Catholic Educators Explore ‘The Sacramental Imagination’ at Classical Schools Conference

Hosted by the Regina Academies, educators, teachers and administrators gathered together on the campus of Neumann University in Aston, Pa., from July 18 – 21, 2016, to attend the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s (ICLE) annual Catholic Classical Schools Conference (CCSC).

Conference participants convened from over 60 different Catholic classical schools and traveled from every part of the country, more than 30 states and Canada to gain insights and develop classical pedagogy skillsets from the ideas of dedicated keynote speakers, breakout session presenters, seminar leaders and one another.

James Growdon
          James Growdon

This year’s theme, “The Sacramental Imagination,” offered both veteran and inexperienced teachers multiple opportunities and avenues to discover and appreciate the time-tested traditions of Catholic classical education. This was the fourth annual conference, and all who commented professed it to be the best CCSC yet.

“We are blessed that so many faithful Catholic educators are rediscovering the Church’s tradition in the classical liberal arts,” said Elisabeth Sullivan, who serves as associate director of The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. “Their energy and excitement is palpable.”

The rapid growth of the Catholic Classical movement is nothing short of remarkable. “Over 30 percent of the schools which participated this year were created in the past two years or are just getting off the ground this fall,” stated Dr. Andrew Seeley, who serves as executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

Keynote presentations included: “Spreading the Word: Implementing a Classical Liberal Arts Program Throughout a Diocese,” by Dr. Mark Salisbury, superintendent of the Diocese of Marquette, Mich.; “Classical Education:  Developing the Imagination for Life,” by Dr. Andrew Seeley, executive director of ICLE; “Reading Literature to Reveal Reality,” by Laura Berquist, director of Mother of Divine Grace, Catholic Distance Education Program; “The Creative Historian: The Role of the Imagination, Sacred and Profane, in Understanding the Past,” by Christopher Zehnder, general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project; “Un-educating the Educated,” by Dale Ahlquist, president of American Chesterton Society and co-founder of Chesterton Academy; “The Long Journey Home: How Hardships Shape Our Loves,” by Dr. Brian Phillips, headmaster of The CiRCE Academy and director of CiRCE Consulting; and “If I Teach With the Tongue of the Angelic Doctor but Have Not Love, I am a Noisy Moralizer or a Clanging Apologist,” by Dr. Jake Noland, supervising instructor at St. Thomas More Academy.

The Catholic Classical Schools Conference also functions partly as a retreat for most participants. The opening Mass was celebrated this year by Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald of Philadelphia. Father Chris Walsh, who is pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort in Philadelphia, and Father John Masson, chaplain of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pa., also said Mass for the conference.

As hosts, the Regina Academies helped ICLE to plan the logistics of this year’s national conference, and eight of the 32 breakout sessions for the conference were presentations given by Regina Academies faculty.

Breakout presentation sessions included many pragmatic and practical ideas for teachers and administrators. Topics included “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd;” “Mimetic Instruction: Cultivating the Souls of Both Teacher and Student;” “Threads of Truth, Goodness and Beauty: Integrating Core Subjects;” “The Essence of the School is its Faculty: Notes on Cultivating an Intellectual Community;” “Math, Beauty and Order;” “Leading Great Books Discussions for Students and Teachers;” “The Narrative Approach to Writing;” “Imagining the Priesthood: Depictions in Catholic Fiction;” and “Establishing a Fundraising Program: How to Cultivate Philanthropy.”

Multiple attendees noted either through personal comment or letter their own appreciation to Dr. Rosalie Mirenda, president of Neumann University, its staff and employees, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia for the many kindnesses and friendliness experienced by all.

The joyful culture one experiences on the campus of Neumann University, which is a reflection of both the school’s Franciscan spirit and Neumann’s leadership, stems from Dr. Mirenda. What is amazing is that this joy is passed along and shared among everyone who fulfills a part of the mission.

On account of the growing demand and desire to provide a small group experience and personal attention required for participants, next year in 2017, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education will split their annual Catholic Classical Schools Conference into two conferences. One will be organized to take place in the western half of the United States, and for the eastern half, the Institute will return to Neumann University and once again be hosted by the Regina Academies.


James F. Growdon is the executive director of The Regina Academies.

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