Teacher Witness Inspires Conversion

Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage, Alaska, is recognized in The Newman Guide for its faithful Catholic education from Pre-K through 12th grade. All teachers make a Profession of Faith to the Catholic Church upon hiring. And the fruits are many: in the last year alone, five students came into full communion with the Catholic Church.

While there are many elements of a strong Catholic education, students at Holy Rosary Academy have clearly benefitted from the faithful witness of their teachers. Below are the personal testimonies of Anabelle Pearson, a 10th-grade student who plans to enter the Catholic Church, and two high school teachers at the Academy: Dr. Laura Walters and Kevin Quain.


Anabelle Pearson

I had been an atheist for my entire childhood leading up to my years at Holy Rosary Academy…

Many wonderful people took part in my conversion; however, it was Dr. Walters and Mr. Quain, my Church history and medieval seminar teachers, respectively, who guided and strengthened me in faith. In these two classes specifically, I was able to reflect on my past as we studied the history of the Church and the lives of many saints and sinners.

I look up to Dr. Walters as a role model; she is incredibly talented in numerous skills, languages, and academics. Dr. Walters has accomplished a plethora of extraordinary things in all areas from science to art, yet she is the humblest person I’ve ever met. Most importantly, despite all that she has achieved and still strives for in her free time, Dr. Walters dedicates her time to come and teach us teenagers. Dr. Walters cares deeply about her students and guides us toward spiritual and academic success. Dr. Walters has never judged me for asking any questions about Catholicism and the Church, and her responses are always helpful. Her teachings in history allow me to have a firm foundation in Church knowledge, which has proved useful in many situations, including medieval seminar class.

Mr. Quain, my medieval seminar teacher, has greatly contributed to solidifying me in my faith. Mr. Quain is humorous and uplifting and can always brighten the day. In the seminar, he helps our class reflect on our lives as we analyze books containing stories of growth in character and faith such as The Confessions of St. Augustine. He is an excellent role model in Catholicism and has helped me see that believing in God is not a crutch to get through life, rather, God is the reason I have life.

Faith is a path with many twists, turns, and bumps, and rarely is it easy. This spring, Holy Rosary is organizing a trip to Assisi and Rome for Holy Week. We will be walking the pilgrimage that St. Francis completed to ask the Pope to start his order of Franciscans. In years to come, I hope to be baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church.


Dr. Laura Walters

I view my vocation of teaching as something definitely from God.

I am a naturally shy person, and while I was completing my Ph.D., I always thought that I would spend my professional life with paintings, drawings, and manuscripts in quiet corners of archives and museums. However, when I began teaching at the University of St. Andrews [in Scotland], I ended up loving it, and when I began teaching at Holy Rosary Academy, I felt very clearly that this was something more than my will.

Teaching is a great privilege: to be able to help form students, especially in those crucial upper school years when they are becoming adults. I see my vocation of teaching as a way for me to serve others through love and charity, and thus to serve God.

The ideas of service and charity are incorporated into all I do. I always try to help students understand concepts (whether they’re in Calculus, Biology, Church, History, Art, etc.) to truly teach them and help them learn how to think, rather than what to think. I approach each student as having such great value, as he or she is made in the image and likeness of God, and is a unique and beautiful person.

Students are always learning (and so are teachers!), and I try to remind them of this, and that it’s okay to make a mistake, it’s okay to have questions on things, and that it’s how we respond to that which matters… We strive to find the truth and the heart of a matter together, students and teachers, which is a beautiful model for them to follow as they graduate and leave our halls.


Kevin Quain

I strive to give my students an example of strong character both in the classroom and on the court as a middle school basketball coach. Fundamental traits of a strong character are self-discipline and perseverance. These two traits should guide students in every aspect of their lives, whether in faith, academics, sports, etc. Embodying these traits and encouraging students are the best ways to help them build strong character and an indomitable spirit.

The beauty of Catholicism includes the belief that God created all things, and that creation will help us to know and love Him more. With this perspective, everything in the classroom is more meaningful and tangible because all the subjects, when integrated with our final end in mind, lead us closer to God.

When Teacher Witness Goes Wrong

The Catholic University of America recently taught students a tough but valuable lesson about witness and responsibility. It’s a lesson the students—as well as the faculty—are unlikely to forget.

On January 30, university president Dr. Peter Kilpatrick announced the firing of a psychology lecturer following a scandalous incident in her classroom. The lecturer, teaching a course titled “Lifespan Development,” had invited an “abortion doula” to speak to the students. An abortion doula is someone who accompanies women as they undergo abortions. Reports claim that the guest not only advocated abortion but also celebrated “childbirth” by “trans” men.

Critics later accused the university of violating academic freedom by firing the lecturer, and no doubt some students and faculty members agree. But by acting swiftly and decisively—and by publicly explaining the necessity of upholding the university’s mission—the Catholic University of America set an important example for Catholic educators.

“In our rigorous pursuit of truth and justice, we engage at times with arguments or ideologies contrary to reason or to the Gospel,” Dr. Kilpatrick acknowledged in a letter to students. “But we do so fully confident in the clarity given by the combined lights of reason and faith, and we commit to never advocate for sin or to give moral equivalence to error.”

It was an excellent letter. When leaders so clearly articulate the mission of Catholic education and moral expectations for faculty members, consequences for bad behavior and false teaching no longer appear harsh. Instead, it is out of concern for truth and the formation of students that Catholic education leaders must discipline and sometimes even remove teachers when they lead students astray. False witness is contrary to the truth that is foundational to Catholic education.

“Our studies aim at producing wisdom, which includes excellence in living and sharing the truth with others,” explained Dr. Kilpatrick. “May our common study help us to understand life, to love goodness, and to promote and protect the dignity of the human person.”


Responding with heroism

In a culture increasingly hostile to Catholic morality, Catholic schools and colleges are likely to face more conflicts with employees who resist moral expectations. But if teachers uphold the faith, their witness can be all the more influential with students—lights in the darkness. And if leaders remain steadfast in the truth when conflicts arise, their heroic witness can be a valuable education for students and the broader public.

Consider the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Hermosa Beach, Calif. In 2012, the school announced that teachers must obtain catechist certification to ensure the integration of Catholic teaching across all disciplines. One non-Catholic teacher, whose duties included teaching all subjects including religion, failed to get the certification and was fired.

The school’s courageous act of dismissing the teacher, rather than compromising its mission and thereby harming its students, led to a lawsuit claiming age discrimination. On the face of it, this seemed exactly the outcome that school leaders want to avoid to protect their schools. But the lawsuit eventually led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2020, upholding the ministerial exception and protecting the right of Catholic schools to choose teachers according to religious criteria without court interference.

Sadly, Gordon College lost the opportunity to obtain a similar landmark ruling for Christian higher education. The Evangelical Christian college faced a hostile Massachusetts court, when a fired sociology professor claimed that she had been unfairly denied tenure because of her public attacks on the college’s Christian views of sexuality and marriage. Gordon’s leaders asked the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent the case from proceeding under the ministerial exception, but when the Court declined, Gordon settled the case.

It would be unfair to judge Gordon College’s choice to settle, but standing firm for religious freedom and insisting on the moral witness of all employees is a necessary line in the sand—even if it causes some degree of martyrdom. The ultimate goal of Catholic education is evangelization, bringing students to God by reason and faith. While avoiding lawsuits may keep a school or college going for the short term, defending appropriate personnel policies is necessary to protecting Catholic education for the long term and shows students a powerful witness to fidelity.

In the amicus brief joined by The Cardinal Newman Society, urging the Supreme Court to take up the Gordon case, we attested:

“Faculty are the life-blood of every college and university, without which teaching and scholarship cannot occur. For faithful Catholic and protestant institutions, teaching and scholarship is not an end in itself. Without recognizing the ‘Word’ through whom ‘all things were made’ (John 1: 1-3), teaching and scholarship on any subject is incomplete.”


Leading dioceses

Today many dioceses across the U.S. are instituting personnel guidelines and morality clauses in employee contracts, so that the Church’s expectations are clear to employees. These also help to invite educators to more faithful witness inside and outside the classroom. Still, some employees are unwilling to abide by them.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has made a significant effort to strengthen the Catholic mission of its schools, only to face four separate cases of employees entering into civil same-sex marriages. Two dismissed counselors at Roncalli High School filed lawsuits claiming discrimination, as did a teacher at Cathedral Catholic High School. After a difficult legal fight, the archdiocese triumphed in all three cases.

In the Diocese of Charlotte, a substitute teacher’s contract was not renewed after he declared a same-sex marriage and publicly opposed Church teaching. The ACLU is helping the teacher pursue a lawsuit against Charlotte Catholic High School and the diocese, and a ruling is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

These dioceses know that teacher witness is at the heart of Catholic education. In Ex corde Ecclesiae, St. John Paul II declared, “If need be, a Catholic university must have the courage to speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society.” This is true of all Catholic education, which “speaks” as much by the witness of its employees as by classroom instruction. Speaking, however, sometimes requires courage to uphold the truth for the good of the students and all who listen.

Achieving Teacher Witness in a Virtual World

In one of her last letters, written to a former student, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did what all teachers are called to do: she pointed to the Truth in love.

“God bless you, my loved child,” she wrote. “Remember Mother’s first and last lesson to you: seek God in all things… If you do this, you will live in his presence and will preserve the graces of your first communion.”

As a teacher, Mother Seton kept a large correspondence that demonstrated a wide capacity for friendship with others and friendship with the Truth, an affectionate relationality that extended to students, parents, and former students. Letter by letter, she continued to encourage, exhort, form, and instruct them far and wide, even though they were no longer together. Mother Seton understood that it is by way of the heart that a teacher reaches a student’s mind, and that all good teaching, whether in person, by letter, or online, is always first personal and relational.

Thus, it is the personal influence of the teacher, rooted in their intellectual, moral, and spiritual excellence, that can move students to desire to know, love, and serve Truth, Who is a Person. Saintly teachers, from  Augustine to John Henry Newman to Elizabeth Ann Seton, have provided the teaching, example, and inspiration as to how teachers today can draw students into deeper friendship with the Truth.

Each educational mode or setting, whether a traditional school setting or a nontraditional one such as a home school, a continuing education program, a night school, or an online program, faces challenges in witnessing to the transformative power of Truth. Some of these challenges are shared by all teachers regardless of setting, but some are specific to the nature of the particular mode or setting. St. Augustine noted the challenge of teaching night classes on doctrine to tired adults at the end of a long working day; Newman noted the opportunities and challenges in offering continuing education classes at his proposed university.


Nonetheless, the substance of good teaching remains the same, even as the accidents of mode or setting change. What is true about good teaching in a traditional setting is also true about good teaching in a nontraditional setting. Non-exhaustively:

  • A good teacher witnesses to the Truth through relationship, or what Newman called “catching force” of personal influence.
  • A good teacher doesn’t simply communicate information, they are engaged in the formation of students’ vision of reality by revealing an aspect of the Truth through a particular discipline or text.
  • A good teacher fosters growth in wisdom, or the ability to see the relations between things in order to grasp the whole of reality, and a desire to conform oneself to that reality.
  • A good teacher inspires students to love and delight in the Truth through their own obvious affection for it.


In order to do all these things, a teacher must first be all these things.


For those teaching in an online or nontraditional setting, the challenge is to first be all of these things that Seton, Augustine, and Newman exhort, and then to communicate it in a virtual mode. This means that teachers must be highly intentional about things that might naturally occur in a traditional classroom. I suggest seven basic habits of intentional (online) teaching:

  1. Smile. In videos or synchronous meetings, the teacher should convey visually their gaudium in veritate (joy in the Truth), the truth about the goodness of existence, and the goodness of knowledge pursued together. St. Augustine called this disposition hilaritas, or cheerfulness.  What we do as teachers comes from the heart of the Church, and there is deep joy in that!
  2. Growth in Intellectual Friendship. A classroom, whether physical or online, is a place where intellectual friendship in pursuit of the true, good, and beautiful ought to be fostered. For appropriate friendships to flourish, teachers need to provide a space for students to share who they are—their interests and questions—and to be received by the teacher and their classmates. At the beginning of the semester, ask students to record a video introducing themselves. Touch back on those interests frequently throughout the semester. Just as in a seminar, encourage students to ask questions of one another and to respond directly rather than to or through the teacher.
  3. Growth in Friendship with the Truth. Teachers should share and model evident love for the Truth as it is expressed in each discipline. Demonstrate to students how a particular course helps them understand the whole of reality by making connections with other disciplines and courses. This places a special responsibility on the teacher to know what is being taught in other courses. Get to know the other faculty and their interests and refer to them in class. Students want to be welcomed into a community of scholars who are friends in the Truth, and to do that, teachers must be friends with their colleagues.
  4. Be present, be responsive. Whenever possible, encourage synchronous meetings. Make time for office hours, open discussion in class, and calling out the good seen in a student intervention or in a discussion board. This communicates to students that their teacher is taking them and their work seriously and that they aren’t communicating into a void. Don’t be afraid to redirect a discussion, but do so cheerfully and with generosity of spirit.
  5. Encourage students to grow in wisdom. Ask them to make connections to other disciplines in order to help them “see the whole.” In discussion or assignments, ask students to make connections and/or integrate what they’ve learned in one course with what they’ve learned in other courses and with their experience in real life. Help them see that what they are learning matters for how they see themselves, the world, God, and others, and that it matters for how they live and for their sense of purpose.
  6. Encouraging students in virtue. Help them understand why timeliness, courtesy, and treating others with respect, honesty, and integrity matter not only in class but for relationships outside of class. Help them understand that education isn’t just about information but is ultimately a formation in becoming more human.
  7. Prayer for and with students. Open and close synchronous meetings with a short prayer like St. Thomas Aquinas’s Prayer Before Study or Prayer for Wisdom. Place this prayer in a prominent place in the online “classroom” and on the course syllabus. Let students know that their teacher is praying for them and for their needs. Pray that the human and intellectual formation provided by Catholic education leads to an inner transformation of vision so that students can understand Who and what they are made for.


Mother Seton, St. John Henry Newman, and St. Augustine are three shining examples among a vast number of spiritual and educational witnesses who have repeatedly taught through the ages that it is through the cheerful, generous, and friendly heart of the teacher that students are drawn into friendship with Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Faithful witness can be accomplished in a nontraditional and virtual setting through thoughtful and intentional teaching practices that reinforce the personal and relational dimensions of education. In this way, teachers in any setting can witness to the catching force of the Truth.

Catholic Curriculum Standards Header

Educating to Truth, Beauty and Goodness

Editor’s Note: The following essay appears in Appendix A of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Curriculum Standards.1

The world, in all its diversity, is eager to be guided towards the great values of mankind, truth, good and beauty; now more than ever…Teaching means to accompany young people in their search for truth and beauty, for what is right and good.  — Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, 2014 2

We want our students to maximize their human potential and to both be good and do good in authentic freedom. In order to do this, our students need to be able to know how to wisely and fully apprehend and interrogate all aspects of reality from a solid Christian intellectual tradition. This intellectual tradition involves not just teaching facts and skills, but is also essentially focused on seeking to know the value and nature of things and in appreciating the value of knowledge for its own sake.

One method of assisting students to keep focus on these aspects of Catholic intellectual inquiry is to use the lenses of truth, goodness, and beauty to evaluate a subject under consideration. These three elements are often understood as being among the transcendentals. Transcendentals are the timeless and universal attributes of being.3 They are the properties of all beings. They reflect the divine origin of all things and the unity of all truth and reality in God. These elements are among the deepest realities. They help unite men across time and culture and are often a delight to explore and discuss, because they are substantive to our very nature.

The transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness are closely intertwined. Dubay (1999) observed that, “Truth beauty and goodness have their being together, by truth we are put in touch with reality which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold. In our knowing, loving and delighting the gift of reality appears to us as something infinitely and in-exhaustively valuable and fascinating.”4 In seeking to discuss one, the others are naturally and organically brought into the conversation.

The following simple definitions and essential questions are provided as a general framework to help facilitate a discussion on any topic in any subject. The goal is not to generate easy questions for easy answers, but to generate foundational questions for deep inquiry into the value and nature of things, to instill a sense of the intrinsic value of knowledge, and to elicit a sense of wonder.


Beauty can help evoke wonder and delight, which are foundations of a life of wisdom and inquiry.5 Beauty involves apprehending unity, harmony, proportion, wholeness, and radiance.6 It often manifests itself in simplicity and purity, especially in math and science.7 Often beauty has a type of pre-rational (striking) force upon the soul, for instance when one witnesses a spectacular sunset or the face of one’s beloved. Beauty can be understood as a type of inner radiance or shine coming from a thing that is well-ordered to its state of being or is true to its nature or form.8

Beauty pleases not only the eye or ear, but also the intellect in a celebration of the integrity of our body and soul. It can be seen as a sign of God’s goodness, benevolence and graciousness, of both His presence and His transcendence in the world.9 It can serve as re-enchantment with the cosmos and all reality10 and assist in moving our students to a rich and deep contemplative beholding of the real.11

Some essential questions related to beauty:

  • Is “X” beautiful? How so? Why not?
  • Which of these (i.e., poems, experiments, proofs, theories, people, functions, concepts) is more beautiful and why? Why might others have thought this beautiful?
  • How does this person/thing attract? Is this person using their God-given gifts to attract in a way that pleases God and draws others closer to God? What can happen when beauty is not used for the glory of God?
  • What is delightful, wondrous about this person/thing?
  • How does this shine? Radiate?
  • How is faithfulness to form or nature powerfully evident here?
  • What does this reveal about the nature of what is seen?
  • Where is there unity and wholeness here?
  • Where is there proportion and harmony here?
  • How does this reveal God’s graciousness, presence, and transcendence?
  • What does my response to this reveal about me?
  • Is this also Good? Is this also True?


When we explore issues of goodness with our students, we are fundamentally asking them to consider questions of how well someone or something fulfills its purpose. Goodness is understood as the perfection of being. A thing is good to the degree that it enacts and perfects those powers, activities, and capacities appropriate to its nature and purpose. A good pair of scissors cuts, a good eye has 20/20 vision, and so forth. We have to know a thing’s purpose, nature, or form to engage in an authentic discussion of “The Good.” When we get to questions of what is a good law, a good government, a good father, or a good man, the discussion quickly grows richer, deeper, and more complex.

As Catholic educators, our goal is to help our students to become good persons. Among those qualities we deem good are wisdom, faithfulness, and virtue. Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.12 We are free to the extent that with the help of others, we have maximized these goods, these proper powers and perfections as man.13 Such efforts raise fundamental questions of what it means to be human and our relationships with each other, the created world, and God.

God, through reason and revelation, has not left us blind on these issues, nor has He left us up to our own subjective devices. It is a fundamental responsibility of the Catholic school to teach and pass on this Catholic culture, this Catholic worldview, this cultural patrimony, these insights, and these very fundamental truths about the good and what constitutes the good life.14 Particularly, in this and all our efforts as Catholic educators, we build our foundation of the good on Jesus Christ, who is the perfect man, and who fully reveals man to himself.15

Some essential questions related to goodness:

  • What is this thing’s purpose/end? What do we know from our senses and reason? From nature and natural law? What do we know from revelation?
  • What is this thing’s nature? What do we know from our senses and reason? From nature and natural law? What do we know from revelation?
  • What perfections are proper to this thing in light of its purpose?
  • To what degree does the particular instance we are considering possess or lack these perfections?
  • What, if anything, would make this better?
  • What would make this worse?
  • How well does this work? Is “X” a good “Y”? What makes “X” a good “Y”? (e.g., Is Odysseus a good husband? Is the liver we are diagnosing a good liver? Is the theory of relativity a good theory? Is Picasso a good artist?)
  • How does this measure up in terms of a Catholic worldview and values?
  • How does this measure up in terms of Catholic morality and virtue?
  • How does this measure up to God’s plan or expectations of it as revealed in Christ?
  • Is this also beautiful? Is this also true?


A simple definition for truth is the mind being in accord with reality.16 We seek always to place our students and ourselves in proper relationship with the truth. Nothing we do can ever be opposed to the truth, that is, opposed to reality which has its being in God. Catholics hold that when our senses are in good condition and functioning properly under normal circumstances, and when our reason is functioning honestly and clearly, we can come to know reality and have the ability to make true judgments about reality. Through study, reflection, experimentation, argument and discussion, we believe that an object under discussion may manifest itself in its various relations, either directly or indirectly, to the mind.17

We believe that Man tends by nature toward the truth. Even though due to our fallen nature we may sometimes seek to ignore or obfuscate the truth, we are nonetheless obliged to honor and bear witness to it in its fullness. We are bound to adhere to the truth once we come to know it and direct our whole life in accordance with the demands of truth.18 As Catholics, we believe that reason, revelation, and science will never be in ultimate conflict, as the same God created them all.19 We oppose scientism which without evidence makes the metaphysical claim that only what can be measured and subject to physical science can be true. We oppose relativism, not only because its central dictum “there is no truth” is self-contradicting, but also because in removing objective truths from any analysis, this also removes the possibility of gauging human progress, destroys the basis for human dignity, and disables the ability to make important moral distinctions such as the desirability of tolerance20 and wisdom of pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness as opposed to their opposites of error, ugliness, and sin.

Some essential questions related to truth:

  • Is it true?
  • Is our mind/concept in accord with reality?
  • Are we looking at this clearly and with our senses and reason properly attuned?
  • Is the thinking rational and logical?
  • Is the information and reasoning clear and precise?
  • Is the approach fair and balanced?
  • How does this square with what we know from revelation? If there is a disconnect, where further shall we explore?
  • On what intellectual, moral, or intuitive principle are we basing this?
  • Can the knowledge or situation under consideration be integrated with or expanded by the knowledge from another academic discipline?
  • Now that we know this particular truth about a thing, what other questions does that raise? What more do we want to know?
  • Is this also beautiful? Is this also good?