Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Following his series of dispatches from Rome (see parts one, two, and three), Michael Van Hecke (’86) recently sat down for the above interview with the Cardinal Newman Society. “Two things struck me particularly,” he said of the conference. “One was the real commitment and passion by virtually every speaker about the importance of really making sure everybody keeps Christ in Catholic education, and [two] that Catholic education is still worth fighting for.”

An American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education, Mr. Van Hecke is the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, a K-12 classical school in Ventura, California. He is also the president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project and the president and founder of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

Below is the third in a series of reflections by Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City. (See parts one and two.)

View from Inside Rome

Michael Van Hecke (’86)Michael Van Hecke (’86)By Michael Van Hecke (’86)
World Congress on Education
Castel Gondolfo/Vatican City
Thursday, November 20, 2015

“This is a very important work!”

These were the kind and encouraging words we received from the prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education, His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi. I met him earlier in the afternoon, then happened upon him in an empty lecture hall, paging through our All Ye Lands book. That was when he told me, “This is a very important work!” He will now take the textbook and our other Catholic Textbook Project materials back to the Vatican offices and review them some more.

This was a nice ending to another long day that featured a great variety of speakers on a wide range of topics. The morning sessions were particularly germane to us in our work at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, and for me personally as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy. Much of the morning was devoted to outlining the process and importance of forming those who form teachers — college teacher-formation programs and headmasters’ building the learning communities in their own schools. What was heartening was the clear and passionate appeal to make a theological and spiritual formation the centerpiece of any formation, be it of educational leaders, teachers, or students.

It was following these presentations that I had an opportunity to address the assembly. Introducing myself as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, I spoke of my own efforts to build a sound, Catholic faculty who teach from a classical perspective. I invited everyone to consider the importance of remembering the great history of our Catholic intellectual tradition.

At this congress, like many professional conferences, there is a preponderant emphasis on the latest research and newest trends, as well as appeals to address the most current issues. And yet, if we are to celebrate the great anniversaries of Church proclamations on Catholic education, documents which stand on the shoulders of our intellectual custom, we need to look at today’s and tomorrow’s challenges from a vantage point of tradition. If we remain moored in our contemporary viewpoint, we will drift far from our potential. The rich traditions we have received in the Church were built on the experience of the centuries — an experience that, in every century, addressed problems in light of the wisdom the Church has received.

The first hint I had that I said something good was when a Canadian archbishop gave me a nice compliment on his way past my seat. Following my talk, I received many similar compliments. Despite the contemporary focus of the academic element of the Congress, it seems that many educators still understand the importance of our Catholic intellectual tradition. Another reason for hope. …

This is the end of our lovely sojourn at Castel Gandolfo. Tomorrow brings us to the closing gathering. A final report to follow.

Blessings to you all.


Katie Short (’80), attorney for David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, leads his defense team at federal court in San Francisco.
Katie Short (’80), attorney for David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, at federal court in San Francisco.

When David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress first devised his plan to expose Planned Parenthood’s practice of harvesting and selling the organs of aborted babies, he knew he would need legal advice. So the undercover journalist turned to San Francisco’s Life Legal Defense Foundation and its co-founder and vice president, Katie Short (’80). Mrs. Short and others helped Mr. Daleiden to prepare for the inevitable legal challenges and to navigate the myriad laws in several jurisdictions.

Katie Short (’80) with David Daleiden of the Center for Medical ProgressKatie Short (’80) with David Daleiden of the Center for Medical ProgressNearly three years later, that effort has proved to be a tremendous success, drawing national attention to Planned Parenthood’s gruesome practices and fueling a Congressional movement to strip the abortion provider of federal funding. Predictably, the abortion industry’s premier trade group, the National Abortion Federation, has struck back with a lawsuit designed to ruin Mr. Daleiden and suppress his findings. And so the young filmmaker has turned to Mrs. Short once again, asking her foundation to defend him against a fevered legal onslaught.

“We at Life Legal have fought for decades to guarantee the First Amendment rights of pro-life activists,” says Mrs. Short. “Usually this happens on a small scale right in front of an abortion mill. Now we are seeing the same drama play out on a grand scale in the public eye, as the NAF throws its resources into crushing David Daleiden’s witness. There’s really little else that they can do, as David truly has the goods on the abortion industry in general and on Planned Parenthood in particular. Only by doing our all at this crucial juncture can Life Legal keep the truth about Planned Parenthood available to the public.”

A home-schooling mother of nine children, Mrs. Short has written numerous briefs for state and federal courts, including petitions for certiorari and amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court. She co-authored the text of Propositions 73, 85, and 4, California ballot initiatives aimed at requiring parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion. She additionally served as co-counsel in People’s Advocate v. ICOC, a suit challenging the constitutionality of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency established by Proposition 71 to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Last week Mrs. Short was at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, leading Mr. Daleiden’s pro bono defense team during his deposition — one small step in what promises to be a lengthy, exhausting, and expensive legal battle. “The case has extremely high stakes for all participants,” says Mrs. Short’s husband, Bill (’80), a fellow attorney. “Please pray for Daleiden, the project, Katie, and the rest of the legal team, and encourage others to do so as well.”

Greg Pfundstein (’05), president of the New York-based Chiaroscuro Foundation, recently appeared on the Canadian television program Context with Lorna Dueck to discuss the recent visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United States. (Interview begins at the 1:08 mark.)

Greg Pfundstein ('05)Answering a question about the ostensible tension between mercy and doctrine, Mr. Pfundstein responded, “The interesting thing about mercy is that there is no mercy if there is no justice. If there is no law, if there is no sin, why does anyone need any mercy? There is nothing to forgive; there is nothing to be sorry for. So there is always this balance between upholding what is true about human nature — and what we are all called to live in our lives as Christians and as human beings — and, on the other hand, embracing people where they are, in their own struggles and their own weaknesses, and trying to draw them in.” The Holy Father’s approach, Mr. Pfundstein continued, is like that of Our Lord’s comments to the woman caught in adultery, offering mercy while at the same time upholding truth. “It’s a delicate balance,” he continued, “and this pope, I think, has struck it very well.”

Mr. Pfundstein also cautioned against the tendency to force papal statements into a narrowly political framework. “The American political situation is a small part of the wider world, and the Pope is speaking … to the whole world and to the Universal Church,” he said. “His comments transcend our political categories, and I think it’s a mistake to think of them only in those terms. If anyone feels completely comfortable with everything he says, they’re probably not listening carefully. He’s got something that should challenge all of us.”

Saints Zelie and Louis Martin
Saints Zelie and Louis Martin

Suzie (Zeiter ’87)Suzie Andres (’87)

Fresh after writing her testimonial to St. Junipero Serra, alumna novelist Suzie Andres (’87) has authored a tribute to the Church’s two most recently canonized saints, Louis and Zelie Martin. The Martins “are quite near to us,” Mrs. Andres observes, and this proximity makes their holiness tangible — and attainable — to us, their faithful contemporaries. As such, they are a valuable and much-needed model for our time:

“Louis and Zelie’s message isn’t new; it’s the same message their daughter has been spreading so handily for the last 120 years, the message of the Gospel. But if we ask where Saint Thérèse learned her little and very ordinary way of sanctity, the answer comes back from the Church: she learned it first in the home of her parents, whose way was absolutely ordinary. …

“The message of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin is simply this: Sanctity is not beyond our reach — it is Christ’s doing, and He thirsts to do it in us. The Church will not rest until she gets this message through our very thick heads: the saints were human like we are, and we need not be daunted by their greatness. It is just such greatness that Jesus has in mind for us, the greatness of the little ones. Without Him, we are nothing, and when He makes us great, it is simply His greatness shining forth in us.”

His Holiness Pope Francis canonized the Martins this past weekend on World Mission Sunday. Saints Louis and Zelie, pray for us!


Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres“My husband teaches at a college where her Emma is read senior year by every student,” writes Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres, wife of tutor Dr. Anthony Andres, in a new essay for Crisis magazine. “I object, but only because I think the work to introduce [Jane Austen] in such a universal way ought to be Pride and Prejudice, accessible to the uninitiated but still brilliant to the reader who already knows her well.”

From there proceeds a glowing tribute to the author whom Mrs. Andres heralds as “The Divine Jane,” and “The Novelist.” Jane Austen, she observes:

“… charms 13-year-olds as well as 30-year-olds, 16-year-olds and 60-year-olds, 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds. Who can say whether the gladness one feels upon first reading her is greater or less than the mature joy one feels when returning to her for the who-knows-how-manyeth a time? You may as well compare the happiness of the convert with the beatitude of the life-long grateful Catholic, a Chesterton and a Belloc. It is safest simply to say, her charm endures.”

The Paradise ProjectInspired by Austen’s works, Mrs. Andres has spent the last four years composing her own recently published novel, The Paradise Project, which she describes as a “paean,” but more than “a simple retelling” of Pride and Prejudice, set in modern times. Its protagonist, Liz Benning, bears a certain resemblance to Elizabeth Bennet and, like Mrs. Andres, she is a devoted reader of Jane Austen. The Paradise Project, says its author, is “a story of those, like us and so many before us, who love Jane and are nourished by her books.”

The Paradise Project is Mrs. Andres’ first work of fiction, following on her two previous books, A Little Way of Homeschooling and Homeschooling with Gentleness, which are available via She is also, most recently, the editor of The Selected Sermons of Rev. Thomas A. McGovern, S.J.

Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’ReillyMargaret (Steichen ’84) O’ReillyA home-schooling mother of 12 children, Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’Reilly has remarkably found time to pen a beautiful essay about the Holy Eucharist in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

“That the infinite Son of God would give himself entirely to his beloved Church — not just his image or a mere symbol of his love, but his very self, whole and complete — is unfathomable by finite minds,” writes Mrs. O’Reilly, who earned catechetical certification from Our Lady of Peace Pontifical Catechetical Institute in Beaverton, Oregon. “That he would remain forever present to his people in a form that does not overpower us, but that can enter into and transform us, springs from an intellect surpassing all created intellects. It flows from a love surpassing all human love.”

Among the many wonderful insights Mrs. O’Reilly includes in her article is that “the Lord of all creation, who made things as they are, alone has the authority to alter the natural order of created things.” Following His command, “the disciples and their consecrated successors … accomplish the unimaginable.”

The full article, A Divine Reflection: You and the Holy Eucharist, is available via the Homiletic and Pastoral Review website.

Who Designed the Designer

Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92)

Following up on coverage in and the Catholic Answers Live radio program, Who Designed the Designer? — the new book by tutor and alumnus Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92) — is now the subject of a lengthy article in The Tidings. “The battle to prove or refute the existence of God by the New Atheists and the proponents of intelligent design is mostly waged in attack and defense of evidence,” writes Kevin Theriault in the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. By contrast, Mr. Theriault observes, Dr. Augros “takes a non-polemic approach, drawing readers along a reasoned pathway of general principles in order to see God’s handiwork for themselves.”

Mr. Theriault commends Who Designed the Designer? for, beyond demonstrating the existence of a creator, also probing such questions as, “What is this being that exists all by itself? What is the divine mind and how is it different than ours?” As such, the book does much more than offer another salvo in the ongoing battle between atheists and believers. “Most people, it seems to me, don’t have a clear notion of what God is,” the article quotes Dr. Augros as saying. “If you are supposed to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind, one should be interested in knowing what God is.”

The full story is available via The Tidings’ online publication, Angelus.

Companions by Sir lawrrence Alma-Tadema 1892

Sean Fitzpatrick ('02)“The return of summertime every year often recalls the years that will never return: the golden days of youth,” writes Sean Fitzpatrick (’02). The headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a regular contributor to Crisis magazine, Mr. Fitzpatrick has opened an online conversation about summertime-reading books that arouse seasonal memories of childhood. “What books,” he asks, “should be brought to lakesides, porches, and hammocks? Which stories provide that return to the perennial glories of summer and the passing glories of childhood?”

His initial suggestions are available in his article, What Are You Reading This Summer?

Who Designed the Designer

Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92)

Having recently been a guest on the Catholic Answers Live radio program, alumnus and tutor Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92) now finds his new book the subject of a review in

In God the Designer: Yes or No?, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, president and founder of Trinity Communications, calls Dr. Augros’ Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence, “a resounding success” in its effort “to refute the many atheists who, especially in modern times, think they have successfully demolished the traditional arguments for the existence of God based on the necessity of a first cause or a prime mover.” Dr. Mirus adds that Dr. Augros “writes well and uses many entertaining examples, making a potentially dry topic extraordinarily readable.”

The full review is available via