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

George Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Simon Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic College Prepared Youth Minister to Overcome COVID Separation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Mark Kissinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kissinger Family

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Daniel Torres

FOCUS Missionary: Strong Catholic Education Offers ‘Lifechanging’ Experience

“Catholic education that is authentic, alive and abundant can be a lifechanging experience,” says Daniel Torres, a graduate of a faithful Catholic college.

For Torres, Belmont Abbey College, in Belmont, N.C., which is recommended in The Newman Guide, certainly made an impact. At the College, Torres met his wife and was prepared to “engage the world with truth, goodness and beauty.” He studied Theology, minored in theatre arts and was active in student clubs, campus life and service opportunities made possible by the College.

Torres graduated from Belmont Abbey in 2017 and now is a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary at Rice University in Houston, Tex., with his wife, Maddie. Many graduates of Newman Guide colleges have selflessly served as missionaries with FOCUS for a couple years after graduation.

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

Newman Society: How did your education at Belmont Abbey College help prepare you for your vocation and working in the New Evangelization?

Daniel and Maddie Torres
Daniel and Maddie Torres

Daniel Torres: The culture of excellence and virtue at Belmont Abbey prepared me not only for my call to ministry in evangelization, but also for the call to holiness through my vocation to marriage. My wife, Maddie, and I met freshman year and dated all throughout college. It was the foundation of authentic friendship established at the Abbey that helped Maddie and I have a strong community and witness to selfless love.

I always knew that I wanted to work in ministry, even before coming to Belmont Abbey.  However, I didn’t realize how much of an impact the faculty, staff and administration would have on that desire for ministry and sharing my faith. I received profound intellectual formation from my teachers in theology, providing me the opportunity to understand the significance of the truth of the Catholic faith.

The guidance and support of FOCUS missionaries at the Abbey probably had the greatest personal influence on my life. They instilled within me a deep awareness of the poverty of isolation and loneliness in today’s society. The only answer to that poverty is the love and mercy Jesus has to offer.

Newman Society: Why do you think a strong Catholic education is good preparation for a missionary?

Daniel Torres: I firmly believe that a strong Catholic education can prepare one to engage the world with truth, goodness and beauty. I was challenged by my teachers and peers to tackle tough topics head on and enter into dialogue. The Catholic worldview and values I received have been invaluable in my missionary efforts. The Catholic college campus is the perfect environment for peer-based ministry, which helps make Jesus come alive with students. 

Catholic education that is authentic, alive and abundant can be a lifechanging experience. It allows you to become the best person you can be, because you are surrounded by virtuous people who help reveal to you who you are. The whole process of holiness is recognizing the truth of who you are, but striving for the truth of who you’re meant to be. It is possible—and the best opportunity for that is found in Catholic education.

Maura Roan McKeegan

Children’s Author Inspired by Faithful Catholic College

Catholic families are always looking for beautiful Catholic books for children. An alumna of a faithful Catholic college is giving families more timeless options.

Maura Roan McKeegan says that her education in the theology graduate program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, inspired her to become an author. Now she’s published several Catholic children’s books as a fruit of her experience in the Franciscan University community, including St. Conrad and the Wildfire, just recently released.

The Cardinal Newman Society is grateful to McKeegan for sharing about the impact of her faithful Catholic education on her life and work, as a part of our “Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education” series.

Newman Society: Why did you choose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville? What impact did the University have on you?

Maura Roan McKeegan: When I was a young adult—after I graduated from a state university—I attended a summer conference at Franciscan University. I loved it so much that I went back the next year, and the next. I began to daydream of going there to study full-time. I wanted to know more about God, and I couldn’t think of a better place to learn. Franciscan had changed my life so much in three weekends; I could only imagine what three years there would do.

At first, it felt like an impossible dream. I was a classroom teacher and didn’t know how I could leave my job. But soon, God showed me that He was calling me to go to graduate school at Franciscan. I moved to Steubenville to pursue a master’s degree in theology, and Franciscan became a second home to me. The material I studied was so beautiful that it sometimes made me cry. The classes I took, books I read, and people I met helped me grow exponentially in the way I understood and lived my faith.

Eighteen years later, I am still here with my husband, raising our children in Steubenville, and marveling at the way God used three weekends to give me a gift that would last a lifetime.

Newman Society: How has your education at Franciscan University influenced your work as an author?

Maura Roan McKeegan: My education at Franciscan University inspired me to become an author. I remember sitting in Dr. Scott Hahn’s class and listening to him talk about typology—how Adam, Moses, and Jonah prefigured Christ; how Noah’s Ark prefigured baptism; how the Ark of the Covenant prefigured Mary. It was all new to me. I had just spent five years as a classroom teacher, and I thought to myself, “Children would be fascinated by this!”

I had the idea of writing a series of picture books that placed Old and New Testament stories side by side, so that children could see the connections. The idea stayed in my head for ten years, until I finally realized that God was calling me to write the series. Now, through Emmaus Road Publishing, I’ve written three books in that series, with a fourth currently being illustrated.

My newest book, St. Conrad and the Wildfire, is separate from the Old and New series. All of these books are the fruit of my time at Franciscan University, both as a student and as a member of the Franciscan family.

St. Conrad and the Wildfire book cover

Newman Society: Can you tell us about your recently released book for children, St. Conrad and the Wildfire?

Maura Roan McKeegan: About five years ago, I learned about St. Conrad for the first time and was immediately captivated by his story. He was a medieval nobleman who went hunting one day and accidentally set a forest on fire. He didn’t tell anyone the truth about what happened until an innocent peasant was blamed and sentenced to death, and only Conrad’s confession could save him. The course of events that began with his errors eventually led Conrad to become a saint.

St. Conrad’s story struck me as perfect for a picture book. With medieval nobles, a castle, hunting, fire, false accusation, a near execution and the challenge of telling the truth in the face of danger, it had all the elements of an exciting and enduring tale. I also loved how it showed that imperfect people can become saints—that our mistakes can become paths to grace. As a person who makes a lot of mistakes, I found that message consoling.

Newman Society: Why do you think beautiful and well-written Catholic books for children are important?    

Maura Roan McKeegan: Picture books are my hobby and my passion. I love the way they unite generations, when young and old cuddle up together and delight in stories that capture hearts through words and pictures. Beautiful and well-written Catholic picture books give us a way to follow what Jesus says when he tells us to “become like little children” in Matthew 18:3. When we sit with children and read aloud together, we build bonds of love in a world of childlike simplicity that children will remember long after they are grown. Beautiful picture books awaken lifelong connections between love, spiritual childhood and faith.

Students Learn Science, Ethics at Franciscan University

Studying the sciences at a faithful Catholic college, like Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, prepares students for their careers and for considering the moral dimension of their work. Students are given “tools to work through ethical decisions guided by the light of Truth,” says Dr. Dan Kuebler, dean of the natural and applied science programs at Franciscan University.

Dr. Kuebler believes Franciscan University graduates can make an impact through their witness in healthcare professions and help “rebuild a culture of life.” The Newman Society recently asked Dr. Kuebler to discuss what’s different about studying the sciences at Franciscan University, and about plans for future science offerings.

Newman Society: How does Franciscan University of Steubenville teach the sciences from an authentically Catholic perspective?

Dr. Kuebler: All of our students take an integrated core curriculum that enculturates them in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and, in particular, the theological and philosophical tradition of the Church. What they learn in these courses allows them to think critically about and fully engage with the learning experiences they have within the science programs.

Within the biology curriculum there are many issues that are discussed from a scientific perspective such as human sexual behavior, in vitro fertilization, cloning, contraception, etc. Students are not only taught about the latest science regarding these topics, but they also engage with their science faculty regarding the ethical and moral dimensions of these topics. Because they have been given the framework by which to engage these issues in their philosophy and theology classes, they are able to articulate and then ultimately defend the Catholic positions on these matters, positions that uphold the inherent dignity of human life.

If we fail to help our students achieve this integration, then we are not preparing them to live out their vocation as Catholic health care providers and scientists. We are not preparing them to be salt and light to a world sorely in need of a witness to the Truth.

Photo via Franciscan University of Steubenville

Newman Society: Last fall, Franciscan University unveiled a new biochemistry degree. Can you tell us about this exciting development, and other plans for science offerings at Franciscan?

Dr. Kuebler: The new biochemistry degree offers another science option for our students, particularly those interested in medical school and graduate school. The program takes the best of our existing biology and chemistry faculty along with new biochemistry faculty to produce a program that gets students into the lab doing research early on in the program.

In addition to the biochemistry degree, we are planning on launching four-year engineering degrees in Software Engineering and Mechanical Engineering over the next two and a half years. Currently we have partnership programs in which students spend two to three years on campus taking pre-engineering courses and then finish their engineering degree at a partner school.

While students in the program succeed academically at the partner schools, they do not want to leave the Franciscan academic community given the robust integration of faith, reason and community that exists here between our students, faculty and staff. Providing a high-quality fully accredited Bachelor of Science in engineering here on campus, we will be meeting the needs of these students as well as many other potential Catholic young women and men whom God has called to this field.

We are also expanding the cybersecurity course offerings within our computer science program with the aim of adding a certificate in cybersecurity to allow our students to have the preparation and hands-on experience to enter this burgeoning field.

Newman Society: Why do you think receiving a faithful Catholic education is crucial for future doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals?

Dr. Kuebler: There are so many ethical issues that scientific researchers and healthcare professionals face in the workplace. Too often, a utilitarian ethos drives medical decisions from end-of-life care to fertility treatments and leads to care and decisions that undermine the inherent dignity of human life.

By being immersed in the Catholic intellectual tradition and all its beauty and wisdom, our students have the tools to work through ethical decisions guided by the light of Truth. Their witness and ability to influence other healthcare professionals is the only manner in which we can hope to rebuild a culture of life that respects human life at all stages.

Newman Society: Franciscan is also well-known for its strong theology programs. How do the sciences and theology studies work together? Do many science students also minor in theology?

Dr. Kuebler: Our students must take three theology courses and three philosophy courses to graduate. Many students choose to take just three additional courses to minor in one of these two disciplines. Most of the science programs have five or six free electives, so it’s easy for students to do so.

This type of preparation only helps our students better articulate the beauty of the faith and navigate the ethical minefield of modern science and medicine in such a way as they bear witness to the Truth.

We host many interdisciplinary talks about topics such as gender ideology, fertility treatments, genetic modification and transhumanism so that students can hear from experts in both science, theology and philosophy on these topics. This type of integrated approach is essential for true learning.

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…

Thomas Aquinas College academics

Academic Program Sets Us Apart, Says Thomas Aquinas College Dean

It’s an exciting time at Thomas Aquinas College, which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity, with more students than ever benefiting from the faithful Catholic education provided by the College. The Santa Paula, Calif., campus reached full enrollment several years ago, but now TAC’s Northfield, Mass., campus allows for the College’s highest total enrollment ever.

The addition of the new campus has inspired several other developments, including a new motto for the College. The Newman Society recently asked Dr. John Goyette, dean of TAC, to discuss the motto and how it reflects the type of education that students receive.

Newman Society: What is the meaning behind the College’s new motto, Fides Quaerens Intellectum, or “Faith Seeking Understanding”? How does it relate to the College’s patron, St. Thomas Aquinas?

Thomas Aquinas College logo

Dr. Goyette: When we launched our New England campus last fall, we realized that we would need to update the Thomas Aquinas College crest, which previously read, “California – 1971.” Rather than trying to squeeze the name of both locations onto the crest, however, we decided to insert a motto—an expression of the essential nature of the institution. The College had never formally adopted a motto before, but the choice seemed obvious: St. Anselm’s description of the believer’s approach to learning, which is one of “faith seeking understanding.”

That short phrase tells you a great deal about Thomas Aquinas College. It tells you that our program is rooted in a desire to understand more perfectly, to see, as much as possible, what is first believed. It tells you that we have complete confidence in the compatibility of faith and reason, that we see natural science and mathematics not as threats to the Faith, but as ways to come to know and love God more deeply.

Although St. Thomas Aquinas did not coin the term “faith seeking understanding,” he embodied it. He labored his entire life to show how diligent study, illuminated by revelation, can bring us to some understanding of the mysteries of faith. More than any other Doctor of the Church, our patron shows us how the life of the mind is a foretaste of heaven, because it is there that the blessed—whose faith have given way to sight—have their desire to know Him perfectly satisfied.

Newman Society: How is this motto reflected in the education and student experience provided by the College?

Dr. Goyette: The entirety of Thomas Aquinas College’s academic program reflects that ours is a community of faith seeking understanding. Every student goes through the same integrated course of studies, which includes four years of natural science, four years of mathematics, four years of philosophy, four years of seminar (literature, history, and political science), two years of Latin, and one year of music—all ordered to four years of theology, the study of God.

At the heart of our curriculum are what we fondly call the great books, the original works of the greatest minds in our tradition, both ancient and modern. The great books explore the workings of the natural world, consider the most profound truths about the human person, and culminate in a contemplation of the greatest mysteries of God Himself.

Members of the teaching faculty—who are called “tutors”—guide small groups of students in discussions of these seminal works, employing what is known as the Discussion Method. In the classroom, 17 or 18 students sit around a table and, with a tutor as their guide, wrestle with the great books. Ideas are proposed and defended until, through discussion and argument, the class works its way toward an understanding of a given text. Together, in faith, we seek understanding and work toward truth—the Truth, Who is also the Way and the Life.

Newman Society: With the addition of the New England campus last fall, it’s an exciting time for the College. What do you think makes the College so attractive to Catholic families today?

Dr. Goyette: There are several colleges and universities today that offer a wholesome, faithful environment for Catholic students, as do both our California and New England campuses. But what sets Thomas Aquinas College apart, I believe, is our academic program, precisely because it is predicated on the notion of faith seeking understanding. We are the only Catholic college in the world that offers a curriculum based entirely on the great books and using the Discussion Method.

For 50 years we have held true to our founders’ vision of Catholic liberal education, and the results speak for themselves: not only does the College receive the endorsement of faithful Catholic programs such as The Newman Guide, it also consistently gets top rankings from secular publications, such as U.S. News and The Princeton Review, in recognition of our record of academic achievement. We also have alumni serving the Church and society throughout the world in every field and discipline—in technology, public service, education, law, medicine, and, of course, the priesthood and religious life.

I think that is probably what attracts Catholic families most of all. Here they know they can get an education that is both faithful and excellent, one which will prepare their children for whatever vocation or career to which they are called.

TAC New England campus
The College’s New England Campus

Newman Society: Anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Goyette: I guess I would point out that families ought not be deterred by one factor that, sometimes, will lead them to erroneously conclude that they cannot come to Thomas Aquinas College—the cost. In keeping with our Catholic mission, the College is committed to never turning away any student on the basis of financial means. We meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, and we cap student loans at $18,000 over four years. Last year Kiplinger rated the College #1 out of 1,200 colleges and universities on its “Best Value Colleges” list. Any student who is willing and able to be part of our community of faith seeking understanding can afford to do so.

Also, it’s worth noting that, for students who want to get a sense of whether Thomas Aquinas College is for them, there is no better way to find out than to visit. In particular, rising high school seniors should check out our two-week Summer Program, which is now available on both coasts.