Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Rose Halpin (’06)

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:

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.


Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)“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.


A School without Screens

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.”


The Orellanas with Mr. Van Hecke

At its recent Gala Dinner and Auction, Saint Augustine Academy in Ventura, Calif., honored two Thomas Aquinas College alumni, Mary (Kern ’81) and Roberto Orellana (’82), with its Civitate Dei Award for extraordinary generosity. Presenting the award was another graduate of the College, Michael Van Hecke (’86), headmaster of the independent, liberal-arts academy that has been named one of the Top 50 Catholic High Schools in the U.S. for four years’ running.

“Everyone who has been here since the early years knows that, without you, St. Augustine Academy would not be here today,” Mr. Van Hecke told Mr. and Mrs. Orellana. By his estimate, the couple has donated some 10,000 hours of service to the school. The Orellanas have also made many generous financial contributions to St. Augustine’s, which all eight of their children have attended.

An attorney, Mr. Orellana is a longtime member of the academy’s Board of Directors. According to Mr. Van Hecke, he and Mrs. Orellana have additionally contributed to the school in countless other ways — offering “lawyer skills, editing expertise, organizational genius, and the ability to bring together thousands of donated items into the beautiful presentations that have graced our auctions for a full decade.”

“We thank you for the gift of this Academy,” said Mr. Van Hecke to the Orellanas, “for us, for our children and on behalf of the future of our Church and country.”

 


The video above promotes a new Catholic boys boarding school, Gregory the Great Academy, which is being led by two Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) and Luke Culley (’94). Founded in the tradition of St. Gregory Academy — a recently shuttered school that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter operated for nearly 20 years in Elmhurst, Penn. — GGA aspires to create a similar experience, rooted in the liberal arts and orthodox Catholicism. The new school, located in the Pocono Mountains, recently began its inaugural year with 23 students. “Please keep the Academy and its quixotic mission in your prayers,” asks Mr. Fitzpatrick, the school’s headmaster, “and help spread the word in this new endeavor for Catholic education.”

Please pray for their efforts, as well of those of other alumni who are working to foster a climate of holiness and excellence in Catholic high schools.


Two old College friends who are now colleagues recently appeared on EWTN’s Life on the Rock (above, 1:25 mark) to promote the cause of Catholic liberal education. Luke Macik (’87) and Mark Langley (’89) are the headmaster and academic dean, respectively, of The Lyceum in Euclid, Ohio. They and all 45 of the Lyceum’s students traveled to Birmingham, Ala., last month to discuss their school and share the music of its Schola Cantorum.

The Lyceum, like Messrs. Langley and Macik’s alma mater, uses a great books curriculum taught primarily by way of the Discussion Method. While in Alabama, the Schola — of which all students and half of the faculty are members — provided the music for one of EWTN’s televised Masses. The Schola additionally produced a recording of the Gloria from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, which later appeared on this episode of Life on the Rock.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Lyceum has quickly become one of the top Catholic high schools in the nation. The Cardinal Newman Society gave the school a special recognition on its 2012-2013 National Catholic Honor Roll for “Excellence in Catholic Identity.” A quarter of the Lyceum’s graduates are National Merit Scholars, Finalists, and Commended Students, having scored in the top 1 percent to 5 percent on the PSAT, and the school’s average SAT is in the top 14 percent of the nation.


Dr. Joseph Hattrup (third from left) and members of the University of St. Thomas Examining Board. (Photo courtesy of the University of St. Thomas)

When alumnus Joseph Hattrup (’01) joined the Thomas Aquinas College teaching faculty in 2006, he had already completed his doctoral studies (philosophy, University of St. Thomas), but not his dissertation. He therefore spent most of his vacation and free time over the last several years completing this requirement — a challenging task for a full-time college instructor and father of three young girls. His diligence, however, has paid off, and as a result, he has earned the title of doctor.

Last week, Dr. Hattrup traveled to the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of Thomas in Houston, Tex. There, he successfully defended his dissertation, “Form and Predicability in Aristotle’s Categories and the Middle Books of the Metaphysics.”

“A widely received view about these works is that they contain doctrines of substance that are contradictory in principle and which therefore show significant changes in Aristotle’s thought,” Dr. Hattrup explains. “I argue that these two doctrines of substance, though different, are compatible with each other and not contradictory in principle. I hope the dissertation will help to demonstrate the unity and consistency of Aristotle’s thought and principles, especially as regards logic and metaphysics.”

The dissertation received unanimous approval of the Examining Board, which subjected Dr. Hattrup to two rounds of vigorous questioning. Dr. Edward Macierowski, an external reader on the committee and a professor of philosophy at Benedictine College, remarked: “Hattrup’s dissertation is not only a recognizable masterwork of a young philosopher, and so a convincing sign that he deserves the doctoral degree, but also the dissertation should be revised and submitted as soon as possible to publication at a major academic press.”

Congratulations, Dr. Hattrup!


Frederick DouglassFrederick DouglassA professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), has written a thoughtful article for The Public Discourse about the present state of the pro-life movement:

In a manner similar to the case of slavery as outlined by Douglass, there are two simple points that, once admitted, join to condemn clearly the practice of abortion: (1) the embryo is a human being from the moment of conception, and (2) all human beings have a natural right to life.…

The problem is that the younger and less developed the embryo is, the less it excites what some have called our “moral sense,” our sympathy with it as another human being like us. And as Hume correctly notes, human beings tend to be moved more by their passions and feelings, including the so-called “moral sense,” than by their intellectual understanding of the world when determining their actions. Even if our reason and common sense tell us clearly — as they undoubtedly do — that the embryo is a human being with the right to life, our moral sense or sympathy lets us off the hook. 

So where does this leave pro-life advocates? How can we bridge the Humean — and human — gap between intellectual understanding and actual practice in our nation? The answer lies in the parallel between the issue of abortion and those of slavery and subsequent civil rights. The pro-life movement needs to model more closely in its organization and practices the antebellum abolition movement and the civil rights movement in order to achieve similar success in ending the evil of abortion.

The entire article, Abortion and Our “Moral Sense,” is available on The Public Discourse website, published by The Witherspoon Intstitute.


Dr. Elizabeth Reyes ('03)Elizabeth Reyes (’03) — that is, Dr. Elizabeth Reyes (’03) has successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, with honors, at the Braniff Graduate School’s Institute of Philosophic Studies at the University of Dallas. After graduating from the College in 2003, she earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Dallas, and now, having defended her dissertation, has earned a doctorate as well.

Dr. Reyes joined the College’s faculty in 2011 after completing her doctoral studies, but not her dissertation. Over the last two years she has spent summers and other free moments working on her thesis, “Ishmael’s Cetological Quest: A Progression of Imagination in Melville’s Moby-Dick.”

Dr. Reyes’ thesis brings together two of her passions: wildlife and literature. A lifelong lover of animals, when she was a student at the College, she was fascinated to explore this interest across the breadth of the College’s curriculum — studying Creation not only through the natural sciences, but also in literature, philosophy, and theology. Her senior thesis examined how animals can help lead man to God, a theme that has endured throughout her academic career, including her doctoral dissertation about Ishmael’s epic journey in pursuit of the great whale.

The College extends Dr. Reyes a hearty congratulations!


An instructor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College, Kyle Washut (’07) recently presented a Lenten lecture titled, “The Importance and Significance of the ‘Great Fast’ for the Eastern Rite, and on Its Relevance to Roman Catholics.” In the talk, Mr. Washut, a Ukrainian Catholic, describes fasting as a preparation for encountering the Risen Lord at Easter. The video above gives a quick preview of the lecture, audio of which is available on the WCC website.