Faith in Action Blog
For administrators at St. Anthony Catholic School in Sterling, Colo., the situation was bleak. Facing financial peril, the elementary school considered shutting its doors earlier this year. Then, administrators decided to try something new — which, in fact, was really something quite old.
Like many Catholic schools across the country, St. Anthony’s is going back to its roots by embracing the Church’s patrimony of liberal education. “We’ve always distinguished ourselves by our faith, but also academically. We thought this was the best thing,” says Principal Joseph Skerjanec in a Catholic News Agency article. “The purpose of education ultimately is to get to heaven, and we feel this is the best route for us to do that.”
St. Anthony’s is gradually transitioning to a classical curriculum, one that utilizes the great books and which is aimed at teaching students how to think critically by way of the liberal arts. Perhaps not coincidentally, the pedagogical shift has accompanied a tremendous fundraising campaign — which set out to garner $600,000, but yielded $1.1 million — and the renewal of St. Anthony Catholic School.
Assisting St. Anthony’s in its tradition is an alumnus and tutor of Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), who also serves as the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. Dr. Seeley has prepared the school’s staff to teach from a classical curriculum.
Dr. Seeley is just one of many Thomas Aquinas College alumni who are playing an active role in the resurgence of classical education at Catholic elementary and high schools. To name just a few:
- Laura Berquist (’75) founded the international online distance-learning program Mother of Divine Grace School.
- Marguerite (Ford ’79) Grimm is the headmaster of Saint Monica Academy in Pasadena, Calif.
- Michael Van Hecke (’86) is the headmaster at St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, Calif.
- Luke Macik (’87) and Mark Langley (’89) are the headmaster and academic dean, respectively, of The Lyceum in Euclid, Ohio.
- Luke Culley (’94) and Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) have founded Gregory the Great Academy in Falls Church, Va.
- Rev. Mark Moriarty (’95) is the superintendent of St. Agnes School in St. Paul, Minn., and the pastor of the parish.
Many more alumni are also teaching at such schools. Eight members of last year’s Class of 2013, for example, accepted positions at schools with classical curricula. Six of those were at the Great Hearts Academies in Arizona, where some 17 alumni teach, and one graduate serves as an assistant headmaster. A restoration in classical liberal education is under way, and Thomas Aquinas College alumni are at its forefront.
“Last night I dreamt that Mission Today took place at TAC,” writes Jillian Cooke (’04) on her Facebook page.
Mission Today is a conference sponsored by the Fr. Kolbe Missionaries of the Immaculata, a worldwide secular institute of pontifical right, of which Miss Cooke is a consecrated member. In 2010 she took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The purpose of her commitment, she explained in an article for the Thomas Aquinas College Alumni Newsletter, was, “living the intimacy of the cloister in the world of secular society.”
Four years later, Miss Cooke will be a featured speaker at the Missionaries’ conference on Saturday in West Covina, Calif. There she will speak alongside Rev. Edward Benihoff, whom Archbishop José Gomez recently appointed as Director of the Office for the New Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Her talk, “An Analysis of Mary’s Role in Evangelization,” is one of a series of presentations on the theme, “Dialogue and Inculturation: The Relationship Between Charism and Culture.”
“I turned into my 18-year-old self,” continues Miss Cooke’s Facebook post about her dream of returning to her alma mater. “ It was hilarious, once I woke up.”
She then gets to the heart of the matter: “Why am I telling you this? BECAUSE THERE IS ONLY ONE DAY LEFT TO REGISTER, AND I KNOW THAT IF YOU COME YOU WILL LOVE IT. There are no chalkboards. THANK GOD.”
Indeed, Friday is the last day to register, so go sign up now — before it is too late!
Timed for the Feast of St. Tomas Aquinas, alumnus Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has published a thoughtful article about the College’s patron on Catholic Exchange. In it, Mr. Fitzpatrick discusses the child-like simplicity and innocence that made Thomas both a saint and the Church’s Universal Doctor:
Though Thomas Aquinas was a man of formidable stature with a fair head like the sun at the crest of a hill, he possessed a delicate genius. He looked upon the world with the authentic wonder and perceptive power of a youth, and engaged it with a youth’s zeal, honesty, and solemnity. There are few things more serious than a child engrossed in his play, and Thomas resembled one of these in his work. The brilliance of his writings shines with a virtuosity like play. Though the connotation may exist, and with good reason, to depict or classify Thomas as an austere academic of furrowed brow and no nonsense, there is a straightforward delight and precision about this saint and his compositions that can evoke the schoolboy as much as the scholastic.
The heart of this mystery surrounding Thomas Aquinas is a terrible innocence. By a miraculous grace, Thomas was permitted to retain a moral integrity throughout his fifty years of life, and a disposition that was not drawn towards the darker regions of human depravity. His sins were reputedly the simple sins of small children, and this virtue freed his intellect from the temptations and distractions that drive away wisdom. Thomas had the liberty to examine the intricacies of the worlds around him unencumbered with the disturbances that human nature often introduces.
The full article is available via Catholic Exchange. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!
On weekdays, Rose Halpin (’06) serves as the head of technical services at Westchester Public Library in Chesterton, Ind., where she runs the cataloguing department for two branches and a museum. For one weekend a month and two weeks each summer, though, she assumes an entirely different role as an officer in the 470th Movement Control Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve.
In February, 2nd Lt. Halpin will take a four-month leave of absence from her library duties for Military Police training. That program follows three months of training last summer, when she completed Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga. As a reserve she will mostly fulfill her six-year commitment to the Army stateside unless, of course, she is deployed — a likely possibility.
Does she look forward to serving overseas? “No, we all want world peace,” 2nd Lt. Halpin told the Chesterton Tribune. “But that’s what I signed up for. I wanted to do something more significant in my life. Nobody’s going to live or die by the cataloging decisions I make. I saw this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons and give back. I’ll be changing myself as a person and be part of something that’s bigger than me, to help others.”
Upon graduating from OCS, 2nd Lt. Halpin reflected that the liberal education she received at the College had prepared her well. “I’ve been taught how to think about things and analyze things. It’s been a broadening experience,” she said. “When you’re leading people, and responsible for people, if you can’t look at the big picture and know where you’re going, you’re going to have a big problem.”
Angela Connelly (’87), left, at a hearing in Olympia
Seattle’s Crosscut.com reports that legislation requiring Washington employers to fund abortion coverage appears destined for failure — thanks, in part, to the work of Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly, an alumna of the College and a member of its Board of Governors.
Under the provisions of the perversely named Reproductive Parity Act, all insurance plans in the state of Washington that cover maternity care would be compelled to pay for abortion coverage as well. Employers with moral objections would thus be forced either to violate their consciences or to drop maternity coverage altogether.
The Washington Women’s Network, of which Mrs. Connelly is the founding president, has fought the legislation valiantly. The Network sent a delegation to Oympia to testify against the bill before the House Health and Wellness Committee, joined by His Excellency Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle. “This bill is not about access to abortion,” said Mrs. Connelly in her testimony. “This is a bullying bill. It’s not about choice. It’s about taking away choice.”
The Network’s efforts seem to have paid off. According to Crosscut.com, the legislation has stalled in a Senate committee, with zero chance of making it to a full vote this session. Deo gratias!
Alumna journalist Katrina Trinko (’09) has been named the new managing editor of The Foundry, the online publication of The Heritage Foundation. Her job responsibilities include overseeing the website’s daily editorial operations developing its content.
Geoffrey Lysaught, the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for strategic communications, says Miss Trinko’s hiring is part of the think-tank’s ambitious plans for making The Foundry “the go-to site for smart, conservative content.” He adds, “We’re excited to have Katrina on our team to help us achieve this goal.”
For the last three years, Miss Trinko reported on politics for National Review magazine. She is also a member of the Board of Contributors at USA Today.
“Is the secular world finally waking up to the needs that motivated parents have been trying to address for the last 35 years?”
So asks Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and a tutor at the College. His question comes in response to much of the language used to promote the “Common Core,” which is similar, in many respects, to that of advocates of classical liberal education. Both, after all, stress critical thinking over crude regurgitation; both emphasize developing a keenness of mind over attaining specific job skills; and both value the role of literature as a pedagogical tool.
Sadly, Dr. Seeley observes, that is where the similarities end.
Writing for the Cardinal Newman Society about the Common Core State Standards Initiative for English Language Arts and Literacy, Dr. Seeley finds that Common Core is far from the fulfillment of Catholic liberal education. Yes, it encourages critical thinking — but at too early an age, before students have been adequately prepared. It may not be narrowly tailored toward developing specific job skills, but it still aims merely at preparing students for the workplace, rather than educating the whole person. And while the Common Core does, commendably, emphasize literature, it does so without a commitment to the pursuit of truth — a deficiency, says Dr. Seeley, that will ultimately foster rootlessness and relativism.
The Common Core is not the secular world’s embrace of the ideals and methods of Catholic liberal education, Dr. Seeley concludes, and Catholic educators would be wise to steer clear of its false promises:
“The Common Core State Standards Initiative intends to form literate, thoughtful, critical readers capable of understanding and judging the best literature and the richest informational literature. But not only are its goals limited — even subversive with respect to a Catholic education — it represents a massive educational project that has not been tried. Catholic classical educators have now more than three decades of experience and over two thousand years of expertise to draw on. Now is not the time to submit children enrolled in any Catholic school to untested, yet no doubt very constraining, shackles.…
“By contrast, time-tested classical approach engages children to discover the truth of reality, both visible and invisible. This is active learning, not passive learning. It cultivates habits of mind that allow the human person to discern what is true, good and beautiful, to glimpse the transcendent. It awakens the soul.”
Notably, Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean and Dean Brian T. Kelly (’88) have arrived at similar conclusions about the Common Core. In November, the two educators signed a letter to each of the nation’s Catholic bishops urging dioceses to reject the use of the “Common Core” curriculum in their schools.
In the online magazine Crisis, alumnus Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has a timely piece about the importance of Christmas giving — not the commercialized sort, but the true, sacrificial kind that is fitting for the season. Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
“Just as the Son of Mary was God’s Gift to mankind, so mankind should offer himself as a gift to God; and thus do men and women give gifts to one another as a sign of the Love that unites them to He who was born, lived, died, and rose again for all. Gifts play a central part in the iconography of Christmas …”
As an illustration of this sort of cultural iconography, Mr. Fitzpatrick discusses O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” which he describes as “a quintessential story of that spirit of sacrificial gift-giving that makes Christmas the joy it should be.” In that tale, a young couple — Jim and Della — give up their most prized possessions for their beloved, only to discover, as Mr. Fitzgerald puts it, that “they were, in fact, giving a gift that was priceless.” He concludes:
“We are sons and daughters of the King. If our gifts are true, be they ever so poor, they will be found rich. If our gifts are gifts of love, Love Himself will purify them. If our gifts are gifts of self, they will be “satisfactory.” Then, and only then, are we true gift-givers.”
Be sure to include the whole article among your Christmas reading. Merry Christmas!
In 1993, one year after one of its former medical students died of cancer, the University of Alaska Anchorage created an award in his honor. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of that award, named for Jon B. Syren, a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1987.
The university website notes:
Jon Benedict Syren expected to graduate from the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Class of 1993. He began his medical training in Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1989 as a member of the first class of WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) students enrolled in the Biomedical Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.…
Jon distinguished himself by earning honors in several categories of studies, both in Anchorage and Seattle. He is also remembered by those who knew him for his strong commitment to his family and his faith, and for his unflagging courage and equanimity in the face of personal adversity.
The Jon B. Syren Award recognizes a first-year medical student in the University of Alaska Anchorage WWAMI School of Medical Education who has demonstrated personal qualities of character, integrity, and compassion, combined with a commitment to and promise of community service in medicine.
Mr. Syren’s widow, Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly is a member of the College’s Board of Governors. She has spoken eloquently about the blessing that accompanied her first husband’s holy death for those around him:
When Jon died, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. I saw the effect that our education at the College had had on him. It was absolutely beautiful. And there was a ripple effect on the entire medical community and all that knew him and watched him suffer — in a way so beautifully, not dismayed or broken by it. His suffering was so faith-filled that it was just triumphant.
Twenty-one years later, Jon Syren’s life and death continue to touch lives. May he rest in peace.
We recently featured a story about Gregory the Great Academy, a new, private, boys’ boarding school founded by Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) and Luke Culley (’94). That school is now the subject of an article Mr. Fitzpatrick has written for Crisis — A School Without Screens, which discusses GGA’s “radical” policy of shielding students from digital distraction.
Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
“Students at Gregory the Great Academy are required to embrace a life of ‘technological poverty,’ which means relinquishing cell phones, iPods, computers, and the like; arriving at school with only the essentials for a ‘disconnected’ life. The pedagogy at work here is simply to free students from distraction and to allow them to focus on the important things in life: growth in virtue, cultivation of friendship, and contemplation of the Divine. …
“The results are surprising. Deprived of the usual modes of diversion, students quickly adopt healthy alternatives to sex-steeped music, inane literature, and mindless entertainment. Without iTunes, boys tend to learn to play the guitar well enough to accompany folk songs. Without television, students enjoy reading aloud to one another round fires. In an environment of ‘technological poverty,’ students actually eat together, pray together, play together, and learn together.”
The ultimate goal of this policy, Mr. Fitzpatrick adds, is to enable students “to make contact with the real … which removes barriers to the world as God made it.”