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.

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.

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.

Scattered Catholic College Students Forge Ahead with Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Track and field

Catholic School Athletics Must Be Truthful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

False Freedom at Some Catholic Colleges

The purpose of higher education can be summed up in one word: truth. If a college is not genuinely committed to truth, then the education is not “higher” at all.

Today students and educators are greatly challenged by distortions of the truth about man and God. Some of the most faithful Catholic colleges respond admirably, helping their students and society navigate very confusing times. But too many other Catholic colleges are guilty of scandal, leading young people away from truth and toward dangerous ideologies and falsehoods.

At Notre Dame of Maryland University next week, in the midst of Lent, former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and outspoken dissident Sister Jeannine Gramick will be featured at a women’s event presented by the university. Richards is responsible for thousands upon thousands of abortions.

By definition, a Catholic college is devoted to teaching and learning truth, beginning with the firm foundation of Catholic teaching. There is no possible way that presenting Cecile Richards and Sister Gramick accomplishes that mission. It is directly opposed to it.

When such events are criticized, Catholic college leaders will sometimes assert that, well, a college should be free to invite anyone it wants to speak on any topic. The claim is that freedom is needed to discover truth by reason, which it certainly is. But if truth is the aim, then a serious educator would place equal emphasis on upholding what is known to be true and rejecting falsehood. This is especially important at an authentic Catholic college, which is founded upon the conviction that God’s revelation through Christ and His Church is true.

Richards and Gramick oppose Catholic teaching and even natural law. Their advocacy is an attack on truth. Their falsehood is a severe limitation on freedom and an obstacle to students’ unity with God.

On Feb. 4, the University of Notre Dame hosted a panel discussion on “Affirming Care for Gender-Diverse Youth.” The event, presented by the Gender Studies Program at the university, urged that children be allowed to decide for themselves whether they are boys or girls. It endorsed horrific procedures to help children live out their new identities.

Again, such events are often defended by asserting a radicalized, absolute freedom to dialogue while claiming to pursue truth. But what’s presented is known falsehood. That might not be apparent at a secular college, but it should be obvious at a college that roots all of its teaching and research in the truth of Christianity.

Moreover, as at so many other such events, Notre Dame made no pretense of dialogue — not even one speaker who could defend the truths about man and sexuality that have been embraced by humanity for millennia. Notre Dame alumna Alexandra DeSanctis reports that all of the panel’s speakers were “entirely in agreement” on the possibility of sex change, which is in disagreement with Catholic teaching.

Then there’s Loyola University Maryland, which was featured at The Washington Post this week for its Sunday night Mass “incorporating Jimi Hendrix music, ‘Batman’ film clips, YouTube videos on current events” and other innovations chosen by students.

The article quotes the university’s director of student engagement: “For our students who were raised Catholic, there’s that piece of wanting to respect tradition, but then I think about who I was when I went off to college. There’s that desire to have more fun, to be more personally engaged, even to rebel. This Mass answers that as well.”

But does it embrace truth, beauty and goodness? Does it adore, worship and give glory to Truth Himself, present in the Eucharist? Certainly not. This is reminiscent of the 1970s “clown Masses,” appealing to the same base desires for entertainment and excitement, focused on the self instead of the Son of God in flesh and blood. I wonder if many people who were enthralled by clown Masses are faithful Catholics today?

Catholic families would do well to consider their college choices carefully. It makes no sense to invest four years of a young person’s life — and thousands of dollars — only to be taught a distorted view of humanity, morality and reality. Today this is the norm at secular colleges and even many Catholic ones.

Find a faithful Catholic college — not simply with a Catholic heritage or a Catholic appearance, but humbly devoted to truth. The college years are so crucial to a student’s preparation for life!

“Sociological studies tell us that between the ages 18-24… three things happen to young people: they develop life-long relationships, they make the faith their own, and they discover their vocation,” says Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

“This is why, when I talk to seniors in high school, I tell them that choosing a college isn’t a four-year decision — it is a 40-year decision,” he says. At Benedictine and other Newman Guide colleges, that outlook is apparent.

Unless a Catholic college is obviously and deeply committed to the full truth of the Catholic faith, it has compromised its mission. Catholic families deserve authentic Catholic education, and they shouldn’t settle for less.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Let’s Follow Bishop Paprocki’s Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Chapel at Franciscan University

True Love at Faithful Catholic Colleges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Celebrate the Students Who Marched for Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

UMary students March for Life

Students Make History at the March for Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.