homeschool student

Could You Be Schooling at Home… Indefinitely?

With the kids at home, now may be a great time to experiment with Catholic homeschooling and decide whether it is a good fit for your family.

“School-at-home,” of course, is not the best representation of homeschooling. Especially in the upper grades, the fixed schedule of online classes allows little flexibility, and parents are not engaged in the learning process. School-at-home also lacks key benefits of Catholic schools, including the close-knit faith community and personal engagement in the classroom.

But with the kids at home, many parents may be thinking of Catholic homeschooling as an option for the future. Catholic education comes in many forms, as it always has, and today there are outstanding parochial schools, lay-run schools, homeschool curricula and combinations of these. It is good for Catholic families to know their options.

Ultimately parents are the primary educators and must decide what best serves their family’s needs. All children deserve to be formed to fully embrace their human gifts of reason and freedom on the path to sainthood, and that’s the essential point of education.

Today, homeschooling is an excellent option for Catholics. Parents have impressive resources available to them, including help with curricula, texts and learning activities. Teaching the Faith is easy; there are many sound resources online, in print and on video including Magisterial teaching that can be accessed by the click of a mouse.

My five wonderful kids—now four teenagers and the oldest in college—have never enrolled in a brick-and-mortar grade or high school. My wife Rosario and I have found homeschooling to be a blessing and an opportunity to ensure that our children get precisely the education and the balance with other activities that we want for them. Rosario had the inspiration to go above and beyond, developing her own hybrid homeschool-classroom program called Aquinas Learning, which has provided our kids a Catholic formation according to classical methods of learning.

If you are inclined toward homeschooling, be not afraid! These weeks at home with school children can be a great time to test the waters and decide whether homeschooling is right for your family. And veteran Catholic homeschoolers are ready to give you plenty of advice.

Integrate School with Family

For children in schools, weekdays are clearly divided between the school day and the remaining time focused on family, recreation and other activities. One of the first things parents are now finding is that such a clear division at home is artificial; even students who are online much of the day cannot help but engage more with parents and blur the lines between school and home.

Especially with younger children, parents can take a more active role in their education and ensure that the family’s needs are being met.

“First things first, write down your goals of education for each child, with the heavenly goal as the first priority,” advises Rosario Reilly of Aquinas Learning. Parents who are new to the homeschooling mindset need to rethink every aspect of their home life and education as an integrated whole. “Second, set a simple routine for the family maintaining some boundaries and requiring children to participate in maintaining the home.”

“Having a rhythm to your days, as a homeschooler, makes the day flow a great deal more easily and allows for time to work and time to play,” agrees Mary Ellen Barrett, editor of the magazine for Seton Home Study School. Parents can build around assigned lessons and activities to establish their own agenda.

Barrett suggests a few simple guidelines: “Keep bedtimes and wake-up times consistent. Allow for morning chores and prayers as well as afternoon tidy-ups. Have a few breaks sprinkled through the day to ‘get the wiggles out,’ and end early in the afternoon. No young child is at their best late in the afternoon.”

As for the education, parents can look for ways to get creative and enjoy some benefits of homeschooling. For instance, one of the distinctive features of Aquinas Learning is its curriculum that is structured to allow children of all ages to study similar topics at the same time, albeit with different levels of complexity.

“Even in a grade-restricted curriculum, parents could bring together the family on certain subjects, such as taking one topic in history and learning it together,” Reilly suggests. “Your Kindergartener might listen to the story and color a picture, while your sixth grader writes a report about it. And everyone can visit historic places together—even online, until restrictions are lifted—or watch a historical movie suitable for all ages.”

She also urges parents to ensure that the insights of the Catholic faith are integrated into every course. Not every school does this well—but parents have the opportunity to make it happen at home. Even short conversations about how historical events intersect with Christianity and the moral choices of a book character will greatly enhance your child’s education.

Faith, Love Come First

While your student is at home these next several weeks, try doing something that Catholic homeschoolers are good at: making faith and family priorities above anything else.

Amid the pandemic, teachers are sending a lot of schoolwork home, and it can put a large burden on parents. The tendency may be to focus too much on the workload and not enough on what is most important—especially given the fears and dangers that families are facing.

“As Catholics, I think these times call for us to be much more concerned with ministering to each other and deepening our faith lives, than spending a huge amount of time on academics,” Barrett says. “While very important, math and English will always be there to be mastered, but this is a time God seems to be calling us to deeper things.”

“Although there is schooling to do, by and large, it won’t take hours to do it. And this leaves hours together to be the family God intended us all to be,” adds Krista Thomas, director of communications for IHM Homeschooling Conferences.

She recommends “watching and participating in the Mass online, adding a new devotional, and reading about the saints” as “simple and gentle ways to draw closer as a family, as well as to Our Lord.”

Teresa Peddemors, a mentor with Mother of Divine Grace School, says “the most important thing that mothers can do is comfort and love on their kids.”

The pandemic can be scary. “The children have been present during many conversations and news reports,” Peddemors says. “Their lives are upside-down. It’s more important that they are shown that their parents will be taking care of them through all of this, no matter what.”

Pace Yourself and Your Child

Anxious parents need to “relax,” advises Patrick Carmack, president of the online Angelicum Academy. “Learning itself, as Aristotle noted long ago, is natural to humans and enjoyable. So enjoy it. Proceed at a pace that is appropriate for each of your children—neither too fast, which discourages them; nor too slow, which bores them.”

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it avoids the “unnecessary stresses of competitiveness and over-testing,” he says. Now many schools are relaxing test requirements for the spring semester, and they are trusting parents to make sure that children learn.

“Tailor the experience with options of convenience,” Thomas advises. “For example, if your children are hesitant readers, read with them. Take turns reading aloud the material. Ask questions. It isn’t a race to finish in five minutes or check off a list… be patient and savor this time—a time of simplicity with your family.”

With schools closed, both parents and students are likely to suffer from an overload of screen time. Homeschoolers are familiar with this problem, as the internet is a constant temptation and provides a wealth of helpful resources for learning. But one of the great benefits of being at home is the opportunity to stay close to family, get outdoors and do more hands-on activities.

Reilly is using this time to promote more off-screen socialization, even as Aquinas Learning centers are forced to shift classes online. “We are encouraging handwritten letters to pen-pals, relatives, elderly shut-ins at nursing homes, the front-line medical workers whom we know, and overseas military.”

Teach with Confidence

Somehow it has been ingrained in modern parents that they are unfit to teach their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing when and where to get help is important—but God has already given parents the grace to be their children’s primary educators.

Trust that “you are uniquely equipped for this time, to do this work, with these children,” advises Sheila Schofield of Mother of Divine Grace School. “Have confidence in your abilities, in your love for your children, and in the grace of God to educate your children at home.”

Whether your choice is Catholic homeschooling or a faithful Catholic school, this time together in the home can be a blessing to both parents and kids. Seize the opportunity, because things soon will be back to normal. May God bless you and your family.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

The Nondiscrimination Dance

Last month, eighth-grade students at Notre Dame Academy (a Catholic school in Toledo, Ohio) took a field trip to Chicago to see The Nutcracker. Just minutes before the curtains opened, however, the trip chaperones decided the class should leave. The chaperones had discovered that the onstage parents of Clara, the main character, would be portrayed as same-sex married.  

Consider the chaperones’ dilemma. No doubt the theater seats had been paid for, and students would be unhappy about missing the performance. Perhaps the characters’ same-sex marriage would have little impact on the audience. Nevertheless, the chaperones could see that the audience was being subjected to an agenda not normally included in The Nutcracker. The Catholic Church teaches clearly that same-sex marriage is gravely sinful, and the chaperones had a responsibility to the children they accompanied. A faithful adult might not be swayed by a fictional portrayal, but students might assume that since the same-sex relationship in a cherished Christmas performance was part of a Catholic school field trip, it was in line with Church teachings on sex and marriage.

The right thing to do, then, was avoid the potential scandal and discuss the issue in light of Catholic teaching back at school. Dean of Students Jessica Beaverson was one of the chaperones who made the call. According to multiple social media posts, Principal Sarah Cullum was consulted and supported the walkout. These administrators and chaperones should be regarded as heroes for making such a quick and wise decision on the spot—but they have been vilified instead.

Continue reading at First Things…

Listen to the Podcast on this topic…

Nutcracker ballet

Nutcracker Not-So-Sweet

During a recent eighth-grade trip to Chicago, chaperones and students of Notre Dame Academy in Toledo walked out of a performance of The Nutcracker after learning that lead characters would be portrayed in a gay marriage. This was a courageous and bold move—a correct application of Pope Francis’s well-publicized encouragement of young people “to make a mess” and his guidance in Amoris Laetitia that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

When activists take a traditional and beloved part of a Christmas celebration and attempt to co-opt it into a radical agenda which subverts the very nature of the family, a Catholic school is spot-on in saying, “not on my dime, and not on my time.” The chaperones—led by the academy’s dean—rightly used it as a teachable moment.

In fact, when heading up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) called upon Catholics to conscientiously object to attacks on the family. As he wrote in his Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, “The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.”

That said, good for this group in taking a stand for social justice in the face of aggression and at great personal cost. Unfortunately, the story does not end here.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Thomas Aquinas

Resolved for New Year 2020: Teach the Faith

I love the six days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Son of God is with us! Now we get a short time to rev up our engines for the new year’s work of evangelization, as Christ commanded.

I propose three resolutions for the Year 2020, under a single theme of education. Why education? The confusion, irreverence, dissent, scandal and blasphemy that we find within the Church today—and the extraordinary challenges of secularism and sexual perversion in our culture—exhibit widespread embrace of falsehood. More than 2,000 years since Christ was born, too few people know the truth of God and his creation.

To help remedy this appalling situation, I pray that in 2020 the Church might finally break free of the dangerously limited notion of Catholic education as a particular system of schools accessed by a dwindling portion of young Catholics. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of truly Catholic schools! But they are one means of Catholic education—a favored means during the last two centuries, yet never the only means. The need for educating Catholics in truth and devotion is what takes precedence. Some schools, sadly, have even forgotten essential aspects of their mission, while increasingly Catholics are turning to print, broadcast and online resources as well as lay-run schools, homeschooling and innovative hybrid school-and-home options.

Catholic education is the task of formation in faith, truth and reason, and it is the Church’s primary method of evangelization. It is for all of us! Learning is growth, and teaching is key to three of the Spiritual Works of Mercy: instructing the ignorant, counseling the sorrowful and admonishing the sinner. All three works are desperately needed today.

Every Catholic adult is called to self-educate. Today we have many outstanding publishers of books, videos, software, websites and more. We have faithful Catholic media like EWTN and the Register. We have new and renewed colleges that provide faithful online and in-person instruction grounded in authentic theology.

For children, Catholic education is a solemn duty of every Catholic parent. If a child cannot be taught in a faithful Catholic school or homeschool, then the parent must find other ways of forming the child in the truths of the faith—not only doctrine, but reverent prayer and sacrament. And not only religion, but the great insights of our faith into every other branch of knowledge, including history, science and literature. And not only knowledge, but the skills of reasoning and communication—those uniquely human abilities that resemble God’s wisdom and loving Word.

If a school or CCD program fails to do the job adequately or a secular school is the only option, then a parent must find or create other means of Catholic education. It is as essential as providing food and shelter.

So for 2020, let us resolve to teach the truth of God and his creation to a world suffering from ignorance.

Resolution 1: Teach the Holy Eucharist

The Pew Research study released in 2019 found that only 31% of self-professed U.S. Catholics—26% under the age of 40—believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. A more recent EWTN-RealClear poll found that 49% of Catholics who are registered to vote believe in the Real Presence. Both results are devastating!

If the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, then clearly a top priority must be Catholic education for both young people and adults, by teaching sound doctrine and forming Catholics in reverent liturgy and adoration.

This begins with parents and educators. Catholic homeschoolers have demonstrated a notable commitment to both daily and Sunday Mass, preparation for Mass through frequent confession, and Eucharistic adoration. But this should not set them apart—surely Catholic schools and colleges could be encouraging the same, yet most regard the sacraments as personal obligations that are extraneous to the job of education. Catholic schools and colleges should consider adding more frequent Masses, including at least some in the Extraordinary Form, with sacred music. They should provide opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and confession. They should teach students about the Eucharistic miracles.

Parents with children in secular schools need to make an extra effort to work liturgy and prayer into their daily schedule, as well as instruction in Catholic doctrine. But if these are high priorities, then they can be done.

Adults, too, need to be able to explain the Church’s authentic theology of the Eucharist and share the truth with each other. We can no longer assume that even our fellow Catholics know the truth. We must find ways to integrate contemplation of the Eucharist into our daily lives and into group activities.

Through catechesis and exposing fellow Catholics to beautiful and reverent liturgy, we can return Catholic education to its roots and renew faith. We have seen the tragic results of watered-down instruction and lackluster worship. Now we must aim for something better.

Resolution 2: Teach chastity

As our culture keeps going further off the rails, it is all the more important that Catholics uphold virtue and teach and practice chastity. Our witness to chastity can, I hope, bring about a renewal of the culture. It will certainly help preserve us and our young Catholics from grave sin.

Even in Catholic high schools and colleges, the hook-up culture is well-documented and the rates of sexual activity and assault are alarming. These are associated with the mortal sins of contraception, sterilization and abortion, as well as an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Even before high school and throughout adolescence and adulthood, Catholics are faced with the temptation of online pornography and explicit sexuality and violence in movies and television shows.

Teaching chastity in a culture that is downstream from the Sexual Revolution is not easy, but it begins with simple practices and precautions within our Catholic homes, schools and colleges. Make an effort in 2020 to frequently speak the words “near occasion of sin,” an essential point of Christian ethics that seems to have been forgotten or even rejected by many Catholics today. Avoidance of temptation is the reason Catholics once chaperoned activities, dressed modestly, and associated dating with the seriousness of marriage—let’s do it again.

Some practical steps can be taken to build a home or school culture that projects an assumption of chastity. Members of the opposite sex should not be entertained in bedrooms or in any room with a closed door, and Catholic colleges could help set the example by restoring appropriate campus dorm policies. Monitor internet usage and filter pornography from Wi-Fi networks; again, some Catholic colleges are already leading the way.

Resolution 3: Put truth back into education

One factor in the decline of faith over recent decades is the declining respect for truth. When was the last time you heard someone state a proposition—an opinion or claim of some sort—and back it up with sound evidence and reasoning? It is rare, and I suspect that most people today are afraid to try.

Developing strong reasoning skills used to be central to a Catholic education, probably because we expected young people to cogently analyze great literature, explain history and learn difficult theological concepts as taught by Augustine and Aquinas. Today, schools tend to emphasize facts and figures, but young people often lack the wit and wisdom of their grandparents.

Moreover, most Catholics have had a secular education—many never setting foot in a Catholic school or college, others attending Catholic institutions that provided a rather secular program. Not only were they not well-formed in doctrine, prayer and sacrament, but they never gained the insights of our faith into every other study.

If a young Catholic is not formed in truth, then we have failed to educate. Providing a truly Catholic education and fostering skills of reasoning are difficult outside of a Catholic program, but they can be done with great effort by the parents. Immediately, however, we need lukewarm Catholic schools and colleges to step up and show the way—to present the ideal so others can follow. Everything that a Catholic school or college does should reflect its Catholic identity, from its hiring practices and human sexuality policies to its curriculum and library book choices.

In 2020, Catholics should resolve to no longer accept mediocre education. Together we should demand truly faithful education with classical approaches to learning and formation. Simply resolving to make truthful education a top priority, whatever our state in life, would help turn our gaze to God and his magnificent creation. It would refocus our lives to the perfection that God wills for us, by his grace and mercy.

Please pray throughout the next year for the intercession of St. John Henry Newman, himself a great educator and advocate for faithful Catholic education. His desire was that the Catholic laity would seek truth with vigor and hold to truth with devotion. May God grant such wisdom in us, and bless us all throughout the year.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Archbishop Sheen

Archbishop Sheen’s Idea of Education

This article by Patrick Reilly, President and Founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, was published at The National Catholic Register prior to the unexpected delay of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s beatification (originally planned for Dec. 21). Please continue to pray for his Cause for sainthood.

Education should teach us the “truth about man,” said Archbishop Fulton Sheen. A graduate of and longtime professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., before he was a television celebrity, Sheen should inspire Catholics to seek out authentic education.

For 23 years, Sheen taught courses such as “Philosophy of Religion” and “God and Society” at Catholic University, making frequent use of Caldwell Chapel on campus. After teaching, he moved into television and radio programs, reaching greater numbers—even until today—with his wisdom, wit and unparalleled teaching ability.

One of his former students, Father William Amann, said that Sheen’s strong faith was obvious in the classroom. “He was a very holy man and it came out certainly in the presentation of his class. His holiness was evident in his demeanor and the classes he gave, his belief in God, and his trust in the Lord.”

For Sheen, education was about training the “whole man—the intellect and will, not just the mind alone.” Related to the intellect, he described the educated person as one who will do three things: “seek truth,” have a “correlation of studies” and have “depth, particularly the deepening of mystery.”

For the first, Sheen urged that the “one basic truth we have to learn is the truth of our own existence.” He lamented that people live years of their lives without learning “why they are here, and where they are going.”

“When life is meaningless, it is very dull,” Sheen continued. “When you know the truth of life, then you are most free.”

On the second point, the correlation of studies refers to the idea that “there are certain subjects that ought to be regarded as essential, so that a man will be truly educated.” The tendency in education, Sheen explained, was to use the “shelf theory” and “take any course that you please.” This leads to a “disconnected and disjointed” understanding.

The “really educated man sees a relationship between various branches of knowledge,” said Sheen, urging against “overspecification” in universities. A well-rounded curriculum “will teach a man how to… know himself, know society, know his relationship to the universe, and above all, he will understand his relationship to God.”

Finally, a truly educated person will have a “philosophy of life that is solid” and will “deepen the mystery of things” rather than centering studies around various fads that come and go.

Sheen’s thoughts on education may sound lofty in our nation today, where many colleges, even Catholic ones, have become focused solely on job training. They lack the formation that Sheen insisted upon. Many colleges promote relativism, fail to provide a meaningful foundation in the liberal arts, and leave students empty and unprepared for life.

Sheen explains how a strong Catholic education can make life worth living. If families look carefully, they can find strong Catholic schools and colleges that are worthy of a saint.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

St. John Henry Newman’s Battle for the Church Continues

Three weeks ago, my family and a group of Cardinal Newman Society pilgrims were newly arrived in Rome — and what a contradiction we seemed!

The whole world was watching the Vatican, anxious to know whether the Amazon Synod would preserve or rupture Catholic tradition.

And yet there we were at the center of it all, full of joy and excitement, eager to celebrate the canonization of the great educator and convert, Cardinal John Henry Newman — much like the Americans who, 140 years earlier, had come to Rome to celebrate Newman’s elevation to cardinal and represent the jubilant Catholics back home.

Now we prepare for the Feast of All Saints, celebrating the greatest of all promises given by Jesus to believers, amid so much unbelief across the West.

While in Rome, I reflected on this irony with our pilgrims. I realized something very important: the timing of Newman’s canonization amid the ugly synod was just right, because Newman is just right for these times.

Specifically, it seems to me that Saint John Henry’s devotion to both teaching and defending truth, together with his beloved manner of “heart speaking to heart,” provide a powerful response to those who imagine that tending to the practicalities and particularities of pastoral care must be somehow opposed to upholding the timeless truths and traditions of our faith.

Some have even warned of schism over this error, but Newman’s example could help heal the rift — or if not, then at least the unassailable reason and precision of his many writings provide a mighty defense of doctrine. In this sense, our newly declared saint promises to be more a “doctor” of the Church than we might have anticipated.

Pope Francis has called the Church a “field hospital,” and today indeed there are many wounded — in part because of the Holy Father’s own inexplicable harshness toward those who would preserve ritual and reverence while embracing the reason that is married to faith. Today’s wounded also include young people — to whom Saint John Henry devoted his educational efforts — who have been greatly harmed by the lack of a strong Christian formation and by dissent, abuse and betrayal from within and without the Church.

After his conversion, Newman saw no conflict between his popularity as a pastor and his battle for truth. Despite being one of the Church’s greatest intellectuals and theologians, the Saint’s focus was always on the immediate concerns and controversies of the people under his care. His primary interest was the authentic formation of the souls right in front of him, always speaking heart to heart, always speaking truth. He was both a loving pastor and a champion of orthodoxy.

His life’s work, Newman said, was the fight against relativism — what he called “liberalism in religion.” He insisted on the unity of faith and reason, the intellect and morality, subjective and objective reality. He proposed faithful Catholic education, precisely because he wished to “reunite” the faculties of conscience and intellect that “man had put asunder” by original sin.

With this heart of an educator, Saint John Henry Newman was devoted to truth and to bringing others to the truth. That is what the word today so greatly needs!

Newman was also, at times, prophetic about the challenges we face today. Already in 19th century Europe, Newman saw the makings of what would be the “age of infidelity,” when the Church would be confronted by a culture unlike anything it had ever seen before: a culture that simply does not tolerate religious belief, except as a private matter. Newman also predicted increased scrutiny of Catholics by secularists, who eagerly seek evidence of hypocrisy. The sins of our priests, he predicted, would become a spectacle to the news media and disbelievers.

That’s surely where we are today — and yet, truly, Newman’s canonization was also a happy moment! One of the Church’s greatest intellectuals and a beloved convert is certainly in heaven. Saint John Henry Newman encourages and inspires the Church at a time when it is under sustained assault.

Sainthood itself refreshes our hope in the mercy of God and the promise of heaven. It is a great blessing to know that a dutiful and faithful man has received God’s great mercy and the reward of heaven.

By his canonization, Newman has become even more capable, by his example and because of our prayers for intercession, to help us once again follow the Kindly Light of Christ. Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

(This article is adapted from comments delivered in Rome on the day of Saint John Henry Newman’s canonization, Oct. 13, 2019.)

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Where is Newman’s University?

John Henry Cardinal Newman’s vision of higher education has been celebrated for more than 160 years, and it will hopefully get renewed attention after he is canonized this Sunday, Oct. 13.

Still, few colleges today closely resemble his Idea of a University.

If anything comes close to Newman’s vision today, it would have to be those faithful Catholic colleges recognized in The Newman Guide and the National Catholic Register’s College Guide. These are models for the renewal of Catholic education—largely according to Newman’s vision—and their continued efforts toward bringing his “idea” to fruition are a blessing to the entire Church.

I look forward to seeing many representatives of these colleges in Rome this week. Celebrating together with The Cardinal Newman Society’s supporters and friends will be leaders of Christendom College, Thomas Aquinas College and University of Mary, and key faculty members from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and University of Dallas. We will gather also with friends from the faithful Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and Pontifical North American College.

The students and faculty of Belmont Abbey College got a head start on celebrating last week, with a lecture by Dr. Paul Griffiths. They gathered to rejoice in Newman’s sainthood, but also to embrace his vision for an academic and residential community shared by both students and mentors.

“Newman was deeply formed by his own experience as a student and as a professor,” Griffiths said. Newman expected tutors to be involved in students’ “moral and spiritual” formation and intellectual growth, in addition to students’ engagement with university lecturers and preachers.

On the same Thursday evening as the Abbey lecture, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., held a conference on “Newman’s Idea of a University—What It Is and Why It Matters.” The event included a panel discussion with President John Garvey and professors from a variety of disciplines, highlighting Newman’s concern for dialogue and integration across a wide variety of studies.

A Catholic college unites “intellect and virtue, which man’s fallen nature has allowed to drift apart,” Garvey wrote in a 2010 article in First Things. He cited one of Newman’s university sermons:

It will not satisfy me, what satisfies so many, to have two independent systems, intellectual and religious, going at once side by side, by a sort of division of labour, and only accidentally brought together. …I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and moral discipline. Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the cap… an ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual.

Although Newman is often associated with Catholic centers on secular campuses, he was primarily an advocate for Catholic, liberal arts education. The first “Newman Society” was established at Oxford University for Catholics seeking a higher education, only after the Irish bishops thwarted Newman’s plans for a truly Catholic Dublin university and the English bishops rejected his designs for an Oxford Oratory.

For Newman, only a Catholic college has full claim to authentic higher education, because a commitment to truth means that no branch of knowledge can be excluded, including the truths of our Catholic faith. To “withdraw Theology” from colleges is to “impair the completeness and to invalidate the trustworthiness of all that is actually taught in them,” Newman wrote in his Idea of a University.

Higher learning “educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it,” Newman wrote. The “cultivation of the intellect” is “an end which may reasonably be pursued for its own sake.” It helps form a “habit of mind” which “lasts through life” and brings “freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom.”

This type of education ends up being practical, too, although that is not its first objective. Cardinal Avery Dulles explained Newman’s thought during a 2001 address to The Cardinal Newman Society: “Whether one becomes a soldier, a statesman, a lawyer, or a physician, one will need the ability to think clearly, to organize one’s knowledge, and to articulate one’s ideas so as to deal effectively with the questions at hand.”

Newman saw in Catholic education “the incomparable advantage” over secular education of “being able to integrate all truth in relation to Christ, the incarnate Logos,” Dulles said.

At Newman Guide colleges, the difference is striking—and encouraging for a Catholic who is yearning for renewal in the Church and culture. At Christendom College, the entire community has been invited to join in a novena praying for “an outpouring of grace in the world” through Newman’s canonization, several faculty lectures on Newman’s conversion and Idea of a University, and a “watch party” on Oct. 13 to celebrate the canonization from afar. It is this integration of spirituality, academics and joy in God and his creation that marks a true Catholic education.

Faithful Catholic colleges that strive for intellectual and spiritual formation and not simply career preparation are the true heirs of Newman’s vision for higher education. May his vision continue to take hold worldwide, and may Catholic educators everywhere pray for his intercession in asking God’s favor upon the renewal of faithful Catholic education.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

John Henry Newman

To Restore Integrity: Newman’s Idea of Education

Over the course of his lifetime, John Henry Newman was many things: scholar, reformer, preacher, convert, theologian, priest, and cardinal. Through it all, however, he was an educator. Cor ad cor loquitur (“Heart speaks to heart”) was his motto, and he believed strongly that “personal influence” is the best means of teaching the truths of our Catholic faith.

“Speaking from heart to heart” was so much his manner that students at Oxford and later Dublin’s Catholic University would flock to hear his sermons. His guidance inspired the high-school boys at the Oratory School in Birmingham, England, including Hilaire Belloc. And Newman met personally with parents to forge genuine partnerships in the care of souls – an unusual practice at the time for English boarding schools.

The practical schoolmaster was also a great visionary, whose Idea of a University and University Sketches helped define the Catholic university at a time when education was splintering into diverse models and objectives. Amid many pastoral works, Newman also wrote numerous texts of devotion and theology on topics such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, development of doctrine, the role of the laity in the Church, and the nature of conscience.

It is extraordinary to find so many achievements in one man. And how do we reconcile the private Newman with the public intellectual, who eagerly battled “liberalism in religion”?

Continue reading at The Catholic Thing

One Word Could Erode Catholic Education

In three amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court filed last month, the bishops and Catholic educators—together with other major religious groups—urged the Court to uphold the meaning of “sex.”

It’s one little word. But if the Court gets it wrong, our religious freedom could be quickly eroded.

And while all Catholics and Catholic institutions would be endangered, there is a double threat to Catholic education: both to the integrity of its employees, and to its ability to teach young people the authentic Catholic faith.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Yet Another Lawsuit Against the Church

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is the target of yet another lawsuit — this one from a guidance counselor whose contract to help form students at Roncalli High School was not renewed for the coming school year, because she entered into a same-sex marriage.

With this and other similar disputes in Catholic schools, Archbishop Charles Thompson is clearly under assault. And the same fight is coming to every bishop and every Catholic school and college that courageously upholds the mission of Catholic education — as well as those schools and colleges that carelessly go forward without clear and consistent Catholic policies, thereby opening the doors wide to ideological activists and legal trouble.

Just last month, the Indianapolis archdiocese settled a lawsuit by a teacher who was dismissed from Cathedral High School for his same-sex marriage.

That teacher is legally married to a man who still teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School, where leaders refuse to comply with archdiocesan policy requiring Catholic school teachers to avoid scandal. Now the school’s leaders have filed a canon law suit with the Vatican, challenging Archbishop Thompson’s episcopal right and duty to determine whether the school may be called Catholic.

In the latest lawsuit filed in federal court last week, plaintiff Lynn Starkey accuses Roncalli High School of discriminating against her because of same-sex attraction. But Starkey was employed at Roncalli for 39 years, and even after she violated her contract by entering into a scandalous, permanent, same-sex commitment, Roncalli did not fire her. Instead, it chose not to renew her contract.

Another counselor at Roncalli, Shelli Fitzgerald, is expected to sue in the next month or two. Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave last fall, following (you guessed it) her same-sex marriage.

These suits join a growing number of attacks against Catholic schools and colleges across the country, because the Church prescribes morality standards in Catholic education. Why are so many Catholic school and college employees eager to challenge such standards? It may be that the standards are not stated clearly enough, or that they are not consistently applied, so that employees are genuinely surprised to lose their jobs. Surely there is also the hope that courts today are willing to support discrimination claims instead of upholding religious freedom. In Starkey’s case, it is especially astounding that a guidance counselor at a Catholic school could fail to appreciate that teaching and witnessing to Catholic moral principles are essential to her job.

Catholics should not be naïve in thinking that there is anything substantially unique about Indianapolis. Catholic education nationwide faces serious threats from within and without, and too many schools and colleges are insufficiently prepared for the legal battles.

The best thing that school and college leaders can do — immediately, without hesitation — is to ensure that every internal policy and practice is consistent with the formation of students in complete fidelity to Catholic teaching, and that employees embrace this mission without compromise. That makes lawsuits unlikely, resists the corruption of Catholic identity, and allows for a vigorous defense of religious freedom in court.

In the weeks and months ahead, there will be more lawsuits. We must pray for our bishops and school leaders to have the fortitude to make a strong stand for faithful Catholic education. Only if Catholic educators get back to their roots and defend their foundations, will they preserve their most important mission of forming students in the faith.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.