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.

library books

Selected Reading List for Catholic K-12 Schools

Updated February 27, 2019

The following reading list is offered for use with The Cardinal Newman Society’s Literature, Library, and Media Guide for Catholic Educators.

The authors assembled this list based on their experience as educators and Catholic school administrators, and by consulting sources including schools recognized by The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll for their commitment to strong Catholic identity. The list suggests options for Catholic educators, but it is not exhaustive of all possible literature that might be suitable for Catholic education. Many factors must be considered when deciding which particular works should be included in a curriculum.

This list may be adopted in whole or in part by educators.



K-4 Fiction- General

Adapted Greek and Roman Myths

Aesop’s Fables

Bible Stories


Folk tales

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes

Selected Fairy Tales from Grimm

Selected Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen

K-4 Titles

Adapted Greek and Roman Myths

Aesop’s Fables

A Book of Nonsense (Lear)

A Pair of Red Clogs (Matsuno)

A Seed is Sleeping (Aston)

Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Viorst)

An Egg is Quiet (Aston)

Andy and the Circus (Daugherty)

Angus and the Ducks (Flack)

Before I Was Me (Fraser)

Blueberries for Sal (McCloskey)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Martin)

Caps for Sale (Slobodkina)

Charlotte’s Web (White)

Clown of God (de Paolo)

Cranberry Thanksgiving (Devlin)

Curious George Series (Rey)

Favorite Uncle Remus (Harris)

Frog and Toad Series (Lobel)

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Johnson)

Heavenly Hosts: Eucharistic Miracles for Kids (Swegart)

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie (Numeroff)

Lentil (McCloskey)

Madeline (Bemelmans)

Make Way for Ducklings (McCloskey)

Mama, Do you Love Me? (Joosse)

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel (Burton)

Millions of Cats (Gag)

Mirette on the High Wire (McCully)

Molly McBride and the Purple Habit (Schoonover – Egolf)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Atwater)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Series (O’Brien)

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (Steptoe)

Nate The Great series (Sharmat)

Owl Moon (Yolen)

Papa Piccolo (Talley)

Peppe the Lamplighter (Barton)

Peter Pan (Barrie)

Rikki Tikki Tavi (Kipling)

Roses in the Snow: A Tale of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (Jackson & Kadar-Kallen)

Saints Chronicles Series (Milgrom & Davis)

St. Clare of Assisi Runaway Rich Girl (Hee-ju)

St. George and the Dragon (Hodges)

Storm in the Night (Stolz)

The Animal Hedge (Fleishman)

The Blue Fairy Book; The Red Fairy Book (Lang)

The Bobbsey Twins (Hope)

The Children’s Book of Virtues (Bennett)

The Elves and the Shoemaker (Galdone)

The Five Chinese Brothers (Bishop & Wiese)

The Quiltmaker’s Gift (Brumbeau)

The Little Engine That Could (Piper)

The Little Flower: A Parable of Saint Therese of Lisieux (Arganbright & Arvidson)

The Little House in the Woods (Wilder)

The Moffats (Estes)

The Mystery at Midnight (Hendey)

The Princess and the Kiss (Bishop)

The Snowy Day (Keats)

The Story About Ping (Fleck & Wiese)

The Story of Ferdinand (Leaf)

The Story of Peter Rabbit (Potter)

The Trumpet of the Swan (White)

The Velveteen Rabbit (Williams)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle)

The Wind in the Willows (Grahame)

Treasure Box Set (Maryknoll Sisters)

Wee Gillis (Leaf)

Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak)

Winnie the Pooh (Milne)

Grades 5-8

Grades 5-8 Fiction Titles

7 Riddles to Nowhere (Cattapan)

A Horse and the Boy (Lewis)

A Christmas Carol (Dickens)

A Story of Joan of Arc (Earnest)

A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle)

Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints (Swaim)

Adam of the Road (Gray)

Amos Fortune, Free Man (Yates)

Anne of Geen Gables (Montgomery)

Around the World in Eighty Days (Verne)

Beowulf: A New Telling (Nye)

Black Beauty (Sewell)

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (Lee)

Blessed Marie of New France (Windeatt)

Break in the Basilica (Ahern)

Caddie Woodlawn (Brink)

Captain Courageous (Kipling)

Cyrano de Bergerac (Rostand)

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Cather)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)

Fingal’s Quest (Pollard)

Freckles (Porter)

Hans Brinker (Dodge)

Heidi (Spyri)

Hero of the Hills (Windeatt)

Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica (Norris)

Homer Price (McCloskey)

I Am David (Holm)

I, Juan de Pareja (de Trevino)

If All the Swords in England (Willard)

Johnny Tremain (Forbes)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Verne)

Kidnapped (Stevenson)

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table (Green)

Kon-Tiki (Heyerdahl)

Lay Siege to Heaven (de Wohl)

Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Irving)

Leif the Lucky (D’Aulaire)

Lilies of the Field (Barrett)

Little House in the Big Woods (Wilder)

Little Women; Little Men (Alcott)

Log of a Cowboy (Adams)

Lost in St. Peter’s Tomb (Ahern)

Madeline Takes Command (Brill & Adams)

Midshipman Easy; Masterman Ready (Marryat)

Misty of Chincoteague (Henry)

My Antonia (Cather)

My Side of the Mountain (George)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Douglass)

Old Yeller (Gipson)

Our Town (Wilder)

Outlaws of Ravenhurst (Wallace)

Patron Saint of First Communicants (Windeatt)

Penrod and others (Tarkington)

Pied Piper of Hamlin (Browning)

Pygmalion (Shaw)

Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints (Swaim)

Redwall series (Jacques)

Rip Van Winkle (Irving)

Robin Hood (Pyle)

Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Taylor)

Saint Catherine of Siena (Forbes)

Saint Dominic (Windeatt)

Saint Hyacinth of Poland (Windeatt)

Saint John Masias (Windeatt)

Saint Martin de Porres (Windeatt)

Saint Monica (Forbes)

Saint Rose of Lima (Windeatt)

Saint Thomas Aquinas (Windeatt)

Sarah Plain and Tall (Wilder)

Secrets of Siena (Ahern)

Son of Charlemagne (Willard)

St. Benedict, Hero of the Hills (Windeatt)

St. Joan, The Girl Soldier (De Wohl)

St. Patrick (Tompert)

St. Thomas Aquinas for Children (Maritain)

Story of a Bad Boy (Aldrich)

Swallows and Amazons (Ransome)

Swiss Family Robinson (Wyss)

Tales of King Arthur (Talbott)

Tanglewood Tales (Hawthorne)

Tarzan Series (Burroughs)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Green)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Doyle)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain)

The Black Arrow (Stephenson)

The Black Cauldron (Alexander)

The Blood Red Crescent (Garnett)

The Boxcar Children (Warner)

The Bronze Bow (Speare)

The Call of the Wild (London)

The Children of Fatima (Windeatt)

The Children’s Homer (Colum)

The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis)

The Crucible (Miller)

The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkein)

The Hiding Place (ten Bloom)

The Hobbit (Tolkien)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle)

The Innocence of Father Brown [or others] (Chesterton)

The Island of the Blue Dolphins (O’Dell)

The Jungle Book (Kipling)

The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)

The Last Battle (Lewis)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Irving)

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (Lewis)

The Little Flower (Windeatt)

The Living Wood (De Wohl)

The Miracle Worker (Gibson)

The Miraculous Medal (Windeatt)

The Phantom Tollbooth (Juster)

The Pearl (Steinbeck)

The Ransom of Red Chief and other short stories (O. Henry)

The Railway Children (Nesbit)

The Red Badge of Courage (Crane)

The Red Keep (French)

The Restless Flame (de Wohl)

The Secret Garden (Burnett)

The Song at the Scaffold (Von le Fort)

The Spear: A Novel of the Crucifixion (De Wohl)

The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Walsh)

The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow (French)

The Swiss Family Robinson (Wyss)

The Tale of Despereaux (DeCamillo)

The Trumpeter of Krakow (Kelly)

The Twenty-One Balloons (Du Bois)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis)

The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of the Odyssey (Lee)

The Weight of the Mass (Nobisso)

The White Stag (Seredy)

The Wind in the Willows (Grahame)

The Winged Watchman (van Stockum)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Speare)

The Yearling (Rawlings)

Thomas Aquinas & the Preaching Beggars (Larnen & Lomask)

Tommy Playfair (Finn)

Treasure Island (Stevenson)

Trumpeter of Krakow (Kelly)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Verne)

Two Years Before the Mast (Dana)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Stowe)

Westward Ho (Kingsley)

Where the Red Fern Grows (Rawls)

White Fang (London)

Will Wilder Series (Arroyo)

 Grades 9-12

Grades 9-12 Non-Fiction Titles (original or in translation)

Autobiography (Franklin)

Democracy in America, [selections] (de Tocqueville)

Forget Not Love: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe (Frossad)

Funeral Oration (Pericles)

Harvard Address and/or Nobel Prize acceptance speech (Solzhenitsyn)

I Have a Dream (King)

Night (Wiesel)

Poetics, Ethics [excerpts] (Aristotle)

Self-Reliance (Emerson)

Slave Narratives (Douglass, Jacobs)

The Apology, Dialogues, Republic [excerpts] (Plato)

The Communist Manifesto (Marx)

The Declaration of Independence

The Federalist Papers [selections] (Hamilton, et. al)

The Gettysburg Address (Lincoln)

The Gulag Archipelago [abridged] (Solzhenitsyn)

The Histories [selections] (Herodotus)

The Magna Carta

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Rights of Man (Paine)

The Rule of St. Benedict

The Social Contract (Rousseau)

The United States Constitution

Treatise on Law and excerpts from other works (Aquinas)

Grades 9-12 Fiction Titles

A Man for All Seasons (Bolt)

A Voyage Round the World (Dampier)

Aeneid [excerpts] (Virgil)

All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque)

An Enemy of the People (Ibsen)

And Then There Were None (Christi)

Animal Farm and/or 1984 (Orwell)

Beowulf (trans. Tolkien)

Billy Budd, Bartleby the Scrivener, and other short stories (Melville)

Brideshead Revisited (Waugh)

Brothers Karamazov or Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky)

Canterbury Tales [excerpts] (Chaucer)

Come Rack! Come Rope! (Benson)

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Cather)

Death of a Salesman (Miller)

Diary of a Country Priest (Bernanos)

Doctor Faustus (Marlow)

Doctor Zhivago (Pasternak)

Don Quixote (Cervantes)

El Cid (Racine)

Forget Not Love: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe (Frossad)

Frankenstein (Shelley)

Great Expectations, David Copperfield, or A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)

Gulliver’s Travels (Swift)

Hamlet, Macbeth, and if possible King Lear and others (Shakespeare)

Huckleberry Finn (Twain)

Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hugo)

Jane Eyre (Bronte)

Joan of Arc (Twain)

Kim (Kipling)

Lieutenant Hornblower Series (Forester)

Le Morte D’Arthur (Malory)

Les Miserables (Hugo)

Lord Jim (Conrad)

Lorna Doone (Blackmore)

Man in the Iron Mask (Dumas)

Metamorphoses [excerpts] (Ovid)

Mill on the Floss [others] (Eliot)

Moonstone [and others] (Collins)

My Antonia (Cather)

Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, or Antigone (Sophocles)

Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Solzhenitsyn)

Oresteia (Aeschylus) and/or Andromache or Medea (Euripides)

Paradise Lost [excerpts] (Milton)

Portrait of Lady or The American (James)

Pride and Prejudice (Austen)

Quo Vadis (Sienkiewicz)

Red Badge of Courage (Crane)

Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion, or Emma (Austen)

Short Stories (Poe)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (anonymous)

Stories (Chekhov)

The Betrothed (Manzoni)

The Chosen (Potock)

The Cloister and the Hearth (Reade)

The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas)

The Divine Comedy [excerpts] (Dante)

The Epic of Gilgamesh (anonymous)

The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)

The Heart of Darkness (Conrad)

The Hoosier Schoolmaster (Eggleston)

The Iliad [excerpts] (Homer)

The Invisible Man (Wells)

The Longest Day (Ryan)

The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton)

The Mayor of Casterbridge (Hardy)

The Odyssey [excerpts or full] (Homer)

The Open Boat (Crane)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wilde)

The Prince (Machiavelli)

The Prisoner of Zenda (Hawkins)

The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Orczy)

The Song of Roland (anonymous)

The Three Musketeers (Dumas)

The Thirty Nine Steps (Buchanan)

The Time Machine (Wells)

The Virginian (Wister)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)

Tom Brown’s School Days; Tom Brown at Oxford (Hughes)

Trilby (Du Maurier)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Stowe)

Up From Slavery (Washington)

Vanity Fair (Thackeray)

Wuthering Heights (Bronte)


Catholic Authors:

George Bernanos, Laura Berquist, G.K. Chesterton, Louis DeWohl, Shusaku Endo, Graham Greene, Victor Hugo, Mary Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Sigrid Undset, Evelyn Waugh

Other Authors:

Jane Austin, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Melville, Sir Walter Scott, William Shakespeare


Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Hilaire Belloc, William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, G.K. Chesterton, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Richard Crashaw, Emily Dickenson, John Donne, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, A.E. Hausman, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, Joyce Kilmer, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Andrew Marvell, Alexander Pope, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Siegfried Sassoon, William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley, Robert Southwell, Edmund Spenser, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, Francis Thompson, William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats

Spiritual Classics

Confessions [excerpts] (St. Augustine of Hippo)

Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, or The Abolition of Man (Lewis)

Selections from: The Documents of Vatican II, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Veritatis Splendor, Humanae Vitae

Story of a Soul (St. Therese of Lisieux)

Summa Theologica [excerpts] (St. Thomas Aquinas)

The Bible

The Desert Fathers [excerpts]

The Imitation of Christ [excerpts] (Thomas a Kempis)

The Introduction to the Devout Life [excerpts] (St. Francis de Sales)

Additional Reading Lists:

Institute for Excellence in Writing, (n.d.). Books for boys and other children who would rather make forts all day. Retrieve at

apple on desks

3 Eye-Opening Lessons for Catholics under Common Core

It’s been five years since controversy peaked over the Common Core State Standards and their use in Catholic schools. What have we learned?

By 2013 the Common Core was being adopted rapidly by Catholic schools and dioceses across the country, prompting deep concern among Catholic families. The Cardinal Newman Society launched its Catholic Is Our Core initiative to press for authentically Catholic standards. Urgent meetings with Catholic education leaders and bishops were convened to explain why the Common Core was the wrong approach for Catholic schools.

Thanks be to God, shortly thereafter the U.S. bishops’ conference advised dioceses to “review, study, consultation, discussion and caution,” noting that the Common Core was “incomplete” and not designed for Catholic schools.

Today, many dioceses have moved toward genuinely Catholic standards for their schools, but the Common Core has never been fully rooted out of Catholic education. It continues to impact testing, curriculum, and textbooks in many dioceses—although the impact varies and is never quite clear.

While the experience has been messy, hopefully it has given new insight to Catholics and Church leaders and reminded educators of the primary mission of Catholic education. Here are three key lessons that have emerged:

1. The Common Core seems unable to live up to its promises.

National test data suggest that the Common Core has failed thus far to live up to its promise of strengthening student achievement in math and language arts, even in public schools.

In an analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) published this week by Denise Donohue, deputy director of K-12 education programs for the Cardinal Newman Society, she finds, “Neither public nor Catholic schools experienced the upswing that was promised by the authors of the Common Core Standards.”

Public school scores from 2009 (pre-CCSS) to 2017 (post-CCSS) are relatively the same and are categorized in the “basic” range on the academic standards scale for the NAEP, whereas Catholic school 8th grade math scores have slid three points in the pre-test/post-test scenario (297 in 2009 to 294 in 2017). Interestingly, the cut-off for “proficient” according to the NAEP literature is a score of 299, leaving Catholic schools that much more to attain before reaching the mark. Meanwhile, the opportunity costs are unknown. Perhaps Catholic schools’ 8th grade math and reading scores might have continued their positive upward trend before the onset of the CCSS.

The U.S. Education Department’s NAEP, Donohue observes, has never been re-aligned to the Common Core like many state tests, so it is a good measure of pre- and post-Common Core achievement. International benchmarking tests also indicate that American students have not made any substantial progress relative to other nations, Donohue finds.

2. Catholic education needs Catholic standards.

Aside from the impact of the Common Core on secular education, the standards are simply wrong for Catholic schools. As the U.S. bishops conference declared in 2014:

Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.

The Common Core controversy helped many Catholics become aware that dioceses around the country had been relying heavily on secular state standards for many years. That is how the Common Core was initially adopted by Catholic schools without due caution and analysis. When the standards were adopted by states, dioceses quickly and voluntarily followed suit.

Now there is a greater realization that authentically Catholic standards are needed. Many dioceses have made great progress in this direction, such as the Diocese of Grand Rapids and the Diocese of Venice, which both work from the faithful Catholic Curriculum Standards published in 2016 to provide Catholic schools with an alternative.

3. Parents are the primary educators.

Many national, state and local organizations produced important analyses of the Common Core that ultimately halted its spread in Catholic schools. But it was parents who had the most important and influential voice—some voting with their feet and turning to independent Catholic schools and homeschooling.

The Common Core experience has helped remind Catholic bishops, educators and even families that parents are the first educators of their children. Catholic education serves the needs of families in educating and forming children, or it is not Catholic education at all.

Canon law states, “Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.” If local Catholic schools aren’t enthusiastically and fully providing a truly Catholic education, parents are fully within their rights, and may have a duty, to find better, more faithful options for their children.

As Catholic school enrollment continues to decline, the Church urgently needs to renew the Catholic identity of Catholic schools to support only those that serve parents and the mission of the Church well.

For their part, parents should continue to find their voice and explain to their pastors what genuinely helps them form children for sainthood. This does not include secular fads such as the Common Core.

T This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Catholic Schools Not Improving Under Common Core

The Nation’s Report Card1 administered by the U.S. Department of Education reveals stagnant and even slightly declining test scores among Catholic schools since 2013, when many embraced the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Public schools also are showing no marked improvement, which is not what many had claimed would result from “internationally benchmarked” and globally competitive standards.2

With more than 100 Catholic dioceses implementing the CCSS to some degree3 in Catholic schools, it’s worth taking a look to see how Catholic schools are faring.

NAEP Assessment Results

Catholic schools are one of the largest private school groupings in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data collection, perhaps because their involvement is encouraged by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). The NAEP was last re-worked in 2009 and was never re-aligned to the Common Core, so it is a good measure of pre- and post-Common Core achievement.

Historically, Catholic schools have scored well above public schools in both 4th and 8th grade reading and math,4 and they continue to do so. Over the last two decades, reading scores have averaged 19.5 points higher for 8th graders in Catholic schools and 16.1 points higher for 4th graders. In math, Catholic schools have scored 12.7 points higher in 8th grade and 7.6 points higher in 4th grade.

The scores of both public and Catholic schools have remained largely stable over the past 8 years, with a small decrease in Catholic school scores that slightly narrows the gap with public schools.

(Sources: MathReading)

(Sources: MathReading)

This isn’t what was supposed to happen, is it? Neither public nor Catholic schools experienced the upswing that was promised by the authors of the Common Core Standards. Public school scores from 2009 (pre-CCSS) to 2017 (post-CCSS) are relatively the same and are categorized in the “basic” range on the academic standards scale for the NAEP, whereas Catholic school 8th grade math scores have slid three points in the pre-test/post-test scenario (297 in 2009 to 294 in 2017). Interestingly, the cut-off for “proficient” according to the NAEP literature is a score of 2995, leaving Catholic schools that much more to attain before reaching the mark. Meanwhile, the opportunity costs are unknown. Perhaps Catholic schools’ 8th grade math and reading scores might have continued their positive upward trend before the onset of the CCSS.

As for international benchmarking, the 4th grade U.S. scores in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) remained the same in 2015 at the internationally low benchmark.6 The 8th grade TIMMS scores went up,7 but they are still at the internationally low benchmark.8

In reading, scores for U.S. 4th grade students on the Progress for International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) have declined from 556 in 2011 to 549 in 2016 (the most recent year for scores).9 The United States is currently sitting in 15th place in reading achievement for 4th graders, down from 6th place in 2011.10

Common Core and Catholic Schools

What the test scores don’t measure is the loss to Catholic identity when Catholic schools conform to secular school standards that fail to consider essential differences in faithful Catholic education.

Recognizing that the CCSS would drive textbook publishing, teacher preparation programs, state assessments, teacher professional development11, and college-entry exams12, the NCEA encouraged Catholic schools to adopt the CCSS as they saw fit or as they were compelled to do, based on state and accreditation requirements.

But with parent concerns rising across the country and Catholic parents wondering why Catholic schools were using the same academic standards as public schools, The Cardinal Newman Society launched Catholic is Our Core13 in 2013 to evaluate the CCSS and counter many of the dangerous and progressive claims advanced by Common Core proponents.

In December 2013, the Newman Society expressed serious reservations14 about the use of the CCSS in Catholic schools, especially since historical data for Catholic high school graduation and college attendance was consistently outstanding and there seemed no need to work from standards designed primarily to raise academic achievement of students in the lower national quartile.

Moreover, the utilitarian underpinning of the CCSS stands in stark contrast to the full flourishing of the human person, as promoted in Church documents on education. Children and young adults are not to be viewed as components of an economic machine to be manipulated and directed toward labor slots in manufacturing15, as some would like. An impoverished view of the human person, which pervades society, is not how the Church has traditionally approached Catholic education. To take on such limiting constraints is unworthy of the dignity of the educational institution.

In 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement recognizing the limitations of the CCSS for faith-based formation:

Catholic schools must consider standards that support the mission and purpose of the school as a Catholic institution. Attempts to compartmentalize the religious and the secular in Catholic schools reflect a relativistic perspective by suggesting that faith is merely a private matter and does not have a significant bearing on how reality as a whole should be understood. Such attempts are at odds with the integral approach to education that is a hallmark of Catholic schools. Standards that support an appropriate integration should be encouraged.16

Embracing subsidiarity and local decision-making, the USCCB directed that each bishop, along with their education leaders, decide whether to adapt, adopt, or reject the CCSS. About 33 dioceses17 announced they would not use the CCSS, preferring to retain their already workable standards and curricular frameworks. Most of the others, though, chose to work with the Common Core in some fashion.

Today, we can see the wisdom of the Newman Society’s warnings against the rapid adoption of CCSS in Catholic schools, “a mistake that will be difficult or impossible to undo for years to come.” The NAEP scores suggest that the Common Core comes with empty promises, and it may in fact hinder progress toward excellence in both public and Catholic schools.