly persuasive. The reader gains few insights. There is little in the way of synthesis of material. Readers do not gain any insight. (1)

No clearly defined purpose or argument is evident. Analysis is vague or unclear. Reader is confused or may be misinformed.







Use of references from professionally legitimate sources indicates substantial research. Attribution is clear and fairly represented.


Use of references indicates adequate research. Attribution is, for the most part, clear and fairly represented.


3            2

Some references. Many statements or conclusions seem unsubstantiated. The reader exhibits some confusion about the source of information and ideas. 1

References are seldom cited to support statements, conclusions or claims.







The paper is arranged logically. Ideas flow smoothly from one to another and are clearly linked to each other. The reader can follow the line of reasoning. 


The paper is arranged logically. Ideas are usually clearly linked to each other. For the most part, the reader can follow the line of reasoning.

3            2

In general, the writing is arranged logically, although occasionally ideas are not clearly linked to each other. The reader is uncertain about what the writer intends. 


The writing is not logically organized. Frequently, ideas are not clearly linked together. The reader cannot identify a line of reasoning and loses interest.



Grammar, Spelling, and Writing Mechanics

The writing is largely free of errors. The writer faithfully follows the guidelines of a recognized writing style (MLA, APA, Chicago).





There are occasional errors, but they don't represent a major distraction or obscure the meaning. The writer, with few minor exceptions, follows the guidelines of a recognized writing style (MLA, APA, Chicago).

3            2

The reader is distracted by many errors. The writer generally follows the guidelines of a recognized writing style (MLA, APA, Chicago).






There are so many errors the meaning is obscured. The reader is confused and stops reading. The writer does not follow the guidelines of a recognized writing style (MLA, APA, Chicago). 




Code:   A = 4.0 -- 3.84;   A- = 3.83-3.51;    B+ = 3.51-3.26;   B = 3.25-2.84;   B- = 2.83-2.59; 

Failure = 2.58 or less



3.  When quoting someone please give the source of the quote and indicate by quotation marks where the quotation begins and ends. I draw your attention to the Statement on Plagiarism in the Student Handbook.

Saint Meinrad School of Theology is committed to creating an intellectual environment in which both faculty and students participate in the free and honorable pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, all work submitted by students is presumed to be their own. Any violation of academic integrity - cheating, plagiarism, or collusion - is considered a serious offense.

The penalty for cheating, plagiarism, or collusion will be an "F" for the test, paper, or assignment involved. Multiple infractions may result in dismissal from the school. Infractions are reported to the academic dean. Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the sections, "Citing sources, avoiding  plagiarism," in A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000; 2004). Available in the Scholar Shop.  Taken from Student Handbook, rule of Life, Intellectual Formation pg. 5.

There are times when I may ask your permission to put something you have written on my website for others to read.  If the work in question is not your original work, this is a very difficult time to admit that fact, and not to do so opens one to law suits!

4.  The "Statement on Non-discriminatory Language" in the Student Handbook is to be followed.

5.  With regard to style, the language used is to be that which could be used in a homily: see, Buttrick, Homiletic, pp 196-198, where he draws attention to racist prejudice [e.g. white / black], anti-Semitic language, sexist language, and language referring to God.

6.  I strongly encourage you to read the postings of the other participants and to reply to them, adding your own insights and pastoral experience.  To this end I have used the ANGEL Discussion Forums rather than Drop Boxes for your assignments.   Online discussions require a special attention to "respect" because many of the communication cues we receive in face-to-face conversation are missing online.  This "respect" is expressed very well by Dr. Paul F. Ford, Professor of systematic theology and liturgy at Saint John's Seminary, Camarillo CA: 

In all of my courses I insist that my students exercise attentive and active presence to the professor and to everyone in the class. This attentive and active presence involves respect. I ask them to observe the following definition of being Catholic: "Being Catholic means being united with others, to help one another in the case of need, to learn by that which is good in others and to share generously one's own good, it means trying to become acquainted with one another and accepting each other's differences" (J. Ratzinger, "The Pastoral Implications of Episcopal Collegiality," Concilium, I, I, 1965, p. 27).

In their spoken and written communication I ask my students to follow the "Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language" of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 15, 1990 which is available here as a PDF), please use horizontally gender-inclusive language wherever and whenever possible. This does not mean changing quoted material or the traditional nouns and pronouns referring to the members of the Christian Trinity. It does mean striving to speak beyond one's own gender, race, nationality, vocation, and social or economic class.

7.   A report on "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio (Tuesday June 27, 2006) said that a recent study showed that 90% of people receiving e-mails thought they knew what the e-mail intended to communicate.  The study indicated that they were wrong in 50% of the cases.  The study went on to show the importance of facial expression, tone of voice, and other cues in communication.  The study suggested that one should interpret on-line communication "favorably" or "in a positive light" and one will be correct 50% of the time.   If there are any issues that are not clear in the comments that I have posted, please bring them to my attention when we meet face-to-face on the weekends.  Please interpret any online comments that I have made "in a positive light" and you will be right more than 50% of the time. J

8.  When selecting a topic:  Select an issue that is important to you personally, an issue that you are or can become invested in.  Select an issue that is important to the other members of the class and to the Church.  Select an issue that you have had some experience dealing with in a parish.  Pick a real issue that you will probably have to face in your future ministry.  Read through the instructions for all five phases of this assignment before choosing your issue.  These essays will be graded

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Notes on the Discussion Postings

The grade for written assignments is based on both content and style. Typing, grammar, spelling, sentence structure, readability, etc. are a part of the grade.  As a help to understanding how I grade the essay type home work postings, refer to the following scale:

Assessing Effectiveness of Student Participation in Online Discussions 


1. Drifting

2. Moving in the Right Direction

3. Valuable Performance

4. Our Goal (with due allowance for finitude)


Contribution to the Learning Community

Does not make effort to participate in learning community as it develops; seems indifferent

Occasionally provides a meaningful reflection on group's efforts; marginal effort to become involved with group

Often presents reflections that become central to the group's discussion; interacts freely and encourages others

Consistently presents creative reflections on topic; aware of needs of community; frequently prompts further discussion of topic


Relevance of Post

Posts topics which do not relate to the discussion content; makes irrelevant remarks

Occasionally posts off topic; most posts offer no further insight into the topic

Posts are related to discussion topic; makes some connections with readings

Posts consistently are related to discussion topic; brings readings into discussion; cites additional references related to topic;


Expression Within the Post

Does not express opinions or ideas clearly; no connection to topic

Unclear connection to topic evidenced in minimal expression of opinions or ideas

Opinions and ideas are stately clearly with occasional lack of connection to topic

Expresses opinions and ideas in a clear and concise manner with obvious connection to topic


Delivery of Post

Utilizes poor spelling and grammar in most posts; posts appear "hasty"

Errors in spelling and grammar evidenced in several posts

Few grammatical or spelling errors are noted in posts

Consistently uses grammatically correct posts with rare misspellings


Promptness and Initiative

Does not respond to most postings; rarely participates freely

Responds to most postings several days after initial discussion; limited initiative

Responds promptly to most postings; requires occasional prompting to post

Responds promptly to postings; demonstrates good self-initiative


This grading scale has been adapted from  If You Build It, They Will Come: Building Learning Communities Through Threaded Discussions by Susan Edelstein and Jason Edward It in turn comes from California State University at Hayward (EDUI 6707).

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Discussion Policy

1. The assignments requiring postings to the Discussion Forums each have an associated deadline by which time all students must have posted their responses to receive credit for participation. Because of the dialogical nature of the course method, postings after the due date will not be read or graded.

2. The instructor will not participate in a discussion prior to the discussion deadline.

3. After the due date for the assigned discussion postings, the instructor will review all student responses and post a response as a course announcement.

4. Students will be graded on discussion postings. Points are earned based on quality of responses and compliance with the required number of postings as specified in individual assignment instructions. The grid given in the introduction the course can serve as a guideline for the grading policy.

5. Students are expected to focus on the specific topic of the discussion as assigned. The introduction of irrelevant subjects is not permitted. Violators ill be asked to leave the discussion, and a grade of 0 points will be recorded.

6. All students have a right to express their own opinions in discussions, and every other student must respect this right. Any student posting a comment disrespectful of this right will be asked to leave tile discussion, and a grade of 0 points will be recorded.

7. "Flaming" is posting abusive or insulting messages. Any student who engages in flaming in a discussion will be required to leave the discussion and a grade of F for the course will be reported.

8. Controlling behavior includes, but is not limited to, attempts to dominate the discussion by posting threads excessively, intentionally changing the discussion topic, or exhibiting an inappropriate or argumentative attitude. Controlling behavior is not permitted. Violators will be asked to leave the discussion, and a grade of 0 points will be recorded.

9. Students required to leave a discussion will be notified of this consequence in a private e-mail.

This "Discussion Policy" is adapted from that given by Shirley Waterhouse and Rodney O. Rogers, "Importance of Policies in E-Learning Instruction," EDUCAUSE Quarterly 27/3 (2004), accessed June 16, 2007.

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1.  I will post your grades with a comment on your work in the ANGEL grade book.   

2.  The conversion from number grade to letter grade follows the schedule found in the Student Handbook

"A = Excellent (100-94); B = Superior (93-86); C = Average (85-78); D = Passing (77-70); F = Failure (69-0;  I = Incomplete - This grade [incomplete] is given when the student has been unable to complete course requirements before the end of the semester. The grade of "I" is removed by the satisfactory completion of course requirements. An "I" is automatically changed to "F" if work is not completed within six weeks of the end of the term in which the "I" was received. The exact date is stated in the annual catalog and the official calendar."   95 = A;  94 = A-;  93 = B+;  92 = B; etc.

3.  Regarding the grades in the MOODLE grade book: Remember that I am assigning the grade to your written work and/or class participation. I am not assigning a grade to your faith or your piety. One can flunk the course and still get to heaven; one can get an A+ in the course and still not do so well before the judgment seat of God! I hear that both Hitler and Stalin got good grades in theology when they were in the seminary, whereas St. John Vianney, the CurĂ© of Ars, flunked out! I mention this because some who are starting out on the path to a degree in Theology can confuse or identify these issues. If you were to receive a low grade on a paper, this does not mean you are a bad person; it simply means that I did not judge the paper deserving of a higher grade.

4.  I want to fully respect your faith journey and the work of the Spirit in you life. We each have our unique life journey. As the poet Murray Bodo has said: "Who we are is how and where we've traveled." But while respecting your individual journey, as a teacher I want to point out areas where you might incorporate new facts into your understanding of a topic, and to challenge you to look at things in a new way. I consider this to be part of my "job" as a teacher. However, it is often difficult to convey complex ideas and subtle meanings when we have only the words appearing on a computer screen without all the other communication "cues" that are present in face to face communications. An online course has its advantages, but it also has its own difficulties.

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Tips on the Final Thirty Page Paper

Five tips for choosing a topic for your final MA (Theology) paper. 

1. A good thirty page paper is often the answer to a good question.

2. For a question to be a "good question" it is ESSENTIAL that (A) it is a question you are personally very interested in; and (B) it is a question that is important for the Church. Unless the question has these two qualities, it will be difficult for you to sustain your interest through all the hours and effort that it takes to answer the question and write the paper.

3. It should be a question that someone at Saint Meinrad has not written a "Masters Paper" on in the past 3 to 5 years. It should be a question for which you can access resources which will help you answer the question.  Are there books and articles to which you have access in a library, on line, at St. Meinrad, etc. related to this topic?

4. A "good" question is one that is neither too broad nor too narrow. E.g. "Music and Liturgy: What makes good liturgical music?" (Too broad)  "Why is Amazing Grace a poor choice for a Communion hymn?" (Too narrow)

5. It is only prudent to select a question related to a course at Saint Meinrad in which you have received an "A" from the professor whom you have selected to direct your paper.

Once you have found a good question, your work is 80% completed.

Think of five to ten good questions. Write them down. Look at the list. Pick the best one.

When writing the paper and trying to decide which information to include and which things to leave out, simply ask yourself: "Does this information help answer my question? If the answer is "yes," keep it; the answer is "no," then this information does not belong in your paper.

* * *

Many students have found this process useful. I have found that it has produced some very fine papers in my field of sacramental theology. For example:

Brian Kudro asked: "What is the difference in the way that liturgists and catechists present the sacrament of Confirmation?"

Kirsten Gilbert Krenicky asked: "Do developmental psychologists think that first graders have sufficient moral intelligence to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation?"

Robert Henson asked: "What is the theology which explains the role of a lay leader at a Sunday (non-Eucharistic) assembly?"

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.   Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 01/26/13. Your comments on this site are welcome at