Early church, Islam, Reformation, Mary among topics of 4th annual Catholic Collage

by Roxane B. Salonen


Growing up in Fargo, Paul Opperman wasn’t Catholic; his conversion happened in college in the relatively non-churched climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Returning to Fargo as a convert some 40 years later, he says, he yearned to connect with the Catholic community here, and found a way through a then-new program, Catholic Collage.

“The richness of the Church, of the history, I can never get enough of it,” says Opperman, who notes that Catholic Collage has helped him live his faith more deeply and intensely.

“Education helps us understand our own experiences,” he says, “and points us in the direction to further explore, and ultimately, that exploration brings us more fully into our relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Opperman, now among those who helps plan the three-week, mid-winter courses within Catholic Collage, now in its fourth year, says this year’s offerings are some of the most exciting yet.

“I’m amazed at the diversity of what we’re presenting this year, and how it all fits together,” he says, mentioning topics involving the end times, who we are as a Church, and the current struggles we face. “We’ll be going back to the beginning and yet looking to the future, but also understanding the in-between.”

Included are classes covering what Muslims believe, the Book of Revelation, Discernment of Spirits, Mary, Catholic-Protestant History, Marriage, The Real Early Church, and Preaching the Gospel in the Next Century.

Joan Schaefer, another organizer, says the program initially was inspired by Concordia College’s “Communiversity,” but with a Catholic slant, adding that it’s not always easy to garner from the culture what faithful and informed Catholics believe and think. “If we’re better informed we can be better witnesses in the world.”

About 100 people take part each year, she says. “It’s refreshing to know people are willing to give up an afternoon to come and learn, and that we have presenters willing to give of their time…We do have very talented people (teaching) who love sharing their faith.”

She’s been especially impressed by those from outside the Fargo-Moorhead area who’ve sacrificed Sunday afternoons to drive a fair distance to take part. “If the spirit is stirring you, you need to respond to that. Pick up a friend, get into the car and come together.”

Father Kurtis Gunwall says that in his years being involved in Catholic Collage as an instructor, he’s appreciated that the offerings are not just theology presentations, but a chance to engage together on how the topics impact us personally.

“Unless we know how to dialogue about some of these issues, or ask a question, we’re not prepared to share (the faith) with others,” he says.

Kent and Lisa Wanner, Fargo, are busy parents of seven, ages 3 to 17, but not too busy to make time several Sundays in February to participate.

“We’ve attended all of the Catholic Collages, and they’ve all been great experiences,” says Kent. “The timing is perfect, in the coldest part of winter on Sunday afternoons when there is no football.”

He adds that their older children now help with childcare, earning service-hour credits for Shanley High School religion class. “The duration for each session is very good, and the three weekends are long enough to learn a lot without too big of a commitment.”

He and Lisa usually take different sessions so they can “maximize learning” through sharing with each other later. The classes, he says, also have ended up being “the impetus to establish a ‘mini-tradition’ where we get together with friends of ours and have supper at their house after the classes one of the weekends.”

Kent adds, “We would certainly encourage everybody, especially busy families with children, to take advantage of this opportunity with free childcare and a lot of like-minded people to learn more about your faith and make some new friends in the process.”

“So many Catholics live on the surface of something that is so rich,” Opperman concludes. “It’s so sad to be sitting at the banquet, and only picking at a little appetizer here and there, not even understanding you’re at a huge banquet…This is a great investment.”

The classes are offered during the afternoon on Sundays Feb. 12, 19 and 26. Those interested can register online or by downloading the registration form and mailing it to the address listed on the web page at www.catholiccollage.com. Each course costs $20 with two sessions offered; participants can sign up for one or two sessions, each running for 75 minutes. Refreshments are served in between, and daycare for children is available.