Scattered Catholic College Students Forge Ahead with Prayer

Many faithful Catholic colleges are taking practical steps to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as sending students home and switching to online-only courses. But although students are now scattered across the country, many are finding ways to join together in prayer with college leaders, faculty and staff to seek God’s help for those in need.

At Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, President Christopher Ice — whose planned inauguration later this month has been postponed — has asked his students to “double down” on “prayers, fasting, and sacrifices.”

Students involved with the Mary and Mercy Center just across the street from the University are doing just that. The students are organizing a 54-day Divine Mercy Chaplet novena for an end to the virus and for the “souls of the dying, healing of the sick, the return of souls to the Church.” The novena begins on March 22 and ends on May 14, the feast of St. Corona, patron saint of pandemics.

“Prayer can never be our only response to a problem, but we should never leave it out, either,” says President Stephen Minnis of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, who asked the college community to join him in praying a novena to Our Lady of Monte Berico, who under this title ended a plague in the 1400s.

“I thought now would be a good time to take a breath and do what we as a community do best — call upon Our Lady’s intercession for a swift end to the spread of the virus and for her maternal protection for all,” he continued.

In addition, on Thursday he announced a “Memorare Army,” inviting each member of the Benedictine College community to say the “Memorare” prayer to Mary, Mother of God, 100 times over the next 10 days.

A beautiful Rosary procession was held at Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield, Massachusetts, on March 12, before students were sent home. Altar servers carried a statue of Our Lady across campus to pray for an end to the virus.

In Front Royal, Virginia, the president of Christendom College is asking for prayers to be entrusted to “Jesus Christ through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother.” Dr. Timothy O’Donnell is encouraging students during this “challenging time” to ask for “insight in how we can best act for His greater glory even now.”

“So often throughout history, Christian witness in times of trial moved others to embrace the faith,” Dr. O’Donnell told his community. “What a powerful message God can convey through us if we let Him, showing others our faith in a life after this earthly existence, and our hope in Our Savior who bears our suffering and sin to make possible our eternal happiness.”

The friars at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, are offering a private Mass every day for an end to the coronavirus. “I would like to invite everybody to pray that God does a mighty work,” says Father Dave Pivonka, president of the University, in a video message to students. “Heavenly father, confound and amaze the scientists by defeating this virus by your power and by your grace.”

Public participation in the Masses on many college campuses has come to a halt, such as at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where Mass on campus is the longest standing tradition extending back to the University’s founding in 1959. A number of colleges, including Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, have begun livestreaming Mass on Facebook and other platforms.

Prayer is certainly needed during this challenging time. President John Garvey of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in quarantine, although he is no longer showing symptoms. Please keep this devoted leader of faithful Catholic education in your prayers.

Catholic college presidents are rightly making tough choices to ensure the safety of students and others in the country. Even more admirable, these faithful leaders are turning to Heaven, recognizing that God triumphs over any challenge.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Track and field

Catholic School Athletics Must Be Truthful

Gender ideology has created huge inequities in the world of sports, with men competing on women’s teams and sometimes taking top honors away from outstanding female athletes.

Add to this many other controversies in sports, including players refusing to respect the national anthem, cheating and betting scandals, sexual abuse and harassment, and more.

Catholics are forced to ask some important questions: Is there a Catholic approach to athletics, especially in Catholic schools and colleges? Should we simply embrace the norms of secular schools and athletic associations in order to have opportunities to compete against them?

The Church has not shied away from these questions, but rather has been outspoken about the role of sports. Pope St. John Paul II especially focused on athletics in many homilies, messages and speeches.

“Sport… is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body; it demands the use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will,” he told athletes in 1987.

“It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit,” he said.

What a wonderful message! But sadly today, “body” and “spirit” are being divided in sport because of gender ideology.

Some girls have had enough of it, and Alliance Defending Freedom is representing them in a lawsuit against a Connecticut athletic conference that allows biological boys to defeat biological girls in high school track competitions. Catholic schools and colleges, too, should stand their ground and uphold truth.

“Given the incompatibility of gender ideology and a Catholic worldview, Catholic educational institutions cannot simply look the other way or surrender their vision of man and reality. Too much is at stake,” writes Dr. Dan Guernsey, senior fellow of The Cardinal Newman Society, in a draft set of standards for Catholic school and college athletics.

The standards are being circulated among experts in Catholic education, sports and theology to find common ground and help educators avoid the errors of their secular counterparts.

Athletics can be important to student development, explains Guernsey. “It can affect their understanding of themselves and their relationship with God in profound ways.”

According to the Vatican, the mission of Catholic education is about the “integral formation of the human person.” Athletics can support this mission by helping students “develop virtue and harmonize mind, body and will,” Guernsey writes.

But respecting the sex of athletes, he argues, is necessary to ensure player safety, fair play and social justice. It’s crucial for Catholic schools and colleges to develop clear position statements and policies to ensure that “athletics is not coopted to work against the mission of Catholic education.”

Ultimately, sports at Catholic schools and colleges should bear witness to the Truth. And in a culture that’s increasingly relativistic, Catholic athletics must go against the tide.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Let’s Follow Bishop Paprocki’s Lead

Last week, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, released a clear, truthful guide on gender identity that does a great service for Catholic schools in his diocese. Catholic educators everywhere should follow his lead in implementing similar policies in their schools.

The timing of the guide could not be better, as society embraces a sorely confused understanding of gender identity. For example, biological males are winning female events in Connecticut high school sports, and high school districts like one in Illinois are allowing biological males to use female locker rooms, and vice versa.

But the Catholic Church’s teaching on gender identity and human sexuality is clear. Catholic school policies should be consistent, as well.

For handling situations of a student facing “gender dysphoria,” Bishop Paprocki’s guide stresses the importance of “gentle and compassionate pastoral skill and concern” and condemns any sort of “discrimination or harsh treatment.”

At the same time, the guide states that sex is determined at birth. The truly loving thing to do in a situation when a person is facing gender dysphoria is to be “clear on the reality of human biology as a gift from God that we cannot change.”

As a result, students at diocesan schools must “use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their biological sex,” and they will be “addressed and referred to with pronouns in accord with their biological sex.”

Thank you, Bishop Paprocki! More than ever, Catholic schools need to teach and witness to the Truth.

The Church’s teaching on human sexuality should be steeped deeply in our Catholic schools. A Christian anthropology should guide classroom learning, student activities and all school policies.

In fact, Catholic schools might consider adopting Human Sexuality Policies, like the ones developed by The Cardinal Newman Society, that go beyond the issue of gender identity. If a school has a firm commitment to forming young people in chastity, then it is clear that the concern is for all students of every stripe, and not targeting certain students as many activists claim.

“As a Catholic institution, we believe that human bodies are gifts from God and temples of the Holy Spirit,” the resource states. “All men and women are called to a life of chastity appropriate to their vocation as single, married, or consecrated religious.”

“Because our efforts at integral formation include the integrity of body, spirit, and moral development, our school has a proper concern for each student’s behavior and development in the complex area of human sexuality,” the resource continues.

The resource offers examples of specific policies related to human sexuality, including addressing athletics, dances, dress code, facilities use, same-sex attraction and more.

In the months ahead, Catholic schools will face even more questions related to human sexuality. Catholic educators must be prepared with responses that are clear and consistent, upholding Church teaching.

Having strong policies in place will help Catholic schools to fend off attacks and legal threats. But even more important is the witness for students — they should learn the Truth about the human person in the classroom and see it lived out.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

University of Mary hockey team

University of Mary: Scholar-Athletes Formed ‘For the Whole of Life’

This year, the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity, unveiled a “Greatness through Virtue” strategic plan for the University’s athletic programs. Through the plan, the University aims to “develop each athlete into becoming who God created them.”

The Newman Society recently asked Jerome Richter, executive vice president at the University of Mary, to discuss “Greatness through Virtue” and what makes it attractive for prospective Catholic students and families.

Newman Society: What does “Greatness through Virtue” mean, and how does it make the University of Mary stand out from other college options?

Jerome Richter: The University of Mary believes that scholar-athletes possess an inherent desire — a burning passion to achieve greatness. They are willing to take on rigorous and disciplined training schedules coupled with full-time academic work in order to pursue excellence in their sports.

“Greatness through Virtue” is the University of Mary’s plan to take advantage of this opportunity to develop each athlete into becoming who God created them to be, through the practice of virtue and the formation of authentic friendships. It means the University is taking strategic and practical steps to infuse its athletic programs with the virtues of magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, justice and temperance to teach its athletes to pursue greatness in every arena of their lives — athletic, spiritual, personal, and scholastic.

This by no means lessens the commitment to striving to win on the field or court, rather it provides an important distinction between the University of Mary and other intercollegiate athletic programs. While many school athletic programs are aimed at solely at winning records, at the University of Mary, students, including our scholar-athletes, are formed by an education “for the whole of life.”

University of Mary basketball team
Members of the men’s basketball team at the University of Mary cheer on their teammates.

Newman Society: What is involved in the “Greatness through Virtue” plan?

Jerome Richter: The Greatness through Virtue plan is intentionally integrated into athletics in every facet from coaching and recruiting to developing leadership, personal development, academics, safety, health and well-being, and community integration. The university will be tracking this plan through a follow-up evaluation process and will reach out to share this vision of “greatness through virtue” by hosting institutes with other schools.

The University has placed Father Craig Vasek, a multi-sport athlete in high school and a graduate of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, among its athletes as the full-time chaplain for the University of Mary athletic department, guiding our athletes as they develop lifelong lessons of friendship, teamwork and values.

For Catholic families who want the assurance that their student will have access to genuinely faith-based higher education, one that brings virtue into every aspect of their university experience, including athletics, the University of Mary’s foundational faithfulness, academic excellence and genuine affordability makes it the best choice.

Newman Society: How do you expect “Greatness through Virtue” to impact areas of your campus beyond athletics?

Jerome Richter: Greatness through Virtue is not a thing apart from the life of the campus; as our scholar-athletes strive for greatness, they will undoubtably influence their friends and those around them. As “iron sharpens iron,” so too will these students further shape the culture of the campus into one where all members of the student body are fully integrated into the mission of the University of Mary.

The “Greatness through Virtue Athletic Strategic Plan” also includes core strategies for facilities and assessment to ensure its campus meets the needs for every team to excel and for every member in the athletic department to be properly assessed. Through this strategic plan, which is just a part of the University of Mary’s overall Vision 2030 Strategic Plan, there will not be any areas of campus not impacted by the university’s commitment to excellence.

Our hashtag #lifeatmary spreads the word through social media that if you want more out of an education – that dimension of eternal meaning – the University of Mary is the right fit for you.

Newman Society: How are faith-based values incorporated into some of the University of Mary’s most popular academic programs, including nursing?

Jerome Richter: The University of Mary is a campus with a rich sacramental life that includes daily Mass, adoration and prayer. Our programs in bioethics, Catholic philanthropy, Catholic Studies and programs for Catholic educators are cutting edge and faithful to the teachings of the Church. The university’s Christian, Catholic, and Benedictine values are infused throughout the curriculum, and a strong emphasis on “servant leadership” is placed in all programs.

University of Mary nursing
Nursing students in the St. Gianna School of Health Sciences.

Recently, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla’s family gave the university permission to name our School of Health Sciences after her to signal our commitment to providing exceptional health sciences education and our profound respect for the dignity of every human person. Under this newly named school, our stellar nursing program has been ranked #1 in the nation for its quality of instruction and caliber of graduates.

Our programs in business feature lessons and classes on Alexandre Havard’s Virtuous Leadership, which is meant to bring traditional views on excellence into the workplace.

Each faculty member is “hired for mission” and pledges to support the vision of educating leaders of moral courage in the pursuit of Truth.

Chapel at Franciscan University

True Love at Faithful Catholic Colleges

Are students being prepared for careers — and for life — in colleges today? Some college professors are noticing that students are “excelling academically but not necessarily in other areas of adult life,” including dating and preparing for the vocation of marriage.

Students at faithful Catholic colleges, however, may be the exception. A good Catholic college will promote a campus environment that supports healthy relationships, and that’s greatly needed today.

Popular chastity speaker Jason Evert, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, argues that there needs to be a revival of Catholic dating in our culture. He recently published The Dating Blueprint: What She Wants You to Know About Dating but Will Never Tell Youadvising men to “put down their screens, look a woman in the eye, and ask her on a date.”

Michael Kenney, director of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Identity Standards Project and one of the curriculum developers for the Dating Project, agrees. “The most consequential decision a person makes is the decision concerning marriage,” he says. “A healthy dating culture is essential to building strong marriages and families. Tragically, our culture saturates the airwaves with false lyrics, images and messages concerning dating.”

If a revival of traditional courtship seems unlikely on most college campuses, students can expect something different at a faithful Catholic college. At several colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, students can still find evidence of mature, chaste relationships leading to healthy marriages.

At Thomas Aquinas College, which has campuses in Santa Paula, California, and Northfield, Massachusetts, “about 10 percent of the College’s alumni have entered the priesthood or religious life,” the college reports. “Most of the rest marry, often wedding fellow Thomas Aquinas College alumni and raising fruitful, faithful families that bear joyful witness to the Culture of Life.”

With an annual enrollment of just 500 students, Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, boasts more than 480 alumnus-alumna marriages in its 40-year history. This has something to do with the academic program, the college explains:

Students learn Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in one course, while they learn about Catholic doctrine and moral theology in other courses as well. As students complete each course, they gain a greater knowledge of the principles of the faith, especially pertaining to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, marriage and family.

But even more than the academic study, Christendom’s campus fosters healthy relationships by providing only single-sex dorms, which are totally off limits to students of the opposite sex. That’s opposite to the typical college hookup culture, but the marriages among Christendom alumni are evidence that true love is in the air.

Such is true also of John Paul the Great Catholic University, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and Wyoming Catholic College, where — like Christendom and Thomas Aquinas — student dorms are single-sex and opposite-sex visitation is not allowed.

Such dorm policies help combat the hookup culture and preserve the privacy of student bedrooms. A Newman Society report cites one study finding that “students living in co-ed housing were also more likely [than those in single-sex residences] to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months.” Further, those students were “more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had three or more sexual partners in the last year.”

Of course, reducing the hookup culture doesn’t automatically lead to healthy dating — that’s something that needs to be taught to a generation of students who see casual relationships promoted in popular entertainment — but responsible campus policies certainly can help. Student programming, such as the chastity speaking events at Franciscan University and other faithful colleges, are helpful too.

New online dating apps and other options are being created to help address the Catholic dating problem. But it helps to live in a culture that supports authentic relationships. Faithful Catholic colleges attract students with similar values, and they are uniquely positioned to help prepare Catholic students for happy and meaningful lives.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Celebrate the Students Who Marched for Life

Again this January, huge numbers of young people from around the country showed up in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to abortion. Many were from faithful Catholic schools and colleges that bused students to the annual March for Life.

Seeing all those schools and colleges represented made me very proud of our Catholic educators and their continued renewal of Catholic identity. And so, how perfect was it that we celebrated National Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26-Feb. 1) just following the March?

The two events should remind us: when Catholic education is done well, it prepares its students to be ethical leaders and to transform the culture. And nothing could be more important than defending the weakest among us, the innocent baby in the womb.

Two pro-life leaders with Students for Life of America, one of the most dynamic pro-life organizations, say that their Catholic education prepared them for the work they do today.

Katie Portka credits her faithful Catholic education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, with strengthening her pro-life convictions. Portka learned about Benedictine through The Newman Guide, and then, while a senior in high school, saw the College’s students carrying the banner at the head of the March for Life.

“I loved how energetic they were — this huge group of young adults who were so full of life and passionate,” says Portka. She had been involved in pro-life efforts with her family, but she didn’t often see large groups of young people standing for life as a high school student. Shortly after the March for Life, Portka signed her acceptance letter to attend Benedictine.

On campus, Portka immediately got involved in the large Respect Life Ravens Group. “The school at large was a very pro-life campus,” she says, “in the dorms, in classes, and in the faculty.”

Benedictine “really did embody the Church’s teaching on life and the dignity and sanctity of life,” says Portka. “In college was when I realized why I was pro-life and why I wanted to be pro-life.”

Stephanie Stone works for Students for Life of America as regional coordinator in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. She credits her faithful Catholic education with helping her discover that pro-life work was part of her “mission.”

As a high school student, Stone visited The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and “fell in love with how proudly the school wore its Catholic identity.”

“Catholic University helped me to dive deeper into my faith and experience how faith is applied to the world around us,” says Stone. “It also gave me a number of opportunities to become more active in the pro-life movement, eventually leading me to understand that pro-life work was my mission.”

On campus, Stone served as president of the Cardinals for Life club and was instrumental in organizing the first Pep Rally for Life for students ahead of the March for Life. Stone also found that studying in Washington, D.C., was a great place to learn about politics and grow in her pro-life beliefs.

“In my experience, having a Catholic education really solidified my understanding of the value of the human person,” explains Stone. “It helped me form a deep respect and radical love for all of God’s people, which is what ultimately encourages me to do this work.”

Whether at the elementary, secondary or higher education level, the fruits of Catholic education can be seen in the witness of its graduates. Many alumni of faithful Catholic schools and colleges are doing important work in rebuilding a culture of life in our country.

Hopefully, last week’s celebration of Catholic Schools was a reminder to Catholic educators everywhere to redouble their focus on the most important things that distinguish Catholic education from a secular program. Students should be prepared to follow God’s will for their lives and impact the world.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Faithful Catholic Colleges March to ‘Defend Innocent Life’

“We journey to Washington D. C. together to defend innocent life, and we find ourselves greatly edified,” says Magdalena Danja, a senior at The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., about the College’s pilgrimage to the March for Life, taking place this Friday, January 24.

“It is a beautiful thing to see so many young people from all over the country coming together for the same purpose, and to experience the camaraderie created by a sleepless night on the road, after which we sing and pray our way up Capitol Hill, banners held high, testifying to the joy which springs from fighting for the true and the right,” she continues.

It certainly is a beautiful thing—many faithful Catholic colleges are going to great lengths to witness at this year’s March for Life. Thomas More College will be cancelling classes during the March, and other Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide will be, too.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., cancelled classes for the first-time last year and is continuing the tradition this year, expecting more than 500 students to attend the March. Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., has cancelled classes during the March every year since its founding more than 40 years ago, so that its entire student body of nearly 500 students can attend.

Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, N.H., also cancels classes and offers travel scholarships for students to attend, and the new east coast campus of Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield, Mass., which opened this year, will cancel classes this Friday so that its entire student body can attend.

Some of the groups traveling the furthest distances, more than 1,000 miles, include Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., and the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. All three of the colleges will be bringing more than 200 students.

Students from Texas will be present as well. For the first time in several years, the University of Dallas in Irving, Tex., is organizing an official group of 44 students to attend the March, and 40 students—their largest group yet—from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Tex., are flying to Washington, D.C., for the event.

Three new college presidents will be leading groups to the March: Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, with 500 students; Fr. Peter Kucer, MSA, of Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Conn., with more than 100 seminarians, religious, students and faculty; and President Tim Collins of Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, with 100 students.

Many of the colleges visit historic and spiritually significant sites, such as the Holocaust Museum, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land to make the trip to Washington, D.C., into a pilgrimage.

More than 100 students, faculty and monks from Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., will be making a pilgrimage to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine before the March. A contingent from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, will be spending a couple days in D.C. surrounding the March. 

The day after the March for Life, colleges on the west coast will take part in the Walk for Life in San Francisco, Calif., including John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif., Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., and Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo.

UMary students March for Life

Students Make History at the March for Life

Nearly every year of Simone Kelly’s life, she attended the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, California, with her family. As the president of her high school’s pro-life club, she was intimately involved in the planning of the trip.

This year, Kelly has a different but exciting project on her hands. As a sophomore at the recently opened east coast campus of Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Northfield, Massachusetts, Kelly volunteered to help plan the college’s first trip to the March for Life in the nation’s capital.

Classes are canceled at New England campus Jan. 24 so that the entire student body of 58 students, along with faculty, staff and families, can attend the March. TAC has thus joined other faithful Catholic colleges that cancel classes for the March for Life, including The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Christendom has been doing so every year since the college’s founding, so that its entire student body can attend.

The TAC contingent will leave campus Thursday night and attend Mass, adoration and confession at a nearby parish before driving through the night to Washington, D.C. Kelly says that everyone on campus is “super excited” for the upcoming trip to defend the unborn, noting that all students raised money to help fund the trip.

Since there are no juniors or seniors on the new campus, Kelly plays a leadership role as a sophomore. Part of the reason why she transferred to the new campus is so that she could help “bring traditions” from TAC’s home campus in California, founded in 1971, while also developing “new traditions.”

The March for Life is a new tradition that Kelly is eager to organize so that “in the years to come, the details will be worked out.” At the west coast campus, the Walk for Life tradition, taking place this year on Jan. 25, is well-established — students from the college have participated in the Walk every year since the event was founded.

For Kelly, the opportunity to make a stand for the unborn makes sense with the “liberating” education she is receiving. “My education is forming me to learn the truth, know the truth and defend the truth,” says Kelly. “Attending the March for Life allows me to live out what I’m learning.”

Other Catholic colleges are making history at this March for Life, too. For the first time in many years, the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, is making an official trip to the March for Life.

“Many students have traveled the 1,300 miles on their own in recent years,” says Mary Kate Tomassi, treasurer of the Crusaders for Life Club, but this year is different. “We have 44 students officially going with UD to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life this year.”

“We have all been working hard to figure out the logistics for this trip, get approval, and fundraise. Thanks to many generous donors, and one in particular who wishes to remain anonymous who matched nearly $8,000 in gifts, we are able to make this important trip,” she continues.

Making the long journey is not for the faint of heart – and students will miss two days of classes. But Tomassi believes it’s important to “stand up” and “witness to the nearly 62 million lives lost and the 62 million families torn apart since 1973” due to abortion.

Beyond the witness of Thomas Aquinas College and the University of Dallas, there are other records being set by faithful Catholic colleges at this year’s March.

Some of the groups traveling the farthest distance with the greatest numbers of students include Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. They will both be traveling more than 1,000 miles to the March, with approximately 250 and 200 students, respectively.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, is sending approximately 500 students. A junior at the university, Kyle Taggart, believes that “we have a serious obligation to do everything in our power to fight legalized abortion” given the “gravity of the abortion issue.” His fellow classmates seem to be taking that message to heart.

History will be made at this year’s March for Life, in no small part due to the efforts of faithful Catholic colleges. Let’s pray that this witness leads to a change of minds and hearts — and the law — in our country, and that ultimately the lives of all unborn children will be protected.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

These Catholic Colleges Are Pro-Life, Pro-Woman

This year’s theme for the March for Life, “Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” is likely to resonate with the thousands of college students who will travel to Washington, D.C.—especially those from America’s most faithful Catholic colleges.

For decades, radical pro-abortion feminism has dominated higher education. But at the colleges recommended in The Newman Guide for their strong Catholic identity, students find a much healthier respect for the dignity of women and children.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Catholic School Welcomes Children with Down Syndrome

How This Catholic School Welcomes Children with Down Syndrome

When the students and faculty of Holy Family Academy in Manassas, Virginia, attend this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., their group will include children with Down syndrome. It’s an important pro-life statement: in the United States, upward of 75% of preborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are killed by abortion.

But Holy Family — a small, lay-established school that is faithful to Catholic teaching — does more than advocate for the life of these children. It helps give them an education through its beautiful St. Anne Program, launched at the beginning of the last school year.

Each Friday, students aged 8 to 18 with Down syndrome participate in academics, music and art as a cohort, joining with the remainder of Holy Family’s K-12 students for Mass, lunch and recess. Parents homeschool the children through the remainder of the week.

“As a Catholic school, we are committed to promoting the dignity of life,” says Mo Woltering, headmaster at Holy Family Academy and former executive director of The Cardinal Newman Society in the late 1990s. He believes that, while students with Down syndrome have significant intellectual challenges, they have a human right to formation in mind, body and soul — and the program has “worked really well” for other children, too.

“Students see that children with Down syndrome are welcome at the Academy, and that the school has a commitment to education for these members of our family,” Woltering says.

Unique classical model

The St. Anne Program addresses a top priority for the local Diocese of Arlington. Bishop Michael Burbidge has called for more inclusion in Catholic schools, noting that students with special needs “show others the face of Christ and bring out the best in all of us.” He recently highlighted programs at two schools on the Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll: Bishop O’Connell High School’s expanded services and Paul VI Catholic High School’s Options program.

Other schools on the Honor Roll and around the country wonderfully combine faithful Catholic education with care for students who might otherwise be excluded. But one thing that is special about Holy Family’s St. Anne Program is that students have the opportunity to partake of a classical Catholic curriculum.

“The program reflects our basic commitment to classical education: that it’s for everyone, and that it will feed the souls of students with Down syndrome, albeit in a different way,” says Woltering. These students “show us a new type of connection with the classics, and with the true, the good and the beautiful.”

Another unique aspect of the Holy Family Academy program is that it focuses exclusively on children with Down syndrome, which Woltering says serves the students well.

“Many special education programs tend to lump their students together, but there are many educational and emotional differences among various special needs children,” he says. “A feature of our program is that the needs are similar, and so we are able to address them in a consistent manner.”

For social and recreational time, other Holy Family students serve as “ambassadors” for the St. Anne children. For many students, it’s the “highlight of their week,” Woltering says, and “friendships have quickly formed.”

“It’s always so much fun to see them on Fridays, they have such big smiles,” says Woltering. “On the friendship level and on a joy level, it’s been a big success.”

Family oriented

Catholic school programs like this recognize the dignity of each human being and benefit both students with special needs and the rest of the school community. This is the mission of Catholic education in action. As Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic educators during his 2008 visit to the United States, “No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

At Holy Family, the students with Down syndrome bring so much to the school, and the Academy has been a big help to parents in forming their sons and daughters in the Faith. It is — as Catholic education should be — a service by and for families with shared needs.

Mary Radel, instructor for the St. Anne’s program, has a younger brother with Down syndrome. The youngest child of Woltering and his wife Denise, who directs the grade school curriculum and whose parents founded the Academy, also has Down syndrome but is not yet old enough for the program.

Only a year and half into the pilot project, Woltering hopes that the St. Anne Program will expand and succeed into the future. “It will be really exciting to see that, to experience that, and share that with others too,” he says.

May Holy Family Academy’s example inspire other Catholic educators to do something similar to celebrate and improve the lives of children with special needs. It is yet another piece in the renewal of faithful Catholic education, with just the right combination of traditional devotion and innovative methods that is needed to serve Catholic families.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.