Notre Dame postgrads study in Jerusalem

15 May 2023

Postgraduate students from the University of Notre Dame Australia Fremantle campus had the unique opportunity to study abroad in Jerusalem as part of a course called Scripture and Church.

Led by the Faculty of Education and Philosophy & Theology, Dr Lawrence Pang and Dr John Topliss envisioned this course more than two years ago and, with the help of Mrs Sharon Law-Davis, have now seen it come to fruition.

The course taps into the Global Gateway Program with Notre Dame Jerusalem.

Thanks to the Global Gateway Program, the students, most of whom are studying for a master's degree in religious education and leadership, immersed themselves in the mosaic of cultures and nationalities, people and neighbourhoods of the vibrant city of Jerusalem.

The University of Notre Dame at Tantur (UNDT) is located just a short distance from the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which made it easy for the students to visit significant cultural, historical and biblical sites in the area.

Famous for its diverse religious traditions - with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures intermingling and contrasting throughout the city – Jerusalem is a historic area of pilgrimage for many religious people across the world.

Dr Pang, who taught the Scripture and Church course, conceived the idea after noticing a common question from students over the years: "how do we as schoolteachers make use of this scripture and religious information in a school setting?"

The students reported a disconnect between what they had learned and what they were doing in their professional life.

To bridge this gap, Dr Pang and Professor Topliss worked together to incorporate both the content of Scripture and the pedagogy of how to deliver the content in the classroom.

Encompassing a trip to the Holy Land was the next step for Dr Pang, who wanted to give students a better understanding of scripture in context.

"When they go to the Holy Land they can make that connection between the stories in the Bible to the places where Jesus really stood, making the stories real to them," he explained.

“This way, the students have practical knowledge to draw upon when teaching in the future, and the stories become more authentic.”

Religious Education Consultant Karen Pertile said she would be forever grateful to Notre Dame for the immersive experience in the Holy Land.

"The knowledge gained with the on-the-ground insights was only topped by the stirring of emotion from literally walking through the pages of history,” she said.

"Personally, it has enriched my faith by allowing me to experience ‘the Fifth Gospel’ and every time I hear the Gospels now, I can picture the places, the people, the culture in my mind’s eye. Professionally, I hope that this trip will enrich the teaching of Scripture in Western Australian Catholic schools as I aim to embed my knowledge into the creation of educational resources for Catholic primary schools."

Holy Spirit Teacher David Colace agreed the trip had given him unforgettable experiences to bring back to his teaching career.

"The highlight for me was being able to retrace the footsteps of Jesus and visiting places that have such unbelievable history,” he said.

"I have taken so much from this experience, and I will remember many of these moments for the rest of my life."

The course also delved into the church component of the curriculum, exploring what it means to be a church. The tensions between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jerusalem added a real-life context to this discussion, giving the students a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.

The trip to Jerusalem was an invaluable experience for the students. It allowed them to expand their knowledge of scripture and church in a real-life context and gain practical knowledge that they could draw on as teachers.

The rich history and diverse cultures of Jerusalem provided a unique learning environment that cannot be replicated in a traditional classroom setting.

Keep an eye out in the future for your opportunity to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime trip. See the photos here.

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