Courts Weigh Future of Catholic Education

This month the Little Sisters of the Poor returned to the U.S. Supreme Court, once again defending their right to practice the Catholic Faith by refusing to provide for contraceptives in their health insurance plan.

This is a stark reminder that even years later the Obama administration’s assault on religious freedom continues to impact religious organizations. And other serious threats have since emerged.

Catholic educators especially are nervously awaiting court rulings that could have a severe impact on schools and colleges. That’s scary, but it’s also true that each case presents a new opportunity to re-establish the rights of religious educators under the First Amendment, should judges be so inclined.

Now is a great time for your prayers!

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

JPCatholic

With Mission to ‘Impact Culture for Christ,’ JPCatholic University Won’t Settle for Mediocrity

George Simon

George Simon spent his first two years in college at a state university, but he wasn’t satisfied with the education he was receiving. He transferred to John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif., which is recommended in The Newman Guide, and the University made a “huge impact” on every aspect of his life.

“JPCatholic,” the nickname adopted by students and graduates, is a faithfully Catholic institution that combines an exciting emphasis on creative arts and business with serious theology and liberal arts. It has developed a creative community of artists and innovators in the heart of Escondido, which lies between San Diego and Hollywood. The university strives to prepare young people to evangelize and transform culture.

Today, Simon is a professor of film production at JPCatholic and is married to a fellow graduate. The Newman Society recently asked Simon to share about his experience at JPCatholic, and why it’s important for young creative Catholics to develop their artistic gifts.

Newman Society: Can you tell us about your background and relation to JPCatholic?  

Professor George Simon: Sure! I was born in Michigan and my family moved to American Samoa when I was seven years old. My parents bought a video camera so that we could record home movies and send them back to our family. My dad agreed to let my brother and I use the camera, and we spent the next seven years running around the island making movies.

In 2006, I enrolled at a state university in Michigan, which was not a good fit. I decided to transfer, and after hearing about a small Catholic film school in San Diego from my mom, I sent in my application and enrolled at JPCatholic in 2008. I graduated in 2012 with an emphasis in screenwriting.

After graduating, I spent four years growing a video production company and working in San Diego, Grand Rapids, and Chicago. In 2016, I married my wife, Melinda, a fellow grad of JPCatholic, and accepted an opportunity to work at JPCatholic. I was awarded my Master’s degree in film producing in 2018 and currently work there as a full-time professor.   

The Simon Family

Newman Society: Why did you choose to transfer to JPCatholic?   

Professor George Simon: After two years studying broadcasting and cinematic arts in Michigan, I became really discouraged by the lack of hands-on filmmaking classes. I researched other universities in Michigan that had programs related to film and television, but none of them offered a rigorous, hands-on curriculum that involved actually making movies.

When I discovered JPCatholic and saw that I would be taking multiple classes in film production, directing, screenwriting and post production in my first year, I knew it was the right fit. As I went through the curriculum, every class made me say, “Yes, this is exactly what I want to be studying.” Three months later, I was on a train from Michigan to San Diego, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.   

Newman Society: How did you benefit from the Catholic education and formation provided by JPCatholic?   

Professor George Simon: The decision to transfer from a secular university with 25,000 students to a small Catholic university had a huge impact on every aspect of my life. I went from a culture where the expectation is that everyone is going to party for four years, straight to a place where I was surrounded by passionate Catholics and where daily Mass and confession is offered on campus.

I was born and raised Catholic and my dad is a deacon, but it wasn’t until I started attending JPCatholic that I ever went to adoration or spent time in an adoration chapel. The theology and philosophy classes helped me to grow in my faith and challenged me to think for myself and tell stories that are good for humanity, instead of just trying to emulate whatever Quentin Tarantino or David Fincher are doing.   

Newman Society: Can you share about some of your film projects like Get Clean and Almost Home

Professor George Simon: Absolutely! ​Get Clean​ is a short film that my wife and I made while we were both in college. Melinda came up with the idea of a character whose sins begin manifesting as marks on her skin. The character tries, unsuccessfully, to wash the marks away and is ultimately only able to remove them by receiving the sacrament of confession.

The process of making the film was crazy, because it was put together really quickly. We didn’t have any equipment other than a camera, so I used a giant roll of trash bags as a make-shift tripod. We edited the film that night and submitted it to a scholarship contest an hour before the submission deadline.

We ended up winning the top prize, which was a $25,000 scholarship for Melinda and a $25,000 grant for JPCatholic. Unfortunately, I had withdrawn from the university due to financial reasons and was not eligible for the scholarship. Derry Connolly, the president of the university, used the grant to create an additional scholarship to make it possible for me to come back and finish my degree.   

Almost Home​ is a short film that was created as part of the 8Beats Anthology, which is an anthology film that explores modern parables based on the eight Beatitudes of Jesus Christ. The story follows a truck driver who is trying to get home to his family and a little boy on a road trip with his parents, who cannot stop fighting. The film just concluded its festival run after winning awards at multiple festivals including the Windy City Film Festival in Chicago and the Transparent Film Festival in New York City. The 8Beats Anthology is produced by Catholic Creatives and is scheduled for release in 2020.   

My most recent project is a short film titled ​The Scar,​ which tells the story of Arthur, who cares for his wife Mercy in the aftermath of an accident that destroyed her memory. In an effort to stimulate her mind, Arthur tells tall tales about the mysterious scar on his chest, which appeared the same day Mercy lost her memory. The film is extremely ambitious and required scenes in feudal Japan, the old West, and the Mediterranean Sea. We’re close to finishing up post-production, and I’m excited to send this small-but-mighty film out into the world.   

JPCatholic

Newman Society: How does the Catholic faith influence the courses you teach as a film professor?   

Professor George Simon: As artists who are seeking to impact culture for Christ, we all recognize that we cannot settle for mediocrity in our art. Everyone strives for excellence and pushes one another to be excellent, not just for their own personal benefit, but because the mission we are all undertaking demands that we become exceptional storytellers. Otherwise we have no ability to compete in an industry that has immense power to either call humanity closer to Jesus Christ, or to push them away.   

I teach a Fundamentals of Production class that is basically movie making 101—students learn how to use a camera, record audio, set up lights, write, produce, film and edit. It can seem challenging to infuse a demonstration on how to set up a C-Stand with the deep theological truths of the Catholic faith, however, even in these technical moments is the collective faith of the students and faculty that have the greatest impact. The Catholic faith that is shared between my students is powerful and influential.    

Newman Society: Why do you think it’s important for young creative Catholics to develop their artistic gifts? Why do you think it’s important for the Church to be involved in the arts?   

Professor George Simon: For me, as a filmmaker, developing my creative gifts and growing as an artist is inseparable from my journey to heaven. God invites every one of us to develop our talents and when we accept that invitation, we glorify Him and show the world the unique beauty He has planted in our souls. Every young Catholic artist should develop their creative gifts, because it is an integral part of who God made them to be.

One of the first things I tell my students is that, as filmmakers, we live in the best possible time in human history to make movies. As cameras and film equipment have become more accessible, it has become more possible than ever to create content that can compete with major studios. It is crucial for young Catholic artists to develop their gifts in order to become exceptional storytellers and earn the right to be heard.

Studios and networks spend billions of dollars each year creating stories that have tremendous impact on the world. In order to fully answer the call to “make disciples of all nations,” it is imperative that young artists are perfecting their raw talents into precise and experienced craftsmanship, enabling them to share the experience of God’s love, whether overtly or subtlety, in every script they write, set they work on and story they create. 

JPCatholic

Christendom College ‘More in Demand Than Ever,’ Says Enrollment VP

While six in ten colleges missed fall enrollment goals in 2019, Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., which is recommended in The Newman Guide, is thriving. Not only has it grown 30 percent over the past six years, but it is also setting a standard for fidelity in Catholic higher education.

Even in these uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college is currently poised to meet or exceed its enrollment goals for Fall 2020 – a true testament to the value of its offerings at this unique time in our history.

Christendom College is committed to strong Catholic identity in academics, student life, and across campus. As a result, graduates of the college are “faithful and articulate Catholics who are not afraid to stand up for the truth,” according to Tom McFadden, vice president for enrollment at the College.

The Newman Society recently asked McFadden to discuss what makes Christendom unique, and about recent events at the college, including the progress on the new Christ the King Chapel.

Newman Society: Christendom College was founded more than 40 years ago to counter harmful trends in Catholic higher education. Today, the College sets a standard for fidelity and strong Catholic education. What makes Christendom such an exciting choice for Catholic families?

Tom McFadden: We have all seen the culture continue down a rapidly more secular path, especially in recent years. Catholic families are understandably worried about how their children will continue to learn the truth and live the faith today, especially during the college years. Our institutions of higher learning, even “Catholic” ones, are becoming places where students are falling away from the faith, rather than growing in it.

Christendom offers a solution for these families: a fully Catholic liberal arts education, taught by faithful Catholic professors from a Catholic worldview, in an authentic Catholic environment for the purpose of sending the graduates out into the world to make it more Christ-like. We are preparing the next generation of truly Catholic leaders who are not afraid to get off the sidelines and get involved in the great moral, spiritual, academic, philosophical and cultural battles that are coming our way – and families want their children to be prepared to handle these problems in the future.

Over the past 42 years, our alumni continually tell us the same thing, over and over again: they left Christendom with a top-rated academic education; were given the tools to think critically, innovate and communicate clearly; and embraced the knowledge and love of the faith that has enabled them to not only help themselves thrive as Catholics, but to help others discover the truth as well.

Our mission of “restoring all things in Christ” is not some hyped slogan, but a reality. With 96-98 percent of our alumni still practicing the faith, and 91 priests and 52 sisters counted amongst our alumni ranks, and with close to 500 alumnus-alumna marriages over the past 42 years, we are most certainly fulfilling our mission in the world!

As the recently retired Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia said of us, “Christendom College is not just a superior academic institution. It forms young men and women into real Christian disciples, people of keen intellect, prudent judgment, deep Catholic culture and a zealous love of God and learning… No one can ask anything higher from higher education… The Church owes a hearty ‘thank you’ to everyone in the Christendom College community for their extraordinary witness of Christian humanism and unembarrassed, joyful dedication to living the Catholic faith.”

I think that the good Archbishop did a solid job of summarizing why so many families love sending their children to Christendom and why we set a standard for fidelity and strong Catholic education today!

Newman Society: How is the College preparing graduates to go out into the world and rebuild Christendom?

Tom McFadden: While students are here, they are studying the greatest thinkers of Western Civilization in an educational environment that encourages them to think critically about these subjects. From smaller classrooms that ensure personalized attention, to a distinct focus where Christ is at the center of all our learning, students are uniquely prepared to excel after graduation in a way unlike what they would receive in a specialized, narrow education at another college.

A Catholic liberal arts education gives students the full picture, ensuring they go into the world after graduation with the skills and knowledge necessary to truly bring Christ into their careers and to every person they encounter. Our founder, Dr. Warren H. Carroll, envisioned graduates going into every career field, armed with the knowledge, skills, and faith to rebuild Christendom. The world may be more secular than ever, but Christendom graduates are leaving with the Catholic, liberal arts background necessary to accomplish that mission.

Through our unique Education for Life career courses that are part of our core curriculum, as well as through our personalized career development offerings, our students are better prepared than most college graduates to enter any career field possible. They are smart, confident and, most importantly, faithful and articulate Catholics who are not afraid to stand up for the truth — no matter the consequences. They are living and working across the country and around the world, armed with the mantra “Truth Exists. The Incarnation Happened” – the watchwords of Christendom College. Although it has only been around for 42 years, and there are only around 4,000 people who have ever attended Christendom College, we are making a deep impact on the Church and the world.

Newman Society: Just recently, the College raised $45 million over two years for its Call to Greatness campaign, part of which included funds for the new Christ the King Chapel. Why did the College choose to embark on building this chapel, and why do you think you’re receiving such strong support for it?

Tom McFadden: Practically speaking, our student body has grown exponentially in recent years, due to our education being more in demand than ever. Over the past six years, we have grown by 30 percent — when most colleges are fighting to either maintain enrollment levels or just keep their doors open — and as such, our need for a larger capacity chapel was self-evident. We currently have two Masses a day on campus, with more than two hours of confession available daily, and many in the local community also take advantage of our liturgical offerings. All of this has led to the building of the new chapel.

Another reason we believed we needed to build a new chapel is because today, in our current environment, the world needs outward signs of commitment to Christ and His Church. In medieval times, great cathedrals were constructed, raising people’s hearts and minds to Heaven. We wanted to bring that spirit back and inspire all who look upon this chapel to think on Christ, and to realize that in the end, He will reign as King.

Our donors are passionate about the need for such works of art today, and they see our new Christ the King Chapel as a true call to greatness. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received, and we look forward to celebrating the sacraments in this beautiful new chapel for generations to come. Their support is so crucial to our success since we do not accept any Federal funds — a sometimes difficult decision that we live with, but ultimately a prudent one, we believe.

Newman Society: This past fall, a Christendom freshman came into the Catholic Churchin the college’s chapel. How does the college help students go deeper in their faith?

Tom McFadden: Freshman Charles Fuller’s story is an inspiration to all of us, but we’re also thankful to say that this is not the first time this has happened on campus. Since our founding, students have come to Christendom eager to learn more about the truths of the Catholic faith. Although the vast majority have entered as Catholic, we have had some non-Catholics attend who have converted to Catholicism, while the vast majority of our students end up falling deeper in love with Christ and His Church.

The college’s emphasis on the importance of the Catholic faith and its centrality to a life of virtue is paramount. Through the celebration of Mass twice daily; the recitation of communal prayers in the residence halls and chapel; the required courses in the fundamentals of the Faith, Old Testament, New Testament, moral theology, Catholic apologetics, plus all the many required courses in Catholic history and philosophy; the First Friday devotions, including all-night adoration; the availability of the Sacrament of Penance for more than two hours each day; the faith formation talks, groups and fellowship; the celebration of Catholic feast days as a community; the ringing of the bells throughout the day; the singing of the Salve Regina at the conclusion of college events; and the truly Catholic leadership of our college president, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, the entire community remains focused on the prize and the pearl of great price.

Through the liturgical offerings, academic courses, the great examples set by the faculty mentors and their families, the social activities that are uplifting and fun, and the vibrant community life on campus, the joy of the Catholic faith is visibly present.

As Greg and Toni Whittaker, who have sent 11 of their 12 children to Christendom, put it, “The most beneficial thing about a Christendom education is that our children can receive an academic and spiritual formation that is Catholic – it is the ‘pearl of great price’ that we as parents want to buy for our children. If you are going to put your money into higher education for your children, go for a good, solid investment like Christendom. At Christendom, your child will not have to compromise his faith, rather, he will be encouraged by the vibrant Catholic environment. Our children are now part of the solution to the cultural crisis that we see all around us as they build up a Catholic culture in America.”

Catholic College Prepared Youth Minister to Overcome COVID Separation

At Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, which is recommended in The Newman Guide, Cari Shell was able to pursue her interests, especially theology and digital media. Now—less than a year after graduation—Shell has been able to put her knowledge into action in an important way.

Shell currently serves as the director of youth ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Gates Mills, Ohio. With public Masses suspended across the country due to COVID-19, Shell has been able to find creative ways to keep parishioners engaged with their faith.

The Cardinal Newman Society is grateful to Shell for sharing about how her faithful Catholic education prepared her to respond to the crisis, as a part of our “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.

Newman Society: What was your experience like at Walsh University, and how did it prepare you for ministry work?

My time at Walsh University formed and prepared me for life after college. I was fortunate to have had many opportunities inside and outside of the classroom to prepare me for my future. One of these opportunities was the Honors Program. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the Honors Program at Walsh University, I was encouraged to explore my varying interests. I studied theology, with hopes of becoming a youth minister after college, but I also loved my communications classes and learning about media.  

My professors encouraged me to pursue my passions which turned into my thesis, Ministry in the Digital Age: The Use of New Media to Promote Fruitful Youth Ministry in the 21st Century.  I surveyed youth ministers in the Diocese of Cleveland on their use of new media, primarily social media, in their ministry. I was able to study and find the best practices for using new media within the context of ministry, which would not have been possible without the Honors Program. 

I was also able to be very involved in the Campus Ministry Program at Walsh, serving as the campus ministry intern, campus ministry club vice president, and Agape Retreat director during my senior year. Within Campus Ministry, I was able to learn ministry in a hands-on way. I organized the annual Agape Retreat, but also took time to brainstorm new ideas and initiatives within Campus Ministry. With a small team, we held the first women’s overnight retreat as well as a retreat especially for seniors. Those lessons in planning and preparing, working with a team, and ministering to the needs of the students are among many lessons learned that I have used in my role as a youth minister.

In the classroom, my professors across the disciplines encouraged me to study ministry. Of course, ministry was a topic that came up often in my theology classes, but professors all over campus worked to help prepare me. One semester I did an independent study course in Spanish for Pastoral Ministry, working to learn how I might be able to help the Hispanic community, especially in my work.  

In classes in history, English, psychology, sociology and communications, I was encouraged to write papers on topics that I was interested in, or would help in my future, creating an interdisciplinary nature to learning. I wrote a paper for a history class on how youth ministry and participation in religious activities can be a deterrent for juvenile delinquency. I presented at the National Collegiate Honors Council on a project comparing the Old Testament prophets and current popular faith beliefs found in mainstream Christian media.I was constantly encouraged to take the material I learned in any classroom and apply it to my future career. 

Newman Society: How are you helping keep parishioners connected to the Catholic faith during this COVID-19 crisis?

When the Ohio bishops made the difficult decision to suspend publicly celebrated Masses and our church building was closed, we began figuring out how to reach out to our parishioners at home. The first and biggest thing we did was setting up our daily Mass livestream.  

We were fortunate that our pastor already had a camera and other equipment to easily setup our livestream. In the beginning, there was quite a bit of troubleshooting and learning, but working as a team, our staff has been able to broadcast our livestream to the greater community. 

It is such an honor to be able to bring the Mass to our community during this time, and a blessing that I do not take lightly. It was hard to be in an empty church on Easter and sing of the joy of the Lord’s resurrection, but I know that everyone at home was praying and celebrating with us. 

One of my favorite ways that we have been able to digitally minister during this time is through adoration. Before the churches closed, St. Francis was going to be hosting an XLT, a night of adoration, praise and worship with the diocesan vocation office, CLE Priesthood.  With the closing of the churches, we were no longer able to gather people together in praise, so the event went digital.  

We streamed live on the CLE Priesthood Facebook page and reached over 6,000 people to join us in praise and thanksgiving. That night bore fruit in many hearts and we have continued to stream different adoration nights with CLE Priesthood, as well as our monthly adoration nights, “First Fridays at Francis.” It has been wonderful to hear from others about the gifts that God pours into their hearts even when we are not able to gather for adoration.

When our churches and schools closed, so did our youth ministry program. I asked some of our teens what they might be interested in tuning into to help them grow in their faith and stay connected to the church, and I came up with a “break schedule.”  

We had a weekly Bible study that we could no longer meet in-person for, so we met digitally instead.  Praying for an end to the pandemic and the needs and intentions of our teens, we have prayed the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Stations of the Cross on Instagram Live. We normally have Life Teen Sunday nights, but right now we cannot gather on Sunday nights, so we have joined in with Life Teen’s Global Life Night series and have our own Zoom call together, where we are able to catch up, pray together and even have a virtual game night! It has been wonderful to connect online, even though we are not able to connect in person.

Newman Society: How did your education at Walsh University help prepare you to respond to this crisis?

One of the biggest ways I was prepared for responding to the crisis was through my previous studies in ministry and media. When I began my job in ministry, I had wished I chose a different topic for my thesis, because I did not see how it was really helping, but God had bigger plans. As everything began shutting down, I was able to take the knowledge I had learned through my study for my thesis and apply it to the current situation to serve the teens and parish best. 

At Walsh, asking for collaboration was always encouraged. In Campus Ministry, we often worked with other groups and offices on campus for events. Through collaboration and working together we could find a new way to look at something. Collaborating with the parish staff and with other youth ministers throughout the diocese during this time has been a blessing. We have led Rosaries together on Instagram Live, shared ideas on what has worked and what has not, and led people in worship together. 

There are many valuable lessons I learned at Walsh, but one that I saw modeled so well for me by professors and staff all over campus was the important lesson of listening. They were always there to listen to me, to my stress and struggles, and to support me along the way. I think especially in this time, listening has been such an important lesson. Listening to the struggles that people are facing, praying with them, and asking how we can help them. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but there is also a lot Good News to share.

Dr. Mark Kissinger

Catholic College Graduate Directs County’s Response to COVID-19

Dr. Mark Kissinger, a graduate of Newman Guide-recommended Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, is now responsible for the health of Steubenville residents as well as others in the surrounding Jefferson County. As the medical director of the Jefferson County Health Department, he oversees the response to COVID-19 but has not seen a large surge in COVID patients.

Dr. Kissinger says that Franciscan University provided “many opportunities to grow in faith and reason” and prepared him well for medical school. Now, he strives to treat each of his patients with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

The Cardinal Newman Society is grateful to Dr. Kissinger for sharing about the impact of his faithful Catholic education, as a part of our “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.

Newman Society: What was your experience like at Franciscan University, and how has it impacted your life?

I grew up in Steubenville, the son of a business professor. To be honest, I thought I wanted to get out of Steubenville as I was leaving high school, but my parents made it clear that if I wanted their help paying for college, I had to go to Franciscan. 

My experience at Franciscan was excellent. I had the chance to grow in faith and knowledge, along with the chance to grow up surrounded by people who were deeply involved in their faith. I was academically very well prepared for medical school. Incidentally, my daughter is following my path from Franciscan to medical school next year.

More importantly, there were many opportunities to grow in faith and reason at Franciscan. The sacraments were available daily. We had faith-based “households” to choose from and join if we felt inclined — they are similar to a Catholic version of a fraternity (minus the negative connotations). The professors were top-notch. It seems like every professor tried to bring God into their work and their teaching. I was given a very good foundation of theology and philosophy. Of all the things I learned at Franciscan, faith and the understanding of objective value have had the most profound impact on my life.

Like many, my wife and I started dating while in college. God really blessed me when He put her into my life. When considering that many people meet their future spouse in college, it is important to us that our children attend schools where they are likely to be surrounded by a positive peer pressure and potential future spouses who live the faith.

The Kissinger Family

Newman Society: How did your education at Franciscan University prepare you for the work you do today as a doctor during the COVID-19 crisis?

Franciscan gave me a good foundation in the sciences, which got me into and through residency. Yes, there was a lot of hard work, but I could not have succeeded without that base of knowledge.

COVID-19 has disrupted society dramatically. There are many healthcare professionals who are actively involved in care of patients with COVID-19 and overwhelmed in some places. I am involved, but not as directly as many of them. We have been fortunate to not see the surge in patients that many areas have seen. Because of this, most of our work has been disaster planning, tracking patients with the disease and educating the public. This has been very time-consuming, but not the heroic service that many across the nation have been part of.

My Franciscan education has taught me to remember that we are dealing with people, not statistics and cases. As such, all people deserve respect and dignity as God’s own. On the difficult days, one of the most important things I can do is focus on serving those that God has placed in our care, rather than focus on doing what I need to get out of the office quicker. It is unfulfilling to focus on me and fulfilling to focus on the objective good of the person God has allowed me to serve.

Incidentally, a couple of the Franciscan biology professors, including Dr. Daniel Kuebler and Dr. Joseph Pathakamuri, have directly aided our COVID-19 efforts locally, by bringing equipment and knowledge to our local hospital to set up in-hospital testing for COVID-19. Until now, we had to send out our tests to an outside lab, which can take from one to eight days to get results back. With the new testing, we can test 10-plus patients every three hours. This means we can more effectively diagnose and treat patients earlier, which should lead to better patient outcomes and better utilization of resources and protective gear.

For Catholic Schools, Now’s a Time to Shine

For students and educators, these are difficult times. But in hard times, Catholics shine — and that’s certainly true now for Catholic schools.

Across America, most schools have adjusted to the COVID-19 shutdown by shifting to distance learning via webinars and emails. While this may suffice for teaching basic facts and skills, Catholic educators are striving to do more. The best Catholic education goes well beyond worksheets and quizzes — it provides formation for life and beyond.

“Learning is simply not a transactional endeavor,” says Derek Tremblay, headmaster of Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee, New Hampshire, which is one of the schools recognized by the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll for their strong Catholic identity.

“Instead of putting teachers and students in front of devices for hours upon hours, we are inviting students to pause, pray and ponder,” Tremblay says. “If we are to become who God made us to be, we have to be willing to think more deeply about meaning and moments.”

Such is what makes Catholic education special, whether in the classroom or over the internet: forming students in faith, virtue and wisdom, not just knowledge. A devotion to truth, both discovered by man and revealed by God. A Christian community of people who truly care for students’ entire well-being—mind, body and soul.

“The toughest question to answer in this odd reality of remote learning is the most rudimentary: is this exercise meaningful?” asks Tremblay, who warns of the limitations of Zoom instruction. “We are meant for personal encounter. There is so much to be lost if all we do right now is mimic the misplaced urge to move along, cover curriculum and gather grades.”

Opportunity for Reflection

That’s why many faithful Catholic schools have made changes during this time of social distancing that are substantially different from other schools.

Students’ days are no longer filled with direct interactions with teachers and classmates, community prayer and Sacrament, and after-school events. It is in classroom dialogues and group activities when Catholic schools are at their best, teaching and witnessing to Christian ideals. So Catholic schools are adapting and finding ways of “keeping it Catholic” while students are far apart, without letting education decline into cold remote lectures and tedious homework.

One excellent innovation is Mount Royal Academy’s new, weekly essay assignment for students, which isn’t focused on mastering content but encourages students to reflect more deeply. One essay prompt asks students to reflect on which virtues have been the most challenging for them to exercise lately, noting that “virtue is grown during challenging times.” Another prompt asks students to reflect on both the social and individual nature of education, since students have transitioned to at-home learning.

With just this simple assignment, students are finding meaning in their current circumstances. A seventh-grade student writes that he has learned the value of “having a slower lifestyle, because there are fewer distractions which allow for more personal reflection.”

“Having faith in the Lord gives us hope when we need it most,” he writes. “I have certainly gained a new perspective on life through this experience. Overall, I feel blessed for what I have and hope we are stronger after this is over.”

A ninth-grade student writes that he has found himself “not only doing things differently, but also thinking about things from a different perspective.” He has found time to practice playing the piano, connect with siblings who are away from home, and even read the Gospels. “So far I have finished the whole Gospel of Matthew and half of the Gospel of Mark.”

Formation of Mind, Body and Soul

At another faithful Catholic school — Saint Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land, Texas — leaders are finding ways to engage students from a distance.

One of the “distinctive aspects” of the classical Catholic education at St. Theresa “has always been direct student engagement with topics in ways that augment physical, auditory and visual stimulation,” says Headmaster Mark Newcomb. The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a new method of integrating the senses, through a collaboration between Latin class and physical education.

“For the past few weeks, students are sent a video that opens with both a vocal recited prayer and a Latin chant that highlight the life of one of the saints, before introducing physical activities that are described in Latin terminology,” Newcomb explains.

“Students strive to master Latin vocabulary through total physical response, performing leaps while reciting saltus (leap) several times in a row. Mini-workouts follow the vocabulary drills, complete with timed rests between kicks, pushups, etc.,” he says.

The new initiative developed by the school’s talented faculty has been well-received by parents, Newcomb says. “How helpful to exercise the mind and the body at once, for the benefit of both, while reflecting on the heritage of our faith.”

Creative Solutions

At Everest Collegiate High School and Academy in Clarkston, Michigan, teachers are going above and beyond their regular catechism courses for students. They are also providing resources and ideas for students and parents to use with each other to engage in the faith, taking advantage of the increased time that families have together at home.

“These resources and initiatives are being provided to the families each week, allowing them to learn together, to pray together and to share back their photos in solidarity,” says Everest Headmaster Greg Reichert.

“During Holy Week, for example, Everest families had the opportunity to participate in a ‘Walk the Walk’ challenge during which they were guided through the process of preparing Stations of the Cross within their homes that could then be prayed as a family,” Reichert says.

At St. Mary Catholic School in Mokena, Illinois, a teacher recently used a common food item to teach an important faith lesson and engage with students.

“On St. Patrick’s Day, teacher Deanna Wolff… shared with her fifth-graders how the shamrock represents the Blessed Trinity, by creating one out of round pretzels,” reports the Diocese of Joliet. “She invited them to also make shamrocks out of materials they had at home and to send her photos of their creations.”

At St. John Paul II Catholic High School in Tallahassee, Florida, the whole school participates in prayer at 7:55 a.m. each morning via Zoom. They pray a morning offering, followed by a special prayer for an end to the coronavirus and for all of those affected. One of the school’s service clubs, the Squirettes of Mary, has continued its weekly Rosary online.

And at St. Patrick Catholic School in White Lake, Michigan, Principal Jeremy Clark posts a daily Gospel reading and a reflection each day on the school’s Facebook page. Some schools, like St. Paul on the Lake Catholic School in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, are recording and sharing daily Masses.

Maintaining Catholic Identity

Despite the limitations of distance learning, the best Catholic schools are finding every possible way of maintaining their Catholic identity.

In the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, Superintendent Dr. Daniel Baillargeon is posting a daily YouTube video called “Keep the Faith.” A school in the diocese has also created a Facebook page called “Faith and Fun from Home,” so that families can connect and share ideas.

“While it has been challenging to keep the faith at the center of what we are doing in a remote learning environment, we have noticed that the majority of the information shared by our schools has been related to the faith,” Baillargeon says. “We have seen videos with images of students sharing the faith at home, and the most active posts we have on our social media pages have been faith-driven.”

Indeed, the forced break away from the classroom could be a good reminder to Catholic educators to emphasize the most important things, especially when students are living in doubt and fear. Catholic education’s success begins with its Catholic mission, at all times but especially in these times.

“There is a desire for the faith community present in our schools,” Baillargeon says. “My hope is that when we are together again, we reflect on these lessons learned and are even more intentional about how we provide strong Catholic identities in our schools.”

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Catholic Honor Roll Program in Transition

The Newman Society will be making some exciting updates to its evaluation and school recognition programs. Therefore, beginning June 1st, applications will no longer be accepted for Catholic Education Honor Roll recognition, and all applications not in the Stage 2 – Formal application stage will be archived and unavailable. Applications in the Stage 2 – Formal Application stage have until June 15th to submit for Honor Roll recognition. Applications not submitted at that time will be archived and unavailable.

More details will be forthcoming. All accepted Honor Roll schools will continue to be recognized as such until their five-year period has ended.

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…

St. Agnes School in the News

Administrators from St. Agnes School, an Honor Roll school in St. Paul, stepped out and advocated on behalf of private school families in the city to receive COVID-19 relief funds originally slated for public school students only. Because of the efforts of Headmaster Kevin Ferdinandt, Jason Adkins, and 10 other private school advocates, the fund was redesigned and opened up to all eligible families, including students attending the private Catholic school, whose families meet the limited income guidelines and whose livelihood was affected by the pandemic. Read about their efforts here.

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 http://newmansoc.org/DistanceLearning.