Two Commencements that Exemplify Authentic Catholic Education

It is a great blessing to have been intimately and integrally involved in the restoration of authentic Catholic education in the United States over the past 17 years.

I arrived in this country, as an immigrant from England, to take up a position at Ave Maria College, the embryonic Ave Maria University, on September 7, 2001, four days before 9/11 – a baptism of fire! After teaching at Ave Maria, in Michigan and then in Florida, for 11 years, I spent two years at another Newman Guide school, Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, before moving on to Aquinas College in Nashville, yet another school listed in the Newman Guide. Today I am at the Augustine Institute in Denver, as well as serving as editor of this very Journal. My experience has been at the college level, therefore, so it is always good to experience Catholic education at the K-12 level, enabling a broader understanding of the full breadth of educational restoration and renewal. This being so, I have been particularly pleased to have been invited to give three commencement addresses this year, each of which offers a different perspective on Catholic education at grade school and high school level. One of these is still to come, so I will speak only of the two commencement addresses I have just given.

On Saturday, May 26th, I was greatly honoured to give the commencement address for the inaugural homeschool graduation for Aquinas Learning in Manassas, Virginia, which is described on its own website as being “a Catholic classical education mentoring program, which encourages students to behold, wonder, and contemplate, what is TRUE, GOOD, and BEAUTIFUL, in order to cultivate wisdom and virtue”. Aquinas Learning straddles the space between being a Catholic homeschool provider and a hybrid homeschool-high school, in which students from member families gather together one or two days a week to take classes with teachers who are often themselves homeschooling parents. In sharing their expertise in specific subjects, these teacher-parents can benefit the students of neighbouring families, as well as their own children. This arrangement, or modus operandi, is becoming increasingly popular around the country. Known as homeschool cooperatives or hybrid schools, these innovative and adventurous experiments in education offer a blend of what is best in homeschooling and what is best in the conventional model of schooling.

As an advocate of homeschooling, homeschool cooperatives and good authentically Catholic high schools, it was a joy and a privilege to be a part of Aquinas Learning’s first-ever graduation. I felt as though I was a guest in the midst of valiant pioneers.

Only three days after giving the commencement address in Virginia, I traversed the Deep South to give the commencement address at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. This offered me the experience of an entirely different aspect of the revival and restoration of authentic Catholic education.

Founded in 1996, Holy Spirit Prep seeks, according to its own mission statement, “to create a unique communion of joy among students, their families, and faculty and staff, in the context of a pre-eminent pre-K2 through 12th grade Catholic college preparatory school”. Specifically, the school aims to prepare its students “for a lifetime of happiness by inculcating in them three foundational virtues”:

First, we want them to have a deep and abiding faith in God’s blessings and love for them.

Second, we want them to exercise prudence – the ability to make good decisions for the rest of their lives – by obtaining a rigorous academic foundation, accompanied by the use of their own powers of reason.

Finally, we want them to embody magnanimity – a greatness of character and of soul – such that they may go through life with a spirit of courage, a spirit of joy, a spirit of kindness, and a spirit of generosity.

As I left Atlanta to return home, I felt a sense of gratitude that I had been privileged in the space of four short days to experience two commencements at two very different schools, exemplifying different ends of what might be considered the authentic and bona fide Catholic educational spectrum.

JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal. He is a senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and senior editor at the Augustine Institute. His books include biographical works on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn and Belloc.

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