The Perfect Storm: Spirituality, Community, and Remick
How did Remick Leadership Program graduate Emmy Pusateri Robison go from saying, “I didn’t know if I felt that teaching was serving God. I thought teaching should be about serving kids” to “I found what it really means to be Catholic and to love and serve God through loving and serving others"? This transformation of spirit was only possible through what Robison describes as the “perfect storm.”
Robison graduated from Notre Dame in 2013 after majoring in American Studies and minoring in Education, Schooling, and Society (ESS) and Italian. Her courses in the ESS minor, though, were what really captured her attention. As Robison’s graduation drew near, she knew that she wanted to teach. While she considered applying for ACE Teaching Fellows, she ultimately decided to take a first- and third-grade teaching position with Teach for America in New Orleans. As a product of public schools for her entire K-12 career, Robison was not yet convinced of the importance of faith in the classroom. She says, “My faith wasn’t in a place where I could feel authentic teaching in Catholic schools. I didn’t feel like I would be a real witness to students if I was teaching religion.”
As Robison journeyed through her first year of teaching, she began to doubt whether teaching really was her calling. She thought, “I just don’t have it. I don’t have that magic that my teachers in elementary school had. My kids aren’t learning. I’m just a disaster. I’ll do this for one more year because I said I would, but then I’m done.” It was in these moments of doubt that Robison started to come back to her roots of faith. She began to go to Mass more often, and on one particular Sunday she heard a homily about vocation. That homily served as spark and reminded her, “I’m being called to stay in this [profession] for a reason.”
After her two years in New Orleans with Teach for America, Robison moved to Oregon to be closer to her then-boyfriend and now-husband, Matt. After struggling to find a teaching position in public schools, Robison took a position teaching third grade at O’Hara Catholic School, which was facilitated through a Notre Dame connection. When interviewing for the position, Robison asked the interview team, “What concerns do you have about me?” They responded, “We’re just afraid that this is so different from where you were coming from.” It was true. Robison had no previous experience in a K-12 Catholic school as a student or a teacher, but that was exactly what she was looking for. It was not long before Robison’s feelings about wanting something different were proven right. After the initial rebirth of her faith at Masses in New Orleans, Emmy describes experiencing a full conversion of her faith during her first faculty retreat at O’Hara. “I had never experienced a feeling like that before where I felt I was in exactly the right place,” she says. “I didn’t know what it would look like yet, I didn’t know how this would turn out, but I knew I was meant to be there.”
As part of her third-grade position at O’Hara, Robison taught religion for the first time. What began as a nerve-wracking experience turned into a beautiful flourishing of faith for both her and her students. “I would teach religion and I would find that the words I was using were not always my own,” she says. “I would think to myself, ‘Where is this coming from? I didn’t know I had this belief. I didn’t know I felt this way.’ And it was often through teaching religion to my third graders that I really discovered why Catholic schools matter, why is it important that there are communities of faith for kids. Through teaching religion, I really came to the full understanding of the belief that faith needs to exist in schools.”
As she continued through her first year of teaching at O’Hara, Robison was already looking forward to what was next in deepening her vocation to education. She began researching online-only graduate programs. In the midst of this search, she received a message from her good friend from Ryan Hall at Notre Dame, Fr. Joe Carey, CSC, who texted her on a Friday afternoon: “I think you should think about this graduate program. I think you’d be a great fit.” He was referring to the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, and after learning a bit more about it, Robison knew that Remick had the missing piece of community that the other programs did not have. “I wouldn’t have grown with an online-only formation program,” she says. “I need face-to-face. I need the power of relationships in my development.”
After applying, Robison was accepted to the 15th cohort of Remick and began her coursework on Notre Dame’s campus in the summer of 2016. In the first few days of her coursework, Robison said she felt intimidated by her fellow cohort members. “I was much younger than most of them, I had only been teaching for three years, I had only been in Catholic schools for one year, I was only one year into my rebirth of my faith, and here were some of the most incredibly confident and beautiful and articulate Catholic leaders,” she says. “I just felt like I didn’t belong.”
But it didn’t take long for Robison to discover that she belonged in the Remick community, and in many ways, it was a sharing of faith that drew her and her entire cohort closer together. As a program, they began to celebrate Mass together on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays throughout the summer. They also began to share the more personal aspects of their faith by opening each class with prayer facilitated by one of the Remick leaders. As a cohort they prayed through music, Lectio Divina, meditation, special intentions, the Ignatian Examen, and many more forms of prayer. It was through Remick and the faith community that came with it that Robison experienced a continued deepening of her faith that had started in Mass in New Orleans and continued through her experiences on retreat and as a religion teacher at O’Hara. She even decided to receive the sacrament of Confirmation during the course of her first year of Remick. It was not only Robison that experienced this deepening of faith during her time in the Remick Leadership Program; one of Robison’s fellow cohort members decided to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) during his time in Remick as well.
In addition to the support of her fellow cohort members, Robison also describes feeling incredibly supported by the Remick faculty. Whether it was through witnesses given by the faculty members on program retreats, through Fr. Nate Wills’ Spiritual Leadership course, or through simple conversations with faculty members over the summer and during the academic year, Robison says, “I always felt like somebody was praying for me and had my back.”
Since graduating from Remick this past summer, Robison was married by her good friend and inspiration for choosing Remick, Fr. Joe, and she began her new role as assistant principal for academics at Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. As she has entered into this new leadership role, Robison has continued to rely on her cohort members and the Remick community as a whole, and her cohort continues to share resources with one another, from core values to high school honors theology courses. However, she says it’s so much more than just sharing materials and problem solving. “It really is a community of faith and a family where we share our good times, we shared some bad times,” Robison says. “You hear that word ‘prayer warriors,’ but that’s exactly how my cohort exists. Anytime someone was going through something tough in-person on campus [or] once we were away from each other we all knew that we could instantly say, ‘I need your prayers’ and they were lifted up by 28 people across the country.”
After her experiences in the Remick Leadership Program, Robison has become one of Remick’s biggest advocates. “It was such a powerful experience for me in the development of my leadership skills, in the development of my faith,” she says. I want more people to have that experience. You can’t possibly be the same leader in a Catholic school that you would be without it. I don’t know how people are leaders of Catholic schools without having gone through Remick.”
Robison has already convinced a fellow faculty member from her time in Oregon, Angi Meyer, to join the 17th cohort of Remick, and she hopes to encourage fellow faculty members from Notre Dame Prep to apply for the program as well. Robison says she cannot thank and give credit to her fellow cohort members and the faculty of Remick enough.
“It was really through teaching religion, working in a community of other adults who believe in the value of faith in education, and, at the same time, existing in a cohort of people who helped to continue to affirm my faith, to strengthen it, to pray for me, and I could learn from all their examples, and especially all of the faculty, too,” Robison says. “It really was the perfect storm. I had support with the people I was working with, with the kids I was teaching, with my cohort members. I had everybody on the same page nudging me forward in my faith.”
Interested in joining the 18th cohort of Remick Leaders? Applications are open!