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April 19, 2024

The Saints in the Classroom: Patrick Conley

April 19, 2024
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This week, Patrick Conley, host of The Inner Life on Relevant Radio, tells a story about teaching and using The Saints in his classroom.

New Responsibility

I was nervous. Though I had had decades of experience teaching adults, from college-age on up, I had virtually no experience teaching kids, especially young kids. Then, two years ago, my wife, the principal of our local Catholic school, recruited me to teach Religion to the 3rd- through 8th-graders. So - I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, especially with the youngest of the classes. The one experience I had subbing in for a 2nd-grade CCD class, the tiny class of six had eaten me alive. I barely made it through the hour I had with them.

As I began that first school year at our Catholic school, things started off well. I started building relationships with the students, and I even found that the youngest ones, the 3rd- and 4th-graders (a combined classroom), were especially endearing. But then, a new challenge emerged: although I had a good, solid, Catholic curriculum from which to teach, I wanted to bring the Catholic faith alive for them. I wanted to touch not just their heads, but their hearts and souls, as well.

So, I would tell stories from my life. I’d ask them questions about their own experiences. I’d seek out videos online to complement what we were learning and to try to inspire them to internalize it. Sometimes these things worked well; sometimes they fell flat. I also decided to start a “Saint of the Month” bulletin board with pictures and interesting info about various saints.

Patrick Conley and his class listening to Damien of Moloka'i.

Bringing Saints to the Classroom

Around this same time, I stumbled across The Saints series from the Merry Beggars on Relevant Radio. Out of curiosity, I listened to an episode…and I was immediately hooked. They are so well produced, I could picture myself in each scene. It wasn’t long before the teacher in me started wondering about using them in the classroom.

Not long after, I decided to give it a try. I was fairly sure most of the older students would be as drawn into the stories as I was, but I wasn’t sure about the 3rd- and 4th-graders, especially as it was only audio, and there was nothing for them to watch. Would these audio dramas hold their attention?

In each class, I would go to our smart board and pull up I told the students: we’re going to listen now to an enacted story of a saint. It just so happened that the Saint of the Month that month was Blessed Carlo Acutis, so I found the first episode on him and hit “play.” And as the episode began, an amazing thing happened: the students fell silent. They listened. Some pulled out pencil and paper and began to draw. I was afraid initially that they were distracted, then I found they were actually drawing scenes from what they were hearing!

Finally, the real test: at the end of the episode, I asked the students what they learned. I was blown away by how many details about Blessed Carlo they remembered, just from their first time listening.

A New Tradition

Since that first day, The Saints podcast has been a regular feature in my classroom for all of the grade levels I teach. We’ve listened to Blessed Carlo Acutis, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and St. Josephine Bakhita, just to name a few. It’s very common that students will ask me, “Can we listen to another podcast today?” And the 3rd- and 4th-graders? They have come not just to request, but to demand the next episode, by chanting in unison, “Podcast! Podcast! Podcast!”

I’m convinced that The Saints has been doing for these kids exactly what I had hoped: it’s inspiring them to learn, live, and love the Catholic faith.

Patrick Conley was born, raised, and baptized in Wisconsin in a Protestant tradition. After meeting his wife, Kendra, through an Evangelical ministry at the University of Minnesota, they entered the Catholic Church in 2010. They listened to Relevant Radio, specifically The Inner Life, while preparing to enter the Church. Conley now holds a degree in theology from Oxford University and has served the Church in both academic theology and grassroots pastoral ministry.

Conley teaches religion classes in a Catholic elementary school, serves as his parish Director of Religious Education, and is in formation for the permanent diaconate. He also hosts Practicing Catholic on Relevant Radio, exclusive to the Minneapolis area’s airwaves, and is a traveling presenter for the Catherine of Siena Institute apostolate. He lives in rural Wisconsin with his wife and their bulldogs, Georgie and Bingley.

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