Making Sense of Parents as ‘Primary Educators’

Parents are the first and foremost educators of their children.

Catholic educators can sometimes ignore this fact, especially when students appear to lack solid formation and even basic care in the home. Trained to be experts in pedagogy and curriculum, teachers and especially college professors may not think much about what parents want and may regard even simple communications from them as interference and undue distrust of professionals.

Parents, too, can forget or refuse their key role in the formation of their children, for whom they are accountable to God. Generations of parents have been told to take a hands-off approach to child-rearing. And many Catholic adults do not receive the sacraments and deny Catholic teachings, while failing to form their children in the faith.

Still, the Church is clear: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” (Gravissiumum Educationis, 3).

So how does this work? Within the rapidly growing field of homeschooling, there is no parent-school relationship—but parents still must collaborate with homeschool curriculum providers, publishers, tutors, priests, and collaborating parents. In schools and colleges, a “parent as primary educator” policy can be difficult to navigate. Yet respecting parents’ primary role is necessary, even essential, to Catholic education.

Sources of parents’ role

Some have misread Vatican documents to imply that a parent’s role as “first” educator refers only to early, pre-school learning, and the role of primary educator must later be given over to professional teachers. But the Vatican speaks many times of the parents’ role in formation throughout a child’s life, and despite objections arising from our culture’s insistence that an 18-year-old no longer needs parents, I think today the job continues through college.

As for whether only professionals should direct education, there’s the obvious fact that, throughout much of Christian history until the last couple centuries, most parents partly or wholly handled the education of their younger children.

Parenthood, practiced rightly with due respect for the rights of the child, is a natural aspect of the vocation of marriage. It follows from the lifelong love and commitment of a man and a woman, producing offspring for whom the parents are primarily responsible in the graced bond of matrimony. If a child’s guardian is not a natural parent in a loving marriage, still the guardian assumes responsibility for providing an upbringing that attempts, as much as possible, to fulfill the nature and obligations of parenthood within marriage.

Education is a key obligation of parents. Vatican documents that reference parents’ primary role in education often cite the natural and divine status of the family.

Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man… It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and office of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught from their early years to have a knowledge of God according to the faith received in Baptism, to worship Him, and to love their neighbor. (Gravissimum Educationis, 3)

Here it is clear that the Church’s foremost concern for children is their integration into the life of the Church and their relationship with Christ. The family is vital to the moral and social formation of young people. However, does this suggest that intellectual formation belongs primarily to professionals and is not included in parents’ primary role? The Vatican documents repeatedly speak of parents’ primary role even when their children are enrolled in schools—even Catholic schools—and so parents must be responsible for intellectual as well as moral and social formation.

We can also find a foundation for parents’ educational role in the rite of Baptism. Parents affirm that they will raise their child in the Catholic faith. Many interpret this to mean catechesis only, but baptism begins the Christian’s journey to salvation, which implies more than knowledge of the tenets and practices of the faith—as important as these are. The human gift of intellect is key to human dignity and our ability to know, love, and serve God and others. Surely the full work of Catholic education—forming the intellect integrally with one’s physical and moral development, so that a young person is healthy, knowledgeable, wise, and virtuous—is entailed in Catholic formation. Therefore, it can be said that a Catholic child has a baptismal right to Catholic education from the parents.

A health analogy

St. Thomas Aquinas employs an analogy of bodily health when explaining how people learn. I think the analogy can also be applied to the question of a parent’s role in education.

Consider this: aside from education, parents are responsible for ensuring a child’s physical health. They do this by providing food and shelter, teaching healthy habits, and caring for illnesses and injuries. If a parent must seek the professional help of a doctor—and invariably this will be necessary in today’s world—the parent never considers simply handing over primary responsibility for the child’s health. The doctor provides much-needed expertise, and the parent yields to that expertise to the extent necessary, but ultimately the parent must decide what is best for the child, including the choice of whether to get help for the child and which doctor should provide it.

Why is education perceived to be any different? One reason may be that schools require more waking hours with a child than even the parents have at home—and that’s something I believe deserves some reflection. But regardless, ultimately it is the parent’s primary responsibility to ensure that a child is educated, and that includes the choice of educator. Yet so few parents today take up this responsibility, blindly accepting or even ignoring what happens in school.

Catholic educators may chafe at substantial parent involvement with a school or college’s day-to-day activities. And it’s right that Catholic schools limit such direct engagement, if it interferes with education. But parents must at least have the information needed to assess whether a school is serving the parent’s needs and objectives for their child, so the parent can enter into dialogue with the school or choose to withdraw. The parent can also choose to take on a child’s education entirely.

On the all-important matter of monitoring fidelity to Church teaching and fulfillment of the mission of Catholic education, “This responsibility applies chiefly to Christian parents who confide their children to the school. Having chosen it does not relieve them of a personal duty to give their children a Christian upbringing” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, 73). By “utilizing the structures offered for parental involvement,” parents must “make certain that the school remains faithful to Christian principles of education.”

Ultimately it comes down to this: parents must take full responsibility for the education of their children and the choice whether to employ professionals in that task—and which ones. Catholic educators, in service to parents, should fully support this role and help parents know and choose the special value of faithful Catholic education. In all, the complete Catholic formation of the student must be paramount.

Ep. 5: The Wisdom of Salomon

In this episode, Kelly Salomon shares how choosing a Newman Guide college led to finding her spouse, having a beautiful Catholic family, and a career at The Cardinal Newman Society. Because of her life experience, Salomon is a passionate promoter of The Newman Guide and getting young people to contemplate the importance of their college decision.

There Is No AI Shortcut to Education

 

Educational optimists predict that artificial intelligence, or “AI,” will soon provide amazing efficiencies and progress in teaching and learning. But are efficiency and machine logic what our students need most?

It’s certainly true that AI is a marvelous new tool dramatically transforming human life. AI is exponentially improving in speed and scope to recognize patterns in immensely complex data sets of all types, allowing it to make uncanny predictions about what might come next in a sequence, be it a purchase from a customer, a word in a sentence, a sound in spoken language, or countless other processes. AI can answer specific complex questions or perform intricate calculations at a rate impossible for the human mind to comprehend, let alone compete with. It can also generate images and speech which not only mimic reality but surpass it to meet programed standards of excellence.

However helpful these may be to adults seeking to improve productivity and processes, it is also prudent to follow G.K. Chesterton’s advice, that children ought not be subjected to educational projects and ideas younger than they are. Allowing students to dodge traditional learning methods with AI will have uncertain and potentially harmful results. The same could be true of educators’ dependence on AI for student assessment and lesson planning. In education at least, it is quite possible that AI will work against natural human development and provide not a shortcut to human formation but a short circuit.

 

Why Students Might Think of AI As a Shortcut

For students inclined to see homework as burdensome or useless, AI is now a tempting shortcut. AI can instantly answer most calculations and informational homework assignments including “show your work” complex math and science problems, and it can aid the writing of unique history or literature papers. AI is a transformative hack to game the homework system. Even so, some pedagogues celebrate this possible dismantling of conventional homework in the hopes that rote learning or linear thinking will no longer be assigned. Teachers will be forced to focus on developing assignments that are personalized and promote “critical thinking” and “authentic learning.”

 

Why This Thinking Is Really a Short Circuit

While developing creative and effective homework assignments should be encouraged, educators cannot short-circuit the complete learning process by giving up on requiring students to engage in rote learning and writing assignments, even if some students cheat with AI. The hard work of instilling facts and information into the human brain and developing complex neural pathways step-by-step still needs to happen. It is not time-efficient to throw out homework altogether. Teachers should integrate some AI speedbumps into homework such as breaking the writing process into multiple submissions that each require peer or teacher feedback, creating more in-class writing assignments and oral presentations, etc., but they should not simply throw out most homework thereby restricting educational time. Students still need to learn prudent use of time and the development of academic skills and virtue which are part and parcel of traditional homework.

Homework in this sense might be viewed as something akin to practicing a musical instrument: A music teacher assigns practice at home, even if the student ignores or cheats in the practice sessions. There simply is no shortcut (technological or otherwise) to the human need to toil through the learning process, if the goal is freedom to play an instrument or earn a living as a musician. Few are interested in listening to a player-piano, but many will take time to listen to a fully formed musician who, after years of memorization and practice, is now free to creatively contribute their complex and personally unrepeatable humanity to the musical occasion. The world of AI requires us to focus even more on cultivating distinct human genius, compassion, insight, and creativity.

Because homework can be easily falsified, educators must be explicit in showing students and their parents how such deception and sloth short-circuits authentic learning and human development. It can lead to a person’s real demise in a world where AI will be in constant and growing competition with their individual livelihood. Self-replacing personal development with AI may fool the teacher but may result in the student’s inability to compete against AI with future employers. It is a student’s complete human development which will be their competitive advantage against AI job replacement in the future.

The use of generative AI to produce writing, which one then presents fully or even partially as one’s own, is particularly problematic. It is plagiarism and lying unless fully disclosed. It also weakens thinking, because writing is a type of explicit thinking. Writing assignments at their best require students to engage in multiple levels of critical thinking including synthesis, evaluation, and creativity. Students need extensive practice to develop these profoundly important human skills. We have students write essays on history and literature, not to generate new knowledge for the human species but to develop their own knowledge, understanding, and cognitive power. If they get initial essays and ideas from generative AI they will stymie their own generative capabilities.

Additionally, the AI homework short-circuit deprives a student of the value of their teacher. A teacher uses homework and, especially writing, as one tool among many to gain clear insight into a student’s real thinking and processing to assist the student in properly interacting with, interpreting, and valuing what is before them. Any deception in this process does great harm on multiple levels. There is no short-circuiting of the educational process, especially the writing process, without harm.

 

Why Educators Might Think of AI As a Shortcut

Some educators can be bedazzled by AI’s tremendous capability for analyzing student data. AI assisted by standardized test results can establish a student’s reading or math level and decide what instruction, texts, or problem sets should come next. AI can also be programed to give students hints as opposed to the final answer in answering questions. It can even predict where errors in thinking may have occurred and offer tailored intervention and practice in that area. It can seem like the ultimate personalized teacher, who is not distracted by other students and has access to unlimited, perfectly tailored resources. As a bonus, teachers assisted by AI may have even more time to be a “guide on the side,” with less time grading and lesson planning.

 

Why This Thinking Is Really a Short Circuit

This apparent “win-win” for the virtual-headset-wearing members of “Plato’s Cave Academy” is really a short circuit. Teaching and learning are such fundamental and intimate human-to-human processes that farming out significant elements of human formation to computers is quite literally inhuman.

Humans are social animals who learn best socially, in person, and in relationships. This was made abundantly and tragically clear during the COVID school shutdowns. The academic, social, and psychological damage of isolating students on screens has lasting negative consequences. A child who is fortunate enough to have access to a healthy functioning classroom and school reaps great rewards in total human development. The fact that these conditions may be increasingly rare does not merit jettisoning the community-schooling paradigm for the cost effective, targeted, and quick efficiency of machine-generated teaching and learning.

Students typically find joy, bonding, and inspiration if surrounded by healthy and supportive classmates and a caring and wise teacher. Doing hard human stuff side-by-side with other humans is what students are wired for and can make the difficult delightful. Leaning conducted as human play and human exchange is also essential to motivation and learning, as titillating as computer-based learning games may be. Isolating students on screens where they work at their own pace deprives students of the benefit of watching peers attempting to do similar things and adjusting or confirming their own efforts in response. They witness approaches that they might not otherwise have imagined and bond with fellows in a common project of discovery or skill mastery. This is tremendously satisfying and makes school a joy!

Additionally, the teacher is tasked with instruction through modeling a human passion for engaging with truth, beauty, and goodness wherever it arises, manifesting a rich spirituality, and showing deep care and compassion for others. This has a profound impact on student learning, happiness, well-being, and a healthy disposition toward all that is being studied and fellow students. AI cannot look a student in the eye, smile, act with integrity, and model lived virtue. And AI cannot love the student. Nor can it teach the student to do these things. A real teacher, absent screens and mediators, can write on a child’s soul and inspire them to greatness.

The teacher is also a model and source of real human learning by their encouragement and affirmation for the student, who at times struggles and at times makes spectacular breakthroughs—both of which are access points of human intimacy in the face of despair or joy and therefore demand real human response. Despondency and cynicism result when human experiences are isolated, unrecognized by other humans, or simply materialized in data sets. It is just not right, on a regular rather than occasional basis, to have a young child read to a computer to be analyzed and instructed rather than reading to and with another a human. Perhaps it may save time and provide individualized data, but this computerized “personalization” can actually depersonalize the instruction, as it removes the teacher from the process. And besides, what is time for, if not listening to children read?

And, of course, reading is much more than sounding at words and getting right responses about linear or discrete text-based questions, which are at the heart of computer-based instruction. Students are taught to read because they are human beings who love to share stories and insights with each other. They are also spiritual beings made to seek and know the truth, act upon it, and share it with others. Reading helps them transcend themselves, their time, their experience, and their culture. It helps them discover transcendent meaning of things and view the world from another’s perspective.

This being said, there is room for providing drills and problem sets based on student interface with AI at home. The data from such AI-informed and tracked home-drills can be used by the instructor to guide in-person instruction. What needs to be protected is the authentic interaction which the school classroom provides.

 

The Dispiriting Nature of AI

As the excitement of AI dissipates and its numbing and dispiriting effects take hold of more and more people, jaded souls may fall into despair. The lack of human contact, lack of reality, inability to attain true beauty when left with AI-generated avatars and robots, inability to match AI-generated speed and perfection, and inability to compete with AI for employment will be devastating for many. Added to this, carefully crafted and monetized AI experiences such as immersive games and other entertainment specifically tailored by AI to personal desires and weaknesses will flood human senses and their lives, seeming to cover the pain and lack of true happiness, and worse yet, eliminating the sense that this unreality should cause them pain at all.

Wise parents will understand that radical recent changes in technology mean that now, more than ever, screen time and technology are direct threats to their children and their well-being. There is no benefit to introducing children to AI. The whole purpose of AI is to make interfacing with technology seamless, so there is no danger that children who do not use AI now will somehow not be able to use it productively in the future.

Educators and parents need to prevent children from becoming trapped in addictive, unreal worlds. The response to this threat should be dramatic and counter unreality with reality, at every opportunity. Children need to be at home in the real world. It is a world made for them, for their happiness, and for their work by a loving God. Educators must guide them in seeking and ascribing authentic meaning to those flawed but real experiences that make up the real world. Educators must reject anything which threatens their mind/body/spirit unities, including errant human sexual ideologies. Students need to be re-embodied and re-integrated with themselves and the natural/real world, and re-enchanted with the beauty and meaning present in all things, instilled by and delighted in by God, their creator, and in whose image they are made.

 

The Quest for the Authentically Human

AI is an adult tool which can unlock immense possibilities and creative resources. It can be of use to educators in their own research, development of materials, analysis of data, and administrative duties, but it does not belong in any direct, sustained way in the teacher-student relationship.

Now is the time to re-embrace the humanities in education. Those human actors with rich literary, historical, philosophical, theological, and psychological training will be best suited to succeed in a competitive AI-controlled market. In the end, most problems in the workforce will remain “people problems,” and human creativity in all its uniqueness will be even more prized. Those individuals who are creative and who are best able to understand and help people and people-based challenges will always be needed and appreciated. A goal of educators at this point should be to maximize reality-based experiences for students and their unique human potentialities. It is these fully formed and trained memories, minds, imaginations, and wills which will act upon the new and unpredictable opportunities AI is beginning to create for them. Students need to organically perfect their humanity, as technology de-humanizes it. Un-mediated access to the greatest human accomplishments, presented and discussed by other humans who know and love them—even with their blemishes and misshapenness—is what students love and what will help them to love learning and indeed to love each other.

 

Daniel Guernsey, Ed.D., is senior fellow and education policy editor at The Cardinal Newman Society and associate professor of education and director of the M.Ed. in Catholic Educational Leadership at Ave Maria University.

Ep. 4: From a Free Mason Upbringing to Launching Catholic Schools (Continued)

In this episode, we continue with Dr. Denise Donohue as she shares how her conversion and the need for faithful Catholic schools and curricula ushered her into the Catholic education market. Since then, she has equipped Catholic educators with the Tools for Renewal, including The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Curriculum Standards and Standards for Christian Anthropology, which she says are essential for delivering truth, beauty, and goodness.

Ep. 3: From a Free Mason Upbringing to Launching Catholic Schools

In this episode, we feature Dr. Denise Donohue as she shares how she grew up in a Freemason home and later converted to the Catholic faith while starting a Catholic school! It’s an incredible testimony and shows how God has used Donohue to improve Catholic education by having her design Catholic curricula, write policies, and escort Catholic schools and colleges on their path to becoming Newman Guide Recommended.

Ep. 2: Understanding the State of Catholic Education Today: Where It’s Going, Preparing Young People, Signs of Renewal, Embracing the Faith

In this episode, we continue our conversation with Patrick Reilly as he discusses the vision of Catholic Education and where it’s going, how The Cardinal Newman Society and The Newman Guide prepares young people to encounter the culture of the real world, the state of Catholic education, and embracing the faith with positivity.

The Cardinal Newman Society aims to promote and defend faithful Catholic education.  However, most Catholics have not experienced a faithful Catholic education, therefore CNS needs to fill in the blank. What does this look like? What does it entail? How would one know it? What should one look for to determine if their Catholic school is faithfully Catholic? Too often, parents rely on the “like meter”— I like so and so (insert administrator or teacher name), therefore I think they are doing a good job. Or perhaps they have Mass once a week and wear uniforms so they appear Catholic. Is that enough to be called a faithful Catholic education?

Join us to learn the beauty of a faithful Catholic education, how it counters the culture, serves as an antidote for the pandemic of woke indoctrination assailing the Catholic educational system, and, in turn, highlights the Catholic education heroes engaged in this battle daily.

Visit cardinalnewmansociety.org to learn more.

 

The Vision of Catholic Education and Where It’s Going

Patrick Reilly discusses the impact of the Newman Guide on students, parents, grandparents, and Catholic schooling as a lifelong process. He discusses The Cardinal Newman Society’s commitment to the Catholic continuum that begins with K12 schooling and the unity of Newman Guide institutions that are committed to the renewal and reformation of Catholic education.

Preparing Young People for the Real World

Patrick Reilly discusses Catholic education as the Church’s most effective means of evangelization through the perspective of Cardinal Newman, intellectual formation, and integration of faith and reason. He stresses the critical role of forming young people to be prepared to encounter the culture of the real world, become intellectually strong, and to go out to the world to persuade others to Christ.

Is Catholic Education Lost?

Patrick Reilly discusses the positive message and the great signs of renewal of Catholic education that is present within Newman Guide institutions and the lessons learned over the years. He talks about how The Cardinal Newman Society continues to find new ways of forming students in truth in line with God’s universal call for the human person.

Embracing the Faith with Positivity

Patrick Reilly discusses ways faithful Catholics can engage with The Cardinal Newman Society to take a part in on the mission of renewing faithful Catholic education and impact the culture. He then uncovers the deep meaning of the new logo as a means of recapturing the foundation of The Cardinal Newman Society and Saint Cardinal Newman’s vision of faithful Catholic education. Despite the many threats to Catholic education, he discusses the myriad of Newman Guide institutions that are embracing change and reform to be truly faithfully Catholic that so many parents are excited about.

Newman Guide Colleges Are Light in the Darkness

MANASSAS, VA – A light shines brightest in the darkness, and increasing numbers of Catholic families are choosing the faithful Catholic colleges recommended in The Cardinal Newman Society’s Newman Guide! Most of these colleges are enjoying unprecedented enrollment numbers and financial support in the 2023-2024 academic year, and all are displaying the enormous impact that authentic Catholic education can have in the Church and in society.

The contrast is stark. Secular college enrollment in the United States continues to plunge, while
Newman Guide colleges and universities are bursting with success. 

  • Belmont Abbey College welcomed its largest incoming class, marking a nearly 10% increase over the record class they experienced in the fall of 2022 and boasting its largest enrollment in a decade with
    1,654 students.
  • Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, has a record undergraduate class of 2,213. This marks a 121% growth for the college over the last 20 years.
  • The Catholic University of America had the highest number of applications and deposits they have experienced in the last five years while welcoming a student body evenly split 50/50, male to female. This runs contrary to higher education statistics showing women make up roughly 60% of U.S. college students.
  • Christendom College welcomed 172 new students to campus reaching its 550 total student body size cap.
  • The Franciscan University of Steubenville welcomed 772 incoming freshmen, the largest class since its founding in 1946.
  • The University of Mary, located in Bismarck, North Dakota, had the largest freshmen class in its history
    with 559.
  • The University of St. Thomas-Houston had a record-breaking number of new incoming undergraduate students, eclipsing 800.
  • Thomas Aquinas College reached capacity at its California campus, and in 2019, added a second campus in New England.
  • Wyoming Catholic College, one of the youngest colleges appearing on The Newman Guide, launched in 2007, has experienced continual growth since its inception and is up to 189 students, reflecting a 72% increase over the last ten years.

Click here for more on these faithful institutions.

 

 

 

Catholic College $5,000 Scholarship Contest Invites Applications

MANASSAS, VA – The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) is pleased to announce its eighth annual Essay Scholarship Contest. The winning essay writer will be awarded $5,000 toward the cost of attending a faithful Catholic college recognized in The Newman Guide in the fall of 2024.

In addition, several Newman Guide colleges have agreed to supplement CNS’s scholarship with additional $5,000 grants to the winner over three additional years, according to criteria established by each college.

All of the details about the Contest can be found at this link: https://newmansoc.org/EssayContest

The CNS scholarship is made possible thanks to the generosity of Joe and Ann Guiffre, strong advocates of faithful Catholic education.

The contest is open to high school seniors in the United States who sign up for The Cardinal Newman Society’s Recruit Me program and check out the recognized colleges in The Newman Guide during their college search.

The topic for this year’s contest is to reflect, in 400-600 words, on the following:

This year, The Cardinal Newman Society expanded The Newman Guide to recommend faithful Catholic K-12 schools and graduate programs, as well as colleges. Explain the importance of attending a Newman Guide college as the capstone to a lifelong Catholic formation. How does it build upon a student’s prior years, and what comes next?

Essays will be judged by how well they demonstrate appreciation for faithful Catholic education, as well as the quality of the writing. One winner will be chosen, and several other top essays will be highlighted by The Cardinal Newman Society.

Last year, the Society recognized Jacob Kristine, a homeschooled student in Pennsylvania, as the winner of tits seventh annual Essay Scholarship Contest. He received a $5,000 scholarship toward his education at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. He may also be eligible for additional $5,000 grants from Christendom College.

While many students go off to college and lose their faith and joy, Kristine explained in his winning essay how his older siblings’ faith was strengthened, and their lives were enriched, by attending a faithful Catholic college.

“My siblings have bestowed upon me the great riches of understanding what gifts a truly Catholic college can impart to a young person. I have seen firsthand how this pursuit of Truth leads to a life that is Good and wholesome and sincerely promotes seeking the Creator of Beauty,” he explained.

“The friendships my siblings forged throughout their four years among like-minded followers of Christ have challenged them to grow in wisdom, remain faithful to God through worship and devotional practices, and encouraged virtuous living without sacrificing fun, laughter, and an abundantly joy-filled life—then and now,” Kristine continued.

Kristine’s entire essay can be read here.

Questions about this year’s Essay Scholarship Contest can be directed to Programs@CardinalNewmanSociety.org.

Catholic Education Strong ‘Foundation’ for Psychologist

A psychologist who currently works at a veteran’s hospital says that he received a strong “foundation” and “confidence” in his “beliefs and values” through faithful Catholic education.

Dr. Patrick McNeely attended Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, for three years—before the college had received its current degree-granting status. He wrapped up his undergraduate degree at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., and went on to earn his Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, Va.

Dr. McNeely highly recommends the Catholic liberal arts at the undergraduate level—such as the education provided at Newman Guide colleges—for those who want to be a psychologist.

“While an undergraduate degree in psychology is helpful in some ways, you are going to learn all of that in graduate school,” explained Dr. McNeely. Having a “more rounded understanding of the person that comes from studying philosophy, theology, history, and literature” can help with a “more complete understanding the human person,” he continued.

CNS: Can you tell us about some highlights from your time at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom?

Dr. Patrick McNeely: I would say there were quite a few highlights from my time there. In my first year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried out for the school play. While it was definitely not something I had done before, I really enjoyed doing it, and it remains one of the highlights of my first year.

Community-life-wise, I really liked how OLSWC was set up with “dorms” being houses. I think that style really helped to build community at the school. Having a house feel, with common areas and shared kitchens/living rooms/dining rooms, helped to pull students (myself included) out of their cliques and learn to live with and get to know others whom they might not have engaged with as much in a more traditional dorm. OLSWC also put a heavy emphasis on building and fostering community life, which I think was incredibly important and formative for my time there. Whether it was celebrating as a school for different holidays or feast days or having “House Nights,” we were able to really get to know each other in a way that likely would not have happened without the intentional fostering of community that OLSWC emphasized.

Academically, I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much all the classes I took at OLSWC. The teachers were engaging (in and out of classes) and incredibly knowledgeable, and the discussions that took place after classes were a blast. I really enjoyed the philosophy and literature classes that I took. Victorian Literature is probably the class that I look back on and remember the most as being a highlight of my time there. When it comes to “not-top-10” highlights, I would say that putting on ice skates for the first time in 15 years, trying to play hockey, and crashing into the boards in order to stop would have to take the cake. After three years, I finally learned how to stop while on skates without having to ram into the boards.

The McNeely Family

CNS: How did your education help prepare you for your doctoral studies at Divine Mercy University?

Dr. Patrick McNeely: I think it prepared me in three main ways. First, in a very practical way, Divine Mercy University (DMU) has a unique approach to the study of psychology in that they integrate philosophy, theology, and psychology. My time at OLSWC studying the core classes of philosophy and theology helped me to have a much better understanding of the material discussed in class.

Second, I really do believe that the community formation that I received at OLSWC has helped me in the field of psychology. College can often be a time where you go and create new friends, and those are the people that you spend all your time with for the next several years. I think this is especially true of some of the bigger universities where it is virtually impossible to know everyone, and so we stick to our cliques of like-minded/interested people. At OLSWC, the combination of the smaller community and the college’s intentional fostering of community really helped me with my clinical work at DMU. While it seems like an odd thing to say, learning to meet people who are different than you and who don’t have similar interests/beliefs/etc. can be difficult, especially in college. But OLSWC really helped me to learn to branch out and get to know people more, even people I didn’t agree with on most things. I’m not sure if I’m being fully clear on that, but I guess it boils down to OLSWC fostering of social/communal aspects of students helped me to feel more comfortable sitting with clients.

Third, OLSWC’s academics were rigorous and challenging, and I really believe that they helped to prepare me for the difficulty of graduate school. While graduate school is a different kind of difficult, having had the experience of challenging academics in undergraduate school made that transition to graduate academics a little less challenging.

Overall, for those wanting to do graduate studies in psychology, I would highly recommend a liberal arts education. While an undergraduate degree in psychology is helpful in some ways, you are going to learn all of that in graduate school. However, having a more rounded understanding of the human person that comes from studying philosophy, theology, history, literature, etc. can really help to integrate the various psychological theories into a more complete understanding.

CNS: How is your faithful Catholic education influencing your work as a psychologist at a Veteran’s Affairs hospital?

Dr. Patrick McNeely: I think it has helped a lot. I’m not sure that I could draw a straight line from one thing to another, but I have definitely noticed how my view of life has been formed by my education. One specific way that I have noticed the academic influence is from the literature classes that I took while at OLSWC… how the novels and writings from some of the great literary writers of history have given me insight into the human condition and experiences.

Another way that my education has helped is by providing me with a strong foundation and confidence in my beliefs and values. While there can definitely be times when those get challenged or shook from listening to stories and traumas that others have experienced, my education provided me with knowledge about a lot of the questions that come up as well as guidance on where to look to find the answers.

Finally, I think that the community formation that OLSWC provided has really been important in my work. Through my years there, I learned about the importance of being a part of a community and how crucial that can be for flourishing in work and home life.

CNS: Anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Patrick McNeely: I think I would just say that OLSWC is a unique place. While it does not offer some things that other colleges do (sports teams, large campus, etc.), it does make up for those in different areas. On top of that, the cost to attend (when compared to other Catholic colleges) is much more budget friendly. I very much value my time there, and I am well aware that, if it were not for attending OLSWC (and returning for a 2nd and then 3rd year), I would not be in the place I am today. While there are still many ways for me to learn and grow, I believe that I am in a much better place than I would have been if I had not received the formation and guidance from the faculty, staff, and fellow students at OLSWC.

The Bishop’s Role in Discerning Catholic Identity

A bishop’s oversight of Catholic education within his diocese—including schools, home schools, and colleges—is indispensable. His support and encouragement are also invaluable.

That’s the experience of President Stephen Minnis, who has led an exciting renewal of faithful education and formation over the last two decades at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. Minnis says Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City “has always been available to help me as the College faces significant issues, and his advice has been invaluable as we chart the course of the College.” He says it was the Archbishop’s request that Benedictine review its compliance with Church teaching on Catholic education, create a culture of evangelization on campus, and give special attention to family and life issues.

It has always been so: the success of Catholic education depends on the active leadership of bishops. The bishops at the First (1852) and Second (1866) Plenary Councils of Baltimore deemed Catholic elementary schools vital to the protection of children from “the seeds of error or vice” and required every parish to erect a Catholic school. Decades earlier in 1789, Bishop John Carroll established Georgetown University as the first institution of Catholic higher education in the United States.

Magdalen College’s Mass of the Holy Spirit. From left to right: Mr. John Klucinec, Dr. Mary Mumbach, Fr. Stephen Rocker, Bishop Peter Libasci, Deacon Karl Cooper, Dr. Ryan Messmore (president of Magdalen College), Dr. Erik van Versendaal.

The bishops’ responsibility to oversee Catholic schools and colleges is noted in many Vatican documents, and it is most clearly defined in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, St. John Paul II’s Ex corde Ecclesiae (1990), and The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue (2022).

Catholic education is an apostolate of the Catholic Church founded by Christ to make disciples and to teach all that He commanded. In the formation of young people, the Church is a necessary partner with parents, who are a child’s primary educators and require their bishops’ guidance in matters of faith and morals. Especially in the last two centuries, the Church has assisted families by providing Catholic schools and colleges under the oversight of the local bishop and oftentimes religious orders. Ex corde Ecclesiae requires that Catholic college leaders report to their bishops: “Every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a University, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity” (27). And in The Identity of the Catholic School we read, “Indeed, the ‘ecclesial nature of Catholic schools, which is inscribed in the very heart of their identity as schools, is the reason for the institutional link they keep with the Church hierarchy’” (50).

It is the bishop’s responsibility “to promote and assist” in the preservation and strengthening of Catholic identity in education. The American bishops typically leave the day-to-day oversight of parochial and diocesan schools to a superintendent or other administrator, but The Identity of the Catholic School reiterates the duty and responsibility of the bishop for this oversight, describing in detail specific procedures and actions he must do to protect Catholic teaching.

A bishop should visit all the Catholic schools in his diocese “at least every five years, personally or, if he is legitimately impeded, through the coadjutor Bishop or the auxiliary or the Vicar general or episcopal Vicar… or some other presbyter,” the Vatican says. The document does not contemplate delegating this to a lay person or religious organization.

 

The success of Catholic education depends on the active leadership of bishops.

 

The bishop can “appoint or at least approve teachers of religion for his diocese,” and he can also remove them or require they be removed, “if reasons of religion or morals require it.” Since all teachers in diocesan schools are required to infuse the Catholic faith into their subjects, the bishop has authority to remove any of them “if conditions for his or her appointment are no longer met.” This generally means following the moral teachings of the Catholic Church and not creating public scandal. This is because teachers hold an “ecclesiastical munus and office,” which means “any post which by divine or ecclesiastical disposition is established in a stable manner to further a spiritual purpose” (Can. 145 §1).

The bishop also has the right and duty to intervene at the college level, if he believes the character of a Catholic college is compromised. Catholic theology professors—whether or not at a Catholic institution—are required to obtain the mandatum from their local bishop, acknowledging that they are teaching in full communion with the Catholic Church. Ex corde Ecclesiae requires a periodic review of a Catholic college’s program and communication with the bishop, which for many of the Newman Guide colleges has resulted in a very productive relationship. President Ryan Messmore of Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, N.H., tells us that each year the bishop comes “to celebrate our Mass of the Holy Spirit on the first day of classes and to hear the faculty and the president take the Oath of Fidelity to the Catholic Church.”

Schools operating independently from the diocese require a formal recognition by their bishop that the school can use the Catholic label. Even a school or college holding canonical status (a religious institute or juridic person) must request this approval from the local bishop, should they desire to open a school or college in a particular diocese, according to the Vatican’s 2022 document on Catholic identity.