For Catholic Schools, Now’s a Time to Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Formation of Mind, Body and Soul

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining Catholic Identity

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Although Dispersed, Catholic Colleges Preserve Faith Communities

One of the distinguishing factors of a faithful Catholic college is its vibrant community life. Students spend four years immersed in a truly Catholic culture, where faith and virtue are promoted and students, faculty and staff make friendships to last a lifetime.

Now faithful Catholic colleges have closed their campuses to curb the spread of COVID-19, and students are dispersed around the country—but community life has not come to an end. These colleges are taking innovative steps to continue Catholic fellowship and stay connected.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Webinar: Maintaining Catholic Identity in Home-based Instruction

Dr. Dan Guernsey, senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society, and Tyler Graham of Donahue Academy offer this webinar on “Maintaining Catholic Identity in Home-based Instruction.”

Click on this link or the video below to view the full webinar.

You can find the corresponding Issue Bulletin at

Keeping the ‘Catholic’ in Distance Learning

Faithful Catholic schools are far better for Catholics than public schools. But how do they maintain their distinctive advantage when students are forced to stay home?

In important ways, Catholic schools are doing just that with the help of students’ parents. And in this time of anxiety and isolation, the special character of Catholic schools is more important than ever.

“For Catholic educators, this trying experience can serve as a time to recall what Catholic schools do both differently and do well,” write Dr. Denise Donohue and Dr. Dan Guernsey of The Cardinal Newman Society in “Maintaining Catholic Identity in Distance Learning Instruction.” “We are good at community, prayer, integral formation, and creating a Catholic worldview.”

Those four characteristics are repeatedly cited in Vatican documents as essential to Catholic education, and they suggest a good framework for ensuring that the “Catholic” of Catholic education remains strong, even when it is done remotely.

Community life under quarantine

In a crisis, families need community like never before. And even with social distancing—or perhaps especially because of social distancing—Catholics need each other for support and sanity.

For many families, a good Catholic school is a center of Christian fellowship with school leaders, teachers and other families. That’s because Catholic schools teach students how to build authentic human relationships, and since witness is a powerful teacher, they model Christian communion in every classroom and activity.

“It is through the community that students receive ‘a systematic and critical assimilation of culture’ which passes along our Catholic traditions, values and beliefs,” note Donohue and Guernsey. “In Catholic education, the community itself is considered a formative and educative means of student formation and development, where students learn Christian values by being exposed to Christian values—primarily through the witness of adults and others with whom they interact daily.”

This community remains vital to Catholic distance learning, and teachers especially can be present to students and parents in their online classes, communications and prayers together.

“How much more important now is the presence of the teacher in these unsettling times, when coming together is difficult and ‘social distancing’ is the norm,” ask Donohue and Guernsey.

Teachers can make a special effort to write handwritten letters to students, make phone calls and send video clips—always communicating through the parents, of course. In addition to giving lessons online, teachers should be “speaking from the heart and saying and doing human things to lighten the load and let students know you miss them but are in good humor.” Most importantly, teachers and families should be praying for each other and with each other, whenever possible.

Prayer and sacrament

At faithful Catholic schools, students experience reverent Mass, Confession, frequent prayer and Eucharistic adoration. But confined to home without physical access to churches, Catholic school students may be feeling as much of a loss as adults.

Still, this “does not mean that our hearts and minds should be allowed to go on a spiritual vacation,” warn Donohue and Guernsey. Teachers should begin every online class with prayer, just as in the classroom. And parents should be encouraged to continue school practices such as morning prayer and the Angelus at Noon.

Involving parents and siblings in the school’s daily prayer life can be a positive outcome of schooling at home. “Helping families start these family rituals now can have a lasting effect on children’s faith development for years to come. In some cases, families may be relying on us to pray with and form their students, and now is an opportunity to fully engage the domestic Church and leverage fuller participation moving forward.”

Parents should be encouraged to mimic the physical arrangement of the school—not only designated work spaces and well-lit, quiet rooms for online coursework, but also the distinctive Catholic imagery and prayer spaces found in a Catholic school. If a home does not already have a substantial amount of Catholic artwork and a dedicated prayer corner (with crucifix, Bible, prayer cards, etc.), that can be easily remedied.

Forming mind, body, spirit

A faithful Catholic school is not only concerned about academics. It looks to form the student to be physically healthy and strong, morally clean and virtuous, and spiritually on the path to sainthood.

“Specifically tying subject-area materials to lessons on virtue or the faith can help make connections between course subjects such as history or English,” suggest Donohue and Guernsey. “Identifying virtues and essential questions will help parents enter into the teaching, exemplifying concepts through discussion and example.”

The loss of school athletics will be keenly felt by students, and they are likely to get less exercise at home, especially if they have access to computer games and television. Educators can encourage walking and bike riding, as well as physical activities like arts and crafts or playing instruments.

A Catholic school teacher, concerned as much for the student’s welfare as for the ease of using computers for teaching and communication, will also recognize the dangers of forcing students to sit at a screen for much of the day.

“Whenever possible, break up discussion with individual work that students can do with pencil and paper or reading from a physical text,” advise Donohue and Guernsey. “Teacher teams may want to quantify, coordinate, and ration screen time as a ‘corporal work of mercy’ to our poor students!”

Teaching a Catholic worldview

“…Catholic education does not just teach secular subjects like other schools but also imparts a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture, and of history, ordering the whole of human culture to the news of salvation,” write Donohue and Guernsey.

This integrated approach with God the Creator as the foundation of every study requires some effort within distance learning. Teachers will be tempted to water down courses to facts that are easiest to teach remotely, but good Catholic school teachers will not neglect the importance of group discussion and opportunities to highlight truths that are evident in math, science, history, literature and more.

Ultimately, “a Catholic school can never go wrong with a good supply of literature to recommend.” Allowing more time for students to read classic works at home does not detract from a Catholic education—it enhances it.

Overall, the COVID pandemic is making it very tough for Catholic schools to pay employees and plan for the future, but students can still be given an excellent Catholic education. If Catholic educators work to develop “thoughtful and comprehensive strategies to try to compensate for the suspension of in-person instruction,” argue Donohue and Guernsey, then they can continue to exhibit the strengths of Catholic schools.

The greatest of these strengths is love. Educators can show “comfort and mercy” to “stressed and overwhelmed” students and be true partners to parents, who may be trying to work from home while ensuring that students’ education continues without interruption.

When this time of “stay at home” and social distancing is over, teachers and students will be eager to return to their schools. In the meantime, distance learning can be truly Catholic and preserve the unparalleled advantages of Catholic education.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Maintaining Catholic Identity in Distance Learning Instruction

With little time to prepare, Catholic schools have had to respond quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving education from traditional brick-and-mortar buildings to students’ homes. Thousands of teachers are now seeking to re-package instruction tailored to distance learning.

A common way for teachers to facilitate at-home education is to copy worksheets and send home textbooks with a list of weekly assignments. This is generally done when a student is ill, but in this new extended learning arrangement worksheets and textbooks alone are not sufficient to convey the richness of the Catholic curriculum which, for most schools, has taken years to develop. 

Catholic schools are not only content providers but also evangelical learning communities.  It’s important that we come at this situation with our own needs and goals in mind. Facing weeks of missed in-class instruction and the loss of all the critical formation that happens outside of the classroom in a Catholic school, we need to devise more thoughtful and comprehensive strategies to try to compensate for the suspension of in-person instruction.

The first step is to make explicit what we do on a daily basis that makes Catholic education unique and then seek to find ways to translate as much of that magic as possible to a distance learning environment. Vatican documents on education identify several distinctive elements of Catholic education, including:

  1. the centrality of community and importance of relationships;
  2. the presence of a rich prayer and sacramental life;
  3. the integral formation of students’ minds, bodies, and spirits; and
  4. the development of a Catholic understanding of the world.

This is quite an amazing mission and a huge mandate. It is important to acknowledge up front that it simply cannot be as effectively and powerfully accomplished on-line and at home as it can where we are gathered as a community and interacting with each other personally. Catholicism is all about reality and real physical presence. We are all feeling this now, as we do our best to attend “Online Mass,” which is perhaps the best we can get at the moment—but it pales in comparison to the power of being in each other’s presence as we approach HIS presence in the Eucharist we share. So by all means let’s do what we can, but let’s be transparent that this is a time of separation and shadow, until we can once again be with the students we love and bring the full force of our apostolate to bear.

What follows are few practical tips for conducting our rich mission in a diminished environment. How can Catholic schools continue to provide these key aspects of Catholic education?

The Centrality of Community and Importance of Relationships

So much of who we are in Catholic education is based on our existence as a faith-based community, where we gather together to see, hear, and be with each other in prayer. Participation in the Sacraments, feast-day celebrations, prayer, and rituals form the basis of daily interaction and activities. The regular school day also has other community building activities like class meetings, breaks, games, and just time to hang out with each other. All day long we are building community with each other in school, and it has a cumulative effect of creating and transmitting culture. It is through the community that students receive “a systematic and critical assimilation of culture”1 which passes along our Catholic traditions, values, and beliefs. In Catholic education, the community itself is considered a formative and educative means of student formation and development,2 where students learn Christian values by being exposed to Christian values—primarily through the witness of adults and others with whom they interact daily.

How much more important now is the presence of the teacher in these unsettling times, when coming together is difficult and “social distancing” is the norm. Teachers can never be as present in distant learning programs as they are in a real classroom, so it is all the more important to do as much as possible to bridge the gap. It is assumed that teachers will be posting video help for lessons and instruction to the degree possible, but among the community building options available are short videos from the teacher, not just explain a lesson introduction, but speaking from the heart and saying and doing human things to lighten the load and let students know you miss them but are in good humor. Perhaps sending a personal video to a student (copying the parent) on his or her birthday or feast day or recording a dramatic reading of a story or poem for all the children to watch. Take a video of your garden or other image that makes them think of something you all learned or did together.

High-tech options include a livestream class meeting using Teams, Zoom, or some other group conference platform such as podcasts and class chat forums. Make this optional for younger students and give parents at least 24 hours’ notice. Shared social time with you and their classmates may be a welcome break to their home isolation. You can also do a live reading of a story to them for educational purposes without copyright infringement.3

Low-tech ways to keep students close might be through a weekly phone call to each of them. Or even write them a letter or card and mail it—they will likely remember it for the rest of their lives. Finally pray for each one of your students daily by name at a particular time and let them know it. This is a time none of us will soon forget! Don’t forget to reach out to parents as well and let them know that you are willing to facilitate help for any particular needs by leveraging school resources.

Older students will enjoy many of the previous contact ideas, but in addition they can be encouraged to sustain community through online “household” social media activities. Both college campuses and high schools have found great success with the household system, which merges various grades or groups together to form smaller sub-communities. This does not have to end with distance learning. There are many opportunities for interaction and joyful competition between groups. These fun competitions direct students’ energy and focus during down time and help maintain peer connections.

The Presence of a Rich Prayer and Sacramental Life

To the degree possible, keep the school’s daily prayer cycles going. If the school day starts with a specific prayer, encourage parents to continue the practice. Remind them that at school, grace and/or the Angelus is said before lunch and to please continue that with the students.

If a class is being live-streamed, then of course it is good to start with a prayer led by the teacher or one student. (Choral prayer or responses do not work well online.)

Not being able to participate together in the Sacraments does not mean that our hearts and minds should be allowed to go on a spiritual vacation. If anything, this is a time to look at what our lives would be like if we didn’t have the Sacraments. Why is attending Mass or going to confession so important? What would my life be like if these activities were permanently eliminated?

If possible, perhaps arrange for an all-school Mass to be video-streamed by the school’s chaplain. This can provide a common experience and keep students and teachers tied to each other in prayer.

Recognizing that students may not engage in prayer at home as frequently as they do in school, make extra efforts to insert prayer and Catholic themes into home assignments.

Provide mothers and fathers, the spiritual heads of the domestic Church, with suggestions for leading the family in morning and evening prayer, the Rosary, the Church’s daily Mass readings, the Liturgy of the Hours, or Lenten Stations of the Cross. Allow time for students to personally reflect on provided prompts or using Lectio Divina4 to more deeply uncover how God is speaking to the heart can be done by children as well as adults. Following the Church’s liturgical cycle at home as we do in school is also important. Families can now perhaps more purposefully than ever enter into that cycle by introducing new novenas,5 praying together at certain times of the day,6 and teaching their children how to do an examination of conscience7 before they go to bed. Helping families start these family rituals now can have a lasting effect on children’s faith development for years to come. In some cases, families may be relying on us to pray with and form their students and now is an opportunity to fully engage the domestic Church and leverage fuller participation moving forward.

Unlike Catholic school buildings with religious art and classrooms with prayer corners, some homes may have few religious items and no sacred spaces set aside to contemplate God’s word. Since the pandemic has prevented many people from entering the sacred space of our churches, now would be a good time to suggest to families to set aside sacred spaces in the home where children can go throughout the day to quiet their hearts and minds and thank God for His gifts, express sorrow for their failings, or ask for His assistance. A simple crucifix, a picture of Jesus or the Holy Family, a Rosary, or prayer cards can initiate a contemplative, prayerful space.

The Integral Formation of Students’ Minds, Bodies, and Spirits

Distance education lends itself to content delivery and detached academic skills, but in the process may not fully provide for the integral intellectual, physical, and spiritual needs of students. Special effort is needed to maintain this essential aspect of Catholic education.

To avoid the disaggregation of knowledge, which can arise when assignments are provided strictly by subject area, the use of broad essential questions can help tie discrete subjects together. In the classroom, quite often it is the teacher who helps make these connections, so it is important to continue integration through learning at home.

Using problem- and project-based learning approaches may also help facilitate interdisciplinary learning. When using these approaches, develop and provide grading rubrics to students when assignments are given, and suggest online resources and directions where to find them.

As for spiritual development, the above section on prayer already touched on some ways to ensure that we are educating students’ hearts and souls, but special effort toward this end should also be made whenever possible in various subject areas. Specifically tying subject-area materials to lessons on virtue or the faith can help make connections between course subjects such as history or English. Identifying virtues and essential questions will help parents enter into the teaching, exemplifying concepts through discussion and example.

Helping older students reach a deeper level of academic and moral formation through contemplation of rich and complex artistic and philosophical material may benefit from the use of Socratic seminars8 or guided discussions.9 These can be done in synchronous or asynchronous10 online options. In the synchronous option, the teacher and students meet online at a designated time (always allow enough time and patience to ensure the workings of technology) and discuss a text using traditional Socratic etiquette. If synchronous is not an option, teachers can set-up discussion prompts and require each student to make an original response to an online prompt and then two additional responses to comments made by other classmates. This asynchronous option requires an original response to a discussion prompt which ends with a required question, such as “Is this what you think?” or “Have I found all the pertinent aspects?” This is done to generate discussion, further conversation, and facilitate the gathering of different viewpoints and aspects of the topic under consideration.

While “engagement” is the buzz word in the classroom, it is even more important in a distance learning arrangement. Opportunities for interaction among teacher and students and students among themselves will help keep students motivated. Research indicates that high interaction and instructor support through online courses lead to greater course success.11

According to one research report,12 distance instructors who are effective have good:

  • course planning and organizational skills specific to distance environments;
  • verbal and nonverbal presentation skills specific to distance learning situations;
  • ability to involve and coordinate student activities among several sites;
  • communication and classroom organizational skills;
  • collaborative work with others to produce effective courses; and
  • ability to use questioning strategies.

Integral formation also provides for the health and training of students’ bodies. Even though students cannot gather together to play sports, teachers can encourage time spent each day in some form of physical exercise. Some may be able to gather with peers (while practicing social distancing) and go for a walk or bike ride with a friend. Additionally, bodily activities are not limited to athletics but also involve physical activities such as arts, crafts, and music.

Be aware of the physical toll of extensive screen time. While live-stream instruction is a very useful and effective way to build community and keep more intimate and direct contact with students, there are some real limitations. Platforms like Microsoft Teams or Zoom are quite good in replicating a type of classroom environment in real time, but extended use throughout the day can be very hard on teachers and students. Eye strain and headaches are a common side effect as well as just plain burnout if trying to keep it up all day. If going this route, consider designing lots of screen breaks throughout each class and throughout the school day. Students should be asked to look at the screen primarily when class discussions are taking place. Whenever possible, break up discussion with individual work that students can do with pencil and paper or reading from a physical text. Teacher teams may want to quantify, coordinate, and ration screen time as a “corporal work of mercy” to our poor students! And again, get the students moving constantly throughout the day, including in class when possible.

To the extent possible, give the kids and families (and yourself) a break! These are trying times. Do your best to deliver core academic material to the degree possible in the midst of a very real and historic crisis. Then take a deep breath and see how different kids and families respond. To the stressed and overwhelmed, provide comfort and mercy; to the frustrated super-students, develop scads of tailored supplemental material so they can keep flying. Just remember, this too shall pass, and (except for high school seniors) we will have time to get everything back on track later. The whole world is on pause, and we should proceed as best we can, knowing that folks remember how they were treated in a crisis.

Remember to provide accommodations to those students who qualify for them. During this time, students who require accommodations may be the most needy. Fortunately, most accommodations already require the use of individualized online programs and if not already in use, look into the accessibility of them, or ask someone to do that for you. Perhaps this would be a great way to use an hourly employee who might be otherwise laid off.  

The Development of a Catholic Understanding of the World

Understandably teachers will rely heavily on material produced by secular educators to get through the first stages of distance education. Publisher-designed worksheets and websites are a logical first place to turn. However, in many cases such resources are insufficient, as Catholic educators teach more. The Congregation for Catholic Education reminds us that Catholic education does not just teach secular subjects like other schools but also imparts a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture, and of history, ordering the whole of human culture to the news of salvation.

The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Curriculum Standards13 provide a framework for keeping your curriculum “Catholic”. They purposefully ensure that a Catholic interpretive framework is present and articulated in various academic disciplines.

Additionally, many Catholic publishers already offer textbooks and additional resources online. Some links are provided below.

Finally, a Catholic school can never go wrong with a good supply of literature to recommend. Have students constantly reading a good book. Not everything needs to be formally assessed. The Cardinal Newman Society (as well as other reputable Catholic organizations) have recommended reading lists for different ages. Whenever possible try to get a hard-copy book in front of them, especially as screen time has increased for many students right now. If a home library is thin, then there are plenty of free online books through Kindle, Spark and others.

A pleasurable alternative is to play an audio book suitable to the age range in the household and have students draw, build a puzzle, or work with Legos or clay while they listen—which they often will happily do for an hour or more under the right conditions.

A recent study reported that students do learn differently when comparing online reading to reading from an actual text. Students annotate and highlight more in hard texts (even though both means have this capability), but reading comprehension actually improves with highlighting texts online.

For Catholic educators, this trying experience can serve as a time to recall what Catholic schools do both differently and do well: we are good at community, prayer, integral formation, and creating a Catholic worldview. We now get to try this in greater partnership with our parents to get through this crisis. Once this is all over, we can come together to re-dedicate ourselves to the value of our classrooms, relationships, and awesome calling.


Webinar to Accompany this Document:


Mass Online:

Catholic Online School: Daily Online Mass Readings with Deacon Keith Fournier.

FORMED: Lenten Reflections, religious movies, devotions, cartoons, and more:

Holy Heroes Sunday Mass preparation for kids:

Stations of the Cross with Fr. Robert Barron (for high school students and adults):


The Catholic Curriculum Standards, from the Cardinal Newman Society:

Called to Be More! Free 5-week trial. Based on St. John Paul IIs Theology of the Body, this program is fully online and accessible for teachers and students in grades PreK-5 and 9-12. The high school program was designed to conform with the Bishops Curriculum Framework for high school students and can be accessed here: The K-5 program:

Virtual Book Fairs for Catholic Schools: Leisure reading for Catholic children. Provides a rebate back to the school when you include your school’s code:

Kolbe Academy Online: Free literature lesson plans:

Standards for Online Course Preparation:

Institute for Catholic Liberal Education School@Home Resources:

Arts of Liberty project developed by Master of Classical Education program to support online learning. Links to lessons, study guides, and textbooks on Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy, Theology, Philosophy, Politics, History, Literature, and Natural Sciences:

Institute for Excellence in Writing is offering a free, completely digital, three-week program of English language arts instruction that covers writing, grammar, vocabulary, and poetry memorization for grades 3-12.




homeschool student

Could You Be Schooling at Home… Indefinitely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrate School with Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, Love Come First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pace Yourself and Your Child

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

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

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

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

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

Teach with Confidence

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Institute of Catholic Culture lecture banner

You’re Invited: Lenten Webinar with Newman Scholar

This Lent, you have a great opportunity to meditate on the mysteries of time, salvation, and God’s protective grace with our patron St. John Henry Newman and his inspiring poem, “Dream of Gerontius.”

Today, Dr. Bernadette Ward will present a webinar with the Institute of Catholic Culture, “I am Near to Death: A Study of Newman’s ‘Dream of Gerontius.’” The Cardinal Newman Society has been thrilled to help arrange this special event, and we hope that you will join us.

You can register here for the webinar that will take place Tuesday, March 31, from 8-9 p.m. ET, with discussion beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Also see our exclusive interview with Dr. Ward below! She is a Newman scholar and professor of English at the University of Dallas, which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.

Newman Society: A strong Catholic education depends heavily on reading and discussing good literature. In the Newman Society’s guide to literature policies in Catholic K-12 schools, we emphasize literature that helps students learn “what it means to be a fully actualized, good human being” and to know and love God. How does literature serve this purpose at the college level?

Dr. Ward: At the college level, it is vital to engage not only with literature that builds us up but also with literature that shows us the consequences of various ideas—for instance, right now I am reading Frankenstein with my students, and discussing the consequences of calling life into being without respect for the mystery of God’s creative love. The book points readers to that mystery in allusions to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Of course, one can also read more complex writings, from historical backgrounds that require a stretch of the imagination to inhabit, Renaissance sensibilities or medieval sensibilities that require a transformation of the way we envision the cosmos. That’s very good for people who are often stuck in our narrow present time, in a cold universe unconcerned, as far as their culture tells them, with love and beauty.

Newman Society: You are an expert on St. John Henry Newman’s poem “Dream of Gerontius” and will be presenting a webinar about it on March 31. Can you explain the lessons that this poem teaches Catholics, especially during this holy season of Lent?

Dr. Ward: John Henry Newman kept his eye steadily on the most important matters: death and judgment, heaven and hell, and his relationship with God. The centrality of that, and how to cope with the loss of literally everything, on one’s way to God—these are some of the important things Newman is dealing with, along with the final impotence of evil and the joy of even suffering for the sake of seeing God. Our culture does not value suffering much; Newman did.

Newman Society: This time of “social distancing” might be a good opportunity for Catholics to acquaint themselves with good literature. Not many people are aware of St. John Henry Newman’s fiction and poetry. Do you have any special recommendations?

Dr. Ward: Other poems, such as “A Word in Season,” “Lead, Kindly Light” (“The Pillar of the Cloud”) or “The Sign of the Cross” are all available at for free. Frankly, his sermons are a lot better than his novels. Try “Ventures of Faith” for starters.

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.

Catholic Colleges Refuse to Disintegrate Faith from Science, Says Newman President

Our Sunday Visitor recently published the following article online, featuring Newman Society President Patrick Reilly:

There is a false notion that religion is an impediment to science. It is a contention that students in the sciences of biology will likely confront in their field. Educators at committed Catholic colleges explain that faith and science are in harmony with one another, and it is part of their mission to help students understand that.

Good Catholic institutions integrate these two bodies of knowledge since God is the author of both, and faith united with science provides moral safeguards. In the field of biology, however, where creating human life in petri dishes and changing the DNA of a human embryo are possible, human beings mistakenly think that they can play God.

“It’s not really a matter of integrating faith with science, it’s refusing to follow the atheist approach of disintegrating faith from science,” according to Patrick Reilly, president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes faithful Catholic education and publishes the annual Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. “A Catholic school or college should be eager to address obvious and fundamental questions of where things come from, who designed such amazingly complex systems, what are the purposes of things, and what is man’s role in nature. Science, like every discipline, is better understood and appreciated with the insights of Christianity.”

Continue reading at Our Sunday Visitor…

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.