Supporting Homeschool Families

The bourgeoning success of Catholic educational renewal in America, so much the work of faithful teachers and school leaders, is no less made possible by the devoted men and women who sacrifice for a better future for their children and grandchildren. Change had to begin at the fundamental level, that is, within society’s smallest institution––the family. “The highest good does not seek outside helps,” Seneca said, “it is found within the home.”

And while parents have been necessary to the renewal of Catholic schools and colleges, their heroic deeds are especially fruitful in the growing realm of home education. It is becoming noticed by the mainstream, with some studies claiming more than four million students are being homeschooled in the U.S (circa 5.4 percent of all school-age children). To put this into perspective, in the spring of 1999––the year I was crowned valedictorian of my homeschool class of one––there were an estimated eight-hundred thousand homeschoolers. Since then we have more than quadrupled, and even before the Covid year of 2020, the trend had only been vertical.

The question now is, how can Catholic dioceses, parishes, and educators help support this growing demographic of homeschooling families? It might seem that homeschooling is competition to the already declining parochial schools. But the same conviction that compels the Church to support Catholic schools and colleges should motivate support for families providing faithful Catholic formation in their homes.

I have had good experiences with various like-minded institutions in my area while educating my own children at home. My kids play sports and participate in activities at a local private school, where I also coach one of the teams. Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, a Newman Guide-recognized college where I teach part-time, allows us to use their facilities, including their gym and outdoor ice-skating rink, whenever we want. The students at Magdalen, many of them graduates of homeschooling themselves, have embraced my children like siblings of their own. The fall and spring “Coffee House” nights at Magdalen are perhaps my kids’ favorite events of the year––when they can perform music in front of and with a supportive group of students from across the country.

I realize that not everyone has access to such like-minded, homeschooling-friendly institutions. More faithful Catholic educational institutions should reach out to homeschoolers in their areas and invite them to collaborate toward the ultimate goal, the salvation of souls.

Simone Weil said, “Every order which transcends another can only be introduced into it under the form of something infinitely small.” The first step might be a simple invitation to homeschoolers (individually or as a group) to showcase an event at your institution. A music recital, an art exhibit, or a play is a good place to start. Homeschoolers would appreciate a real destination to display their talents, aside from Facetiming the grandparents. In my experience, they take such opportunities seriously and with gratitude.

Another obvious means for supporting homeschoolers is to invite them to play sports at your school. Although regulations for this vary from state to state, it may be worth looking into. The Catholic Tim Tebow has yet to emerge, but all signs indicate that there will be an increasing number of quality athletes who are homeschooled. Additionally, there are quite a few homeschooling groups with enough students to form a team of their own; consider opening your facilities to let them practice and host games.

Newman Guide colleges can provide one crucial need––validation of home education. Already admissions departments in many Newman Guide colleges are generally welcoming to homeschool applicants. But it is unfortunate when students have to repeat in college what they already mastered in high school.

Each new academic year, there is at least one student in my college classes who does not really belong there. These are homeschooled students who have mastered certain subjects in high school, and yet they are required to repeat them in order to earn credits toward their college diploma. At least in the subject I teach, Latin, it should be pretty straightforward to validate proficiency and establish a means of granting college credit for work that was done in the home. And I am familiar with the requirements of certain homeschool programs that go beyond what is required at some colleges in other subjects as well.

To be sure, not all homeschoolers have mastered college-level subjects, but for those who have, why should there not be a way to receive credit for some subjects from the college he or she chooses to attend? Sure, it may take some extra flexibility on the part of colleges, but flexibility is fundamental to homeschooling and would be a gesture of tremendous support for homeschooling families.

To complete the renewal of Catholic education in America, it will take an even greater pooling of assets toward a joint mission of educational renewal. I invite all faithfully Catholic educators to collaborate with and support this generation of homeschoolers. Any growth in Catholic education is going to result in strong Catholic families and greater interest in both new and traditional methods of education. We are just beginning the era of widespread homeschooling, and the future is bright!

Celebrating Every Kind of Catholic Education

Classical schools… Great Books colleges… homeschool programs… trade schools…

What are we to make of the wide and growing variety of Catholic education options?

As Catholic education keeps getting better, The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) believes that we need to celebrate the very best, regardless of form. Exemplary educators deserve to know how much they are appreciated by Catholic families, and others need models to follow. Catholic families should know where to get the best formation. These are all reasons for The Newman Guide.

But is it all “Catholic education”?

Many in the Church today think of Catholic education as the equivalent of parochial schools. And to be sure, parochial schools have held pride of place in the United States for many decades and continue to do so. CNS works extensively to aid parish and diocesan schools and their leaders, whose commitment to fidelity and strong formation is crucial to evangelization in America.

But Catholic education is not a method or institution; it can be served well or poorly by various methods and institutions, just like healthcare or assistance to the poor. Catholic education is an art, a vocation, and a ministry. It cultivates the intellect by the aid of grace and the truth of Catholic doctrine, within an integral human formation that is ordered to full communion with God.

While its mission should remain constant, Catholic education’s response to various family circumstances and student needs has required several methods and school structures including homeschooling, parish schools, monastery schools, boarding schools, trade schools, residential colleges, research universities, online programs, and variations on these. Catholic education simply cannot be limited to any particular method or institution, without unjustly excluding portions of Catholics who were promised formation in the faith as a right of Baptism.

Catholic education also cannot be limited to any age group, as if the opportunity to know God and His creation expires at a certain age. Of course, formation of the mind and character is especially important for young people.

That’s why we are so excited to expand our Newman Guide recognition to include a wide variety of elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and graduate programs—and soon homeschool programs as well. And it’s why CNS eagerly assists and promotes all kinds of educational programs that faithfully serve the Church’s mission of evangelization.

Independent schools

One new and growing segment of Catholic education is independent schools, not affiliated with any parish, religious order, or other Church entity. And the longest-operating independent school is Holy Angels Academy in Louisville, Ky., faithful to Catholic teaching and authority and devoted to the true mission of Catholic education.

In June, marking Holy Angels’ 50th anniversary and more than five decades of independent Catholic schools, CNS President Patrick Reilly and Vice President of Educator Resources and Evaluation, Dr. Denise Donohue, were among the featured speakers at a large celebration in Louisville. Reilly presented a commemorative plaque to Academy headmaster Michael Swearingen and longtime leader Joe Norton announcing to more than 600 educators, parents, and alumni the Academy’s recognition in The Newman Guide. Participants included representatives of other independent schools nationwide and the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

Donohue had a dual role at the event, representing both CNS and the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools (NAPCIS). Donohue and our senior fellow Dr. Dan Guernsey are both long-time board members of NAPCIS and founding leaders of independent Catholic schools in Texas and Florida, respectively. Donohue addressed the Holy Angels celebration with a message from Dr. Eileen Cubanski, whose leadership of NAPCIS has been instrumental to the growing independent school movement.

Donohue also researched and authored a special report on the importance and history of independent Catholic schools, which is available on the Society’s website. The report is being shared with dioceses, schools, and Catholic media to promote better understanding of their unique contributions to Catholic education.

Historically, Catholic schools have been affiliated with religious orders, parishes, dioceses, and other Church entities. But independent schools arose in the late 1960s and 1970s, when many religious orders abandoned parochial schools and the schools lost focus of their mission. Since then, the Church has embraced lay vocations in teaching and administration, and today more than 97 percent of parochial school employees are laypeople.

Therefore, parents should be applauded for developing new schools when needed to ensure the sound formation of their children in fidelity to the Church. According to NAPCIS, the first known independent school was Holy Innocents Academy in Kinnelon, N.J., founded in 1967 by Dr. William Marra. That school eventually closed, and thus Holy Angels Academy in Louisville—founded in 1973 by a Dominican nun in partnership with Catholic families—is the longest-operating independent school today.

The Academy has a student body of 101 students in grades PreK-12 and used a classical approach even before it gained its current popularity. The school’s motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God), is evident in its religious practices. Students attend daily Mass and recite the Morning Offering, with prayers to St. Michael and their guardian angels.

Today, according to Donohue’s report, there are 82 member schools in NAPCIS, including 20 that joined since 2010. About an equal number of independent schools have been launched but closed their doors due to financial struggles. Starting and maintaining a school without parish support can be difficult, but it’s all the more reason CNS promotes these schools and helps them develop strong policies and protect against ideological threats.



Homeschool Leader Formed at Faithful Catholic College

Laura Berquist (Courtesy of Mother of Divine Grace on YouTube.)

Laura Berquist (née Steichen), foundress of the Mother of Divine Grace (MODG) homeschool program, prepared for her important calling at faithful Thomas Aquinas College in California.

But in 1969, she didn’t know what was in store for her when she and her parents went to check out the new liberal arts college opening that fall. Her parents had read an article written by conservative author Russell Kirk in the National Review, and they decided to look into it.

“We went to the campus in Malibu Canyon,” Berquist explains, “and met two of the founders: Dr. [George] Neumayr and Dr. [Ronald] MacArthur. We talked about the plans for the college and the difficulties of starting a school from scratch.”

Then Dr. MacArthur started asking his own questions, she recalls.

“He said, ‘Well, Laura, what’s the best part of you?’ ‘Oh, no,’ I thought, ‘it’s a test.’ ‘Um, my mind?’ ‘Good, good,’ he said, and I gave an internal sigh of relief. ‘Passed that one,’ I thought.

“Then another question: ‘And what’s the best thing you can do with your mind?’ ‘Oh, dear,’ I thought, but I said, ‘Think about God?’ ‘Very good,’ he said. And then he gave me a hearty slap on the back. ‘So, are you going to come here and do the best thing you can do with the best part of yourself?’ ‘I guess I am,’ I said.”

Education for humanity

Berquist graduated in 1975 and has only good things to say about Thomas Aquinas College, a Great Books program that is one of the faithful institutions recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.

“In a liberal education, you acquire the intellectual formation necessary to learn about the highest things,” Berquist says. “Once I got to TAC, I learned the longer version of what liberal education is. I also learned that it is the education that recognizes that man is made in the image and likeness of God, and that that likeness lies in man’s intellect and will.

“Knowledge is a good in itself, because it makes one more perfectly what he is: a creature with the power to know, and more like God, who is the First Truth. That has informed everything I have since done and thought.

“I also learned that there is an order in education that is essential, and that formation and information are not the same thing. They are clearly related, but formation allows one to think rightly about new concepts, while information concerns the content of those new concepts. You need both.

“Since the good is diffusive, once the importance of this kind of education is seen, one wants to share it whenever possible,” Berquist says. “All of that informed the curriculum I worked out for my children, and then eventually wrote for MODG.”

Her perspective includes that of a mother, since all six of her children have graduated from Thomas Aquinas College.

“People are often worried about whether a liberal arts education is pertinent for teaching vocational skills,” Berquist notes. “This is what I say, because this is the formation I received: the education at TAC is the education for man as man. It fits his nature. It makes him more perfectly what God intends him to be. It forms his mind and heart so that he is able to know and love the highest things in the way that is possible in this life.

“Since it does that, it prepares him not just for a job, though I think it does that, but it prepares him to live his life here in such a way that he is ready for his ultimate goal: life with God. As a parent, I want my children to be happy in this life and, especially, in the life to come. I want an education that is ordered to both of those goals. If one is prepared for this life, but not the life to come, then he is missing what is most important.

“Saint Cardinal Newman said, ‘If our hearts are by nature set on the world for its own sake, and the world is one day to pass away, what are they to be set on, what to delight in, then?’ I want my children to order their lives to Eternal Life, and I think Catholic liberal education as found at Thomas Aquinas College offers the formation that makes that possible. I have tried to share that vision with all the families in MODG.”

Education to know God

Berquist’s vision for Catholic education has been formed and shaped by her time at TAC, which is ultimately what allowed her to form MODG. “Catholic education—whether it’s homeschooling, private, or parochial—is ordered to educating the human as human, and he’s ordered to the truth, and specifically, to the Truth Himself, God.” Such an education must be ordered to forming the whole person, and Berquist finds this especially in classical liberal arts education.

“Classical education is Catholic education, because it’s ordered by its nature to the Supreme Being,” she says. And as St. Thomas Aquinas argues that the supreme goal of all the arts and sciences is the study of theology, “We must put children’s minds on sacred theology, so that they use them to know the best and noblest Being.”

“Reality is knowing God. God is the first cause, and everything comes from Him and goes back to Him. If you don’t have that context, you’re not seeing things in the right way.”

She continues: “Many see liberal education as a waste of time, because you spend four years without training for a job.” The reality, however, is that “we’re not going to be a worker forever; we’re going to be human persons forever.” Catholic education should truly take these things into consideration, because of all education systems, it is the one that truthfully focuses on God.

Berquist experienced this beautiful education at Thomas Aquinas College, and it influenced her method in creating MODG. MODG, now in its 25th year, serves 6400 students, and the curriculum Berquist wrote is used by many more. There is no measuring the impact and value of a faithful Catholic education, which is meant to be shared, as Berquist has done for so many families around the world. From these seeds, comes the renewal of Catholic education and the Church in America.

homeschool student

Could You Be Schooling at Home… Indefinitely?

With the kids at home, now may be a great time to experiment with Catholic homeschooling and decide whether it is a good fit for your family.

“School-at-home,” of course, is not the best representation of homeschooling. Especially in the upper grades, the fixed schedule of online classes allows little flexibility, and parents are not engaged in the learning process. School-at-home also lacks key benefits of Catholic schools, including the close-knit faith community and personal engagement in the classroom.

But with the kids at home, many parents may be thinking of Catholic homeschooling as an option for the future. Catholic education comes in many forms, as it always has, and today there are outstanding parochial schools, lay-run schools, homeschool curricula and combinations of these. It is good for Catholic families to know their options.

Ultimately parents are the primary educators and must decide what best serves their family’s needs. All children deserve to be formed to fully embrace their human gifts of reason and freedom on the path to sainthood, and that’s the essential point of education.

Today, homeschooling is an excellent option for Catholics. Parents have impressive resources available to them, including help with curricula, texts and learning activities. Teaching the Faith is easy; there are many sound resources online, in print and on video including Magisterial teaching that can be accessed by the click of a mouse.

My five wonderful kids—now four teenagers and the oldest in college—have never enrolled in a brick-and-mortar grade or high school. My wife Rosario and I have found homeschooling to be a blessing and an opportunity to ensure that our children get precisely the education and the balance with other activities that we want for them. Rosario had the inspiration to go above and beyond, developing her own hybrid homeschool-classroom program called Aquinas Learning, which has provided our kids a Catholic formation according to classical methods of learning.

If you are inclined toward homeschooling, be not afraid! These weeks at home with school children can be a great time to test the waters and decide whether homeschooling is right for your family. And veteran Catholic homeschoolers are ready to give you plenty of advice.

Integrate School with Family

For children in schools, weekdays are clearly divided between the school day and the remaining time focused on family, recreation and other activities. One of the first things parents are now finding is that such a clear division at home is artificial; even students who are online much of the day cannot help but engage more with parents and blur the lines between school and home.

Especially with younger children, parents can take a more active role in their education and ensure that the family’s needs are being met.

“First things first, write down your goals of education for each child, with the heavenly goal as the first priority,” advises Rosario Reilly of Aquinas Learning. Parents who are new to the homeschooling mindset need to rethink every aspect of their home life and education as an integrated whole. “Second, set a simple routine for the family maintaining some boundaries and requiring children to participate in maintaining the home.”

“Having a rhythm to your days, as a homeschooler, makes the day flow a great deal more easily and allows for time to work and time to play,” agrees Mary Ellen Barrett, editor of the magazine for Seton Home Study School. Parents can build around assigned lessons and activities to establish their own agenda.

Barrett suggests a few simple guidelines: “Keep bedtimes and wake-up times consistent. Allow for morning chores and prayers as well as afternoon tidy-ups. Have a few breaks sprinkled through the day to ‘get the wiggles out,’ and end early in the afternoon. No young child is at their best late in the afternoon.”

As for the education, parents can look for ways to get creative and enjoy some benefits of homeschooling. For instance, one of the distinctive features of Aquinas Learning is its curriculum that is structured to allow children of all ages to study similar topics at the same time, albeit with different levels of complexity.

“Even in a grade-restricted curriculum, parents could bring together the family on certain subjects, such as taking one topic in history and learning it together,” Reilly suggests. “Your Kindergartener might listen to the story and color a picture, while your sixth grader writes a report about it. And everyone can visit historic places together—even online, until restrictions are lifted—or watch a historical movie suitable for all ages.”

She also urges parents to ensure that the insights of the Catholic faith are integrated into every course. Not every school does this well—but parents have the opportunity to make it happen at home. Even short conversations about how historical events intersect with Christianity and the moral choices of a book character will greatly enhance your child’s education.

Faith, Love Come First

While your student is at home these next several weeks, try doing something that Catholic homeschoolers are good at: making faith and family priorities above anything else.

Amid the pandemic, teachers are sending a lot of schoolwork home, and it can put a large burden on parents. The tendency may be to focus too much on the workload and not enough on what is most important—especially given the fears and dangers that families are facing.

“As Catholics, I think these times call for us to be much more concerned with ministering to each other and deepening our faith lives, than spending a huge amount of time on academics,” Barrett says. “While very important, math and English will always be there to be mastered, but this is a time God seems to be calling us to deeper things.”

“Although there is schooling to do, by and large, it won’t take hours to do it. And this leaves hours together to be the family God intended us all to be,” adds Krista Thomas, director of communications for IHM Homeschooling Conferences.

She recommends “watching and participating in the Mass online, adding a new devotional, and reading about the saints” as “simple and gentle ways to draw closer as a family, as well as to Our Lord.”

Teresa Peddemors, a mentor with Mother of Divine Grace School, says “the most important thing that mothers can do is comfort and love on their kids.”

The pandemic can be scary. “The children have been present during many conversations and news reports,” Peddemors says. “Their lives are upside-down. It’s more important that they are shown that their parents will be taking care of them through all of this, no matter what.”

Pace Yourself and Your Child

Anxious parents need to “relax,” advises Patrick Carmack, president of the online Angelicum Academy. “Learning itself, as Aristotle noted long ago, is natural to humans and enjoyable. So enjoy it. Proceed at a pace that is appropriate for each of your children—neither too fast, which discourages them; nor too slow, which bores them.”

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it avoids the “unnecessary stresses of competitiveness and over-testing,” he says. Now many schools are relaxing test requirements for the spring semester, and they are trusting parents to make sure that children learn.

“Tailor the experience with options of convenience,” Thomas advises. “For example, if your children are hesitant readers, read with them. Take turns reading aloud the material. Ask questions. It isn’t a race to finish in five minutes or check off a list… be patient and savor this time—a time of simplicity with your family.”

With schools closed, both parents and students are likely to suffer from an overload of screen time. Homeschoolers are familiar with this problem, as the internet is a constant temptation and provides a wealth of helpful resources for learning. But one of the great benefits of being at home is the opportunity to stay close to family, get outdoors and do more hands-on activities.

Reilly is using this time to promote more off-screen socialization, even as Aquinas Learning centers are forced to shift classes online. “We are encouraging handwritten letters to pen-pals, relatives, elderly shut-ins at nursing homes, the front-line medical workers whom we know, and overseas military.”

Teach with Confidence

Somehow it has been ingrained in modern parents that they are unfit to teach their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing when and where to get help is important—but God has already given parents the grace to be their children’s primary educators.

Trust that “you are uniquely equipped for this time, to do this work, with these children,” advises Sheila Schofield of Mother of Divine Grace School. “Have confidence in your abilities, in your love for your children, and in the grace of God to educate your children at home.”

Whether your choice is Catholic homeschooling or a faithful Catholic school, this time together in the home can be a blessing to both parents and kids. Seize the opportunity, because things soon will be back to normal. May God bless you and your family.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Homeschooling mom and child

Synod Report Displays Ignorance About Homeschooling

At the Youth Synod in Rome this week, one of the bishops’ discussion groups made some disappointing and ignorant comments about Catholic homeschoolers.

It’s a sad reminder that, while homeschooling seems to be gaining support from many bishops in the United States, other bishops here and abroad have yet to embrace one of the most promising developments in the Church today. Earnest and faithful homeschooling parents deserve encouragement and not derision from their shepherds.

The report from the English-language Group C bishops—whose names have not been published—reads:

  • USA has many home schoolers – bishops in USA are not united, as homeschooling can have an ideological basis – kids may have special needs
  • are parents qualified to homeschool them?

It is certainly true that the American bishops are not united in supporting homeschooling, and that is a shame. But what’s the “ideological basis” for homeschooling? Do the bishops perceive some absolute opposition to organized education? It’s not true; many homeschooled students have, at one time or another, attended schools or participated in collaborative programs.

More likely, Group C’s “ideological” comment means something else. It’s what faithful Catholic homeschoolers endure frequently from fellow Catholics, priests and even bishops—the charge that they are too “conservative” and too “moralistic.”

In my experience, those are code words for simply being faithful—for practicing the “old” ways of prayer, sacrament and moral discipline.

As a father of five homeschooled children, teacher at a weekly hybrid Catholic program for homeschoolers that is directed by my wife, and full-time advocate of faithful Catholic education, I have come to know hundreds of Catholic homeschooling families. They are trying to be faithfully Catholic in all that they do. And a key reason for not attending local Catholic schools, aside from the cost, is that too many of the schools lack strong moral and religious formation.

That’s not ideological. It’s responsible Catholic parenting.

In my homeschool community—and in the growing number of parochial, diocesan and lay-run, independent Catholic schools that have embraced the Church’s vision for Catholic education—I see primarily parents who are deeply concerned for the Christian formation of their children. They make great sacrifices to provide the education that their children deserve. And they do so, despite the often demoralizing sneers and snickers of too many in the Church.

As for the Synod bishops’ question whether parents are “qualified to homeschool” their children, it’s not clear whether the question refers to all children or only those with “special needs.” Regardless, the question shows disrespect toward parents. Every parent who is faithfully Catholic and truly loves their child is “qualified” to homeschool by the grace of God. If they lack certain skills or expertise, a loving parent will get the help their child needs, without yielding parental authority and oversight.

Trusting parents to form and care for their children is Catholic teaching! It is inherent to matrimony, reinforced during child baptism, and follows from the Fourth Commandment. And it can be made easier if parishes and dioceses actively support—not control or direct, but support—parents who choose to homeschool.

God has clearly blessed Catholic homeschooling with extraordinary results for children, families and the Church. The academic, financial, and social benefits of homeschooling have been well-documented in many studies. Moreover, homeschooled families are often represented at daily Mass, regular Sunday Mass, Confession, Eucharistic adoration and many parish activities. One recent study found that homeschooled students account for about 10 percent of priestly vocations today.

This isn’t a well-kept secret! But some of the Synod bishops have some learning to do.

Meanwhile, if America’s bishops and other Catholics are truly divided over homeschooling, then they ought to get over their discomfort. The Church should embrace faithful Catholic education in whatever form successfully leads young people to Christ and helps them become fully human—whether at home, online or in a brick-and-mortar school.

Support for homeschooling and for lay-run schools may be new to dioceses that have historically relied on schools owned and directed by priests and bishops. But we can’t confuse method for mission, which is amply served by the growing alternatives in Catholic education. All we need is to trust parents to do the job that God has already entrusted to them.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.