By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published April 29, 2021
ATLANTA—What began as a small summit in 2015, hosted by four school leaders and a priest, is expanding into a national network for educators and the diverse communities they serve.
The Duc In Altum Schools Collaborative grew out of a shared desire of summit organizers, including Father Paul Kostka of the Servants of Christ Jesus, to strengthen Catholic culture on their campuses.
Their common goal was to bolster faith formation.
“We see a need for this,” said Kyle Pietrantonio, who became DIA’s executive director in 2020. One of the summit founders, Pietrantonio was previously head of school at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. Father Kostka is the collaborative’s chaplain.
Duc in altum, Latin for “put out into the deep,” is from the fifth chapter of Luke when Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
St. John Paul II frequently referenced the Scripture during his papacy and in his apostolic letter, “Novo Millennio Ineunte” in 2000.
“John Paul II influenced all of us. He’s our patron saint,” said Pietrantonio.
The Formation Summit became an annual event and Duc In Altum pivoted to become a membership-based nonprofit for educators to share ideas, their challenges and to find support.
Pietrantonio noted that Catholic schools are the place where faith and generations of families, alumni, even non-Catholics, all come together. Families are looking for guidance on faith matters and even parenting resources.
“How can we leverage this beautiful intersection? I think schools need to step into the breach,” he said.
Stronger Catholic identity and faith formation in school communities can shape the church and society positively.
In moving to a membership model, DIA looked at the example of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), a network of chief business executives sharing ideas to learn from one another and solve global problems.
The DIA collaborative offers consultation services, access to a benefits consortium and forums to its members.
“We launched a fellowship this semester,” said Pietrantonio about an added member benefit.
Candidates selected for the fellowships are paired with mentors to help amplify faith formation at each fellow’s school.
DIA publishes a newsletter, “The Cenacle,” and recently launched a podcast with Father Randy Sly called “Follow to Lead.” Father Sly had a career in radio before the priesthood.
It is Pietrantonio’s hope the podcast will galvanize the community by elevating the stories of lay and religious. The pair hosts discussions with influencers for the church of today as well as the future. Each episode of “Follow to Lead” is for anyone in the ministry of forming the faithful.
Father Sly is president of St. Michael the Archangel High School in Lee’s Summit, Missouri and students there help with the research, scheduling and in pre- and post-production of the podcast.
Guests have included Bishop Thomas Daly of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington; Thomas Clements, founder of Atlanta-based Zenith Ministries for young adults; and Dr. Allen Hunt of Dynamic Catholic.
Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, formerly Archbishop of Atlanta, will be a guest on a future podcast episode. Cardinal Gregory entered the church while attending a Catholic elementary school in Chicago.
The DIA Schools Summit will be an in-person event this year, to be held Oct. 20-22 in Nashville, Tennessee. Last year’s event was virtual, with hundreds of participants as the pandemic presented new challenges for school administrators and classroom teachers.
Madeliene Flanagan, lower school principal at Holy Spirit in Atlanta, said the summit provided great information on how to move forward from the pandemic.
“There were conferences on curriculum, student formation and creating family programs that help families get and stay involved in the school. I truly enjoyed the conference,” she said.
The idea behind DIA is to be a “connector and collaborator” of ideas, said Pietrantonio.
As both a parent and experienced school principal and teacher, Pietrantonio has described the growth of Catholic schools as a “critical lever for the future of the American Catholic Church.”
To accomplish the strengthening of schools, it will take many partners from parents to clergy.
“I have great hope for Catholic schools,” said Pietrantonio. “We have to do it together.”