Scholars Tout Unique, Catholic, Liberal Arts Education at Magdalen College

Dr. Anthony Esolen

Dr. Ryan Messmore

The Cardinal Newman Society was honored to recently interview two scholars who have found a home at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, N.H.: Dr. Anthony Esolen, a renowned translator and professor of literature and a prolific writer, together with Dr. Ryan Messmore, a champion of Catholic, liberal arts education and president of the College.

Recommended in The Newman Guide, Magdalen College provides an education unlike that provided by the typical Catholic college today. Drs. Esolen and Messmore discussed the special value of a true Catholic, liberal arts higher education.

Newman Society: What is the special value that Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts provides students in the 21st century? 

Dr. Anthony Esolen: We are “building soil” at Magdalen: making the cultural ground rich again. We honor and we study the great and good works from the past, not just as detached “great books” to be read and put on a shelf somewhere. Rather, we engage them as embedded in a long history of thought and art and human institutions, as bearing the marks of the cultures that produced them, and that have contributed in their own ways, and in irreplaceable ways, to our civilization. Our four-year-long Humanities course is, in this regard, unique in the nation. Nor do we read the great pagan authors to discover what they got wrong. They are giants, and though they did not see the truth of God or know Christ, still, what they saw, they saw, and we are not too proud as either moderns or as Christians to learn from what they saw.

Dr. Ryan Messmore: To help (in Dr. Esolen’s words) “make the cultural ground rich again,” we not only approach certain texts and authors with the respect they deserve, but we also do so in an incarnational way—meaning face-to-face, in-person, in the context of a faithful learning community. Many college students today—and especially over the last year and a half—have suffered from the prolonged amount of time they spend on screens. This has impacted not only their academic learning and their social/emotional health, but also their worship. In an impersonal world that stokes fear and divisiveness, Magdalen offers a different mode of living and learning. We prioritize small-group conversation; we take the sacraments seriously; we celebrate large feasts and holidays as well as small, campus-wide traditions; faculty and staff eat and work and worship along students. In so doing, we daily embody the sort of cultural richness that Dr. Esolen rightly notes is hard to find in our larger culture.

Newman Society: What do you think most of American education gets wrong with regard to the liberal arts—and especially the liberal arts within a Catholic education?

Dr. Anthony Esolen: Most of American education gets everything wrong with regard to the liberal arts. First, since they do not believe in any transcendent truth, they cut the liberal arts off at the knees; there is simply nowhere for the arts to go, other than to turn back in on themselves in cynicism or in angry political action. If you do not believe that it is good in itself to know things, and to behold beauty, and to share with others what you have seen and come to love, so as to enrich and ennoble human life, then it seems to me that you can have no use for Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach and the rest—no “use,” unless you reduce them to some pallid shadow of themselves, and say that it is alright to read Shakespeare because it will assist you in writing up office memoranda. But that is not why a human being reads Shakespeare. To sum it up, I’d say that the American approach to the liberal arts is utilitarian at best and therefore servile, not free; and that otherwise it turns the liberal arts into political action, which is worse than servile. It is treacherous.

Dr. Ryan Messmore: I would add that many educational institutions either do not take a strong stand on, or perhaps answer problematically, the fundamental question of the liberal arts: What does it mean to be human? For example, what is our nature as male and female?  What is our purpose as persons created in the image of God?

Let’s take each possibility in turn. 1) When institutions shy away from putting a stake in the ground on such questions, they become susceptible to promoting the latest ideology or political agenda (as Dr. Esolen noted). And when institutions won’t commit themselves to what it means to be human, they don’t know what it is they are claiming to liberate. 2) When modern universities do take a stand, they often promote a vision of human beings as simply autonomous, rights-bearing individuals with no transcendent purpose—with no deeper meaning or identity other than the identity they choose for themselves.

What suffers is, again, true freedom. There’s much to liberate the student from, but not much to liberate the student for. The liberal arts should liberate students from ignorance and utilitarianism and liberate them to become fully flourishing human persons.

Newman Society: How do students apply the liberal arts to lead happy and productive lives after graduation?

Dr. Anthony Esolen: Students who are grounded in the liberal arts will be much better readers and writers than their peers will be, and since those skills are rare in our time, that means that a good reader or writer will not find it hard to get well-remunerated work.  Mainly, though, we are talking about the formation of souls, the enriching and elevation of the mind.

Dr. Ryan Messmore: Magdalen students enter life after graduation with certain habits and a certain framework that catalyze true happiness. Dr. Esolen mentioned some of those habits, which entail good communication, but their Catholic liberal arts education also equips them with habits of close reading, critical thinking and faithful living. What do I mean by that? Our students have developed the habit of taking time for prayer and daily Mass; they have developed the habit of putting others first and serving a larger good; they have developed the habit of asking good questions and discerning what they hear in response. When they approach something new in life, they do so with wonder and curiosity, anticipating that it has a deeper purpose and meaning than what others might see at first glance. These formational habits and ways of viewing the world are perhaps the most crucial things an education can provide students.

Photo via Magdalen College.

Newman Society: Do your alumni find success? 

Dr. Anthony Esolen, Dr. Ryan Messmore: Yes, but we both think it’s important to define the term “success.” At the level of employment, Magdalen students go on to find work and satisfaction in many fields—from finance and law, to I.T. and education, to healthcare and journalism. In addition, many continue on to earn higher degrees in graduate school. At the deeper level of relationships, a large percentage of our graduates get married (a larger percentage than is typical of the rest of their demographic!) and they raise strong families. At the all-important level of character, our graduates tend to succeed in prioritizing what is important in life—in Augustine’s terms, how to love the right things in the right way. That’s the path that future saints travel, which is the ultimate standard of success!

Newman Society: Magdalen College is small, close-knit, friendly, and situated in the mountains of New England. For many students, that’s an ideal environment to study and grow in the Catholic faith. What kind of student flourishes at Magdalen College? 

Dr. Anthony Esolen: Students who like being around people and who like to talk about all kinds of things—movies, music, art, language, the greenhouse, how to build a garage, Latin verbs—and who want to draw nearer to God and to their neighbors, by the beauty of worship and by the calm and steady work of the mind.  We have a lot of fun here—and it shows. Meet our students for ten minutes and you will see!

Dr. Ryan Messmore: As Dr. Esolen alluded to, Magdalen is for a special kind of student. It’s not for those who want to design their own curriculum or spend their Friday nights drinking at a sorority party or cheering for a football team in a crowded stadium. Magdalen is for those who have an inkling that the world is enchanted with beauty and meaning and want an education that will help them explore it at a deeper level. It’s for those who prefer Dante’s Comedy and an O’Connor short story to a modern textbook. It’s for those who want to be inspired by sacred music and reverent liturgy. And it’s for those who want to learn from top-notch, faithful professors like Anthony Esolen!

Univ of Mary health sciences male

University of Mary Embraces Health Sciences in ‘Mission of Service’

Where can Catholic families send their children who want to pursue a career in the health sciences? The University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., which is recommended in The Newman Guide, is an exciting option.

The Newman Society recently asked Dr. Mary Dockter, dean of the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences at the University of Mary, to discuss how students are taught about the moral dimension of their work.

Newman Society: The University of Mary has made an extraordinary commitment to programs in the health sciences. Why?

Dr. Mary Dockter: The University of Mary exists to serve the people of this region and beyond. This mission has its roots in the pioneering courage of our Sisters, who first came to Bismarck to serve the needs of the people here, opening up schools and the only hospital between St. Paul and Seattle. They came not simply to educate minds, but to offer desperately needed bodily care to the afflicted. Thus, our commitment to programs in the health sciences is extraordinary because health care is an integral part of our history and a cherished aspect of our identity, and it drives and inspires us to train health care professionals who carry on that mission of service and care for others.

At every point in our university’s history, health care education has led the way. The university’s first master’s degree was in nursing and the first doctoral degree was in physical therapy. Our nursing program is currently ranked #1 in the nation by nursing’s national benchmark service, Mountain Measurement. We also know, now more than ever, there is a need for talented health care providers who can practice within the bounds of Catholic social teaching, lead with moral courage and uphold respect for the dignity of every human person.

As our region has expanded, along with the needs of those we serve, so too have our program offerings. We offer many ways for our students to pursue fulfilling careers in health care, for undergraduate students, graduate students and professionals wanting to begin or advance a career in health care — like the RN to BSN, accelerated second degree BSN and multiple master’s and doctoral degrees. Our online LPN to BSN program is ranked #6 nationally; our Exercise Science program is ranked #15 among hundreds of accredited bachelor’s programs; our Respiratory Therapy program was awarded “The President’s Award for Excellence in Credentialing Success,” which is the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care’s highest distinction.

We at the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences have much to celebrate, but there is also more work to do.

Photo via the University of Mary.

Newman Society: As our culture secularizes, there are an increasing number of medical practices today that run contrary to the Catholic faith, including abortion, “sex reassignment” surgeries, etc. How are students in the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences at the University of Mary taught about the moral dimension of their work?

Dr. Mary Dockter: We chose Saint Gianna as our patroness, not only because she led a life of faith as a physician, but precisely because she knew the value and worth of human life and the inherent dignity therein. We therefore strive to form our students with core components of Catholic social teaching in our health care education — from Ex corde Ecclesiae, informing our mission as a Catholic university, to the USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives” and beyond. Our faculty lead discussions on the profound issues related to the beginning and end of life and guide students through how to consider dignity and respect are ensured for all people, especially given the complex ethical landscape of modern health care. We encourage our students to study bioethics at the University of Mary, in coordination with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and offer not only a master’s degree but concentration and certificate options as well. Inspired and informed by the bioethics program, our students are formed with a focus on the multifaceted and ethical nature of providing health care.

By the time they leave our program, our graduates have a deep understanding of the integration of faith and reason as a foundational component of clinical reasoning and ethical decision making, all toward the end of safeguarding human dignity, and all while providing competent, excellent care.

Newman Society: Why is an academically excellent and faithfully Catholic education crucial for nurses, therapists, laboratory technologists, and other professions in the health sciences?

Dr. Mary Dockter: Academic excellence is crucial for ensuring patients receive quality care from their health care providers. Our program faculty guide our graduates to be the very best in their fields and prepare them to be exemplars of moral courage and defenders of the sanctity of life and dignity of the human person. Combining academic excellence within a faithfully Christian, joyfully Catholic and gratefully Benedictine community means that our graduates, who aspire to be virtuous leaders, can impact societal health in positive and lasting ways.

Moral courage is a great example of how these components come together in the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences. In each of our programs, students become keenly aware why access to necessary treatments and therapies — especially for the poor, the marginalized and the underserved — is something we strive to ensure. We also ask our students to consider this question thoughtfully, “Just because we can do something in medical science, should we do it?” We acknowledge that health care professionals and their patients both have rights of conscience, meaning that we must approach ethical dilemmas with keen perception, personal fortitude and gracious understanding.

Students are often surprised at how engrained, multifactorial and complicated the moral dimension of providing health care is when they enter the workforce. Weaving these conversations into our classrooms and integrating principles of Catholic social teaching into our curricula are critical components of why our graduates have made such a profound impact on health care in today’s world.

Photo via the University of Mary.

Newman Society: Beyond course offerings, how will a student’s experience at the University of Mary help prepare them to defend the life and dignity of each human person?

Dr. Mary Dockter: Our students have many experiences outside of the classroom that prepare them to enter the workforce as health care providers with moral courage and defenders of the sanctity of life and dignity of the human person. Most of our health care students participate in local, regional and/or international service-learning trips and/or experiences. University of Mary students, whether studying health care or another field, can partake in a rich sacramental life on campus, with daily Mass, adoration and prayer. Likewise, our Christian, Catholic and Benedictine values are infused in every single class our students take, in the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences, and in any one of our other four academic schools. Our students cultivate rich, lasting friendships, nurture the spiritual and moral development of the community and promote the university-wide culture of discernment, engagement and evangelization. As a campus community, we participate in Day of Service, March for Life, Prayer Day and Life and Dignity Week. In addition, the University of Mary has a Mission for Life Office dedicated to finding service opportunities for students.

As a student prepares to defend the life and dignity of each human person, our faculty play a large role in their formation. They are highly engaged with what it means to be Catholic health care providers and educators. Many of our faculty took the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the Catholic Medical Association meeting in September of this year. And before the pandemic, they traveled abroad on pilgrimage to bear witness to the suffering at the concentration camps of World War II and to the miracles of healing at the Sanctuary of Our Lady in Lourdes, France. This pilgrimage was part of an integrated mission to learn about the diversity of human experience, to form faculty more strongly in the Catholic faith and to reaffirm their commitment and understanding of the need to uphold the dignity of human life.

Simply put: every facet of our university works to support students in their path to becoming leaders in their fields and in their communities.

Newman Society: Anything else you’d like to add about your Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences?

Dr. Mary Dockter: We have a long-standing history of providing health care education, and there are some very exciting developments happening at our school. In addition to earning a health care degree, our health sciences students can complete coursework in Catholic Studies to complement their program of study. In addition to serving the needs of our current students, we offer an accelerated second degree BSN, as well as RN to BSN, LPN to BSN, and RT to BSRT degrees to help members of our community upskill their education and achieve the positions that are in high demand. For lifelong learners, we offer a plethora of master’s degrees and certificate options within our school, as well as throughout the university.

We recently commended our entire School of Health Sciences to the patronage of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician drawn to the care of mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor. Her commitment to the dignity of human life inspires us to achieve greatness in our daily life, committing at each step to uphold our Christian, Catholic and Benedictine values. We look forward to October 4, 2022 — the Saint’s 100th birthday — when we will officially rededicate the School of Health Sciences to the patronage of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. During this time, we will thank God for this work that’s been specially given to us and reflect on the many ways our school can further impact the world of both Catholic and secular health care.

A Year-End Victory for Catholic Education

Last summer, I wrote about the urgency of holding a “crucial line of defense for Catholic education” against false ideology and attacks on Christian morality — and now, a key victory has been won in federal court!

On Dec. 13, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, is protected by the First Amendment in its right to uphold religious and moral standards for its members. It agreed with attorneys from the stalwart Becket institute and rejected an appeal by two former students who were dismissed from the seminary for violating agreed-upon standards by entering into civil same-sex marriages.

While the dismissal of two students at a nondenominational seminary may not seem immediately relevant to Catholic schools and colleges, in fact this case threatened to dismantle a crucial protection for religious education. The lawsuit challenged the religious exemption to Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in education, and the exemption’s availability to schools and colleges that are not directly controlled by a religious sect — as many private Catholic schools and nearly all Catholic colleges are not.

Why should this be important to Catholic educators? Surely they have no issues with preventing sex discrimination? Catholic schools and colleges have eagerly employed women, expanded opportunities for women’s sports and worked to combat sexual harassment and assault.

In fact, victory in this case now empowers Catholic educators to stand firmly in the defense of women and against the irrational demands of gender ideology, which would erode many of the gains made for women under Title IX.

The whole federal effort to prevent sex discrimination was upended in 2020 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which distorts the meaning of “sex discrimination” for purposes of employment law to include homosexuality and self-identified gender, even when it is contrary to one’s biological sex. Although Bostockapplies only to employment law under Title VII, activists and the Biden administration are attempting to conform Title IX to the demands of LGBT ideology.

This only hurts women, by giving biologically male students access to women’s sports competitions and bathrooms. It creates other serious problems for Catholic education by allowing teachers and students to ignore moral standards regarding same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior.

Nevertheless, as long as the robust religious exemption in Title IX stands, religious schools and colleges can uphold their beliefs and protect traditional separations between male and female facilities and athletics. The exemption stands in the way of radical attacks on religious education. That’s why, over the past year, we have seen multiple legislative and legal efforts by activists and the Biden administration to weaken or dismantle the Title IX religious exemption.

One of those now-failed efforts was Maxon v. Fuller Theological Seminary. The plaintiffs seized upon language in the Title IX religious exemption that says an eligible school or college must be “controlled by a religious organization.” Although the U.S. Department of Education has always exempted from Title IX clearly religious institutions that are nondenominational (like Fuller) or legally independent of a religious body (like nearly all Catholic colleges and many Catholic schools), the plaintiffs tried to have these institutions stripped of their religious freedom and forced to comply with the Biden administration’s strange interpretation of sex discrimination.

This would have been devastating for Catholic education. Last June, the Cardinal Newman Society and several faithful Catholic schools and colleges joined with the Christian Legal Society and other religious groups in an amicus briefurging the Ninth Circuit to reject the students’ appeal. Signers included Belmont Abbey College (North Carolina), Benedictine College (Kansas), Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), Lumen Christi High School (Indiana), Marian High School (Indiana), the Regina Academies (Pennsylvania) and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (New Hampshire).

Other signers representing a variety of beliefs included the American Association of Christian Schools, Association for Biblical Higher Education, Association of Christian Schools International, General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

“It is dangerous and un-American to deny a share in religious freedom for nondenominational and independent religious institutions,” was my statement to media reporters last summer. “Such a policy would unconstitutionally discriminate against many of America’s religious schools and colleges, including those Catholic schools and colleges that are faithful to their beliefs but legally independent of the Catholic Church.”

The amicus brief called on the Ninth Circuit to recognize that an independent institution controlled by a board of trustees with deeply held religious convictions and a religious mission is sufficiently “controlled by a religious organization” for the purposes of the Title IX exemption.

Praise be to God, the court unanimously agreed. “For over 30 years, DOE [U.S. Department of Education] has maintained that the statute does not contain ‘an independent requirement that the controlling religious organization be a separate legal entity than the educational institution,’” the court noted. It upheld a district court’s ruling in 2020 and found that the plaintiffs “could allege no additional facts to save their challenge to Fuller’s differential treatment of same-sex marriages as compared to opposite-sex marriages, since Fuller’s actions fell squarely within Title IX’s religious exemption.”

Catholic educators and the whole of the Catholic Church received a wonderful gift, by this strong federal ruling for religious freedom. We live in a nation that still celebrates Christmas and allows Catholics to teach young people the truth of Christ — and for that we can be grateful in this merry season.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Wyoming Catholic College Graduates Help Others Experience ‘God’s First Book’

For a young adult used to spending time in a classroom or online, encountering God’s grandeur in the mountains of Wyoming can be a profound spiritual experience. Now graduates of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., are sharing what they experienced with others through an exciting outdoor retreat program.

In Sacred Scripture, mountains are often places of prayer and encounters with God. Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son on a mountain—but then had a profound experience of God when He commanded him not to complete the sacrifice. Moses received the Ten Commandments and spoke with God on Mt. Sinai. Elijah heard God’s still, small voice on a mountain. Jesus often went to the mountains to pray by Himself. Throughout the Scriptures, we see again and again how God can be discovered in the wilderness and on the mountaintops.

Students at Wyoming Catholic College, which is recommended for its faithful Catholic education in The Newman Guide, encounter God in the wilderness and on the mountaintops through a rigorous outdoor program. Students explore the wilderness, or “God’s First Book,” to find Him and renew their relationship with Him while backpacking, whitewater kayaking and ice climbing. It’s more than just having a good time in the wilderness—it’s about education, communication, preparedness, leadership, and growing closer to God.

Zachary Carlstrom, who graduated from WCC in 2016, had a profound encounter with God during his 21-day freshman expedition, which is the College’s freshman orientation trip in the Wind River Mountains. Never in his wildest dreams did he think that, years later, he would be operating COR Expeditions (Catholic Outdoor Retreat), which is an outreach of WCC, alongside his wife Sarah, a 2014 graduate. Today, the two are using the education and formation they received at WCC to help others encounter God through nature.

COR “facilitates transformative encounters with Christ through what the wilderness has to offer,” according to the Carlstroms, and gives those who haven’t attended WCC a taste of the College’s outdoor program.

In 2012, a few ministry-focused organizations and seminaries started asking WCC to facilitate trips for them and their students, because they could see the benefits of outdoor education. “We wanted to offer outdoor education in an authentically Catholic way,” Zach explained, because many outdoor programs already in existence are either secular or Protestant.

“As we had more qualified staff from the student population to offer the trips,” he said, “we felt like there was a real need in the Church, and there wasn’t anyone doing that: authentic outdoor trips with professional guidance. We started to offer trips to more and more groups.”

Zach was COR’s first employee in2016. “From there, we’ve doubled the number of trips each year, aside from 2020 during coronavirus,” he said.

For a while, there was some question as to whether COR would stay connected with WCC. Now, it’s been decided that “WCC wants COR forever. We’ve officially been operating as an outreach of WCC since the beginning; we share a mission in the shared values of the Catholic faith through contact with God’s first book.” The benefit of partnering with WCC is that the groups share permits, which means that COR can offer trips in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. They have also offered custom trips in California, Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Montana, and even abroad in New Zealand, Iceland and Scotland. Front-country leadership trainings are available across the United States.

“We’re bringing the liberal arts and holistic education to others through steeping people in wonder and helping them grow in their spiritual lives from that position of wonder,” Sarah said.

Zach added that COR focuses especially on two types of client. ”We want to help renew the faith of those who are already in the Church, such as religious orders like the CFRs or discipleship groups like FOCUS, and we see COR as a way to engage them more deeply.

“At the same time, we have a big heart for those who haven’t had contact with the Church, or maybe haven’t practiced in a while, and somehow they got onto one of our trips,” he said. “They experience the sacraments in a new way: we’ve had people make first confessions, Rosaries, Adoration. Our mission is unique because we can draw someone in who might not otherwise do a ‘faith based’ activity, but they get excited about a rock climbing, backpacking or rafting trip.”

Their impact so far has been impressive. They have worked with more than 2,500 college students, 350 FOCUS missionaries, 100 seminarians, 30 chaplains, 400 school students, 50 wounded veterans and 100 families. They have nine full-time missionaries who fundraise their salaries.

For both Zach and Sarah, their time at WCC had an undeniable influence on their development of COR. Sarah explained, “There’s the practical component that WCC provided us with our first formal training in the outdoors, beginning to develop those core skills in the outdoor program. I would also say that the opportunities at WCC to develop leadership and to have mentorship in leadership were helpful, such as for me, being a prefect, or for Zach, being involved with the parish’s youth group.”

“From the academic perspective,” she added, “when I graduated from WCC, I felt incredibly blessed with the education that I had received, especially in theology, philosophy and humanities, and because of the appreciation I had for it, it made me strongly desire to share it. When I graduated from the College, I was still among a small number of people who had received that education. There were so many who hadn’t received such an education, and this is why I wanted to work in ministry.”

For Zach, “COR would not have been possible without the mentorship and position that Dr. Zimmer [the College’s outdoor program coordinator] gave me, and the empowerment that the outdoor program gave me. My experiences in the outdoors here opened my eyes to wonder for the first time, and the idea that God can work through His First Book. I never thought that ministry could exist in outdoor programs, that it didn’t need four walls. God could encounter people individually in the wilderness.”

WCC has inspired the entire COR missionary team: “From the communication skills in rhetoric to the leadership from the outdoor program, it astounds me how well we work together as a team, in comparison to some other organizations I’ve worked with,” Zach said. “Some of the simple things we learned here are profoundly new ideas in other places.”

Sarah added, “WCC set an incredible example, especially in the founders, that we feel called by the Church to do this, and we’re going to make it happen, against all odds. That really inspired us. When God asks, we answer. We believe that He will provide.”

“A small group of people can change the world, our ideas matter, our thoughts matter, our passions matter,” Zach said. “The examples we had for those realities were really strong, simply by the College saying that our students will be the leaders of the Church.”

The Carlstroms hope that COR will continue to grow. “Coming to a college that was just getting its feet made starting a ministry not seem as daunting,” they said. “The pioneer spirit of WCC just carried forward in COR, and will only continue to do so.”

Newman Society, Newman Guide Colleges Featured on Ave Maria Radio

The Cardinal Newman Society recently organized a college fair of sorts with Coleen Kelly Mast, host of the “Mast Appeal” Radio Show on Ave Maria Radio (also syndicated on EWTN).

Newman Society President Patrick Reilly kicked off the discussion with Coleen by explaining why colleges are recommended in The Newman Guide, and the unique value of faithful Catholic higher education.

For the remainder of the two-hour radio show, Coleen interviewed students and recent graduates of Newman Guide colleges about their experiences at the colleges. What amazing things they had to say!

A recording of the show is available and would make a great resource to share with Catholic families who are navigating the college search. Here is the link to the show from December 11, 2021.

Down to the Buzzer, Religious Colleges Score with NCAA

Here’s some great news, just in time for the holy feast of Christmas: At the last moment before approving its new revised constitution, the governing board of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) added broad protection for Catholic and other religious colleges to continue participating in the college association.

The NCAA constitution still needs to be ratified by the membership on Jan. 20, but the draft they will be considering is much improved.

Just last week, with the desperate hope that sunlight might help disinfect the NCAA’s diseased constitutional revision process, I went public at the National Catholic Register with concerns raised by faithful Catholic and other Christian colleges. They have been struggling valiantly to defend against an earlier amendment to the NCAA constitution that seemed intended to push out religious colleges with traditional (i.e., truthful and rational) views of sexuality and gender.

By adding deliberately pointed language to its constitution — that colleges must “comply with federal and state laws and local ordinances, including respect to gender equity, diversity and inclusion” — the NCAA appeared to be stacking the deck against religious colleges, at least those colleges that have remained faithful to Christian tradition and have refused to violate the integrity of women’s sports and the sanctity of marriage and sexuality.

This was the result of lobbying by activists including the anti-Catholic Human Rights Campaign, which last month sent a letter to NCAA governors complaining that drafts of the constitution did not explicitly embrace gender ideology. Although the HRC complained about a few state and local laws that prevent biological men from competing in women’s sports, drafters of the NCAA constitution cleverly latched onto the much more extensive push by many states, counties, cities, and even the federal government to force gender ideology on schools and colleges.

Such efforts, of course, violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause if they interfere with religious colleges’ ability to conform to their religious beliefs, and colleges are likely to prevail in court when they contest violations of their religious freedom. Nevertheless, last week’s draft of the NCAA constitution could have allowed the association to ban Catholic colleges from participation even while they fight in court to preserve their mission.

“The Catholic attempt to use sport toward the integral formation of the human person and to give praise and honor to the Creator is subverted by competing ideologies in the common culture, especially gender ideology,” warns the Cardinal Newman Society’s standards for athletics policies at Catholic schools and colleges. “The issue is bigger than just about sexual politics; Catholic educators must resist gender theories that aim to annihilate the concept of nature and our understanding of who we are and how we exist in the world.”

Faithful Newman Guide colleges including Benedictine College, The Catholic University of America, the University of Mary and Walsh University joined many other religious colleges in urging the NCAA to add another provision to its constitution, ensuring their rights to uphold their religious missions. The effort succeeded, just as the NCAA governors approved the final constitution.

The proposed language from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities said, “Consistent with the principles of institutional control, nothing herein should be construed to restrict or limit private religious institutions from adopting or maintaining policies consistent with their legal rights as private religious institutions.”

No one in the NCAA should have had a problem with that language. But the “woke” agenda prevented its inclusion in the final draft constitution that was presented to the NCAA governors last week, before the governors apparently decided that losing Catholic colleges as members would be a harmful to the association and patently unfair to religious institutions.

In a surprising and exciting turnaround, the constitution approved by the governors on Thurs., Dec. 16, is very similar to what the religious colleges wanted and should be helpful in protecting their distinctive missions. It includes the language: “Consistent with the principle of institutional control, no provision in this Constitution should be construed to restrict or limit colleges and universities, public or private, from adopting or maintaining missions and policies consistent with their legal rights or obligations as institutions of high learning.”

Deo gratias! We shall see whether the constitution is approved on Jan. 20. But already religious colleges have taken an important step forward, and by their witness they have shown the importance of never giving in to the worst elements of our culture. Faithful Catholic education is worth fighting for, and it was the smaller but most faithful colleges that helped achieve this valuable protection.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Will the NCAA Force Out Catholic Colleges?

Athletics has long been an important part of Catholic education in the United States, but trouble is brewing.

Already schools and colleges face social and legal pressure to abandon their Catholic mission and conform to gender ideology by allowing biological males to play on girls’ sports teams and enter locker rooms.

Now, proposed changes to the constitution of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) could prevent Catholic colleges from participating in the premier league, unless it takes steps to protect Catholic education’s commitment to truth and religious freedom. At the moment, it seems the NCAA has no intention of doing that.

The hurried effort to update the NCAA constitution — with a vote expected on Jan. 20 — is prompted by legal issues concerning the commercialization of student-athletes, financial disparities among the association’s three divisions and calls for greater institutional autonomy. Still, the process could not avoid the political correctness of our time. The latest draft proposal includes a new provision demanding that colleges “comply with federal and state laws and local ordinances, including respect to gender equity, diversity and inclusion.”

That might seem harmless, to require compliance with the law. But then again, why is there a need to add such a provision, with specific reference to “gender equity, diversity and inclusion”? There is an agenda here that threatens religious institutions.

Pushing out Catholic colleges

Earlier this year, the NCAA Board of Governors updated its policies to allow women to participate on either men’s or women’s teams, based on their self-declared gender. Men may compete on women’s teams if they have completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment. But religious colleges have preserved their autonomy to do what they know is best for their student-athletes.

The NCAA also publicly opposed state and local laws upholding the integrity of women’s athletics, declaring that it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports.” No law, in fact, excludes students from participating in college sports, but they may be required to compete with others of the same biological sex.

The most dangerous laws go in the other direction. Many states and localities — and more recently, the federal government under the Biden administration — have sought to force religious institutions to adopt gender ideology in direct contradiction to their moral beliefs and understanding of human biology. This is done under the guise of nondiscrimination law.

Faithful Catholic colleges, however, do not truly discriminate against students with gender dysphoria. Instead, they have steadfastly upheld the advances made in women’s sports and have protected students morally and physically from the unreasonable demands of gender ideology, while the secular world endangers girls to satisfy activist demands and undermines hard-won opportunities to compete in sex-specific competitions.

Under federal law, religious institutions currently have some protections — despite recent court case attempting to erase the religious exemption in Title IX, which opposes sex discrimination in education but has been interpreted to mandate certain LGBT policies. The Biden administration supports legislation including the horrendous Equality Act that would unconstitutionally force religious institutions to comply with gender ideology.

If it becomes necessary for Catholic colleges to assert their rights and fight any new law or regulation in court — a law or regulation violating the religious mission of the colleges — how will the NCAA respect its members’ religious freedom? Based on the proposed new amendment to the NCAA constitution, it might be that the NCAA would exclude faithful colleges like Belmont Abbey College, the Catholic University of America and the University of Mary from participation. They could technically be in violation of existing (although clearly unconstitutional) laws.

In states and localities, legal protection for religious freedom is less secure, since the Title IX exemption for religious colleges and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) concern only federal law. Catholic colleges do have recourse to claims under the First Amendment, but fighting state and local laws that threaten religious education takes time, and many courts are not friendly to religious concerns when set against gender ideology.

Again, how will the NCAA treat a Catholic college fighting an unjust state or local law? Will it stand by its members? Instead, it seems the new constitutional provision is intended to push out any college that stands by traditional and natural divisions of the sexes in college sports.

This is the irony of the campaign for LGBT nondiscrimination protections: whereas new laws and private association rules will likely have minimal effect in correcting unjust discrimination — which has never been proven to be a widespread problem for LGBT-identifying Americans — the nation’s majority of religious people will be targeted and subjected to all kinds of legally protected discrimination for maintaining their religious beliefs and truthful policies toward gender and sexuality.

The result is much more discrimination, not less, and the erosion of America’s bedrock principle of religious freedom.

Solution rejected

If the NCAA does not intend such a threat to religious education, there is an easy fix: another amendment that recognizes the distinctive and appropriate needs of religious colleges.

That is precisely what some Catholic colleges, together with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, proposed before the latest draft constitution — and yet their request was ignored. The language they suggested was quite simple: “Consistent with the principles of institutional control, nothing herein should be construed to restrict or limit private religious institutions from adopting or maintaining policies consistent with their legal rights as private religious institutions.”

The NCAA’s failure to embrace religious freedom and adopt this simple amendment is a very clear signal that its intentions toward Catholic and other religious colleges are not good. Efforts continue to advocate a religious freedom amendment in the new draft expected around Dec. 15. Without the amendment, NCAA members should reject the new constitution.

Otherwise, faithful Catholic colleges may have no option but to leave the troubled NCAA. What a great tragedy for all concerned, especially the young men and women whose interests are the last priority in the relentless march of ideological extremism.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Newman Guide Colleges Increase ‘Recruit Me’ Scholarship to $20,000

Several faithful Catholic colleges recommended by The Cardinal Newman Society have generously chosen to supplement the Society’s “Recruit Me” scholarship, potentially increasing the amount from $5,000 to $20,000 over four years.

The Newman Society’s annual Essay Scholarship Contest rewards a U.S. high school senior with a one-time $5,000 scholarship toward the cost of attending one of the colleges recommended in The Newman Guide. To be eligible, a student must sign up for Recruit Me, a program that invites Newman Guide colleges to compete for promising candidates.

High school seniors can submit their application and essay for the sixth annual Essay Scholarship Contest until February 21, 2022.

This year, the winner will have the opportunity to be awarded $20,000 over the course of four years. Several of the Newman Guide colleges have agreed to supplement the Newman Society’s scholarship with additional $5,000 grants over three additional years. In order for the scholarship to continue, the student must be enrolled full-time and maintain satisfactory academic progress. Some of the colleges have additional requirements.

The following American colleges have opted to supplement the Newman Society scholarship, should a winning student choose to attend their institution:

  • Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.)
  • Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, N.C.)
  • Benedictine College (Atchison, Kan.)
  • Christendom College (Front Royal, Va.)
  • Franciscan University of Steubenville (Steubenville, Ohio)
  • Holy Apostles (Cromwell, Conn.)
  • John Paul the Great Catholic University (Escondido, Calif.)
  • Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts (Warner, N.H.)
  • The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, N.H.)
  • University of Dallas (Irving, Tex.)
  • University of Mary (Bismarck, N.D.)
  • University of St. Thomas (Houston, Tex.)
  • Wyoming Catholic College (Lander, Wyo.)

In addition, three Newman Guide colleges outside the U.S. have also offered to supplement the scholarship:

  • Campion College (Toongabbie East, NSW, Australia)
  • Holy Angel University (Angeles City, Philippines)
  • Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College (Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada)

The Newman Society’s $5,000 scholarship is made possible by the generosity of Joseph and Ann Guiffre, supporters of the Newman Society and faithful Catholic education. Supporters of the participating Newman Guide colleges have generously provided the funds for the supplemental awards.

The Newman Society encourages Catholic families to tell family and friends about the Essay Scholarship Contest and the value of faithful Catholic education. Questions about the Essay Scholarship Contest can be directed to

Abortion Advocacy, Sex Contests Have No Place in Catholic Education

What kind of lunacy must this be, when the Pope unambiguously calls abortion “murder,” yet a Catholic university hosts a fundraiser to support America’s largest abortion business?

Or when students at a Catholic high school walk out in protest of a pro-life speaker?

Or Catholic college students compete for numbers of sexual conquests?

Catholic education is an expression of the Church’s mission of salvation and an instrument of evangelization: to make disciples of Christ and to teach them to observe all that he has commanded.” If ever the need for a renewal of truth and fidelity in our Catholic education was more obvious, it is certainly clear now.

Faithful alumni of Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles — sponsored by the Jesuits, Marymount Sisters, and Sisters of St. Joseph in Orange — are urging signatures on a petition protesting a university-hosted fundraiser for the abortion giant Planned Parenthood scheduled for this Friday, Nov. 5. It is sponsored by a student group, LMU Women in Politics.

The University told Catholic News Agency, “The fundraiser being hosted by Women in Politics is not a university-sponsored event. However, the existence of these student organizations and their activities are living examples that LMU embraces its mission, commitments, and complexities of free and honest discourse.”

Not a university event? Consider this:

1.  LMU Women in Politics is a “Registered Student Organization” at the University. Its radical feminist mission includes emphasis on “LGBTQ+ women, gender queer, and non binary individuals.” In September, the group protested the “terrifying” Texas ban on many abortions.

2.  Friday’s event is scheduled to occur in LMU’s Roski Dining Hall on campus.

3.  The “Planned Parenthood Fundraiser” was advertised in LMU’s student calendar until this afternoon, after substantial media attention. Calls to the LMU media office to confirm the reason were not returned before publishing this article.

Then there are the students at Archbishop Riordan High School, a Catholic high school in San Francisco, which last year became co-ed after being an all-boys school. A recent school assembly featured pro-life speaker Megan Almon, part of the Life Training Institute, which, as Catholic News Agency states, seeks to “empower others with the knowledge and conviction necessary to make a case for life that changes hearts and minds.”

About five minutes into Almon’s speech, almost all 800 students walked out, leaving only a few dozen students left to listen to her talk. The interim president, Tim Reardon, appropriately defended the talk, telling CNA, “Many of the parents sent their kids to Catholic school so that the kids could learn about Catholic social teaching. To avoid these topics would be a failure to serve these individuals.”

The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University are investigating reports that male students from St. John’s held a “sex competition” to see who could score the most female sexual partners from the College of St. Benedict.

Students who were appalled by the news recently staged a walkout, because they believed that the colleges were not doing enough about the allegations. Aisha Sadik told those who gathered in protest, “Some Johnnies allow their peers and friends to get away with these actions because it has nothing to do with them. … Bennies have talked about how scared they feel walking alone at St. John’s University.”

In Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education by Pope St. John Paul II, he states, “If need be, a Catholic University must have the courage to speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society” (No. 32).

He specifically calls on Catholic educators to fulfill their duty in proclaiming the truth of the dignity of all human life. Especially in our current culture, these truths are not always popular, especially as we’ve seen in the debates over the Texas Heartbeat Bill.

Nevertheless, it is the purpose of Catholic education to teach truth in fidelity to our Catholic faith. When failures occur, Catholic families need the entire Church to stand with them in protecting students from scandal, rejecting institutions that deny the truth of Catholic teachings, and redoubling efforts to renew faithful Catholic education.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

sacred heart academy

A Parochial School Finds New Life in the Heart of a Parish

A few years ago, a visitor traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to tour Sacred Heart Academy, a classical, K-12, parochial Catholic school that has turned around completely after nearly closing its doors.

The visitor said, “This is incredible. This is like looking into the past.”

Fr. Robert Sirico, then the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, replied, “No, what you’re looking at is the future.”

A bright future for Catholic parochial schools would be a welcome change. The number of elementary students in parish schools has declined nearly 75 percent since the 1960s, and weak catechesis has propelled many Catholic parents toward independent schools and homeschooling.

But a change is underway. Sacred Heart Academy is one of a growing number of parochial schools that have embraced a more distinctly Catholic formation in both the faith and the liberal arts, which is attracting more Catholic families and strengthening parish life.

And Fr. Sirico, whose faith and leadership made the transformation possible at Sacred Heart, has helped spark excitement among other priests and bishops to bring about the renewal of parochial education.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…