An upcoming conference for Catholic classical schools, hosted by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and the Regina Academies, focuses on the increasing popularity of classical education and serves as a meeting point for like-minded educators eager to join a wave of educational renewal across the country, say conference organizers.
“It’s difficult to be a pioneer in classical education alone,” Dr. Andrew Seeley, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, told The Cardinal Newman Society, “but when you discover that there are 70 or 80 other institutions around the country doing the same thing, you realize just how widespread this movement has become.”
The conference , “Catholic Classical Schools Conference 2016: The Sacramental Imagination” will run from July 18-21 on the campus of Neumann University in Aston, Penn. This is the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s third conference since 2013. Now an annual occurrence, the conferences have grown in popularity, with 70 educators from 35 different institutions attending in 2013 and 130 educators from 50 institutions attending in 2014.
These numbers will likely continue to grow and attract more educators and organizations, Seeley noted, especially as classical education offers teachers a rare opportunity to truly instruct their pupils, “rather than filling out forms, checking boxes and being limited to hyper-structured lesson plans that allow them no freedom whatsoever.”
And classical education is a natural fit for many Catholic schools that wish to expose their students to “the good, the true and the beautiful,” said Seeley. Classical education models “draw upon the traditions of Western civilization and” and can be thoroughly Catholic, “fully integrating the faith and wisdom of the Church in all areas of the curriculum and school life.”
Slated speakers include Dale Ahlquist, president of the Chesterton Society and co-founder of Chesterton Academy in Edina, Minn., a 2014 School of Excellence  on The Cardinal Newman Society’s Honor Roll; Laura Berquist, founder and director of the Catholic distance homeschooling program Mother of Divine Grace School ; Mark Salisbury, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese of Marquette, Mich.; and Brian Phillips of the Circe Institute, a Christian classical education renewal organization.
Each year, a different institution is selected to host the Institute’s conference. The institution then selects a location for the conference, typically a Catholic university campus or retreat center so that attendees have access to Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and the Blessed Sacrament, said Seeley. The Regina Academies , a group of Catholic classical schools based in Pennsylvania, are hosting this year.
The Regina Academies were a natural pick to host the conference, because they are “an example of the power that this kind of education offers,” said Seeley. “They started with a single school, but because their education is so attractive, they have drawn parents from all over the Philadelphia area.”
“The Regina Academies are growing simply as a result of parents who hunger and thirst after this particular educational model and the opportunities offered to their children,” agreed James Growdon, executive director of the Regina Academies.
Faculty from the Regina Academies have been attending these conferences each year, so it is “a blessing to host and offer volunteers, as it also ensures that more of our faculty may attend its sessions and take in the wisdom shared,” Growdon told the Newman Society. “This is the conference made up of Catholic classical educators across the country who wish to make connections, build community, examine best practices and develop or nuance their own style of pedagogy.”
“What we are currently witnessing is only the beginning of what will hopefully become a vast renewal of education in general, and of Catholic education in particular,” said Growdon. Classical education “has largely been forgotten in Western civilization for the past sixty-five years,” but “those of us who are rediscovering it are incredulous that it was ever abandoned at all.”