Tag Archives: Catholic education

Sound Catholic education involves parents as ambassadors for Christ

Throughout the centuries, Christianity has taught that parents are the primary educators and shapers of their children. This includes parents’ jurisdiction over their children not only socially and morally, but religiously and academically.

Parents are ambassadors for Christ in all phases of education for their children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Fathers and Mothers, take heed.

The Fourth Commandment, “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” (Exodus 20:12), teaches us that children honor God by honoring their parents. It is also the first Commandment to carry a promise:: “that you may have a long life….”. Parents have every right to require honor from their children or they (both parents and children) are doing an injustice to God – keeping honor away that is due our Heavenly Father. Naturally, this message is the same for all parents, whether married, single, separated or divorced.

The honor of children – whether minors or adults – for their father and mother (cf. Proverbs 1:8, Tobit 4:3-4) is nourished by the natural affection born of the bond uniting them: the bond of the family. Such honor is required by God’s commandment (cf. Deuteronomy 5:16). While strict obedience toward parents may cease after a child becomes emancipated from home as an adult, respect and honor are always owed them.

How can parents dutifully require honor from their children? By gently nurturing and educating them in their Christian faith, parents can teach and foster within their children natural virtues like respect, fidelity, obedience, tenderness and forgiveness, not to mention other virtues like faith, hope and love. The home is well suited for education in virtues. This first requires an apprenticeship on the part of parents in areas of sound judgment, self-mastery, and self-denial. These Gospel principles serve as preconditions of true freedom.

Parents should associate their children from their most tender years with the life of the Church. If parents set an example, children are naturally inclined to follow it (cf. Proverbs 6:20-22, 13:1; Colossians 3:20; Ephesians 6:1-3). Parents have a grave responsibility to educate and give good example to their children in things both spiritual and temporal. Also, parents should teach their children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences that threaten human societies and the worth of the human person. Every person is unique, precious, and unrepeatable –made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27).

Surely, the home is the natural environment for initiating a youngster into solidarity and communal responsibilities. St. Augustine (d. 430), in fact, called the Christian home the “domestic church.” Having grown-up on a dairy farm, I can still appreciate the spiritual and temporal values instilled by my parents in my siblings and me. Sunday Mass and regular reception of the Sacrament of Confession were mainstays, as were daily chores and tasks assigned to me and my brothers and sister on the farm. Even our years of involvement in 4-H and FFA melded well with our Christian upbringing: we learned, for example, the importance of healthy and charitable competition in the show ring when showing dairy cattle, or building farm equipment in high school shop class and exhibiting it at the county fair.

Parents begin true and authentic education of their children by first solidifying their own faith. They must pray for themselves and for their children. They should also maintain a realistic attitude that the road traveled in raising children will not always be smooth. Parents must work to recapture their God-like leading role, focusing on a return to childlike innocence, peace in the family, and growth in faith and virtue (cf. Matthew 18:3; Mark 10:14).

FR. WADE L. J. MENEZES, CPM is the assistant general of the Fathers of Mercy, an itinerant missionary preaching order based in Auburn, KY. He is host of EWTN Global Catholic Radio’s “Open Line Tuesday” and the author of The Four Last Things: A Catechetical Guide to Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell (EWTN Publishing).

Catholic-College Authenticity

“Truth, beauty, and goodness have their being together,” said the late spiritual writer Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. “By truth we are put in touch with reality, which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold.”

The vision of the university in the classical Catholic intellectual tradition is to encourage students to seek truth, goodness, and beauty. Attention to these three elements, or transcendentals, ultimately will direct students toward a deeper knowledge of God, because what is true, good, and beautiful in creation “reflects the infinite perfection of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 41).

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Wyoming Catholic College, and John Paul the Great Catholic University are among the institutes of Catholic higher education that understand this vision. It’s a philosophy that shapes their Catholic identity and permeates their curricula, campus life, and mission.

Here’s how they do it.

Character counts

“A Catholic university presents itself as separate and distinct from other universities,” said Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville. A key difference “is its Catholic identity, which should pervade every aspect of the University’s operations.

“ Catholic character must be evident in more than name. Visitors to Franciscan University often comment there is something “special” about the campus that goes beyond its physical beauty, said Fr. Sheridan.

The entire Franciscan University family, he explained, “is well aware of the presence of Christ and, as a result, lives the joy of the Gospel in their daily lives through the manner in which they engage each other, embrace the truth of our faith, proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, and value the beauty of living lives focused on developing their relationship with Christ.”

Those transcendentals are incorporated into the core curriculum, particularly in Franciscan’s fine arts offerings and Austrian program. Through these, “our students come to a deeper appreciation of the beautiful along with the true and the good,” he said.

The campus itself reflects beauty. At the heart of campus adjacent to Christ the King Chapel is the Rosary Circle, which envelops the cross.

“Our Catholic identity is not merely etched in our flowers or our architecture. It is at the heart of our mission,” said Fr. Sheridan, “which in turn is the basis for the decisions we make here, including hiring decisions and curriculum choices that are made consistent with the mission of the University.”

Theology, philosophy, and sacred music faculty publicly take the profession of faith and oath of fidelity to magisterial teaching. “People who witness this event each year have told me that it brings tears to their eyes to know that they or their child are part of a university that is truly Catholic,” he said.

The university’s rich sacramental life includes daily Mass, Confessions, and Eucharistic adoration. The student body is overwhelmingly Catholic, and there’s an evangelistic spirit, too: more than 450 students annually volunteer on mission trips to impoverished areas, often where the faith is not fully embraced.

“The witness of the lives of our students and their zeal for living the Gospel life, however, very frequently have a profound impact” on those they serve, Fr. Sheridan said.

Creativity and innovation

“At John Paul the Great Catholic University, we believe in the power of truth, goodness and beauty to transform culture,” said Derry Connolly, president and founder of the institution located in Escondido, Calif. “Students are formed in an environment that cultivates creativity and inspires innovation, values academic excellence and applied learning, and fosters an encounter with the transforming love and truth of Jesus Christ in an authentic Catholic community.”

At JPCatholic, as the university is also known, “Our confidence comes from our identity in Christ, our fidelity to his Church, and our unwavering commitment to one another,” Connolly said.

Great art comes “from the heart,” he said, and so the college forms students by connecting their deep intellectual knowledge of Christ with the creative process inspired by the great works of art.

All students take rigorous Catholic core classes to obtain an in-depth understanding of Scripture. They study theology and philosophy, including the Church’s social, moral, and ethical teachings. A Humanities focus includes the renowned works of literature, art, and music.

John Paul the Great welcomes students of all faith traditions or none, but “Catholic identity is paramount. It is our raison d’etre,” Connolly said.

JPCatholic offers a Catholic learning environment where students can grow both professionally and spiritually. “Outside of the classroom, our unique community of artists and innovators live lives largely centered on their Catholic faith,” Connolly affirmed. Daily Mass and rosary are offered, and there are frequent opportunities for Confession, adoration, retreats, service projects, and spiritual growth.

That’s the true and the good. As for the beautiful, Escondido lies just northeast of San Diego, so students are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, mountains, and wide-open spaces for recreation.

The beautiful is reflected also in the creative emphasis. “The culture of creating art on-campus is pervasive,” Connolly said. “Students are constantly filming, drawing, editing, acting, and ideating. The ongoing productions contribute greatly to large-scale collaboration among the student body and provide major opportunities for developing deep and lasting friendships with like-minded creative students, who are brought together by their shared values based on their deep love for and knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

High plains Catholicism

Glenn Arbery, a Denver Chapter Legate, presides over Wyoming Catholic College, among the newest and smallest entries to Catholic higher education. Having opened in 2007, its enrollment last year of 175 set an all-time high.

“Unique” describes WCC well. In keeping with its rural Wyoming environment, all students learn horsemanship. They study the likes of Aquinas and Aristotle, lyric poetry, Latin, Euclidean mathematics, Western literature, and field science. A Catholic Outdoor Renewal program goes beyond horsemanship to include kayaking, rock climbing, and a 21-day mountain backpacking expedition.

Also unusual is that students cannot keep cell phones on campus, “a deprivation that soon turns into the rare contemporary phenomenon of actually being present to others,” Arbery said.

That all adds up to a powerful way for students to appreciate truth, goodness, and beauty.

“We are very much a college of the Mountain West, but also of the Great Books tradition and the central current of orthodox Catholicism faithful to the Magisterium,” Arbery explained. “All of our students begin to experience the good, first of all, in their experience of their leaders and of each other, and they come to know the beautiful both in the majesty of the Rocky Mountains and in the sublimity of what they study. And everywhere, every day, they seek out what is true, knowing that the wrong path is a matter of life and death, just as it is in the wilderness.”

Rather than offer multiple majors, WCC has every student take the same courses all four years. There is a sequence of 12 courses each in theology and humanities, along with studies in

subjects including philosophy, fine arts, and experiential leadership. “Our Catholic identity takes shape through the very way the curriculum unfolds,” said Arbery.

Every Catholic professor takes the oath of fidelity, and nonCatholic professors pledge not to undermine the Faith. “But even an oath would not ensure a strong Catholic identity if every course did not support it,” he said.

WCC offers daily Mass and Confession, and many opportunities for spiritual direction and prayer. The Mass is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form “about half the time,” said Arbery.

The student body is predominantly Catholic, but other faiths are welcome.

“We are not what the great English poet John Milton calls ‘forcers of conscience,’” he noted. “At WCC, we trust that truth, goodness, and beauty have their own appeal.

“Besides,” he added, “the real work is always God’s.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Education – getting it straight

No one appreciates being patronized or deceived. No matter the situation, we expect truth the first time around. Anything else wastes our trust.

An authentic education —pursuit of truth in a given subject area — is no exception.

Media frequently run features on best-college values, but they use cost as the key variable. Catholic families must tease out where unmitigated truth is found, and where real threats to kids’ faith and well-being lie. Which schools will prepare the student well for his profession, and synergize it with full Catholic witness?

The Catholic Church teaches the purpose of man’s existence is to know, love, and serve God here, to be happy with Him eternally. Since God’s plan for marriage is procreation and education of children, kids must be taught what is essential to get to heaven. It’s the most important thing they can learn.

Yet, the typical parent sees a kid’s release into college as his official consummation with the world — complete with all its electrifying points of departure. In washing their hands of what they see as inevitable ‘falls from grace,’ parents commonly surrender with “What are ya gonna do?” But that cannot be Catholic parents’ collapse — to resign themselves to kids’ regrettable choices, many of which prove irreversible and destructive. God expects parents to be reliable guides in steering kids away from vices and serial mortal sin, toward the things of God. College can be a profligate abyss, or a magnificent enlightenment in Catholic truth, logic, and appreciation for God, regardless of chosen study.

As many kids (and parents) learn belatedly, boundless liberty isn’t the happiness they’d envisioned. Rather, life in Christ actually is.

Statistics bear it out. Studies over the past 20 years show those who practice their Christian faith and pray regularly are less stressed, healthier, happier, more financially stable, more compassionate, and more optimistic than those who don’t. And these findings aren’t from Catholic think-tanks, but from Pew Research and others.

So how should Catholic kids be educated?

St. Alphonsus Liguori, 17th-century doctor of the Church, says Catholic education begins at home, since kids absorb what parents embody. “Vices are not born to children,” he says, “but are communicated and exemplified.”

“To educate a child is to develop his intelligence, direct his reason, inspire him with love for good and horror for evil, form his character, correct him in what is reprehensible … and form him in knowledge, love and imitation of Jesus Christ,” the Christian Brothers say.

God says directly, “Listen to me, my son, and acquire knowledge, and pay close attention to my words. I will impart instruction by weight, and declare knowledge accurately.” (Sir 16: 24-25).

Ultimate and complete truth comes from God, and His teachings ground all fields of study.

Christ’s question thus remains: “What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul” (Matt 16:26)?

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Hybrid homeschooling

When homeschooling emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s among a largely conservative counterculture, it was actually outlawed in some states. By the early 1990s, however, every state had legalized it and participation now reaches into every sector of the population.

Many Catholics began to take up homeschooling in response to some parochial schools becoming more secular, unaffordable, or unavailable. In turn, options grew with online and correspondence Catholic schools and cooperative classes (co-ops) where groups come together for resources and specialized teaching expertise for a few classes.

The movement continues to grow among Catholics for a number of reasons including: growing disparity with the culture, the influence of Catholics in the public eye who homeschool, and positive reports such as the 2017 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University finding homeschoolers are four times more likely to enter seminaries than those educated in Catholic institutions.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that from 1999 to 2012, the number of homeschooled children more than doubled, from 850,000 to 1.8 million. According to EdChoice’s 2017 Schooling in America survey, about three percent of students are homeschooled, but some seven percent of families say that they would if they could.

Burgeoning options

As resources multiply it is becoming easier for families to make the commitment. A growing trend that lightens the burden for parents and increases opportunities for students is to take a hybrid approach, mixing homeschool with outside classes. Many public and Catholic schools that once shunned homeschoolers now allow part-time enrollment and participation in extracurricular activities for homeschoolers. It has also become popular for high schoolers to take college classes that also satisfy high school graduation requirements.

Actual hybrid schools — both secular and religious, which alternate school days between home and school — have also come onto the scene. For instance, the Regina Caeli Catholic schools — centered around the great-books and classic-texts approach — operate in 12 cities and 11 states, with an enrollment of about 1,100 children. Children learn at home three days a week and attend class wearing uniforms on the other two.

Adapting to children’s needs

“We homeschool because it’s the opportunity for a daily infusion of our cultural Catholicity that is important to us,” says Carolyn Smith, mother of nine children ages 23 to 5 in her 13th year of homeschooling. Her husband, Michael, is a senior network engineer who works on contracts for the federal government. They live a couple of miles outside of Mason, New Hampshire, a small rural community.

“We keep them home to school them but don’t hide them,” Carolyn said. “They are part of the community.” Their children use correspondence studies before high school and have participated in co-op classes. Thus far, the three older boys have chosen to attend Catholic high school full-time, but the two oldest girls stayed home, taking college classes during their junior and senior year, enabling them to enter Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia as sophomores.

There are four more still at home including one daughter with special needs. “Mary is just doing readiness with her Downs Syndrome,” Carolyn said. “She is non-verbal, but our lifestyle is tailored to help her; that’s why we have a horse and animals. Homeschooling affords us the ability to help her thrive in this environment.”

Daughter Sarah, finished her first year at Christendom and is returning as a junior this fall. Her sister Racheal graduated there last spring and is now enrolled in an accelerated nursing program. “I liked being with friends and socializing at co-op classes like music theory and Gregorian chant choir,” Sarah explained. “I took an algebra co-op class because it was a subject I needed more help in.” She also played softball at a local public school from seventh through eleventh grade.

Shannon Marie Federoff and her husband Matt are in their 22nd year of homeschooling “with 13 more to go,” according to her. They have 11 children ages 26 to 5 and also live on a hobby farm in Vail, Arizona. The family actually built their own 2,100-square-foot “straw bale” house with 14-foot ceilings and lofts for sleeping. Both Shannon and Matt were once public-school teachers and Matt now works as the chief information officer for the school district.

Shannon explained that they wanted a classical Catholic education for their children and to create a strong family culture. In addition to co-op classes, Shannon said that since they live in a conservative area and know who the good teachers are, once the children reach sophomore year, they supplement home education with math, science, and Spanish classes at the public high school. The children have also been involved in a number of outside activities such as ballet, 4-H, sports, drama, Trail Life, youth group, and altar servers.

Shannon’s daughter Isabel, 18, is heading off to Franciscan University as a sophomore this fall after mixing homeschool, public school, and college classes. “I really enjoyed going to school —I’m pretty social — but I was glad I didn’t have to go for the whole day,” she said. “I liked leaving early and the freedom of doing things at my own pace.” Isabel explained that she has dyslexia so that using audio books at home made English literature classes easier for her.

A family tradition

Deacon Mike and Gina McKeown of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota have homeschooled for 23 years. Their six children range in age from 34 to 17, and two married daughters are now homeschooling their own families. Another daughter, Sr. Mary Elia, is a Carmelite cloistered nun, and the fourth is starting her second year in college.

Once their children became juniors in high school, they enrolled with the Minnesota Department of Education Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), a program that allows 11th and 12th graders to earn college credit online or on campus at no cost whatsoever. Three of them took full-time classes at the college while two took classes online.

Cole, who just received his doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, said he took classes online to make time to play sports with the public school. He and his wife Teresa, who homeschooled through eighth grade then attended Catholic school, became new parents last February and plan to continue the family tradition of homeschooling.

Kyle, the youngest McKeown, took religion and music classes at the Catholic high school last year and will do so again this year. He is also enrolled in shop classes with the public school since he plans to go into construction.

“A lot of times parents have apprehensions about being able to handle teaching their children,” Mike said. “There are a lot of resources out there. We did research, talked with people, and took a hodge-podge approach, not using just one particular program.”

Changing Dynamics

Schooling typically evolves within families, tailored to individual needs and interests and changing family life. When James and Noreen Peliska moved from Naples, Florida to Bismarck where James took a job at the University of Mary as professor of biology and director of the pre-med program, four of their six children were already out of the home.

“Every year we set priorities for each child,” Noreen said. “Every kid is different, and dynamics change. I loved it when everyone was home and there were so many options to focus on the things they loved.” For instance, homeschooling enabled one son to dedicate many hours to music and get accepted at a prestigious music school, while another son who excelled at running in high school and college enrolled full-time there.

When they moved to Bismarck, Rose during her senior year chose to take full-time college classes that also satisfied high school requirements. Their youngest son, Edmund, took two classes at the Catholic high school and enjoyed it so much he is enrolled full time as a sophomore this year.

After 17 years, however, Noreen is still not quite done with schooling. She just started her studies in the radiologic technician program at the University of Mary.


PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Real Catholic education yields a Truth-seeking thinker

I was a history major in college. One of my history professors loved to tell us that our job as students was to be our own historians. He meant we should not simply read a history book and then believe we understood the topic, without further exploration of what we had read. We should study other books on the same topic and compare what the different authors put forth as explanations. In short, we were to become informed, independent thinkers who made critical judgments of the ways facts were chronicled and evaluated. Just because something is in a book does not make it true. It may be true, or partially true, or totally false. It is up to each student/historian to exert the effort to discover what is reliable, accurate, and reasonable, against what is mere conjecture or outright falsehood.

The professor’s advice applies to more than just studying history. University students should realize that much of what they’ll be taught needs to be analyzed and considered in the light of other facts and approaches. They need to be aware that in many fields of knowledge there is enormous pressure to conform to one set of ideas that reflect the modern secularist outlook. That outlook rejects the notions of eternal truths and natural moral laws. Instead students are confronted with subjectivism. Robert Cardinal Sarah describes this problem in his book God or Nothing: “Subjectivism is one of the most significant traits of our time. Feelings and personal desires are the only norm. Often modern man regards traditional values as archaeological artifacts.” Thus a college student will be told that the reason he should agree with (or at least not criticize) a blatantly immoral lifestyle is that everyone gets to decide what is right or wrong for himself. Making a judgment that certain ways of thinking or acting are wrong and harmful is treated as a violent intellectual assault on someone else’s unquestionable right to do whatever he wants, free from any criticism or disapproval.

Cardinal Sarah continues: “Since the social revolution in the sixties and seventies, it has been common practice to pit individual liberty against authority. Within this context, even among the faithful, it may seem that personal experience becomes more important than the rules established by the Church. If the individual is the central point of reference, everyone can interpret the Church’s message in his own way, adapting it to his own ideas.”

To be a faithful Catholic, especially in today’s university setting, a student must be aware that being a truth-seeking thinker means treating Christ’s doctrine as the basis upon which to judge everything else. Going along with fashionable trends and drinking in politically correct relativism that admits no other way of thinking is a sure formula for drifting away from the Church’s teaching and demands of the Gospel. Going along to get along can easily lead one down the road to denying certain teachings of the Church in the illusory pursuit of showing love and respect to people who reject those teachings. True love and respect for others involves sharing with them the liberating truths of the Gospel as taught by the Church. If they refuse to hear you, you at least have made the effort to help them. They have had the perhaps unusual experience that someone out there does stand firm when the world wants him to be silent and capitulate to the coercive worldview of relativism.

My history professor was a wise man. Being your own historian is a good way to approach the rest of life. For the Catholic student, it means looking at everything we encounter with the mind of Christ and not caving into the demands of a relativistic spirit in which there is no truth, only opinions.


FATHER GERALD MURRAY is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY. He holds a Doctorate in Canon Law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and appears as commentator on religious topics on TV and radio, including EWTN, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio, and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in US Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.

Real Catholic teaching imparts Truth, not trends

Catholic Schools have an Apostolic role in the life of the Church: they do not merely impart knowledge in a general sense, but ought to propagate the Catholic faith and foster the Christian formation of the young. Formation at many levels—spiritual, intellectual, social—must be based on a human formation derived from authentic Christian anthropology. Before a Catholic school can assist students to encounter the world around them, it must help them to understand themselves as persons created in God’s image and likeness, and called to holiness.

Fr. Philip Bochanski

Every choice that a Catholic school makes needs to be in line with this mission. Teens and young adults face many challenges, but few experiences are as profound—or as potentially confusing—as understanding one’s sexual identity, and making sense of new and powerful desires for intimacy, connection and love. In a secular culture that is often relativistic, utilitarian and hedonistic, the teaching of the Catholic Church is more important than ever, and must be spoken with consistency, clarity and charity.

It is not difficult to summarize that teaching: Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and called to form loving relationships. “Being man or being woman is a reality which is good and willed by God,” and “everyone, man or woman, should accept and acknowledge his or her sexual identity.” 1 The complementarity of the sexes is “not just a good thing but also beautiful,” and in the context of the permanent, exclusive relationship of husband and wife, “is a root of marriage and family.” 2 “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” 3 The experience of same sex attractions is not a sin in itself, though the attractions are not good nor a gift from God, insofar as they are desires for sexual intimacy that by its nature excludes the necessary elements of complementarity and procreativity. 4

“Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.” 5 But Catholic school teachers and administrators need to take care not to tacitly approve of same-sex unions or transgender ideology, even in the context of attempting to promote self-esteem or prevent bullying. A school cannot advocate or celebrate relationships or conduct which contradict Church teaching, without failing the very students it is called to form. This will often mean that faculty and administrators will have to propose and defend positions that are countercultural, and which may be strongly opposed by secular society and even some fellow Catholics.

The goal of every Catholic educator should be to “speak the truth in love,” as Saint Paul advises. 6 Of course this means treating every person with “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” as the Catechism insists. 7 It also means being honest about the demands of the Gospel, and accompanying each student along the path that God has marked out for human happiness and fulfillment.

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 369, 2333.
2 Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Colloquium on the Complementarity Between Man and Woman (the Humanum Conference), November 17, 2014.
3 Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (2015), Relatio Finalis, no.76.
4 cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006); Catechism, nn. 2357-58.
5 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, no. 250.
6 cf. Ephesians 4:15.
7 Catechism, no. 2358.

FR. PHILIP G. BOCHANSKI is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and executive director of Courage International, the Catholic apostolate that provides pastoral care to people who experience same-sex attractions and desire to live chastity.

Learning history shapes the student

Genuine College prep encompasses the whole human person. It can’t be confined to a score on a college entrance exam.

Michael Van Hecke, M.ED.

The early years are formative in critically important and subtle ways, especially living as we do in a culture that abounds in distractions and in educational content that seems hell-bent on undermining our core principles as Catholics and humans. “Life prep” happens every minute of every day, in what a child learns and experiences at home and in school.

I’m not alone in this thinking.

“Train up a child in the way he should go,” reads Proverbs 22:6, “even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

C.S. Lewis, in his marvelous short book The Abolition of Man, recounts Aristotle’s fitting and timeless account of education’s purpose—“to make the pupil delight in what he should delight in, and shun what he should shun.”

But given the errors of the era in which we live—whereby what is natural and normal is turned upside down and considered “phobic,” “noninclusive,” “offensive,” even “wrong” or “evil”—excellent intellectual formation and understanding is critical.

The errors of our current age, as C.S. Lewis noted, have seeped into nearly every aspect of our school textbooks, from history to English to mathematics and science.

Consider history.

All the major K-12 textbook publishers boast about the diversity of their review boards, pointing to members who are Muslims, transgender, etc. Christians aren’t mentioned. On the contrary, every attempt is made to show “diversity” as opposed to Christian “influence.”

Evaluating what to include—or not—in a textbook is often determined by whether—or not—the information aligns with a politically correct vantage point.

In secular history textbooks, information regarding the Catholic Church, its formation and historical influence, the significant historical impact of Catholic religious orders, lay men and women, their founding of hospitals, schools, universities and more—throughout more than 2,000 years, worldwide—is often ignored, minimized or falsely portrayed.

In at least one popular world history textbook an entire, glowing chapter on Mohammed and Islam is prominent yet there is barely a sentence about the Church.

This example isn’t about whether or not all of history should be taught. It’s not about pretending every Catholic person in history was holy or made prudent decisions. This is not even about teaching the Faith. This is history, not religion.

This is about teaching true history, accurately. In today’s secular history textbook, you won’t find the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the dramatic, significant historical impact of this miracle on the history of Mexico and neighboring countries.

When a child’s K-12 formation includes a true and accurate understanding of history—one that includes the major historical contributions of such Catholics as Christopher Columbus, Mother Seton, Thomas the Apostle, Don Juan of Austria, Pope Pius X, Joan of Arc, even Antonio Vivaldi, and so many others whose faith and actions have impacted society and nations—then this child grows up to understand that he, too, has a role to play in today’s era, as a Catholic. He learns that decisions and actions have consequences—good and bad. He learns the truth about the men and women on whose shoulders we stand today. He learns life has a bigger purpose than today’s distractions and myopic, shallow vantage point.

The same is true in the study of science, English and other core subjects.

Students take for granted that the textbook used in class is accurate. But in today’s culture, even textbooks can undermine a young person’s understanding of the Catholic faith, of the significance of the Church and its faithful. This affects a young adult’s foundational understanding of the world and his purpose in it.

Clearly a person’s “life prep” is critical during the K-12 grades, and if its embers are fanned and examined more deeply in college, such a person will become an ambassador for Christ in season and out of season, in joy and in hardship—no matter what his or her vocation, no matter what his or her field of enterprise—to the end.

MICHAEL VAN HECKE, M.ED., is founder and president of Catholic Textbook Project (CatholicTextbookProject.com), The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (CatholicLiberalEducation.org), and a seasoned headmaster of a Top 50 school.

Early wonder years in Catholic school

Forty-nine years ago this month, I put on an itchy wool-plaid jumper, beanie, blazer, maroon knee socks and regulation oxford shoes to venture out to the bus stop — alone — for my first day at Sacred Heart School in southern New Jersey. Back then, our pastor could waive the kindergarten requirement if parents made the case that we were ready for first grade. Mom lobbed a convincing pitch.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

An exasperated nun rushed down the school’s iron steps waving, her full black habit billowing in the rainy wind…the bell had rung and everyone was inside. “Are you Christine Valentine?” she barked, mispronouncing my last name to rhyme with my first. I flinched as she pointed me to her classroom. I didn’t know how to address nuns or what was expected. I sensed I’d be learning PDQ.

A stack of new books was on every old desk, and Sister Julia hustled me to my seat. She began reviewing numbers out loud, asking each row to count upward in unison. I had no idea. Suddenly we were on to identifying colors, with her pointer slapping large color-circles above the blackboard. Again, no idea. Everyone knew I was out of sync — they were giggling and side-glancing.

But I caught on. By November, I knew the alphabet, colors, numbers, telling time, basic prayers, printing, and simple reading — and began cursive writing, which seemed like personalized art. What Sister Julia didn’t realize about me was, I wanted to learn and had looked forward to school. I tried hard to win her over. We knew our parents wouldn’t respond to school complaints — we had to sink or swim.

I remember Sister teaching us our first Bible story about Adam and Eve. She hung a giant Bible reader above the board, and with her pointer, had us read the large words aloud. I was transfixed — these two people listened to a snake and ruined life for everyone over an apple? I was enthralled with the artwork — flowers, brooks, animals, fruit groves and angels — and secret gardens. It began an enduring curiosity in me about the nature of God and of people, how things came to be — and what’s in store ultimately.

There were years with congenial teachers, and with tough ones. We were taught to obey, adapt and keep going. Our individual hang-ups were not paramount — the teacher was. Her priorities became ours, but we were always accountable. We respected authority, even if we didn’t relish or agree with it. It prepared us for responsibilities of all sorts.

We learned more than we realized. Life is demanding, people aren’t always affable, and their expectations not always comfortable. Every day has its duties, bright spots and disappointments, and we were held to a disciplined regimen. But in that old stone Catholic school with no air conditioning, cafeteria or gym, we had order, safety, and something more. We went to weekly Mass, received sacraments regularly, had parish priests guest-teaching our class, jump-roped with the nuns, and learned our place … for now and later.

I look back on those fledgling Catholic school days with great gratitude. We got so much — solid girding of faith, durable work ethic, lessons in perseverance, obedience, and humility. Pearls for a lifetime.


CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Trailblazer for New Catholic Renaissance

Turning 40, Christendom College – under longtime leadership of Legate Timothy O’Donnell – maintains authentic Catholic surety and attests one man can make a difference.

When Legate Timothy O’Donnell became the third president of Christendom College 25 years ago, one of the first things he wanted to do was build a chapel at the center of campus.

But Mark McShurley, then-chief financial officer, said it couldn’t be done without a major gift.

“He gave me a figure,” O’Donnell said, “and we said a prayer to the Blessed Mother. Fifteen minutes after we prayed, he came into my office shaking and saying, ‘You won’t believe what happened.’” McShurley had just received a call from an anonymous donor who wanted to make a gift in the exact amount he had named.

“I said, ‘Goodness, she works really fast!’” O’Donnell recalled. Three years later, the Chapel of Christ the King was consecrated. Ever since, it has stood as a vivid reminder of Christendom’s mission to form and send forth an educated Catholic laity to impact society and “restore all things in Christ.”

Launched during weak-kneed time in Catholic education

Christendom was founded in 1977 by Dr. Warren Carroll at a time when many older Catholic colleges were shedding their Catholic identity and legacy. A decade earlier, 26 Catholic college administrators, bishops and presidents had gathered in Land O’Lakes, WI, to forge a statement asserting that Catholic universities would be independent from the Church hierarchy, orthodoxy and spirituality. Carroll responded by creating an academic environment where students could receive an authentic, Catholic liberal arts education that would prepare them to integrate their faith into their professional lives, whether in politics, law, journalism or teaching. In starting Christendom, he fulfilled his own oft-spoken words that “one man can make a difference,” touching off a renewal of Catholic higher education that is still unfolding today.

“Christendom is probably best described as a pacesetter,” said Patrick Reilly, founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which seeks to promote and defend faithful Catholic education. “It was one of the first institutions . . . to really step out and make clear that the heart of Catholic education is fidelity to the Church.” That ideal, Reilly said, has since been emulated by other institutions that have either returned to or were established on the foundation of providing a strong, authentic, faithful Catholic education. “Christendom has really set an example that is spreading rather rapidly throughout not just higher education, but also elementary and secondary education.”

Still among top picks for Catholic fidelity

Indeed, in its first Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, published in 2007, the Cardinal Newman Society recommended 21 colleges and programs, including Christendom, for their commitment to faithful Catholic education. A decade later, the current guide lists 29, and Christendom again is among them.

Reilly credits O’Donnell’s leadership with much of Christendom’s success over the last 25 years. “Just as the key to Catholic education is strong fidelity to the faith, it also relies on leaders who are real witnesses to the faith and no one does that better than Tim O’Donnell. Teaching is his first love. If you look back to great Catholic educators, great leaders of Catholic colleges, they were educators first. And he certainly is.”

O’Donnell came as educator first … and is today

O’Donnell came to Christendom in 1985 as an assistant professor of theology and history, having been drawn to the school by its pioneering role in the effort to restore Catholic higher education. When he assumed the presidency seven years later, he did so with the provision that he would continue to teach, something he still does today. “The big thing to me is building the temple of the soul,” he said, “and I told the board I would be president only if I could keep teaching.”

Like the school’s founder, O’Donnell has been a man who has made a difference. During his tenure, which has spanned more than half the school’s history, Christendom has expanded its enrollment, physical plant and academic offerings.

When he became president, Christendom had 144 students. Enrollment since has increased to 485 undergraduate students on the main campus in Front Royal, VA. Another 175 graduate students study online and at the Alexandria, VA campus.

Staying small enough for collegium

Even as enrollment has risen, the intent has been to keep the college small enough so that there is a faculty member for every 15 students. “It’s the idea of a medieval collegium where students and faculty live together,” O’Donnell said, adding that Christendom faculty members dine daily with students and know them by name. “A lot of times conversations initiated in the classroom are carried over to lunch. It becomes a way of life.”

Indeed, that was one reason alumna Joan Watson chose Christendom, although she originally had had her heart set on a larger Catholic university where her father and brother had gone. At Christendom, she said, “I knew I was going to be known by name and that was important to me.” Watson, who graduated in 2006 and now is director of adult formation for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, said she also liked that the president of the college and other faculty went to Mass with students and sat with them at lunch. “There was such an integration of the family of Christendom.”

Devotions led by the president

Watson said when she was a student, O’Donnell would lead a holy hour the night before the monthly First Friday observance, which honors the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “The chapel would be packed and he and [his wife] Cathy would be in the front row. Sometimes those holy hours were exactly what I needed. To have the president of the college taking a spiritual fatherhood role is enormous. That may be the greatest thing he gave me.”

The holy hour since has been moved to 9 p.m. on the first Friday and is followed by allnight Eucharistic adoration, but O’Donnell still participates by leading a scriptural meditation Rosary.

Christendom has long had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart, which is depicted in a large window in the chapel sanctuary. Each year, the college community is consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and O’Donnell attributes the school’s success to this spiritual practice.

“The Church hasn’t changed Her teaching … we will remain faithful”

In addition to enrollment growth during O’Donnell’s presidency, Christendom has seen a significant expansion of its campus that has included construction of a library, gymnasium and new residence halls. Now, as the college celebrates its 40th anniversary, plans are underway to build a new cruciform Gothic chapel near the existing one on the highest point of the campus overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Seating will double that of the current chapel, which will be converted to a Catholic cultural center. The project is part of a $40 million campaign that also will build up the endowment and annual fund.

Under O’Donnell’s leadership, the college has enriched its academic offerings as well by adding study-abroad programs in which juniors spend a semester in Rome and students from Christendom and other schools can attend the St. Columcille Institute in Donegal, Ireland for three weeks during the summer. O’Donnell visits students in the Rome program, giving them a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, and teaches in and serves as dean of the St. Columcille Institute, which he founded to train students as leaders in the New Evangelization. At Christendom, O’Donnell also teaches freshman history, the history and theology of the papacy and ascetical and mystical theology.

Teaching, he said, helps him relate with faculty and students, and makes him more disciplined and focused. “I find that it allows you not to be a distant figure. The faculty see you differently and the students see you not as a remote administrator, but doing the essential work of the college, which is teaching.”

Amid the uncertainty that marks these times, O’Donnell said Christendom will stay the course. “This is a time-tested education, the education the Church has always encouraged us to do, that Catholics come in contact with their patrimony, where faith and reason work together in a harmonious synthesis. There is no reason to change because in times of confusion it is even more important that students learn to think clearly, to see fallacious thinking or argument. All this is given through the rigor of education they receive here. The Church has not changed her teaching . . .. We continue to remain faithful to the patrimony of the Church and to go forward.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Faith Walking with Reason – Foot Lamps for Life

At the outset of his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”), Pope St. John Paul II characterized faith and reason as “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” God, he continued, places in our hearts the desire to know the truth, which is God Himself; it is by coming to know and love God that we can come to know the truth about ourselves, our world and the meaning of life.

Both faith and reason are needed to know the truth, the pope explained in his encyclical, expressing the fruits of a long Catholic intellectual tradition that includes saints like Augustine, Aquinas and Bonaventure. By faith, we accept what God has revealed to us; by reason, we use our intellects to reflect abstractly on our world and our experiences. Faith and reason, therefore, are essential allies in our search for truth.

Just as “grace builds on nature,” as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, faith builds upon reason and elevates it. As Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2007 Angelus talk, “Faith presupposes reason and perfects it, and reason, enlightened by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities.”

That harmony of faith and reason is the basis for the Catholic liberal arts tradition.

Cultivating the mind

Cardinal John Henry Newman, the great 19th-century convert from Anglicanism, was an advocate of liberal education, particularly within the framework of the Catholic faith. He envisioned a “real cultivation of mind,” a “perfection or virtue of the intellect” that is “impregnated by reason.”

At his opening lecture to students of a Catholic university he had helped found, Newman extolled the benefit of such an education. “[T]he man who has learned to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyze, who has refined his taste, and formed his judgement, and sharpened his mental vision will not at once be a lawyer, or a pleader, or an orator, or a statesman, or a physician, or a good landlord, or a man of business, or a soldier, or an engineer, or a chemist, or a geologist” but will do so “with an ease, a grace, a versatility, and a success, to which another is a stranger,” said Newman.

This education in faith and reason does something more than make us better at our professions or duties: It helps us become more virtuous. The human virtues “are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1804). Moral conscience, which directs us toward virtue and away from evil, is a “judgment of reason” (#1778).

And “the goal of a virtuous life,” says the Catechism in quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa, “is to become like God.”

Made for greatness

At Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, the goal of this preparation for life is embodied in a single catchword: “greatness.” It keys off a saying popularly attributed to Pope Benedict XVI: The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

“The foundation of Catholic education is Jesus Christ, who is the highest possible expression of greatness,” said Benedictine president Stephen Minnis, a member of the Kansas City Chapter of Legatus. As a result of this education in faith and reason — invented by the Benedictines, whose monastic schools of the early Middle Ages were precursors to the modern university — “Western Civilization flowered in unprecedented truth, beauty and goodness,” he noted.

The college reminds students of this call to greatness through its academic programs, sacred art, student life, and career preparation. Its Gregorian Fellows Leadership Program, for example, aims to promote Catholic identity in public life “by forming a new generation of Catholic leaders who unite faith and reason in their work,” according to the college website.

At John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, California, formation in faith and reason provides a pathway toward transforming the world. “We have an intentional focus on preparing students to impact culture for Christ after graduation,” said president Derry Connolly, a member of the San Diego Chapter of Legatus. That focus requires two tightly integrated components: leading students to encounter Christ, and facilitating this encounter through the intellectual and human environment within the campus culture.

Students also “must become highly skilled in their professional discipline” if they are to make a positive impact on the broader culture, he added.

Preparing for the ‘real world’

William Fahey, president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire, said a Catholic education too often is seen as a luxury.

“The Catholic has an obligation – a joyful and satisfying obligation – to enrich and care for his or her soul and mind,” said Fahey, a member of the Northeast Chapter of Legatus. While students need to discern a vocation and perhaps pursue specialized studies, the typical education provided to undergraduates at most colleges and universities “does not present the human person as a Catholic should understand him.”

Young Catholics face many grave and serious questions that require both faith and reason in order to discover the truth, Fahey indicated. On many secular and even Christian campuses professors “no longer believe in truth or rational discourse,” which only serves to perpetuate doubt and confusion.

A Catholic education, on the other hand, “is one in which the teachers proudly declare that men and women are rational creatures, but as with any characteristic, the capacity to reason must be formed, trained, exercised, and challenged with a sound community,” said Fahey. “You cannot learn either the faith or the truth from those who have neither faith nor interest in abiding truth.

“I can’t think of any preparation for the ‘real world’ as rich as a Catholic liberal arts education.”

Deacon Larry Oney, founder of Hope and Purpose Ministries and a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, likewise affirms the value of a Catholic education.

“I think that education is one of the powerful arrows in the quiver of the Church because education is a way to shape the minds of the young people to rationally develop an appropriate worldview that is disposed toward faith,” said Deacon Oney, a member of the New Orleans Chapter of Legatus. “It is only as we ponder the things of God that we develop a true and lasting relationship with God and feel a deep connection with our faith.”

When people encounter the living God, the experience can engage the emotions, but that emotional “high” is not sustainable, he said. That’s where education in thinking and reasoning come in.

“Reason helps the faithful continue after the emotional high wears off—they can begin to study the Scriptures, participate more fully in Mass, and partake of the sacraments on a new level,” he said. “Their personal commitment to their faith is stronger having both their emotions and their reason engaged…. It is our reason that allows us to remember how our hearts were engaged and follow that with perseverance in the faith.”

Catholic education, he concluded, “gives a person the tools they need develop their power of reason to continue their faith journey throughout life.”

GERALD KORSON a career Catholic editor and journalist, writes from Indiana