Although Dispersed, Catholic Colleges Preserve Faith Communities

One of the distinguishing factors of a faithful Catholic college is its vibrant community life. Students spend four years immersed in a truly Catholic culture, where faith and virtue are promoted and students, faculty and staff make friendships to last a lifetime.

Now faithful Catholic colleges have closed their campuses to curb the spread of COVID-19, and students are dispersed around the country—but community life has not come to an end. These colleges are taking innovative steps to continue Catholic fellowship and stay connected.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Webinar: Maintaining Catholic Identity in Home-based Instruction

Dr. Dan Guernsey, senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society, and Tyler Graham of Donahue Academy offer this webinar on “Maintaining Catholic Identity in Home-based Instruction.”

Click on this link or the video below to view the full webinar.

You can find the corresponding Issue Bulletin at

Keeping the ‘Catholic’ in Distance Learning

Faithful Catholic schools are far better for Catholics than public schools. But how do they maintain their distinctive advantage when students are forced to stay home?

In important ways, Catholic schools are doing just that with the help of students’ parents. And in this time of anxiety and isolation, the special character of Catholic schools is more important than ever.

“For Catholic educators, this trying experience can serve as a time to recall what Catholic schools do both differently and do well,” write Dr. Denise Donohue and Dr. Dan Guernsey of The Cardinal Newman Society in “Maintaining Catholic Identity in Distance Learning Instruction.” “We are good at community, prayer, integral formation, and creating a Catholic worldview.”

Those four characteristics are repeatedly cited in Vatican documents as essential to Catholic education, and they suggest a good framework for ensuring that the “Catholic” of Catholic education remains strong, even when it is done remotely.

Community life under quarantine

In a crisis, families need community like never before. And even with social distancing—or perhaps especially because of social distancing—Catholics need each other for support and sanity.

For many families, a good Catholic school is a center of Christian fellowship with school leaders, teachers and other families. That’s because Catholic schools teach students how to build authentic human relationships, and since witness is a powerful teacher, they model Christian communion in every classroom and activity.

“It is through the community that students receive ‘a systematic and critical assimilation of culture’ which passes along our Catholic traditions, values and beliefs,” note Donohue and Guernsey. “In Catholic education, the community itself is considered a formative and educative means of student formation and development, where students learn Christian values by being exposed to Christian values—primarily through the witness of adults and others with whom they interact daily.”

This community remains vital to Catholic distance learning, and teachers especially can be present to students and parents in their online classes, communications and prayers together.

“How much more important now is the presence of the teacher in these unsettling times, when coming together is difficult and ‘social distancing’ is the norm,” ask Donohue and Guernsey.

Teachers can make a special effort to write handwritten letters to students, make phone calls and send video clips—always communicating through the parents, of course. In addition to giving lessons online, teachers should be “speaking from the heart and saying and doing human things to lighten the load and let students know you miss them but are in good humor.” Most importantly, teachers and families should be praying for each other and with each other, whenever possible.

Prayer and sacrament

At faithful Catholic schools, students experience reverent Mass, Confession, frequent prayer and Eucharistic adoration. But confined to home without physical access to churches, Catholic school students may be feeling as much of a loss as adults.

Still, this “does not mean that our hearts and minds should be allowed to go on a spiritual vacation,” warn Donohue and Guernsey. Teachers should begin every online class with prayer, just as in the classroom. And parents should be encouraged to continue school practices such as morning prayer and the Angelus at Noon.

Involving parents and siblings in the school’s daily prayer life can be a positive outcome of schooling at home. “Helping families start these family rituals now can have a lasting effect on children’s faith development for years to come. In some cases, families may be relying on us to pray with and form their students, and now is an opportunity to fully engage the domestic Church and leverage fuller participation moving forward.”

Parents should be encouraged to mimic the physical arrangement of the school—not only designated work spaces and well-lit, quiet rooms for online coursework, but also the distinctive Catholic imagery and prayer spaces found in a Catholic school. If a home does not already have a substantial amount of Catholic artwork and a dedicated prayer corner (with crucifix, Bible, prayer cards, etc.), that can be easily remedied.

Forming mind, body, spirit

A faithful Catholic school is not only concerned about academics. It looks to form the student to be physically healthy and strong, morally clean and virtuous, and spiritually on the path to sainthood.

“Specifically tying subject-area materials to lessons on virtue or the faith can help make connections between course subjects such as history or English,” suggest Donohue and Guernsey. “Identifying virtues and essential questions will help parents enter into the teaching, exemplifying concepts through discussion and example.”

The loss of school athletics will be keenly felt by students, and they are likely to get less exercise at home, especially if they have access to computer games and television. Educators can encourage walking and bike riding, as well as physical activities like arts and crafts or playing instruments.

A Catholic school teacher, concerned as much for the student’s welfare as for the ease of using computers for teaching and communication, will also recognize the dangers of forcing students to sit at a screen for much of the day.

“Whenever possible, break up discussion with individual work that students can do with pencil and paper or reading from a physical text,” advise Donohue and Guernsey. “Teacher teams may want to quantify, coordinate, and ration screen time as a ‘corporal work of mercy’ to our poor students!”

Teaching a Catholic worldview

“…Catholic education does not just teach secular subjects like other schools but also imparts a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture, and of history, ordering the whole of human culture to the news of salvation,” write Donohue and Guernsey.

This integrated approach with God the Creator as the foundation of every study requires some effort within distance learning. Teachers will be tempted to water down courses to facts that are easiest to teach remotely, but good Catholic school teachers will not neglect the importance of group discussion and opportunities to highlight truths that are evident in math, science, history, literature and more.

Ultimately, “a Catholic school can never go wrong with a good supply of literature to recommend.” Allowing more time for students to read classic works at home does not detract from a Catholic education—it enhances it.

Overall, the COVID pandemic is making it very tough for Catholic schools to pay employees and plan for the future, but students can still be given an excellent Catholic education. If Catholic educators work to develop “thoughtful and comprehensive strategies to try to compensate for the suspension of in-person instruction,” argue Donohue and Guernsey, then they can continue to exhibit the strengths of Catholic schools.

The greatest of these strengths is love. Educators can show “comfort and mercy” to “stressed and overwhelmed” students and be true partners to parents, who may be trying to work from home while ensuring that students’ education continues without interruption.

When this time of “stay at home” and social distancing is over, teachers and students will be eager to return to their schools. In the meantime, distance learning can be truly Catholic and preserve the unparalleled advantages of Catholic education.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Maintaining Catholic Identity in Distance Learning Instruction

With little time to prepare, Catholic schools have had to respond quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving education from traditional brick-and-mortar buildings to students’ homes. Thousands of teachers are now seeking to re-package instruction tailored to distance learning.

A common way for teachers to facilitate at-home education is to copy worksheets and send home textbooks with a list of weekly assignments. This is generally done when a student is ill, but in this new extended learning arrangement worksheets and textbooks alone are not sufficient to convey the richness of the Catholic curriculum which, for most schools, has taken years to develop. 

Catholic schools are not only content providers but also evangelical learning communities.  It’s important that we come at this situation with our own needs and goals in mind. Facing weeks of missed in-class instruction and the loss of all the critical formation that happens outside of the classroom in a Catholic school, we need to devise more thoughtful and comprehensive strategies to try to compensate for the suspension of in-person instruction.

The first step is to make explicit what we do on a daily basis that makes Catholic education unique and then seek to find ways to translate as much of that magic as possible to a distance learning environment. Vatican documents on education identify several distinctive elements of Catholic education, including:

  1. the centrality of community and importance of relationships;
  2. the presence of a rich prayer and sacramental life;
  3. the integral formation of students’ minds, bodies, and spirits; and
  4. the development of a Catholic understanding of the world.

This is quite an amazing mission and a huge mandate. It is important to acknowledge up front that it simply cannot be as effectively and powerfully accomplished on-line and at home as it can where we are gathered as a community and interacting with each other personally. Catholicism is all about reality and real physical presence. We are all feeling this now, as we do our best to attend “Online Mass,” which is perhaps the best we can get at the moment—but it pales in comparison to the power of being in each other’s presence as we approach HIS presence in the Eucharist we share. So by all means let’s do what we can, but let’s be transparent that this is a time of separation and shadow, until we can once again be with the students we love and bring the full force of our apostolate to bear.

What follows are few practical tips for conducting our rich mission in a diminished environment. How can Catholic schools continue to provide these key aspects of Catholic education?

The Centrality of Community and Importance of Relationships

So much of who we are in Catholic education is based on our existence as a faith-based community, where we gather together to see, hear, and be with each other in prayer. Participation in the Sacraments, feast-day celebrations, prayer, and rituals form the basis of daily interaction and activities. The regular school day also has other community building activities like class meetings, breaks, games, and just time to hang out with each other. All day long we are building community with each other in school, and it has a cumulative effect of creating and transmitting culture. It is through the community that students receive “a systematic and critical assimilation of culture”1 which passes along our Catholic traditions, values, and beliefs. In Catholic education, the community itself is considered a formative and educative means of student formation and development,2 where students learn Christian values by being exposed to Christian values—primarily through the witness of adults and others with whom they interact daily.

How much more important now is the presence of the teacher in these unsettling times, when coming together is difficult and “social distancing” is the norm. Teachers can never be as present in distant learning programs as they are in a real classroom, so it is all the more important to do as much as possible to bridge the gap. It is assumed that teachers will be posting video help for lessons and instruction to the degree possible, but among the community building options available are short videos from the teacher, not just explain a lesson introduction, but speaking from the heart and saying and doing human things to lighten the load and let students know you miss them but are in good humor. Perhaps sending a personal video to a student (copying the parent) on his or her birthday or feast day or recording a dramatic reading of a story or poem for all the children to watch. Take a video of your garden or other image that makes them think of something you all learned or did together.

High-tech options include a livestream class meeting using Teams, Zoom, or some other group conference platform such as podcasts and class chat forums. Make this optional for younger students and give parents at least 24 hours’ notice. Shared social time with you and their classmates may be a welcome break to their home isolation. You can also do a live reading of a story to them for educational purposes without copyright infringement.3

Low-tech ways to keep students close might be through a weekly phone call to each of them. Or even write them a letter or card and mail it—they will likely remember it for the rest of their lives. Finally pray for each one of your students daily by name at a particular time and let them know it. This is a time none of us will soon forget! Don’t forget to reach out to parents as well and let them know that you are willing to facilitate help for any particular needs by leveraging school resources.

Older students will enjoy many of the previous contact ideas, but in addition they can be encouraged to sustain community through online “household” social media activities. Both college campuses and high schools have found great success with the household system, which merges various grades or groups together to form smaller sub-communities. This does not have to end with distance learning. There are many opportunities for interaction and joyful competition between groups. These fun competitions direct students’ energy and focus during down time and help maintain peer connections.

The Presence of a Rich Prayer and Sacramental Life

To the degree possible, keep the school’s daily prayer cycles going. If the school day starts with a specific prayer, encourage parents to continue the practice. Remind them that at school, grace and/or the Angelus is said before lunch and to please continue that with the students.

If a class is being live-streamed, then of course it is good to start with a prayer led by the teacher or one student. (Choral prayer or responses do not work well online.)

Not being able to participate together in the Sacraments does not mean that our hearts and minds should be allowed to go on a spiritual vacation. If anything, this is a time to look at what our lives would be like if we didn’t have the Sacraments. Why is attending Mass or going to confession so important? What would my life be like if these activities were permanently eliminated?

If possible, perhaps arrange for an all-school Mass to be video-streamed by the school’s chaplain. This can provide a common experience and keep students and teachers tied to each other in prayer.

Recognizing that students may not engage in prayer at home as frequently as they do in school, make extra efforts to insert prayer and Catholic themes into home assignments.

Provide mothers and fathers, the spiritual heads of the domestic Church, with suggestions for leading the family in morning and evening prayer, the Rosary, the Church’s daily Mass readings, the Liturgy of the Hours, or Lenten Stations of the Cross. Allow time for students to personally reflect on provided prompts or using Lectio Divina4 to more deeply uncover how God is speaking to the heart can be done by children as well as adults. Following the Church’s liturgical cycle at home as we do in school is also important. Families can now perhaps more purposefully than ever enter into that cycle by introducing new novenas,5 praying together at certain times of the day,6 and teaching their children how to do an examination of conscience7 before they go to bed. Helping families start these family rituals now can have a lasting effect on children’s faith development for years to come. In some cases, families may be relying on us to pray with and form their students and now is an opportunity to fully engage the domestic Church and leverage fuller participation moving forward.

Unlike Catholic school buildings with religious art and classrooms with prayer corners, some homes may have few religious items and no sacred spaces set aside to contemplate God’s word. Since the pandemic has prevented many people from entering the sacred space of our churches, now would be a good time to suggest to families to set aside sacred spaces in the home where children can go throughout the day to quiet their hearts and minds and thank God for His gifts, express sorrow for their failings, or ask for His assistance. A simple crucifix, a picture of Jesus or the Holy Family, a Rosary, or prayer cards can initiate a contemplative, prayerful space.

The Integral Formation of Students’ Minds, Bodies, and Spirits

Distance education lends itself to content delivery and detached academic skills, but in the process may not fully provide for the integral intellectual, physical, and spiritual needs of students. Special effort is needed to maintain this essential aspect of Catholic education.

To avoid the disaggregation of knowledge, which can arise when assignments are provided strictly by subject area, the use of broad essential questions can help tie discrete subjects together. In the classroom, quite often it is the teacher who helps make these connections, so it is important to continue integration through learning at home.

Using problem- and project-based learning approaches may also help facilitate interdisciplinary learning. When using these approaches, develop and provide grading rubrics to students when assignments are given, and suggest online resources and directions where to find them.

As for spiritual development, the above section on prayer already touched on some ways to ensure that we are educating students’ hearts and souls, but special effort toward this end should also be made whenever possible in various subject areas. Specifically tying subject-area materials to lessons on virtue or the faith can help make connections between course subjects such as history or English. Identifying virtues and essential questions will help parents enter into the teaching, exemplifying concepts through discussion and example.

Helping older students reach a deeper level of academic and moral formation through contemplation of rich and complex artistic and philosophical material may benefit from the use of Socratic seminars8 or guided discussions.9 These can be done in synchronous or asynchronous10 online options. In the synchronous option, the teacher and students meet online at a designated time (always allow enough time and patience to ensure the workings of technology) and discuss a text using traditional Socratic etiquette. If synchronous is not an option, teachers can set-up discussion prompts and require each student to make an original response to an online prompt and then two additional responses to comments made by other classmates. This asynchronous option requires an original response to a discussion prompt which ends with a required question, such as “Is this what you think?” or “Have I found all the pertinent aspects?” This is done to generate discussion, further conversation, and facilitate the gathering of different viewpoints and aspects of the topic under consideration.

While “engagement” is the buzz word in the classroom, it is even more important in a distance learning arrangement. Opportunities for interaction among teacher and students and students among themselves will help keep students motivated. Research indicates that high interaction and instructor support through online courses lead to greater course success.11

According to one research report,12 distance instructors who are effective have good:

  • course planning and organizational skills specific to distance environments;
  • verbal and nonverbal presentation skills specific to distance learning situations;
  • ability to involve and coordinate student activities among several sites;
  • communication and classroom organizational skills;
  • collaborative work with others to produce effective courses; and
  • ability to use questioning strategies.

Integral formation also provides for the health and training of students’ bodies. Even though students cannot gather together to play sports, teachers can encourage time spent each day in some form of physical exercise. Some may be able to gather with peers (while practicing social distancing) and go for a walk or bike ride with a friend. Additionally, bodily activities are not limited to athletics but also involve physical activities such as arts, crafts, and music.

Be aware of the physical toll of extensive screen time. While live-stream instruction is a very useful and effective way to build community and keep more intimate and direct contact with students, there are some real limitations. Platforms like Microsoft Teams or Zoom are quite good in replicating a type of classroom environment in real time, but extended use throughout the day can be very hard on teachers and students. Eye strain and headaches are a common side effect as well as just plain burnout if trying to keep it up all day. If going this route, consider designing lots of screen breaks throughout each class and throughout the school day. Students should be asked to look at the screen primarily when class discussions are taking place. Whenever possible, break up discussion with individual work that students can do with pencil and paper or reading from a physical text. Teacher teams may want to quantify, coordinate, and ration screen time as a “corporal work of mercy” to our poor students! And again, get the students moving constantly throughout the day, including in class when possible.

To the extent possible, give the kids and families (and yourself) a break! These are trying times. Do your best to deliver core academic material to the degree possible in the midst of a very real and historic crisis. Then take a deep breath and see how different kids and families respond. To the stressed and overwhelmed, provide comfort and mercy; to the frustrated super-students, develop scads of tailored supplemental material so they can keep flying. Just remember, this too shall pass, and (except for high school seniors) we will have time to get everything back on track later. The whole world is on pause, and we should proceed as best we can, knowing that folks remember how they were treated in a crisis.

Remember to provide accommodations to those students who qualify for them. During this time, students who require accommodations may be the most needy. Fortunately, most accommodations already require the use of individualized online programs and if not already in use, look into the accessibility of them, or ask someone to do that for you. Perhaps this would be a great way to use an hourly employee who might be otherwise laid off.  

The Development of a Catholic Understanding of the World

Understandably teachers will rely heavily on material produced by secular educators to get through the first stages of distance education. Publisher-designed worksheets and websites are a logical first place to turn. However, in many cases such resources are insufficient, as Catholic educators teach more. The Congregation for Catholic Education reminds us that Catholic education does not just teach secular subjects like other schools but also imparts a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture, and of history, ordering the whole of human culture to the news of salvation.

The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Curriculum Standards13 provide a framework for keeping your curriculum “Catholic”. They purposefully ensure that a Catholic interpretive framework is present and articulated in various academic disciplines.

Additionally, many Catholic publishers already offer textbooks and additional resources online. Some links are provided below.

Finally, a Catholic school can never go wrong with a good supply of literature to recommend. Have students constantly reading a good book. Not everything needs to be formally assessed. The Cardinal Newman Society (as well as other reputable Catholic organizations) have recommended reading lists for different ages. Whenever possible try to get a hard-copy book in front of them, especially as screen time has increased for many students right now. If a home library is thin, then there are plenty of free online books through Kindle, Spark and others.

A pleasurable alternative is to play an audio book suitable to the age range in the household and have students draw, build a puzzle, or work with Legos or clay while they listen—which they often will happily do for an hour or more under the right conditions.

A recent study reported that students do learn differently when comparing online reading to reading from an actual text. Students annotate and highlight more in hard texts (even though both means have this capability), but reading comprehension actually improves with highlighting texts online.

For Catholic educators, this trying experience can serve as a time to recall what Catholic schools do both differently and do well: we are good at community, prayer, integral formation, and creating a Catholic worldview. We now get to try this in greater partnership with our parents to get through this crisis. Once this is all over, we can come together to re-dedicate ourselves to the value of our classrooms, relationships, and awesome calling.


Webinar to Accompany this Document:


Mass Online:

Catholic Online School: Daily Online Mass Readings with Deacon Keith Fournier.

FORMED: Lenten Reflections, religious movies, devotions, cartoons, and more:

Holy Heroes Sunday Mass preparation for kids:

Stations of the Cross with Fr. Robert Barron (for high school students and adults):


The Catholic Curriculum Standards, from the Cardinal Newman Society:

Called to Be More! Free 5-week trial. Based on St. John Paul IIs Theology of the Body, this program is fully online and accessible for teachers and students in grades PreK-5 and 9-12. The high school program was designed to conform with the Bishops Curriculum Framework for high school students and can be accessed here: The K-5 program:

Virtual Book Fairs for Catholic Schools: Leisure reading for Catholic children. Provides a rebate back to the school when you include your school’s code:

Kolbe Academy Online: Free literature lesson plans:

Standards for Online Course Preparation:

Institute for Catholic Liberal Education School@Home Resources:

Arts of Liberty project developed by Master of Classical Education program to support online learning. Links to lessons, study guides, and textbooks on Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy, Theology, Philosophy, Politics, History, Literature, and Natural Sciences:

Institute for Excellence in Writing is offering a free, completely digital, three-week program of English language arts instruction that covers writing, grammar, vocabulary, and poetry memorization for grades 3-12.




Students Learn Science, Ethics at Franciscan University

Studying the sciences at a faithful Catholic college, like Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, prepares students for their careers and for considering the moral dimension of their work. Students are given “tools to work through ethical decisions guided by the light of Truth,” says Dr. Dan Kuebler, dean of the natural and applied science programs at Franciscan University.

Dr. Kuebler believes Franciscan University graduates can make an impact through their witness in healthcare professions and help “rebuild a culture of life.” The Newman Society recently asked Dr. Kuebler to discuss what’s different about studying the sciences at Franciscan University, and about plans for future science offerings.

Newman Society: How does Franciscan University of Steubenville teach the sciences from an authentically Catholic perspective?

Dr. Kuebler: All of our students take an integrated core curriculum that enculturates them in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and, in particular, the theological and philosophical tradition of the Church. What they learn in these courses allows them to think critically about and fully engage with the learning experiences they have within the science programs.

Within the biology curriculum there are many issues that are discussed from a scientific perspective such as human sexual behavior, in vitro fertilization, cloning, contraception, etc. Students are not only taught about the latest science regarding these topics, but they also engage with their science faculty regarding the ethical and moral dimensions of these topics. Because they have been given the framework by which to engage these issues in their philosophy and theology classes, they are able to articulate and then ultimately defend the Catholic positions on these matters, positions that uphold the inherent dignity of human life.

If we fail to help our students achieve this integration, then we are not preparing them to live out their vocation as Catholic health care providers and scientists. We are not preparing them to be salt and light to a world sorely in need of a witness to the Truth.

Photo via Franciscan University of Steubenville

Newman Society: Last fall, Franciscan University unveiled a new biochemistry degree. Can you tell us about this exciting development, and other plans for science offerings at Franciscan?

Dr. Kuebler: The new biochemistry degree offers another science option for our students, particularly those interested in medical school and graduate school. The program takes the best of our existing biology and chemistry faculty along with new biochemistry faculty to produce a program that gets students into the lab doing research early on in the program.

In addition to the biochemistry degree, we are planning on launching four-year engineering degrees in Software Engineering and Mechanical Engineering over the next two and a half years. Currently we have partnership programs in which students spend two to three years on campus taking pre-engineering courses and then finish their engineering degree at a partner school.

While students in the program succeed academically at the partner schools, they do not want to leave the Franciscan academic community given the robust integration of faith, reason and community that exists here between our students, faculty and staff. Providing a high-quality fully accredited Bachelor of Science in engineering here on campus, we will be meeting the needs of these students as well as many other potential Catholic young women and men whom God has called to this field.

We are also expanding the cybersecurity course offerings within our computer science program with the aim of adding a certificate in cybersecurity to allow our students to have the preparation and hands-on experience to enter this burgeoning field.

Newman Society: Why do you think receiving a faithful Catholic education is crucial for future doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals?

Dr. Kuebler: There are so many ethical issues that scientific researchers and healthcare professionals face in the workplace. Too often, a utilitarian ethos drives medical decisions from end-of-life care to fertility treatments and leads to care and decisions that undermine the inherent dignity of human life.

By being immersed in the Catholic intellectual tradition and all its beauty and wisdom, our students have the tools to work through ethical decisions guided by the light of Truth. Their witness and ability to influence other healthcare professionals is the only manner in which we can hope to rebuild a culture of life that respects human life at all stages.

Newman Society: Franciscan is also well-known for its strong theology programs. How do the sciences and theology studies work together? Do many science students also minor in theology?

Dr. Kuebler: Our students must take three theology courses and three philosophy courses to graduate. Many students choose to take just three additional courses to minor in one of these two disciplines. Most of the science programs have five or six free electives, so it’s easy for students to do so.

This type of preparation only helps our students better articulate the beauty of the faith and navigate the ethical minefield of modern science and medicine in such a way as they bear witness to the Truth.

We host many interdisciplinary talks about topics such as gender ideology, fertility treatments, genetic modification and transhumanism so that students can hear from experts in both science, theology and philosophy on these topics. This type of integrated approach is essential for true learning.

Catholic Colleges Refuse to Disintegrate Faith from Science, Says Newman President

Our Sunday Visitor recently published the following article online, featuring Newman Society President Patrick Reilly:

There is a false notion that religion is an impediment to science. It is a contention that students in the sciences of biology will likely confront in their field. Educators at committed Catholic colleges explain that faith and science are in harmony with one another, and it is part of their mission to help students understand that.

Good Catholic institutions integrate these two bodies of knowledge since God is the author of both, and faith united with science provides moral safeguards. In the field of biology, however, where creating human life in petri dishes and changing the DNA of a human embryo are possible, human beings mistakenly think that they can play God.

“It’s not really a matter of integrating faith with science, it’s refusing to follow the atheist approach of disintegrating faith from science,” according to Patrick Reilly, president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes faithful Catholic education and publishes the annual Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. “A Catholic school or college should be eager to address obvious and fundamental questions of where things come from, who designed such amazingly complex systems, what are the purposes of things, and what is man’s role in nature. Science, like every discipline, is better understood and appreciated with the insights of Christianity.”

Continue reading at Our Sunday Visitor…

False Freedom at Some Catholic Colleges

The purpose of higher education can be summed up in one word: truth. If a college is not genuinely committed to truth, then the education is not “higher” at all.

Today students and educators are greatly challenged by distortions of the truth about man and God. Some of the most faithful Catholic colleges respond admirably, helping their students and society navigate very confusing times. But too many other Catholic colleges are guilty of scandal, leading young people away from truth and toward dangerous ideologies and falsehoods.

At Notre Dame of Maryland University next week, in the midst of Lent, former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and outspoken dissident Sister Jeannine Gramick will be featured at a women’s event presented by the university. Richards is responsible for thousands upon thousands of abortions.

By definition, a Catholic college is devoted to teaching and learning truth, beginning with the firm foundation of Catholic teaching. There is no possible way that presenting Cecile Richards and Sister Gramick accomplishes that mission. It is directly opposed to it.

When such events are criticized, Catholic college leaders will sometimes assert that, well, a college should be free to invite anyone it wants to speak on any topic. The claim is that freedom is needed to discover truth by reason, which it certainly is. But if truth is the aim, then a serious educator would place equal emphasis on upholding what is known to be true and rejecting falsehood. This is especially important at an authentic Catholic college, which is founded upon the conviction that God’s revelation through Christ and His Church is true.

Richards and Gramick oppose Catholic teaching and even natural law. Their advocacy is an attack on truth. Their falsehood is a severe limitation on freedom and an obstacle to students’ unity with God.

On Feb. 4, the University of Notre Dame hosted a panel discussion on “Affirming Care for Gender-Diverse Youth.” The event, presented by the Gender Studies Program at the university, urged that children be allowed to decide for themselves whether they are boys or girls. It endorsed horrific procedures to help children live out their new identities.

Again, such events are often defended by asserting a radicalized, absolute freedom to dialogue while claiming to pursue truth. But what’s presented is known falsehood. That might not be apparent at a secular college, but it should be obvious at a college that roots all of its teaching and research in the truth of Christianity.

Moreover, as at so many other such events, Notre Dame made no pretense of dialogue — not even one speaker who could defend the truths about man and sexuality that have been embraced by humanity for millennia. Notre Dame alumna Alexandra DeSanctis reports that all of the panel’s speakers were “entirely in agreement” on the possibility of sex change, which is in disagreement with Catholic teaching.

Then there’s Loyola University Maryland, which was featured at The Washington Post this week for its Sunday night Mass “incorporating Jimi Hendrix music, ‘Batman’ film clips, YouTube videos on current events” and other innovations chosen by students.

The article quotes the university’s director of student engagement: “For our students who were raised Catholic, there’s that piece of wanting to respect tradition, but then I think about who I was when I went off to college. There’s that desire to have more fun, to be more personally engaged, even to rebel. This Mass answers that as well.”

But does it embrace truth, beauty and goodness? Does it adore, worship and give glory to Truth Himself, present in the Eucharist? Certainly not. This is reminiscent of the 1970s “clown Masses,” appealing to the same base desires for entertainment and excitement, focused on the self instead of the Son of God in flesh and blood. I wonder if many people who were enthralled by clown Masses are faithful Catholics today?

Catholic families would do well to consider their college choices carefully. It makes no sense to invest four years of a young person’s life — and thousands of dollars — only to be taught a distorted view of humanity, morality and reality. Today this is the norm at secular colleges and even many Catholic ones.

Find a faithful Catholic college — not simply with a Catholic heritage or a Catholic appearance, but humbly devoted to truth. The college years are so crucial to a student’s preparation for life!

“Sociological studies tell us that between the ages 18-24… three things happen to young people: they develop life-long relationships, they make the faith their own, and they discover their vocation,” says Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

“This is why, when I talk to seniors in high school, I tell them that choosing a college isn’t a four-year decision — it is a 40-year decision,” he says. At Benedictine and other Newman Guide colleges, that outlook is apparent.

Unless a Catholic college is obviously and deeply committed to the full truth of the Catholic faith, it has compromised its mission. Catholic families deserve authentic Catholic education, and they shouldn’t settle for less.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Study Science at a Faithful Catholic College

Catholic high school students often ask: can I study engineering, medicine or the other sciences at a faithful Catholic college?

Or, to put it another way: can a college that teaches theology and philosophy be good at teaching science?

St. John Paul II thought so! He urged Catholic colleges to address the most pressing needs of society in science and technology, teaching students to see how faith and reason “bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.”

Today, America’s most faithful Catholic colleges are embracing St. John Paul II’s vision by teaching the sciences from an authentically Catholic perspective, and several of the colleges have announced exciting new developments in recent months. Students pursuing degrees in health, engineering, nursing, chemistry and other science- and math-related fields would do well to consider the differences in studying at a faithful Catholic college.

“We believe faith, morality and ethics are just as important in the sciences as in every other part of our lives. They cannot be separated,” said Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

The College recently opened a new 100,000-square-foot state of the art STEM building, the culmination of an impressive three-year project. Students and faculty expect that the new facility will open the door to involvement in even more major research projects. But unlike students at secular and many other Catholic colleges, Benedictine’s students do “not have to check their faith at the door of the science building,” says Minnis.

Students can find the best of both worlds in a faithful Catholic college. They can receive a solid liberal arts education while choosing majors like chemical, civil and mechanical engineering.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, has also announced expansions to its science offerings in recent years. This fall, Franciscan unveiled a biochemistry degree as one of its new majors. Students benefit in every subject area from a strong faculty, which is 94% Catholic.

“In this age of technology, we are in dire need of more truly Catholic scientists and medical professionals who can clearly articulate the proper use of science and technology in society,” explains Dr. Daniel Kuebler, biology professor and dean of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences. “The type of integrated science education offered at Franciscan produces just these types of graduates.”

In an increasing secular society, many ethical questions are raised about how scientific knowledge should be used, says Kuebler. “Should we clone humans? Should we manipulate human embryos? Should we develop embryonic stem cell lines?”

“At Franciscan, students not only learn the cutting-edge science through our array of academic programs, but they are also trained in sound Catholic moral and ethical principles so that they can competently and confidently defend the dignity of human life,” he says.

“Too often people see science and faith as being at odds with each other,” Kuebler adds. “Nothing could be further from the truth for a Catholic.”

Catholic students also find integration of faith and science at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. The college recently announced that Caromont, a local health care system, will be building a hospital adjacent to campus. The lease agreement with the Benedictine monastery will ensure that “nothing contrary to the Church’s teaching will be done at the hospital,” says Dr. Heather Ayala, chair of the college’s biology department.

Additionally, any “cooperative programs the college undertakes with Caromont will be degree-granting academic programs and thus under the control of the college,” Ayala continues.

The Benedictine mission of Belmont Abbey is a “central piece” in the development of new science and health related initiatives, Ayala says. Her biology department is known for its high placement rates for graduates into medical, dental and veterinary schools.

Ayala says she has “enjoyed being able to speak openly” about her faith with students and “have conversations both inside and outside of class” that integrate her Catholic faith with the life sciences.

The University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, recently was given permission by the family of St. Gianna Beretta Molla to rename its School of Health Sciences after her. Saint Gianna gave up her life to save her unborn baby.

The sacrifice of St. Gianna witnesses to “all that we hope to pass on to our students,” says Lauren Emmel, associate professor of physical therapy at the university. She believes that students must be educated about how “God works through our vocation for our sanctification and the sanctification of those we serve.”

The University of Mary offers a variety of majors in the health sciences including physical therapy and biomechanics. Its nursing is especially popular because of its high national ranking. Students are taught from a Catholic perspective and take two theology and two philosophy courses.

“Our commitment to teaching the sciences, especially the health sciences, begins with a witness to Truth personally. Students know integrity when they see it, so a personal commitment to the faith is important for any teacher in a Catholic institution,” explains Emmel.

“Without a recognition of the other as a person with dignity,” Emmel warns, “we begin treating diseases and discarding the less-than-desirable parts… One can imagine how this potentiates discarding entire classes of people, especially those who are dependent: children, elderly, the weak, the poor.”

But at the University of Mary, “our programs begin, as they ought, with a recognition of the dignity and sanctity of life,” she says. Professors try to help students “see, consider, and view people first, with all the dignity God has provided to them” and then only afterward to “address the weaknesses and impairments in a manner which is helpful and truly healing.”

Other faithful Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide—including Ave Maria University, the Catholic University of America, the University of Dallas, the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Walsh University—offer various science majors that integrate faith and ethics. John Paul the Great University in Escondido, California, offers several technical programs related to new media and the arts. Catholic liberal arts colleges like Christendom College, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts also provide math and science education.

The Great Books education at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, and Northfield, Massachusetts, “requires knowledge of the principles of all the major disciplines, including math and science,” according to Dr. Thomas Kaiser, associate dean of the College in New England. Like Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, which also emphasizes the Great Books, students get a rigorous foundation in Euclidian geometry, mathematical reasoning, scientific reasoning, natural science and philosophy.

“Having a philosophical overview of the principles and methods of the sciences is excellent preparation for specialization,” says Kaiser. “Those who specialize without this preparation may unknowingly accept philosophical presuppositions without any opportunity to critically assess them.”

Kaiser explains how, in our world today, “scientists have displaced the theologians and philosophers as the supposed wise men.” He laments that “many of them are atheists, and even those that aren’t think that there is no compatibility between faith and reason.”

“Of course, this never has been the position of the Church,” says Dr. Kaiser.

At secular colleges and even many secularized Catholic colleges, Catholic families will find science education that is completely divorced from faith. Fortunately, there are faithful Catholic colleges where students can prepare for careers in the sciences while being educated from an authentically Catholic perspective. It’s a wise choice, if wisdom is the objective.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Preparing Medical Professionals Who Reject Planned Parenthood

The ouster of Planned Parenthood’s president, who disappointed activists for not being aggressive enough on abortion despite her defense of horrific state laws, should be a wake-up call to Catholics to better educate future health care professionals about the reality of abortion and what true health care means. It’s a strong reason why renewing faithful Catholic education is so important to our Church and society.

Before students even arrive at medical school, the indoctrination that teaches that abortion is acceptable has already begun—and it even creeps into some of our Catholic schools and colleges. Just recently, a Catholic school teacher in South Carolina posted pro-abortion posts on her Facebook page and was appropriately removed from her teaching position. The school she was employed by is excellent—one of several recognized for strong Catholic policies by the Cardinal Newman Society. But still the teacher seems not to understand her responsibility to witness to the faith inside and outside of the classroom, and she has filed a lawsuit against the school.

Faithful Catholic schools are devoted to forming students in truth, beauty and goodness. Students learn that “reason, revelation, and science will never be in ultimate conflict, as the same God created them all” (Catholic Curriculum Standards). Catholic teachers play an important role in helping students understand moral issues like abortion and should educate them properly so that they are convicted by the truth.

In our Catholic colleges, sadly, this is not always the case. Several years ago, The Cardinal Newman Society reported on the close connections between Planned Parenthood and Catholic colleges across the country. Earlier this year, Georgetown University allowed for an abortionist to be hosted on campus who tried to justify his practice with his Christian faith. Several Catholic colleges honored pro-abortion politicians at commencement. And if we look at the Jesuit college graduates who are serving in Congress, a large majority of them are pro-abortion. 

With mostly secular options for medical training, Catholics have a tough time of it. One Catholic high school student from Pennsylvania, Natalie Hyrcza, told me that while “there are many great nursing schools out there… a lot of them are not Catholic and do not even touch on ethics in nursing.”

Still, there are some good options. Natalie is excited to be going to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., this fall to begin her nursing studies, where she hopes to “learn how to treat each and every patient… as a child of God.” She cites an example of when she volunteered at a hospital and came across a patient who was “very lonely and just wanted somebody to talk to.” After some time together, Natalie noticed the patient’s rosary, and they ended up praying it together.

Another nursing student, Kaelyn Adolph, is headed to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, this fall. She said that it’s so important for her to “gain a solid education that reflects my Catholic values.”

“Attending a Catholic nursing school gives the nurses confidence that comes with a complete education, which includes the moral stance on modern issues,” she said. “This beautiful profession enables you to glorify and praise God through your work of caring for others.”

Over the last few decades, many Catholic medical schools have closed, but there are still many pre-medicine, nursing, biology, health care administration, physical education and related programs at faithful colleges like those recommended in The Newman Guide. With solid education not only in health care but also ethics, theology and other liberal arts, these can provide a great formation for Catholic leaders in health-related fields.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Literature, Library, and Media Guide for Catholic Educators



This guide provides the reader with considerations and recommended best practices for the selection of literature, media, and movies for academic coursework in Catholic elementary and secondary education, as well as guidelines for library policies and best practices for the acquisition of library holdings. The guide can be applied to the selection of book fair organizations. Sample school policies and a model scoring rubric are included.

Literature and the arts are also, in their own way, of great importance to the life of the Church. They strive to make known the proper nature of man, his problems and his experiences in trying to know and perfect both himself and the world. They have much to do with revealing man’s place in history and in the world; with illustrating the miseries and joys, the needs and strengths of man and with foreshadowing a better life for him. Thus they are able to elevate human life, expressed in multifold forms according to various times and regions.

– Second Vatican Council, Gaudium Et Spes, 1965, #62


The mission of Catholic education fulfills its purpose of “critical, systematic transmission of culture in the light of faith”1 and the integral formation of the human person by developing each student’s intellectual, moral, emotional, physical, and spiritual gifts in harmony, teaching responsibility and right use of freedom, and gradually introducing all students to the knowledge of salvation by helping them become prayerful, moral, and Christ-like individuals bearing witness to the hope that is within them to build the Church on earth, evangelize the world, and contribute to the common good.2 How a school accomplishes this mission includes many things, one of which is its selection of curricular materials—in particular, its selection of literature and the arts.

Literature and the arts can be powerful forces in human formation. They can build up or tear down the moral imagination of a person. They can enable one to transcend oneself and enter into the shoes of others from different cultures, times, and dimensions. C.S. Lewis notes the specific power and role of literature as having the capability to enlarge our being, to broaden and enhance our perspectives, and to “see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.”3 Such powerful forces must be respected and carefully selected in a Catholic school, because literature both assists in the formation of the moral imagination and acts as a vehicle for the transmission of Catholic culture.

For our children, stories are not just about texts and techniques, but also about people and relationships, providing opportunities to engage in deep and meaningful discussions about man, the common culture, and the cultures and peoples from all times and ages. Stories are not just about literary styles and interpretive complexities, but also about exploration into the imaginative and powerful terms surrounding the nature of reality, morality, faith and virtue. Great literature presents images of nobility and excellence and their opposites for our judgment and self-judgment about what it means to be a fully actualized, good, human being—or the opposite.

Catholic educators must keep in mind that the goal is to assist the maturing student not only to enjoy reading well-written texts, but also to better understand and interpret the world and the human condition correctly.4 Literature has the capability of eliciting strong passion and emotion as well as imagination and reasoning. Well-crafted stories help students become wiser and more virtuous people, providing insight into man’s nature and his relationship to God and creation.

During students’ tender years, literature and the arts should provide clear and compelling examples of beauty and goodness. Selected works should foster a joy for reading and learning and unambiguously reinforce virtue and promote a Catholic worldview, avoiding the moral ambivalence of relativism. Heroes and villains must be identifiable and evaluated through the lens of Christian morals and values.

All students, but especially younger students, need to be carefully guided as they begin to encounter non-Christian worldviews, such as those represented in the myths of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Such encounters are important in the quest to help them understand the cultural and historical forces that have influenced the development of human thought, especially Western thought, across time. Truth and beauty, wherever found, are called out and celebrated, until they reach their summit and perfection in Christ, in Whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and in Whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

As students mature, especially in high school, more complex elements of the human experience come into play, including darker elements of the human condition. This includes painful and confusing tragedy and despair that result from sin: the rejection of virtue, truth, and even God Himself.

Such deep human exploration and experience can be emotional and impactful; it can also be dangerous. Because of man’s fallen nature, the minds, hearts, and imaginations of some authors and artists are sullied and dulled, and their works must not be taken on uncritically, or perhaps even at all. Some authors and artists are simply bad guides, whose works add little value to the formation of the human soul and can actually lead one away from God—away from truth, countering the mission of Catholic education to lead souls to Heaven and secure the common good here below.5 Still, masterpieces of literature can expose students to the darkness of broken humanity that they might not have previously considered or encountered and thus expand their own humanity through vicarious experience. When this happens, it is important that a trained and faithful Catholic teacher be present to guide them through the experience. It is also important that the work provide for the correction of evil and reinforcement of the good. This, for example, is what happens to classical tragic heroes. Such men are not perfect, and they are often prideful, but, in accepting their downfall and the role their error has played, they come to a degree of knowledge and wisdom which is of benefit to them and ultimately to us, the audience, as balance is restored.

It is also possible, especially in more modern works of literature, for the author to create a world where there is little or no truth, or where evil is presented unchallenged or unrepented, or even as an alternate good. Because our goal is integration of truth and life for our students—not alienation, relativism, and brokenness—Catholic educators cannot leave students adrift in such situations. Such books are to be used only with extreme caution and with specific planned instruction in place to ameliorate any confusion which may result. The solid Catholic response to such a work must be geared to leaving the student wiser and stronger in faith than before the work was first approached.

This approach encourages the inclusion of moral, ethical, epistemological, and anthropological questions such as, “Is what the text says and infers actually true?”, “How do its assertions comport with logic, reason, natural law, revelation, and a Catholic worldview of man and life?”, and “How is happiness achieved? What threatens it?” Literature can serve as an effective medium to address critical questions such as, “How ought men to live in community with each other?”, “What are an individual’s rights, duties, freedoms, and restraints?”, “What are a society’s?”, “What is the relationship between man and God; between man and the physical world?”, “What is the nature of human dignity and the human spirit?”, “What is love?”, and “What is the good life?” One of the goals of Catholic education is to help students develop dispositions for pursuing objective truth and striving for a habitual vision of greatness as they identify how literature interprets the human condition, human behaviors, and human actions in its redeemed and unredeemed state.6

Literacy in a Catholic school is a vehicle for the discovery of truth, beauty, goodness, and freedom; a delight in creating and in creation; a means to attain salvation; a warning of the destructive and self-destructive consequences of sin; and a pathway to serve the common good.

Recommended Policies

Because a student is generally not able to opt out of major literature assignments and because there are a myriad of possible materials that can meet a Catholic school’s K-6 or 7-12 literature goals, there are likely multiple selections that satisfy educational objectives and the recommended policies below. If exceptions are made, they should be limited to extraordinary circumstances, with primary concern for the students’ purity and formation, and with approval from top administrators. But we believe that these guidelines provide ample opportunity to identify beneficial materials.

The Cardinal Newman Society has compiled a recommended reading list as well as other resources to assist toward this end.

The following policies from The Cardinal Newman Society and exemplar policies from five Catholic Education Honor Roll schools may be used without attribution and altered to fit the school’s mission and culture.

Recommended Literature, Media, and Movie Policies

Literature, Media, and Movies must:

  1. Have enduring value and educational significance.
  2. Be selected for intellectual, moral, inspirational, and artistic weight more than for entertainment, popularity, faddishness, or an attempt to entice students to read.
  3. Be of high-quality writing and artistic value, promoting creativity and a Catholic imagination.
  4. Assist the student to a right ordering of the intellect, will, and emotions.
  5. Assist the pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness.
  6. Have characters that either undergo positive growth in virtue or have their vices shown as detrimental and contributing to their downfall.
  7. Include teacher-led evaluation of themes and events in terms of Catholic norms, values, and worldview so as to provide insight into a Catholic understanding of the human person in his redeemed and unredeemed state and in his relationship to God, family, and others.
  8. Be age-appropriate in content and ability.
  9. Be free of significant and shocking profanity.
  10. Be free of explicit discussion, presentation, or description of sexual activity or sexual fantasy.
  11. Not be a proximate cause of sinful thoughts or actions, a pathway to the occult, contrary to truth, a temptation to despair, or a diminishing of faith.
  12. Be listed in a course of studies or class syllabus available to parents.
  13. Not have ambiguous moral themes and characters in summer reading or viewing assignments, since teacher input is not available, and ambiguity might lead students morally astray.
  14. Not be rated “R” or “TV-MA”.

Recommended Best Practices for Literature

  • Introduce students to the great conversations of humanity – especially as they are advanced in literary classics. Should they desire, students can read contemporary novels in their leisure time.
  • Avoid an overemphasis on informational texts. Good and Great Books engage higher-order thinking skills and enhance personal development, creativity, and engagement.
  • Beware of stories of darkness, despair, the occult, or confused archetypes – especially with younger students.
  • Avoid stories that pursue a cultural agenda at odds with a Catholic understanding of human dignity, marriage, or sexuality.
  • Use multiple literary approaches: moral analysis, reader response, authorial intention etc., and not simply “close reading.”
  • Tailor questions and assignments to both the immediate world and transcendent meaning.
  • Use an interdisciplinary approach and integral approach so that theology, history, and philosophy develop the “story” and inform the discussion of events.
  • Use the beauty and skill evident in exceptionally well-written works by the best authors to model and teach effective writing skills.

Recommended Best Practices for Movies

  • Movies shown during class time are to have an instructional purpose and not be used for entertainment.
  • Teachers should watch the entire movie prior to incorporating it into a lesson plan.
  • Watching carefully selected scenes, rather than entire works, can be an efficient way of maintaining focus and ensuring effective discussion.
  • The movie or video should be stopped frequently to provide for thorough reflection and discussion.
  • The teacher should be actively engaged in watching the students and facilitating discussion during movie clips, not attempting other work.
  • Students should be seated to ensure their ability to focus on the film and engage in discussion. Theater type seating, as opposed to sitting behind a desk, can assist in ensuring the student is not sleeping, accessing social media, or doing other work during the movie.
  • Any brief scenes with foul language, temporary partial nudity, or other offensive content must be skipped or blocked from view or hearing.
  • If the movie is to be shown on YouTube or over the internet, teachers should take care to block inappropriate advertisements.
  • Showing an entire movie should be a rare event in class. If searching for rewards for students or things to do during a celebration, games and other social or physical activities are to be preferred over movies.
  • If the movie is available online (Netflix, YouTube, internet, etc.), consider having the students watch the movie as homework (possibly with their parents or fellow students) and complete a study-guide or reflection questions which can then be discussed in class.
  • Look at several rating sites to help evaluate literature, media, and movies according to the rationale and policies articulated within this guide.

Recommended Process to Challenge a Selection

  1. Cite title and date material was/is to be covered in which class.
  2. Articulate the general nature of the concern.
  3. Cite specific pages or sections of concern.
  4. Discuss how this contradicts the school’s book/movie selection policy.
  5. Submit the concern to both the teacher and the principal. Final determination of suitability shall rest with the principal who interprets and applies board policy.

Rationale for Acquisition of Library Holdings

As a Catholic education’s mission is different, a Catholic school library also looks different. Library books serve the Catholic mission of the school to promote truth, goodness, beauty, and excellence. Catholic education teaches students to read, because reading is an important part of being human. Reading is primarily a tool and a means, not an end in itself. We don’t just want students to read anything; we want them to read selections that will help them learn and grow in human capacity and joyful wonder. Reading can help ensure freedom and provide authentic joy when it leads students to encountering enduring ideals. Catholic education teaches students to read so that they can learn, seek, explore, think, and come to know the truth about the world around them.

A Catholic school library does not seek to provide access to “all kinds of books,” but rather the best and most meaningful books aligned with the school’s mission. What is acceptable to secular associations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and those who generate annual book awards may not be appropriate for the furtherance of a Catholic culture and worldview in a Catholic educational institution. Secular associations may be consulted for technical advice, but they are not to be used as the final arbiter of appropriate content, excellence, or vision for a Catholic school library.

Efforts should be made to steer youth to lasting and meaningful works and not selections chosen to “just get students to read.” There are plenty of options outside of the library and the school for that. Also, even if there is “nothing harmful” in a book, it may make sense not to include it in the library collection if it is unduly attracting students away from the best readings. For example, the cartoon-enhanced book, Ellie McDougal, may be more attractive and less work than Little Women, and the book Captain Underpants may be more enticing than Captains Courageous. But there is no doubt which books are better for our children. When the “harmless” gets in the way of the excellent, perhaps it’s not as harmless as first thought.

For the youngest readers, it’s important to be aware of impure archetypes. Selections which include foreboding figures such as trolls, witches, monsters and dragons are very helpful to communicate deeper realities to children about the world and about real hostile forces, both human and demonic, but stories about friendly dragons and misunderstood monsters can lead children to assume that evil is just a function of misunderstood or alienated “others” who mean no harm. This mixed message can present real harm to children when faced with life situations they are too young to handle.

For young adult readers, the collection should exclude works centered on hyped-up school drama or young adult books that present cynical images of school and teachers and parental authority; these work against the building-up of trust and community desired in a Catholic educational setting. Similarly, young adult novels which center on suicide, death, extreme alienation, sexuality, or modern broken families or which present parents as enemies and obstacles to “freedom” should be replaced by books promoting exploration, courage, loyalty, and nobility when students are working through sometimes difficult developmental changes. Historical fiction provides enough cognitive dissonance to allow modern youth an opportunity to re-evaluate their anxieties and limited worldview in light of a much broader and healthier context. In-depth, complex, dysfunctional, and alternative family relationships and lifestyles can better be explored after the young adult stage with selections from great works such as those from Jane Austen and Dostoyevsky, among others.

Individuals working in the library accept their responsibility as curators of materials given the importance reading has on the spiritual, social, and intellectual formation of youth who are growing in their understanding of reality. They support Catholic parents as the primary educators of their children and take seriously the task of acting in loco parentis. The Catholic school does not intend to censor books out of the public domain, but, within its own private domain and targeted audience, the school must be faithful to its mission and the constraints of the school’s budget.

Recommended Library Policies

  1. Library holdings support the mission of Catholic education.
  2. Library holdings are approved and acquired through a selected committee with strong faculty representation.
  3. Library holdings are chosen for their high-quality writing and artistry and for their creative, intellectual, spiritual, and inspirational weight over their entertainment value.
  4. Books of enduring value take priority, even if they are not available in library-quality copies.
  5. Library holdings are not acquired simply because students request them, because they are best-sellers, or because they have won book awards.
  6. Library holdings for K-8 maintain archetypes, promote virtue, and are morally unambiguous from a Catholic worldview.
  7. Library holdings should not include fictional works that focus exclusively on suicide, drug abuse, modern dysfunctional relationships or works that foster cynicism about school, teachers, parents, or religion. Young adult fiction should instead encourage adventure and virtue.
  8. Library holdings should not contain significant or shocking profanity or explicit discussion, presentation, or description of sexual activity or sexual fantasy.
  9. Library holdings should not be a proximate cause of sinful thoughts or actions; they should not be a pathway to the occult, contrary to truth, lead to despair, or facilitate a diminishing of faith.

Book Fairs and Clubs

  1. Select book fair organizations and clubs whose mission supports the mission of Catholic education.
  2. Select books for sale according to library policy and rationale (eliminate others).

Exemplar School Policies

Frassati Catholic High School – Spring, Tex.


…A selfless desire for a commitment to calling, a sense that honor is far more valuable than life—these are aspects of the soul that must be awakened by a vision of the high and the noble. And herein lies one of the great values of studying the classics: our poetic heritage gives imperishable form to the heroic aspiration.

-Dr. Louise Cowan

By placing before us examples of the high and noble, the classic works of literature ignite in us the desire to reach such heights of greatness as well. While distinct from philosophy and science, literature as an academic discipline is comparable to both in its breadth and depth of imparting knowledge. Moreover, as the ancient Greek writer Cicero pointed out, “nothing is sweeter and more useful than the study of literature” because of its power to illuminate the beauty of the truth about the human person. For these reasons, the English program approaches literature as a vehicle of truth that imparts wisdom.

Thus, the English curriculum seeks to cultivate the students’ ability to understand, appreciate, and respond to the great works of our literary tradition. Students search out the wisdom of the poets and refine their judgment by taking part in seminar discussions focused on the chief works of major authors. Students are encouraged to learn what the best of the writers understand about human nature and the human experience throughout the ages. In doing so, they also follow in the footsteps of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who so loved Dante’s great epic The Divine Comedy that he committed large passages to memory and would spontaneously recite them for his friends.

Throughout the English course of study, students develop their ability to read and think critically, and then to express themselves orally and in written form. Special emphasis is placed on mastery of the written word through an intensive writing program that is carefully woven into each course.

The course sequence parallels the Ethics and Culture department courses. The freshmen English course is organized thematically around the question of the human person’s search for identity, thus dovetailing with the Ethics and Culture course, The Human Person. In the sophomore English course, the literature explores the question of man’s search for happiness, complementing the Ethics and Culture course, Principles of Ethics: The Search for Happiness. The study of logic, rhetoric, and analytical writing in the junior and senior courses also helps students as they address the more complex issues in Bioethics and in their senior writing project.

The mission of Frassati Catholic High School’s English Department is twofold: 1) for students to achieve excellence in writing, interpretive, and critical language skills and 2) for students to achieve a certain excellence of soul, by learning to integrate the knowledge to be gained from great literature not only into their other courses but into their own lives.

Holy Family Academy – Manchester, N.H.

Literature texts in the Holy Family Academy curriculum must meet the following criteria:

  1. Is imbued with the Catholic imagination.
  2. Prompts wonder about and provides insight into the human condition as understood by the Catholic Church.
  3. Is written in beautiful and coherent language.
  4. Reflects or is at least compatible with a Catholic world view.
  5. Is age appropriate in subject matter, complexity, and length.
  6. Contains no vulgar or obscene content.
  7. While expressive of a particular time and culture, the work has universal significance.

 The Lyceum – Cleveland, Ohio

Because teaching literature effectively would seem to follow from a coherent and true philosophy of literature, we take this opportunity to set forth some general principles that we hope the teacher will agree with and find useful.

  1. Students should read many wholesome works of imaginative literature. Literature addresses itself primarily to the imagination and the emotions of the reader, and therefore is an important tool by which those faculties are formed rightly.
  2. Because of its unique influence on the emotions and imagination a school cannot be too careful in its own selection of literature that it “requires” students to read.

With regard to the first point, we must remember that a work of imaginative literature is not a work of philosophy, nor is it a work of theology. Though imaginative literature would appear to be all-embracing in its ability to include anything and everything (“Homer wrote a cosmos in verse”), nonetheless there is a distinction between a work that addresses itself primarily to the faculty of reason and a work that addresses itself primarily to the “heart” or emotions. As Aristotle points out about the purpose of tragedy in his Poetics, we maintain that imaginative literature is a great tool for disposing the passions rightly; literature has a great power for inclining the passions with moderation towards goodness, truth, and beauty.

On the other hand, a tool which has such a great power for good also has a great power to the opposite, and therefore we note that just as good literature (like good music) has an immediate good effect on the reader, bad literature has an immediate bad effect on the reader. But a school, like a good physician, must above all abide by the words of the Hippocratic Oath when it says, “never do harm.” In other words, a school must keep an especially strict standard about what literature it requires students to read.

Unfortunately, because of differences in human judgment and the difficulty of measuring works of literature, it very well might follow from this “principle of strictness” that students will not encounter certain great works of literature because they have been erroneously cut from the canon because of some “doubt” about their appropriateness.

This leads us to the next three principles by which we select books at The Lyceum:

  1. Texts chosen should be undeniably good or excellent.
  2. Every text must be chosen keeping in mind its suitability for the particular age level for which it is chosen.
  3. Some little regard to “literacy” should play a part in the selection of texts.

Of course it may be impossible to find a single text that is “undeniably excellent” insofar as the poet maintains: “More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise” And so we might most assuredly find someone to deny that any single text is “excellent.” We will, consequently, stipulate that every text in The Lyceum canon of literature be “excellent” in the eyes of most who are liberally educated. Even so it would seem unimaginable that there might be someone who would deny the excellence of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.

That every text ought to be suitable for a particular age level is self-evident with regard to the “readability level” of a text. It is more difficult to know which texts are suitable for various maturity levels with regard to the ideas and content of particular works. For example, experienced educators know that Jane Austen’s marvelous Pride and Prejudice can stir the heart and passion of the junior and senior in high school, but very often proves to be a dismal failure for the ninth and tenth grade student. At the same time depending on a particular literature teacher, a work which is arguably more suitable for the 12th grade student with respect to content (e.g. the Iliad) might, in fact, work very well with a younger student.

In general, we believe that works of literature should be just enough advanced for a particular age level to provide a challenge and an opportunity for vocabulary building as well as an opportunity for increasing a student’s individual ability to read with understanding – but not so advanced that the text will prove frustrating and ultimately produce the intellectual fatigue which we call “Great Books Burnout.” This fatigue is especially prone to happen at the small classical school precisely because of the high standards and lofty aspirations that are the hallmark of such a school. On the one hand The Lyceum honors its students by offering the greatest works of the western world, (the school does not insult the minds of its students by giving them unworthy works written by mediocre minds); on the other hand it takes pains to avoid the opposite danger of presenting great works that are simply inaccessible to developing minds.

Needless to say, choosing appropriate works of literature that meet all of these requirements is therefore not an easy task!

St. Augustine AcademyVentura, Calif.

From its founding Saint Augustine Academy has endeavored to pass down to our students the most important works of literature in the Western tradition. Given the constraints of time in the school year and the maturity of the students, we very carefully select our class offerings from a variety of genres from across the centuries. We identify important themes and topics by examining the theological, moral and intellectual virtues in various works. We make note of important themes expressed in key passages by organizing them into three columns THEOLOGICAL, MORAL and INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES and by placing these citations along with their location in the text. In this way we can more easily trace the development of these three values and determine whether there is sufficient intellectual, moral and theological content to merit inclusion in our curriculum. By INTELLECTUAL we mean that the work deals with philosophical, historical and political issues. MORAL VIRTUES involve the ethical questions most often centered on Christian and Greco-Roman virtues. THEOLOGICAL VALUES refer to Judeo-Christian questions of our relationship to God both as individuals and as a community, and, most specifically, to Jesus Christ as our risen Savior.

In this way we can examine whether our favorites works go beyond the level of a heart-warming tale or a hard-hitting history and moves into the realm of the morally gripping story that is also instructive of the commandments of our faith, of our Lord’s love for us and of our struggle to love and be faithful to Him. If the work contains clear passages of moral and theological content that our students may discover for themselves, then we know that the work will afford the students a chance to reflect and consider these great questions over time in their own lives.

Seton High School – Manassas, Va.

When choosing literature for classroom use, we generally consider a number of criteria. Using The Odyssey as an example will help to clarify those criteria. First of all, is it worthwhile as literature? Here we are often guided by the experience of the ages: if a work is a “classic” of western literature and has been part of its culture for many years, it is likely to have enduring value. The quality of the writing is likely to be high, the story to be appealing, and the themes to be those of universal importance. This is all certainly true of The Odyssey, one of the staples of western education for hundreds of years and an essential point of reference for educated persons for at least as long.

A second consideration is the work’s appropriateness in a Catholic school at the level being considered. While students just beginning high school may have been previously sheltered from certain more adult topics in the past, most do know at least in general about serious problems of morality such as violence and unchastity. While they may be surprised at first to find them in assigned literature because of this sheltering, they realize that immorality is a part of life and that the struggle between good and evil is a universal theme. So, beginning in high school, unchastity may be seen in a number of the classics students’ study (i.e., The Scarlet Letter, Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities).

Any books with explicit descriptions of unchastity, or which could possibly lead a young person to sin, are eliminated. Most books clearly portray sin as sin: where there could be any doubt in the mind of the student, classroom discussion led by the teacher clarifies the matter. For example, at the very beginning of our study of The Odyssey we explain that ancient Greece was a pagan society, and that the people did not have Revelation to guide them or sanctifying grace to strengthen them. Part of our ongoing discussion is a consideration of the differences between this pagan society and one guided by Christian principles. They discover that the Greeks had a remarkable natural understanding of virtue in some ways but lacked virtue in other ways because their religion was unable to provide them with the Way, the Truth and the Life. In spite of the depiction of the sins of the Greeks (somewhat graphic in violence, not at all graphic in unchastity), we believe that none of our Seton students could possibly be led into sin by the contents of The Odyssey, especially when they are explained by Catholic teachers in the context of a good Catholic education.

Holistic Rubric for Selecting Literature in a Catholic School

Compare the literature selection to the description provided in each box and circle the score that most closely applies to your selection.

Score Description
4 – Excellent Choice There are multiple or significant timeless themes presented which: transcend culture and politics, allow for a richer and deeper understanding of humanity, and lend themselves to profound discussion about authentic truth and reality from a Catholic worldview. The work powerfully provokes a deeper understanding of virtue (or the destructive consequences of the lack thereof) and its effects on human flourishing. The work is uniquely suited to assist the student to a right ordering of the imagination, passions, and emotions. The work has significant artistic weight and strong intellectual merit. The writing is very well crafted and can serve as a model for student emulation. The work has been read for generations. There is no profanity. There is no blasphemy. There is no description of sexual activity or sexual fantasy. The content does not diminish the student’s faith or innocence or lead the student to sin or despair. The instructor is expertly equipped to provide a Catholic perspective on content and themes.
3 – Good Choice There are themes presented which: transcend culture and politics, allow for a deeper understanding of humanity, and lend themselves to discussion about authentic truth and reality from a Catholic worldview. The work allows for discussion of virtue (or the destructive consequences of the lack thereof) and its effects on human flourishing. The work assists the student to a right ordering of the imagination, passions, and emotions. The work has artistic weight and intellectual merit. The writing is well crafted. The work is likely to be read by future generations. There is no shocking or significant profanity. There is no blasphemy. There is no description of sexual activity or sexual fantasy. The content does not diminish the student’s faith or innocence or lead the student to sin or despair. The instructor is effectively equipped to provide a Catholic perspective on all essential content and themes.
2 – Fair Choice


(See below*)

Themes are primarily cultural and political, somewhat limiting discussion about transcendent concerns. Discussion about authentic truth and reality from a Catholic worldview is possible but not forefront. The work allows for discussion of virtue (or the destructive consequences of the lack thereof) but its impact on human flourishing is ambiguous and/or ambivalent. Disorder in the work may somewhat confuse the students’ passions or emotions. The work is currently popular in some English or liberal arts courses but has not yet proved its staying power over time. There is no shocking or significant profanity. There is ambivalence or neutrality toward the Catholic faith. There is no excessive or explicit description of sexual activity or sexual fantasy. The content does not diminish the student’s faith or innocence or lead the student to sin or despair. The instructor is adequately equipped to provide a Catholic perspective on most content and themes.
1 – Poor Choice Themes are primarily cultural and political, limiting discussion about transcendent concerns. Discussion about authentic truth and reality from a Catholic worldview is significantly impeded by a worldview that is provocatively and enticingly anti-Christian. Virtue and vice are confused, ridiculed, or presented as inconsequential. Disorder in the work is not resolved or leads the students’ passions or emotions astray. The work is culturally popular, but rarely found in school curricula, and has not yet proved its staying power over time. There is shocking and explicit violence. There is shocking or significant profanity. The work is blasphemous. There is excessive or explicit description of sexual activity or sexual fantasy. The content may diminish the student’s faith or innocence or lead the student to sin or despair. The instructor is insufficiently equipped to provide a Catholic perspective on all content and themes.

*Scale Score 2 = Compelling reason must be given for this selection, along with supports to mitigate areas of concern.