Tag Archives: education

Most Catholic kids in public school leave the Church

What percent of applicants were accepted to Yale last year? Only 6 percent.

Pretty poor odds, right?

Now consider this: What percent of Catholic kids who never attended Catholic school will go to weekly Mass as adults? Only 5 percent.

Pretty poor odds, indeed. Consider further that most Catholic children (about 84 percent) will never attend Catholic school, and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. We are losing the next generation of Catholics with stunning speed. By the time they graduate from public school, most young Catholics will head for the Church’s “exit” door, never to return. These aren’t faceless statistics: these are our children and grandchildren.

In spite of all the handwringing within the Church over why young Catholics are leaving the faith, few Catholic adults (or clergy) have faced this fact: public schools are toxic to our children, poisoning their self-understanding and undermining their faith. Why aren’t we talking about this? More importantly, why aren’t we fixing this?

Perhaps older Catholics, who grew up when the culture largely supported Christian living, fail to appreciate the magnitude of this cultural shift. Previously, the cultural undertow generally pulled most people along in the right direction. Today’s cultural undertow is a riptide, brutally yanking our children far from shore, submerging them in polluted waters and suffocating their faith. Public schools, along with entertainment, social media, consumer culture, and celebrity influencers, are our cultural waters.

Perhaps Catholic parents who attended public schools themselves think, “Well, I turned out all right,” not realizing that today’s public school environment is radically different.

The game-changer is public education’s reckless stampede towards full-blown gender ideology. Under the guise of “inclusivity” and “tolerance,” schools are indoctrinating our children in a false anthropology that is destructive, destabilizing, denies scientific reality (that we are male or female, forever), and contradicts Catholic teachings.

Put plainly, the public schools are lying to our kids about who they are. Rather than a unity of body and soul, the human person is presented as a jumble of disconnected dimensions such as “gender identity,” “sex assigned at birth,” “gender expression,” and “sexual orientation.” Gender ideology says it’s normal for these dimensions not to align. A person with a male-sexed body can identify as a girl, and insist that others address “her” by female pronouns; classmates must nod along, “affirming” the child’s chosen identity. Gender ideology also teaches kids that it’s normal for transgender-identifying persons to pursue body modification through cross-sex hormones or radical surgery. Put differently, teachers, counselors, and administrators will “affirm” a transgender-identified child, even if this means supporting a 16-year- old girl’s desire for a double mastectomy (because she feels like a boy) or an 18-year old boy’s hopes for genital surgery to validate his identity as a “real” girl.

Worse, schools are keeping parents in the dark about kids’ exposure to gender-affirming curricula, whether transgender-identified students are sharing restrooms or locker rooms alongside opposite-sex students, or even their own child’s “gender identity.” State legislatures and local school boards pass regulations forbidding school staff from telling parents if their own child shows signs of gender confusion unless the child consents. The schools comply under the pressure tactics and litigation threats of LGBT activist groups bent on influencing how other people’s kids understand themselves.

As parents know, there are no do-overs on childhood. One hour a week of religious education cannot possibly counter a child’s daily immersion in gender ideology. Parents, clergy, and Catholic philanthropists need to see what’s happening and enable all Catholic kids to receive a Catholic education. The alternative is to watch helplessly, as the Pied Piper of gender ideology pipes our children over the mountain, never to return.

MARY RICE HASSON, JD, is the Kate O’Beirne Fellow and the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. She co-authored, with Theresa Farnan, PhD, Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child From Public School Before It’s Too Late (Regnery, 2018) and was a speaker for the Holy See’s panel on gender ideology during the 2019 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Curriculum Imbues Aquinas’ Virtue-Teachings

St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings on the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit can be daunting enough for most adults, let alone school kids.

But the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, have developed a curriculum that effectively communicates the Angelic Doctor’s insights to students from kindergarten to high school about the virtues they will need to live and cope well as Christian disciples.

“We wanted to instill the importance of that, because what virtue really is, is this internal disposition toward goodness,” said Dominican Sister John Dominic, one of four foundresses of her community, which has its mother house in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“We aim to form adults, a generation of young people, who desire to be good, that see that this way of life leads to an interior peace and happiness,” Sister Dominic said.

Sisters spiritually adopted Legatus

Communicating the value of the virtuous life has been a staple of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, which began in 1997 with four members from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, more commonly known as the Nashville Dominicans.

Sister Dominic and her three foundresses felt called to begin a new religious foundation. They were aided by Tom Monaghan, founder of Legatus, who arranged to bring the sisters to Ann Arbor so they could operate a new Catholic school that would teach students to excel in academics and the spiritual life.

“We were aligned with our vision for Catholic education,” said Sister Dominic, who added that Monaghan also helped build the community’s mother house. She said the sisters have spiritually adopted Legatus and regularly pray for the organization’s intentions.

“We’ve always felt very close to Legatus,” Sister Dominic said.

400 schools use the program

The sisters operate the Spiritus Sanctus Academies, which are two private Catholic Pre-K-to-8th grade schools, in the Ann Arbor and Plymouth areas of southeast Michigan. The community has its own publishing company, Lumen Ecclesia Press, that publishes books written and music recorded by the sisters.

“When we had to get our books printed, the printer told us we needed a press name,” Sister Dominic said. “So we came up with Lumen Ecclesia Press, for Light of the Church, with the symbol of a torch because we want to be a light out there to praise, to bless, and to preach.”

The Education in Virtue curriculum was the first project the sisters published through Lumen Ecclesia Press. Sister Dominic said an education in the virtues is closely linked to Dominican spirituality, teaching, and preaching. She added that the sooner children are taught about virtue, the easier it is for them to grow in the virtues.

“I found that when I was the principal of Spiritus Sanctus Academy, people would ask other teachers, ‘How do I teach virtue and temperance to a kindergartener?’” Sister Dominic said. “That’s why we develop resources, with virtue cards that contain illustrations of what a particular virtue looks like, a phrase of what it sounds like, and what it looks like in action.”

In addition to the virtue cards, which are similar to flash cards, the virtue curriculum’s resources include videos, professional development courses for teachers, and videos for parents who are interested in the materials.

“We’ve tried to make the content not too intellectual, but so that any person can understand it,” said Sister Dominic, who added that more than 400 Catholic schools across the country use the virtue curriculum.

“The materials are attractive, engaging, and infused with Sacred Scripture, insights from the lives of the saints, and a Thomistic understanding of the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit,” Father Steve Mattson, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, wrote for a testimonial published on the Education in Virtue’s website.

 ‘Echoing the mystery’ for catechists

The sisters’ other big project has been the publication of Echoing the Mystery, a book for catechists based on the teaching approach of Barbara Morgan, the retired foundress of the catechetics program at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Before retiring in 2005, Morgan taught Sister Dominic and many notable Catholic apologists and authors, including Jeff Cavins, Tim Gray, and Edward Sri, among others.

“Her love and deep understanding of God’s revelation make her an effective catechist,” Sister Dominic said, adding that Morgan, who lives in Michigan, understands that a catechist is a person who “echoes down” the truths God has revealed.

Echoing the Mystery was released in 2018 after about 12 years’ hard work and planning. Sister Dominic said the community wanted to compile Morgan’s insights and catechetical approach for future generations of catechists.

Morgan, who was seriously ill at times and nearly died from pancreatitis, said she was unsure if the book would ever be published, but was thankful that God enabled her and Dominican Sister Athanasius Munroe, her co-author, to finish Echoing the Mystery. Morgan credited Mother Mary Assumpta Long, the superior of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, with allowing Sister Athanasius to work exclusively with her.

James Pauley, a theology and catechetics professor at Franciscan University, said Echoing the Mystery represents the “lifework of a master catechist” that meets a profound need in the Church.

“It is the most comprehensive and incisive treatment of how to communicate the content of the Christian message available today,” Pauley said. “The book does not advocate for a merely conceptual presentation of Christian doctrine, but it puts doctrine in proper relationship to the kerygma (Greek, for “preaching”), the Scriptures, the sacramental encounter with God, and the call to conversion.”

Firsthand research from Church documents, scripture, experience 

Barbara said her knowledge of catechetics and teaching approach is rooted in the era before the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was published in 1992. She learned how to research Catholic doctrine in Church documents. She also attended 12 years of Catholic schools, went to a Catholic college, and had a mother, a former Baptist, who knew Scripture and could tell her how Catholic teachings were rooted in the Bible

“The thing the catechist has to give people is that which they will not get on their own,” Morgan said.

Sister Dominic said Morgan’s effectiveness and moral clarity as a catechist are the result of prayer, her relationship with God, and her lived experiences.

“And she’s so humble,” Sister Dominic said. “Her humility is such that she delights in anyone she is teaching becoming a better catechist than her. That’s humility.”

Sister Dominic said Echoing the Mystery is written for catechists and people who have the responsibility to hand on the Catholic faith to future generations. She added that the book can be used with any catechetical series on the market.

“I’m really excited about this,” Sister Dominic said. “I think anybody who teaches religious education or catechesis just needs to have a copy of that, the Catechism, a Bible, and they’re good to go.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer

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.

Know the marks of a worthwhile education

As the new school year gets underway, it’s a good time to be thinking about the quality of education that our children are getting, or in all too many cases the education that they are not getting.

The first test of what constitutes a good education is the way that one of the most important questions is asked and answered. It is Pilate’s famous question to Christ: Quid est veritas? What is truth? If the asking of this question is not at the heart of a school’s curriculum, it is not a school offering a true education. If, on the other hand, the question is asked but only with the tired indifference of the relativist who believes that it is a question that is unanswerable, the school is likewise failing to offer an authentic education. The question needs to be asked as one that needs to be answered and, furthermore, as one to which the answer is ultimately knowable and known.

As for the answer to the question, a school offering a good and true education will answer it in the words that Christ gave to His disciples when He told them that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” The way to truth can only come through Christ, which means that it can only come with an understanding of the Gospel and the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which is nothing less than the Mystical Body of Christ in the world. An education that sidelines Christ, or ignores Him, or which treats Christianity as only one of several equally valid religions is not a true education at all. How can it be? In denying Christ, it denies the way, the truth, and the life, without which, or whom, there is nothing ultimately but darkness.

Having established the centrality of Christ to all authentic education, the other essential element of a true education is an acceptance of the unbreakable bond between fides et ratio, the indissoluble marriage of faith and reason, which is at the heart of true Christian philosophy. At the heart of this rational path to truth is a proper understanding of “science.” The word science comes from the Latin word scientia, which simply means knowledge. It is for this reason that the Church has always taught that theology is the queen of the sciences. Theology is the knowledge of God, the first and most important of all the sciences. Another science that is often neglected is philosophy, which is the knowledge of reality to be discovered in the love of wisdom. It is the science of wisdom. History is the knowledge of reality to be discovered by understanding the past. It is the science of the past, or, to put it another way, it is the science of human experience. If an education is neglecting these crucial and authentic paths of knowledge in favor of the so-called “hard” sciences, the latter of which are encapsulated in the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), it is not an authentic or adequate education. These subjects are important, of course, but only as part of a wider knowledge, which includes the other sciences.

Last, but emphatically not least (indeed the last shall be first!), a good and true education must be an education that teaches what it means to be good. It must teach virtue, and it must teach the Christian understanding of love, the very heart of all virtue, which is the conscious choosing of the sacrifice of the self for others. Such an education, which teaches the good and the true, can be said to be truly beautiful.

 

JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal.

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.

Drawing Kids to the Glow of Catholicism

When Bishop Kevin Rhoades challenged teachers in Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese to think of ways to keep young people from leaving the Catholic faith, Legate Betsy Williams took it to heart – and prayer.

In the quiet of her adoration hours before the Blessed Sacrament, an idea began to take shape: Immerse students in the beauty of the Catholic faith, giving them an emotional connection to the truths they learn.

New program emphasizes Catholic beauty

Last month when classes began, Williams’ idea debuted as the Light for the World program at St. Anthony de Padua School in South Bend. The program consists of houses, or small faith communities, within the school, and monthly retreats that focus on a saint and a virtue he or she exemplified.

The houses, which will be named for various saints, will have activities throughout the year to foster a sense of community. During the monthly retreat, each house will rotate among four stations, spending 30 minutes at a time in adoration, listening to a talk by a priest, working on a service project, and singing and learning about the Mass.

“Catholic schools do an amazing job of teaching the truth and this is so very important,” said Williams, who previously taught preschool and first and second grades at St. Anthony. “. . . That doesn’t need to change, but what needs to be added is leading [students] to the truth through beauty.”

Legate John Tippmann, Sr., who is helping Light for the World get started through a grant from his Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation, agreed. “I have seen what the problem is and it is that we know we’re losing children, Catholic children, at an alarming rate. They just lose interest in their faith.”

Keeping the faith – through love for Christ

Tippmann said when he grew up, it was far more likely that students attending Catholic schools would graduate with a love for their faith that sustained them the rest of their lives. Today, he said, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 25 percent of young people between the ages of 21 and 29 attend Mass weekly. And, according to a talk given in March at the University of Notre Dame by Katherine Angulo, associate director for youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, 6 in 10 young Catholics celebrate their First Communion, but only a third go on to receive Confirmation. Angulo also said the median age people stop identifying as Catholic is 13 and one of the main reasons youth are leaving the Church is that they have no emotional connection to the faith.

“We want to teach them to love the faith instead of just learning the rules and regulations of it,” Tippmann said. When Williams presented Light for the World to several members of his foundation’s board, Tippmann said it resonated with his own experience of the faith handed down to him by his mother, for whom the foundation is named. “It seemed like this would help teachers to do a better job of teaching the Catholic faith and love for it.”

The foundation agreed to fund the first two years of the program at St. Anthony at a cost of $23,000 a year, which covers expenses and part of the salary for an additional teacher. If the program takes off, the foundation may continue to fund it or possibly support expanding it to other schools.

Kids ask to go to church

Williams, who will be the teacher directing the program as the school’s Catholic identity representative, drew on her classroom experiences to develop Light for the World. More than two years ago, she began taking her firstgraders into the parish church on Fridays to pray a rosary for their pastor, Fr. Robert Garrow, and for Bishop Rhoades. “They absolutely loved this time in church and in the silence,” she said. “They would beg to go during the week.” In talking with the students, Williams learned that they felt happy and peaceful during the Friday visits. “‘That’s the peace of Jesus,’ I told them. They were hooked and couldn’t get enough.” Next, Williams formed an adoration club so that all students in the school could have the same experience of being alone with Jesus in the quiet of the church. Twice a month for an hour after school, students in the club would meet to pray the rosary, sing and sit quietly.

Adoration will be a key element of the monthly retreats because, Williams said, she wants students to have an opportunity to unplug and listen to what God may be calling them to do with the gifts they have been given and to develop a lifelong habit of taking their concerns to Him.

Williams hopes through Light for the World to show students and their families the treasure they have in their faith – a treasure often left behind by putting travel, sports, and other distractions ahead of attending Mass. “So many kids and families are dropping away and abandoning our greatest gift for the pull of the world.”

As a means of reaching out to families, all the talks given by priests during the monthly retreats will be recorded and available to view online. Family members of students also will be invited to attend the retreats.

Service to others – mitigates focus on self

Williams developed the service aspect of the program to counteract the culture’s focus on self and to show students the beauty of loving, serving, and sacrificing for others. Each house will establish a relationship with a charity during the year and spend part of each retreat day doing something for that charity. For example, a house that has chosen a homeless shelter might make lunches for shelter residents.

The singing element of the retreats is designed to teach students that they are joining with all the angels and saints in bringing glory to God every time they go to Mass. Williams’ hope is that by teaching the students to sing beautiful songs for school and Sunday Masses, families who have been away from church or don’t attend will hear something that makes them want to return.

Strong family support is key

Although she has a background in education, Williams said the best preparation she received for creating Light for the World came from her parents, who gave her a strong, positive example of living the faith. Her father, Brian Miller, has been a deacon at St. Anthony de Padua for the last 45 years and helped her form the adoration club. “He’s given his whole life to our faith.”

Light for the World is not a curriculum, but will complement religious instruction in the classroom, Williams said. In addition to offering experiences that will convey the beauty of the faith, the program will provide suggested activities students can do with their families.

Bishop Rhoades, who approved the program, said its strength is the movement from beauty to goodness and then to truth it provides through exposing the children to the lives of the saints, prayer and retreat days, and priests and religious sisters. “It will be a very purposeful program, seeking to give the children a rich and joyful experience of learning to live the Gospel.”

He added that in visiting Williams’ first-grade classroom, he has already observed the effectiveness of her approach. The bishop said he also has seen how it involves parents who are often moved by the religious observance of their children. “I know of one parent who even became Catholic because the devotion of her daughter led her to learn about the Catholic faith. Parent involvement in this program is a real strength and necessity for the Catholic mission of the school.”

Narrow road’ to Christ is countercultural

Williams said she was confirmed in her discernment of the program by hearing Bishop Rhoades talk during his Chrism Mass homily during Holy Week this year about spreading the aroma of Christ in a world where there is so much stench, an idea he said he took from Pope Francis.

“It really hit home,” Williams said. “. . . It immediately made me think of what I was working on – to teach little ones and their families that everything the world is showing them, that they see in media, the Internet, on Facebook, is so countercultural to what we know as Catholics. I kept thinking of St. John Paul II and how he said don’t be afraid to be a saint, don’t be afraid to go against what the world is showing you . . . It’s scary to go against what everyone else is telling you is right, but if you do that, you’ll be a light for the world.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff 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.

Wichita IHM sisters – A fresh new nun story

When the Second Vatican Council called for the renewal of religious life, three Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters in Los Angeles never expected it would lead them from “the vineyards of California to the wheat fields of Kansas.” But that, as Sister Mary Joanne Brummel put it, was how “the Eucharistic sacrifice played out” for her and Sisters Eileen MacDonald and Mary Giovanni Oliveri, who moved to the Diocese of Wichita in Kansas in 1976 after their religious community split over differences in interpreting Vatican II’s directives.

Thriving and growing, in convent and classroom

More than four decades after starting over, the Wichita community is alive and thriving with 26 professed sisters and 3 novices, all committed to carrying on the charism that first drew their founding members to the IHM Sisters of Los Angeles. In addition to teaching in schools in the Wichita Diocese, the sisters wear traditional habits, live in community, and devote four to five hours a day to prayer.

Theirs is a way of life that once was emblematic of sisters who taught in Catholic schools before the 1960s, and it also reflects the Wichita sisters’ understanding of Perfectae Caritatis, the 1965 Vatican II decree on the adaptation and renewal of religious life.

Legate Bronwen Lewis, who serves as communications manager for the Wichita community, believes strongly in the IHM Sisters’ mission and has been working to tell people about it, emphasizing the importance of religious sisters teaching in Catholic schools. With the decline in religious communities following Vatican II, teaching sisters virtually disappeared from Catholic schools so that for the last five decades, Lewis said, most Catholic children have never encountered a religious sister in the classroom.

In Los Angeles, 600 IHM Sisters once taught in 68 elementary schools, 11 high schools, and their own college. “Those 600 sisters were some of the best teachers in the country,” said Mother Mary Magdalene, the Wichita IHM community’s current religious superior.

Lewis said the fruits of the sisters’ presence in schools cannot be underestimated as is evident from the number of religious vocations – 23 priests, 5 religious brothers and 7 religious sisters (6 of them IHM Sisters) – that have emerged from the Wichita IHM Sisters’ students since the community arrived in the diocese.

Had they not left Los Angeles, however, the Wichita Sisters believe much of their original charism and teaching apostolate would have been lost. Most members of the LA community ultimately left religious life altogether or joined a new, ecumenical group that continues as the Immaculate Heart Community, but with a vastly different look and mission focused on such concerns as the environment and justice for immigrants and women. Another 60 sisters, including the 3 who left for Wichita on the advice of the Vatican, had wanted to remain faithful to the IHM charism, but could not agree on how to live it out. The sisters who stayed in Los Angeles and did not join the new ecumenical community eventually dwindled to the point that only a few members remain today.

Begun anew to survive

Mother Mary Magdalene said it took great courage for the three who relocated to begin again in Kansas, especially considering their ages at the time of 62, 63, and 73. “They were brokenhearted . . . but had they not done this, the IHM charism might not exist.”

Indeed, numerous women’s religious communities lost their identity and declined dramatically after undergoing reforms that dismantled such traditional aspects of religious life as living and praying in community, wearing a habit, and having a corporate apostolate, according to Ann Carey, author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities (Our Sunday Visitor).

As a result, she said, “Many, including some of the most influential orders of the 20th century, will soon cease to exist, or exist only in an unrecognizable form led by lay associates.” Carey, who delved into the archival records of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and other prominent groups of sisters for her research, said she thinks the Vatican II directives were either misinterpreted or used by progressive leaders as an excuse to implement changes that were influenced by the culture of the 1960s.

For sisters who disagreed with those changes to break away from an existing community required the willingness to find a receptive bishop and begin the long process of canonical recognition, Carey said. Nonetheless, some did so with varying results. “That said, I do think the success of the IHMs of Wichita is rather unusual.”

Besides their apostolate of teaching and prayer, the sisters in Wichita see the advancement of religious life as a key part of their mission. “At this point, we’re really focusing on vocations,” Mother Mary Magdalene said. The community opened a novitiate house of formation in 2015, choosing to build it before a motherhouse because of the emphasis on vocations. “Young women were coming, but asking, ‘If we come, where will you put us?’”

New novitiate house for burgeoning vocations

Until the novitiate house was built, the Wichita sisters had lived in various diocesan-owned buildings. “We outgrew every convent we’ve been in, and in 2012 decided we had to build,” Mother Mary Magdalene said. “ . . . We approached the bishop and said we were being thwarted in our vocation work and that young women who want to come don’t feel we have a place for them. So we really emphasized the importance of purchasing property and building.”

In 2012, the sisters bought 80 acres near Colwich, Kansas, and contacted Lewis for advice. She agreed to help, having met the sisters years earlier when she was director of development and planned giving for the Diocese of Wichita and having promised thenBishop Thomas Olmsted that she would be available to them. Since then, Mother Mary Magdalene said, “Bronwen has never left. It’s a beautiful arrangement we have. She loves it. We can’t do this without her.”

Since beginning the building project, Mother Mary Magdalene said, the community has been steadily attracting vocations. In addition to the three novices, two of the sisters recently professed vows. “They’re persevering, beautiful, strong, dedicated young women whom we’ve been praying for. So we’re growing.”

According to Carey, it is not unusual that a community like the Wichita IHMs would be growing. “Multiple studies have shown that young people are more inclined to join an order that has retained the distinctive characteristics of religious life than the more diverse orders that continue to decline,” she said. “So, I believe that religious orders of the future will look a lot like the IHMs of Wichita: faithful, relevant, joyful, and very much appreciated and respected by the Church and by those whose lives they touch.”

Eventually, the Wichita sisters do hope to add a motherhouse, but for now, the house of formation, which has a chapel and community room, is serving that purpose by housing the general superior and several teaching sisters in addition to the novices and postulants and those guiding their formation. Other members of the community still live in several local convents.

…and guest house and shrine

Also on the property are a guest house for the sisters’ visiting family members and a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. Both were built to establish the community’s presence on the site until the sisters could live there. Since its completion in 2013, the shrine has drawn hundreds of people for processions held on May 13 and Oct. 13, the dates of the first and last Fatima apparitions.

“This past year, we had over 700 people come,” Mother Mary Magdalene said, “and it’s just been a great way to promote Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary and Marian devotion in general.”

During the processions, the sisters have presented Mary with cards representing more than three million Memorares. They have solicited the prayers as part of their “Millions of Memorares for Mary” campaign, asking people to pray what is known as “Mother Teresa’s quick novena” – nine Memorares in petition and one in thanksgiving – for the conversion of sinners, an intention mentioned by Mary at Fatima and also part of the sisters’ apostolate.

Mother Mary Magdalene said the sisters always have had an affinity for Our Lady of Fatima because her message is in keeping with their charism. Their Marian devotion also includes praying and promoting the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which they wear on their habits. They currently are making and distributing the rosaries, and encouraging people to pray them for their own families and for religious vocations. “Strong families are the seedbed for religious vocations,” Mother Mary Magdalene said, “so this is something we’re doing and spending a lot of energy on.”

IHM Sisters’ journey from Spain to America

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita trace their origins to Olot, Spain, where Father Joaquin Masmitja, known as their father founder, gathered seven young women to serve as teachers in 1848. At the time, the Spanish government did not allow the formation of new religious institutes, but Father Masmitja managed to form the young women in the spiritual life, calling them the Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Some 23 years later, California Bishop Tadeo Amat, having heard about the work the women were doing in Spain, asked for volunteers to come to his mission diocese of Monterey and Los Angeles. Ten left for California on Aug. 2, 1871, to establish schools. By 1924, the professed IHM sisters in California numbered 100 and their community was declared a pontifical institute separate from the motherhouse in Spain.

The sisters went on to serve along California’s coast in elementary and secondary schools and in their own Immaculate Heart College, later expanding into Texas and Arizona and adding health care and retreat work to their apostolate.

In the 1960s, however, a split occurred when many in the community sought to alter their way of life and apostolate in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for the renewal of religious life. Three sisters moved to Wichita with the intent of preserving their community’s original charism and in hopes of becoming a province of the California community.

When it appeared that would not be possible, the Wichita sisters received dispensation from their vows and became autonomous in 1979. They continued their work of teaching and prayer and, after a lengthy process, the Wichita community was declared a religious institute of diocesan right in 2007.

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Going forth to make next generation’s disciples

Joseph Tort and Keith Kiser are Legates deeply involved in providing young faithful a thorough, well-rounded Catholic education as well as a solid moral foundation.

Tort, 59, a member of Legatus’ Jersey Shore Chapter and a partner in PricewaterhouseCooper’s Manhattan practice, lends his longtime financial expertise to bolster his alma mater, the Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey. Tort serves on the school’s board of trustees, and is credited with energizing the all-boys college preparatory school’s alumni and convincing them to donate to capital campaigns and scholarship funds.

Kiser, 52, a member of Legatus’ Greenville Chapter, is in his 18th year as the headmaster of St. Joseph Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. His tenure has coincided with a steady increase in student enrollment and the continued development of the school’s Catholic culture. Each recently spoke with Legatus magazine about his background and interest in Catholic education, individual faith journey, and what motivates him to continue working hard to improve his beloved institution.

Christian leader — formed by parents, Christian Brothers

Tort makes it a point to emphasize that his moral formation began with his parents, who put both their sons into Catholic schools and worked with them at home to fortify their moral compass.

As a young teenager, Tort was enrolled at the Christian Brothers Academy, an all-boys college preparatory school in New Jersey run by the De La Salle Brothers.

“What a great order of Catholic men who dedicate themselves to teaching,” Tort said. “I was a beneficiary of this wonderful, dedicated order. You didn’t know it at the time, but they were basically strengthening your moral fiber without your being aware of it.”

Tort graduated from Christian Brothers Academy in 1976, went on to college, and got a position at PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international professional services firm that focuses on audit and assurance, tax, and consulting services. Tort said he chose a profession that “fit perfectly” with the rigorous moral training he received from the Lasallian Brothers.

“We’re accountants and auditors, and by definition what are auditors doing? We’re checking people’s work to make sure they did it right, that they did the right thing,” said Tort, who added that being taught to “do the right thing” was deeply ingrained at the Christian Brothers Academy.

“You realize later on in life, that what was standard operating procedure for you as a kid growing up, all the way through your graduation from high school, was extraordinary in many people’s view,” Tort said.

Because he had such a positive experience at the academy, Tort said he looked to give back to the school’s community shortly after he began his professional career. He joined the school’s finance committee and chaired its capital campaign, meeting with donors and stressing to them how the school’s benefactors had made it possible for him to receive a top-notch Catholic education.

Tort is currently the chairman of the academy’s board of trustees, which is comprised of 15 lay people and five Lasallian brothers. Over the years, Tort said he carefully picked the board’s lay representatives.

“People see how we really enjoy being with each other while we’re helping CBA, and they want to be part of it,” said Tort, who founded the school’s alumni association and called hundreds of alumni to get them re-engaged in the school.

Leading from the front

Under Tort’s leadership, millions of dollars have been raised for scholarships as well as $10 million for the CBA capital campaign. Asked how he energized his fellow alumni, Tort said he “leads from the front.”

“I believe positive energy is infectious,” he said. “People love being associated with a winning organization, and you convince people that they will feel very good helping this institution.”

Tort looks to keep the CBA’s recent alumni engaged with their alma mater. In their freshman year at college, Tort said the school sends them a care package containing a box of “Dolly’s Cookies,” baked by a longtime popular cafeteria worker in the school.

“It revives their positive experiences and memory of CBA,” Tort said.

The school’s traditions, academic excellence — CBA recently received a National Blue Ribbon for its students’ achievements — as well as its inclusive environment and religious formation continue to make the academy a desired place for Catholic families. Meanwhile, Tort said he plans to retire this June after being with his firm for the past 38 years. He is looking forward especially to going on pilgrimage this summer and walking the Camino de Santiago in northwest Spain.

“That formation from my parents to the Christian Brothers Academy has carried me for 38 years,” Tort said. “And as I enter retirement, I look back and say, ‘What a great life.’”

Thriving Catholic school in Bible Belt

In the 18 years that Keith Kiser has been headmaster of St. Joseph’s Catholic School, its enrollment has grown to 680 students and the school has been recognized by the Catholic High School Honor Roll since 2004. St. Joseph’s — a college preparatory school for middle and high school students — was also recently recognized by the Cardinal Newman Society for its strong Catholic identity and academic achievement.

“This school is a grassroots effort by men and women who wanted a Catholic school here in the buckle of the Bible Belt,” said Kiser, who joined St. Joseph’s about seven years after its founding in 1993. He was previously the headmaster of a small Catholic school in Pittsburgh prior to joining St. Joseph’s.

“I got to witness, in my first month of work here, the bishop at the time recognizing and formally approving the school, which happened on the Feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15, 2000,” said Kiser, adding that the school “took off,” growing from 150 to 680 students over the ensuing years.

Kiser took an interesting road to arrive at a career in Catholic education. He grew up as a Presbyterian, and as a young married man he studied for two years at a Protestant seminary to become a minister. But those plans changed shortly after he met Scott Hahn in a Bible study in Pennsylvania. Hahn, the well-known Catholic theologian, who himself is a convert from Presbyterianism, helped Kiser and his wife enter the Catholic Church.

Youth ministry background, Blessed Sacrament in foreground

With a background and interest in youth ministry, Kiser joined a group of friends in forming a new Catholic school in Pittsburgh, where he became the headmaster before joining St. Joseph’s. On forming his current school’s Catholic culture, Kiser said he “prayed a lot” and spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

“What was fundamentally important to me was hiring men and women who loved Christ, who had missionary zeal and wanted to see their kids fall in love with Jesus through His church,” Kiser said.

St. Joseph’s has an active campus ministry program, offers retreats, has a full-time chaplain who is available every day to celebrate Mass and hear confessions, and has Mass once a week for the entire school community.

Lifetime mentors who live the faith

“It’s crucial that we teach the truths of the faith,” Kiser said. “But I think for kids to be interested, they need to see men and women who attractively live and love the faith, so that our teachers are not only teaching faith and morals, but they are also happy and in relationship with Christ.”

As St. Joseph’s looks ahead to the 25th anniversary of its founding this year, Kiser said he takes joy in welcoming the school’s alumni and seeing his current students grow and discover their vocations in life.

“The school is here not to just prepare kids for college,” Kiser said, “but hopefully to prepare them for a life of mission, because we know that’s how they’ll find fulfillment, in walking with Christ and making a difference with him through their lives.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.