Teaching about two men named Francis


Staff reporter


Padua Academy course examines impact of Saints Francis de Sales and Francis of Assisi


WILMINGTON – Padua Academy is offering two classes for the first time this fall that demonstrate, in very different ways, the school’s commitment to its mission. “Two Men Named Francis” will explore the men (and women) whose spirituality permeates the building, while “sports medicine” is designed to give students hands-on experience in a popular medical field.

“Two Men Named Francis” – not, by the way, Pope Francis and Bishop Malooly – will examine Padua’s patron saints, Francis de Sales and Francis of Assisi, whose influence is felt throughout the building. The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales at St. Anthony of Padua Parish built the school, which still falls under the parish’s governance, and there has been a heavy Franciscan flavor to Padua, thanks in part to past faculty members. St. Francis de Sales is also the patron saint of the Diocese of Wilmington.

In addition to the men, the course also will include the women saints closely associated with them: Jane de Chantal and Clare of Assisi.

One of the unique aspects of this class is the “final exam,” a 10-day pilgrimage next June to France and Italy, where the students will visit the places these saints called home. Twenty-four students signed up for the class, with half taking it in the fall, the other half in the spring. Mary Ann Wallen, who will teach the section on Francis of Assisi, said she and the other teacher, Vanessa Vavala, began thinking about this class two years ago.

“We thought about the 60th anniversary (of Padua),” Wallen said. “We thought, what’s a way we could get the girls more active or more involved in who the patrons are? We thought it would be really cool to do this and then to do the pilgrimage at the end.”

Wallen attended Neumann University, a Franciscan school, so that appealed to her. Vavala said she has long been attracted by Salesian spirituality.

“Not that Franciscan spirituality isn’t practical, but in a different sense. I just love the call to ordinary holiness” of Francis de Sales, she said.

International travel is much more viable than in previous years, the teachers said, so they were able to add that component. One girl taking the class, sophomore Victoria Crisona, said her mother traveled to Italy when she was in high school, and Crisona is excited to go there as well. “I really want to go to Italy. I am really interested to see the journey of the two men and to actually go there.”

The pilgrimage is scheduled to visit Annecy, France, home of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and several cities in Italy, including Padua and Assisi. Wallen said the pilgrimage also will include a visit to Vatican City for a papal audience.

“We found that the girls really connected to Pope Francis compared to Pope Benedict. We thought we are ending in Rome so we can go to a papal audience,” Wallen said. “We really wanted it to be an experience.”

Crisona, a graduate of Holy Angels School, said her friends in other schools are jealous. “They said it was really cool that we were taking it and they wish their school did it.”


New science elective

Another notable addition at Padua this year is “sports medicine,” a science elective that will introduce students to athletic training and rehabilitation and includes a two-week observation requirement with the school’s athletic trainer, Lisa Boyer. Science teacher Brandon Lawler said many Padua graduates are going into physical therapy, kinesiology and related fields, and the anatomy and physiology classes at the school are very popular, so this was a natural extension.

The prerequisites are biology and chemistry, but the sports medicine  class will not count toward the science credits needed for graduation.

Still, the response was overwhelming. There are 18 girls in the class, but about twice that number applied to take it. Lawler said the numbers were kept low because of the field observation requirement. The students’ schedules need to be arranged so that all can do the two weeks. The students will work practices and games.

Theresa Repole, a physical therapist with ATI, will handle the classroom segment of the course. She said she will cover how to treat an athlete, recognize concussions and common injuries, take range-of-motion measurements, and conduct muscle tests, “all the competencies you need to know, going through undergrad, what undergrad consists of,” she said. In addition, all the girls will be certified in administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation by the end of the class.

During the rotations with Boyer, the girls will be observing and, Repole expects, asking a lot of questions. The trainer will explain what every piece of equipment is for and ask the students what they would do in certain situations.

“If they do go to college to become a trainer, they have the basis right there. But, hopefully, they’ll be one step ahead of anybody else that goes into that program,” Repole said.

The class also might involve visits from doctors or therapists, and the students may take a trip to see the training rooms at the University of Delaware, Repole said.

Senior Emily Thiemann is one of the students in sports medicine. A basketball player, she has worked with Boyer in the past. In fact, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee playing summer basketball and will miss at least part of the Pandas’ season. She hopes to do her observation during basketball season.

Thiemann said she became interested in physical therapy after she broke her ankle in seventh grade. “It seemed like they weren’t doing a job. It was more fun for them. They enjoyed helping people get back where they were before they got hurt.”

Padua spokeswoman Ann Lewandowski said this class fits in with other initiatives the school has introduced in recent years. Last year, surgical observations were introduced as a supplement to the anatomy and physiology classes.

“This is an opportunity to expose students to the many, many aspects of medicine that they might encounter in the field. We’re hoping that courses like this will give a wider perspective for the students,” she said.

The reaction from the medical community has been very positive, Lewandowski said, which has made it easier for Padua to implement the program. It also helps Padua reinforce its mission in providing a college-prep curriculum.

The opportunity to observe professionals in the field has not traditionally been available to high school students, Lawler said. He believes the medical professionals Padua works with wish they had been able to do this in high school.

“That’s why they’re so welcoming and open to allowing us to go in and observe a surgery or work with us to develop an entire program,” he said.