Catholic Education Scandal on April Fool’s Day

Imagine the irony: Today, April Fool’s Day, a Boston high school named Catholic Memorial will bestow an award on a pro-abortion politician. You might think this is just part of the day’s hijinks, a calculated prank, but sadly, this scandal is all too familiar and real.

Patrick Reilly, founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, appeared as a guest on The Catholic Current with host Fr. McTeigue, S.J., to discuss the scandal of honoring people who publicly oppose the very teaching that lies at the heart of true Catholic education, and what can be done to courageously renew our Catholic schools.

If a Catholic school is going to give an openly pro-abortion politician an award, what does “Catholic school” even mean at that point? As Fr. McTeigue ponders, “One has to wonder what people think they are paying for with Catholic education.”

As Reilly explained, we’ve lost a sense of who is responsible for the education of children, and ultimately, it’s the parents. “Education is fundamentally a lay function. The Church is supposed to be upholding, teaching, and preserving the faith, and therefore, education has to be done in full partnership with the Church to be fully Catholic.”

“Unfortunately, another trap we’ve fallen into is the idea that “Catholic” is just a label that is given, and an institution can do whatever it pleases, even if those actions contradict Church teaching. Catholic Memorial is an example of such an institution, controlled by the Christian Brothers, but sending a clear message of encouragement for pro-abortion activism.” Reilly added.

Reilly goes on to demonstrate that such an action presents a scandalous image of the school. “You are making a decision to choose one person out of the millions of people in the world, out of the good Catholics whom you could choose. When you choose someone who is deliberately working for the death and slaughter of millions of babies, working for the destruction of marriage and the complete misunderstanding of gender, what are you doing? There is a deliberate aspect to that decision, and that’s what really needs to be condemned.”

When Catholic schools are making such decisions as these, parents have the obligation to look elsewhere. And while they don’t always get the support they deserve, Reilly points to many examples that are upholding the Catholic faith, including renewed parochial schools, homeschooling, independent schools, and even new hybrid model programs.

“As Catholics, we keep putting things back on the bishops. But as lay Catholic people, we need to be holding schools to account. We should be confident in that authority. Stop putting our kids in places like Catholic Memorial. It’s very deliberately and very publicly signaling to the world where it’s at. Why would we put our kids in a place like that?”

As a positive conclusion, Reilly explained, “Today, Catholic schools have a great opportunity. Americans are fed up with how far the Left has taken the culture, and a school that strongly asserts its Catholic identity does very well. It’s a sign of opposition to the craziness of the culture.”

Listen to the whole episode here!



Faithful Catholic College Graduate Helps Make Prayer Accessible

Annie Foster

A graduate of a faithful Catholic college believes daily prayer is critical—and she’s sharing a new tool to help young people develop a prayer routine.

“Forming a strong daily prayer routine is paramount to building the spiritual armor necessary to face daily temptation as well as the destructive forces college students will be met with post-graduation,” urges Annie Foster, a graduate Franciscan University of Steubenville, which is recognized in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.

Now employed by the Catholic app named “Hallow” that hosts more than 5,000 audio-guided prayers and meditations, Annie believes the tool can be a great resource for young people to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. In just three years, the app has become the top Catholic app in the app store, with 50,000 five-star reviews and two million downloads.

“I believe Hallow’s success and why it is a helpful resource for young adults, lies first and foremost in the fact that prayer is where we come to know the person of Jesus Christ and where we invite Him into a personal relationship. The Catholic apologetics space is overflowing with catechetical resources to help us to know and defend our faith. Hallow’s primary purpose however is to serve as an instrument that our Lord can use to speak to our hearts and where we can speak to His.”

Hallow allows users to set-up alerts for prayer throughout the day, and then set time aside for audio prayers like the Angelus and Rosary. It “meets students where they are” both physically (on their phones) and spiritually (on their faith journeys), explains Annie. Schools and colleges like Franciscan University are partnering with Hallow to make the app available to students.

The app is also in high demand to respond to the mental health crisis that many young people are facing today.

“In recent years, young adults have been experiencing and openly sharing more and more the mental health issues they’ve been facing. The remedies of the world are often not only contrary to our faith but lead the youth into even greater confusion and desolation,” explained Annie. “Hallow responded to this reality by working with Catholic mental health professionals such as Dr. Bob Schuchts and religious such as Sr. Miriam James to create meditations to address the healing of wounds, addictions as well as various other topics.”

In her life and work, Annie draws the on formation she received at Franciscan University “on a daily basis.”

“Franciscan is where I fell in love with the study of philosophy, particularly Christian personalism and the thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand and his wife Alice. I worked as a student fellow for the Hildebrand Project, a non-profit dedicated to the dissemination of Hildebrands thought and witness,” explained Annie. “Christian personalism tints the lense with which I view my faith and my work because it is a philosophy rooted in an appreciation of the dignity of the human person and therefore a philosophy that can be lived.”

She was also an active member of Franciscan’s lacrosse team. “Coach Maura Carapellotti transformed simple exercises into spiritual exercises. Coach emboldened us to play our sport with total freedom and fearlessness because she convinced us that our identities were not based on the scoreboard but in our relationship with our Lord. We truly played for an audience of One [Jesus Christ].”

The women’s lacrosse team at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

“Attending a faithful Catholic college akin to Franciscan not only makes authentic Catholic teaching and the sacraments accessible, it makes accessible a community of peers who will support you in prayer and friendship for the rest of your life. That is no small thing. We often affectionately refer to Steubenville as a ‘bubble’ because it truly is a safeguarded haven for practicing Catholics.”

But “even within the ‘bubble’ the enemy never sleeps,” and the temptations are great after college, explained Annie. That’s why building a prayer routine is so critical—and why Annie is helping young people do just that.

Univ of Mary Athletics

Catholic School Sports Should Encourage Prayer

Imagine losing your job, simply because you prayed after a sporting event.

That’s exactly what happened to Joseph Kennedy in Washington State—and it’s yet another example of hostility to Christianity in public schools.

Back in 2015, Kennedy lost his head football coaching job at Bremerton High School, because he refused to stop praying at the 50-yard line after games. Kennedy began the practice by offering a brief prayer of thanksgiving, and he was later voluntarily joined by players from both teams.

To defend his right “to act in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs,” Coach Kennedy has had to take his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which will hear his arguments in April. He has the support of the U.S. Catholic bishops, because his plight resembles the growing threats to the religious freedom of all Catholics and other religious believers who run afoul of secularism.

But while Kennedy is surely right to defend his job, there is a larger issue here: the inadequacy and growing danger of secular public education for Catholic families. With regard to school sports in particular, Catholic kids need and deserve the kind of athletic formation that upholds the dignity of the human person and gives glory to God. Public schools are by definition secular, therefore lacking complete understanding of education—and today, they are increasingly hostile to prayer and the truths of our Catholic faith.

Catholic schools and colleges should “ensure that public prayer is a part of each home pre-game program and encourage post-game team prayers as well,” explains The Cardinal Newman Society’s recently published “Policy Standards on Formation of the Human Person in Catholic School and College Sports.” By doing this, Catholic education not only differentiates itself from the myriad young people fleeing the praying field but also upholds its mission of seeking and teaching truth to its students. While academics is the primary means to achieve this, extracurricular programs are critically important for rounding out a students’ formation and instilling a Catholic worldview.

The standards anticipate objections and questions about the practices of Catholic school teams, quite similar to the concerns raised against Coach Kennedy. “Isn’t it a violation of good taste and religious freedom to offer a specifically Catholic prayer before a game? Shouldn’t we choose the most generic and universal sentiments to avoid offending others?”

Not at all! That’s what faithful Catholic educators should say. The home team plans its pre-game and post-game events, inviting others into its “home.” At a Catholic school or college, that’s a “Catholic home.” “We have a chance to show our guests who we are: a community of faith and part of the Catholic Church, and in this instance the Church at play and prayer,” explain The Cardinal Newman Society standards.

Moreover, “We should never shy away from the name of Jesus in any prayer or circumstance out of a false sense of inclusivity or a fear of appearing pious.”

Coach Kennedy, not a Catholic but a lover of Christ, gives us a model of fortitude in an age of weakness. His strength is no less important to sports than physical strength. He was not afraid of offering a public prayer of thanksgiving following a football game, even though it ultimately cost him his job.

Likewise, coaches at Catholic schools and colleges should not hesitate to offer prayers before or after sporting events. Neither should students. They should never shy away from showing their firm belief in Jesus Christ, knowing that their example on and off the field is welcomed and celebrated—part of Catholic education’s key role in the Church’s mission of evangelization.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

‘Seriously Consider a Faithful Catholic College,’ Reilly Urges on Kolbe Academy Podcast

During Catholic Schools Week, Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly was a guest on Kolbecast, the official podcast of Kolbe Academy, a classical Catholic homeschool program for K-12 students. He talked about what led to the creation of The Newman Guide, the reasons why Catholic families should consider a faithful Catholic college and what Catholic education is all about.

Most Catholic colleges and all public colleges have secularized in academics and nearly every aspect of campus life, and they often actively promote a worldview that is antithetical to the faith, explained Reilly. On the other hand, the faithful Catholic colleges recommended in The Newman Guide take a different approach. These places are serious about Catholic identity in all aspects of campus: campus life, hiring, academics, athletics—just to name a few areas.

The Newman Guide colleges are also very serious about educating and forming the whole person, and the graduates tend to be more aware of who they are and what God wants them to be, Reilly said.

Asked what makes a college a “Newman Guide college,” Reilly said, “There is one key standard: a Catholic family can send a child and be reasonably confident that they are going to be receiving a strong foundation intellectually, spiritually, etc.”

“People think we are too stringent” in choosing colleges for the Newman Guide, especially with regard to dorm policies that protect chastity and other student life concerns, Reilly acknowledged. “But campus life is extremely important for students. So many things go on at typical college campuses, which causes a lot of excess worry for the students and affects their performance in school. You need institutions that care about their formation.”

Reilly also addressed the cost of Newman Guide colleges, explaining that the “net price”—after financial aid and scholarships—is often not much different than state institutions. Moreover, the colleges are often very willing to help Catholic families.

Reilly urged families to think about the big picture in the college search: “What is our fundamental purpose in life and education? What would be our view of success, when we look at our child, and we’re looking back and seeing the result of the formation that we gave them? I want them to be good people, generous, Christian, and love God. As a parent, I want to know that I did everything I could to provide them with the best education I could, so they can really be the best person that they can be.”

He added: “I don’t see how you do that in an environment that’s completely secular, that doesn’t pay attention to the core issues.”

There is a lot of hope for Catholic education in the next decade, as more and more people see how faithful Catholic education is effective in forming good students and fostering their growth in the Catholic faith. There’s also great hope at the K-12 level, with programs like Kolbe Academy and schools and dioceses turning to the Newman Society for help in strengthening Catholic identity.

“The next decade is going to be a great golden age in Catholic education,” Reilly predicted. “The greater the pressure that society is putting on us, the greater the need is for Catholic education.”

The co-hosts of this Kolbecast episode included Bonnie Griffin, a mother of four Kolbe Academy students; Steven Hayden, senior development director for Kolbe Academy; and Jordan Almanzar, the Academy’s director of alumni and public relations.

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.

WATCH: Patrick Reilly on EWTN News Nightly

EWTN News Nightly

It’s Catholic Schools Week. While most Catholic media celebrated as if everything is “blue skies” for America’s parochial schools, Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly delivered a more sober message this week on EWTN News Nightly.

Over the last 50 years, parochial school enrollment has declined by more than two-thirds, and Catholic identity declined in many schools, Reilly told host Tracy Sabol. High costs have also prevented many Catholic families from attending parochial schools.

On the other hand, there are exciting efforts to renew Catholic identity in many dioceses and parochial schools, and there is also a growing variety of faithful alternatives for Catholic families. Reilly celebrated “great signs of hope with the burgeoning homeschool movement, …independent Catholic schools, lay-run institutions that are starting up, and the renewal of many parochial schools. There’s a very good story right now in Catholic education, but it is coming out of a fifty-year malaise.”

“Schools need to look at doing absolutely everything that they do—whether it’s athletics, admissions, academics—using clear Catholic standards top to bottom,” Reilly urged.

“Unfortunately, most secular institutions are leading young people astray, and so we desperately need this renewal of faithful Catholic education.”

Whether in parochial schools or other means of faithful Catholic education, Catholic families increasingly are finding a renewal of truth and fidelity and a recognition that the formation of young people must be one of the Church’s highest priorities. And that’s something to celebrate!

“Catholic education is the Church’s primary means of evangelization,” Reilly said. “It’s the most important thing that we do in terms of bringing the faith to young people and forming them in the faith and in an understanding of the world from a Catholic point of view.”

Watch the full interview here.

Catholic School Rescued at Historic Pennsylvania Parish

The oldest baptismal record in America, dated 1741, is at St. John the Baptist Church in rural Ottsville, Pennsylvania, part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. But not so long ago, the Catholic school at one of the nation’s longest-surviving Catholic parishes was on the brink of closure.

Brian Middleton saw rapid decline when his youngest daughter, Maria, was a student. When she was in first grade, in 2008, Brian sat in the balcony of the old parish church for the opening Mass because so many students filled the pews.

The next year, he found a seat in the back row. The following year, he was halfway up the church.

And it was then that he realized his daughter’s parochial school was failing, and he needed to do something.

“Without a Catholic education, when these children become adults and get lost along the way, they wouldn’t have a place to come home to,” the father worried. It was the deep formation of his own Catholic education that ultimately saved him from losing his faith in early adulthood.

So, Middleton went to the pastor to discuss the situation. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, a good man did something—and with the help of many others, this little Catholic school has since triumphed against the tide of secularism and a 50-year trend of declining parochial education across the United States.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Some Colleges Are Pro-Life Year-Round

Last week, hundreds of students from faithful Catholic colleges traveled to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, which went full-steam ahead after canceling last year and in spite of citywide COVID restrictions. Many colleges sent delegations, some of them quite large, but there is something especially heartening about the delegations from those colleges that remain thoroughly pro-life and faithfully Catholic year-round, in and out of season.

Attending the March for Life isn’t just a “once a year” activity — it’s not something done just for the fun of it or for a travel experience. Rather, colleges featured in The Newman Guide and the Register’s Catholic college guide strive to be pro-life all year long: being pro-life is part of the very fabric and identity of the colleges. Let’s take a look at some of the activities that these colleges do throughout the year.

Benedictine College

In addition to sending about 15-20 percent of its student population to the March for Life — which is an extensive journey — the Ravens Respect Life group does much to support the local pro-life cause. Not only do they pray at local abortion clinics, but they also sponsor training for and engage in sidewalk counseling. They assist local families in need by volunteering at the local crisis pregnancy center. Their support for pro-life issues extends from conception to natural death: they also visit the elderly in nursing homes.

Moreover, as Steve Johnson explained, “The college Alumni Relations Office encourages Benedictine families and alumni to participate in their area pro-life rallies and marches throughout the year with our Ravens for Life program. We send them signage to carry at their event to show the affiliation with Benedictine College.” The pro-life cause at Benedictine College continues well beyond graduation.

Ave Maria University

At Ave Maria University, students organize a trip to the March for Life, while also praying for an end to abortion outside the local Planned Parenthood once a week.

The university also sponsors the Jon Scharfenberger scholarship for Catholic pro-life leaders attending the university. The scholarship was created in honor of a 2011 AMU graduate who passed away in a tragic car accident a year following graduation while on his way home from a pro-life event. As reported in the recent edition of the Ave Maria magazine, while attending the university, he volunteered frequently at a local pregnancy center without anyone else knowing — and he didn’t even have a car to get there, which increased the wonder of how he was able to do so. Such a scholarship holds up Jon’s life as a witness to the importance of pro-life work for every student who attends Ave Maria.

Finally, an initiative on campus provides babysitting for fellow students so that they are able to continue attending classes and complete their degrees. They also offer confidential services including pregnancy testing and post-abortion counseling.

University of Mary

Looking to the University of Mary, pro-life is written across their entire identity with their motto, “UMary for Life!” Not only does it hint at the university’s intent to form the whole student in its education, according to Ed Konieczka, assistant director of University Ministry at the University of Mary, it also means that “we stand for life at all stages.”

For example, given the ongoing pandemic last year, “We planned the first annual North Dakota March for Life, gathering entities around the state. Our efforts resulted in a March and Rally at the state capital that was attended by 1500 people, including almost 400 people from the University of Mary. This year, the second annual state March for Life will take place at the exact same time as the national March — we will have students, faculty and staff marching simultaneously at the state capitol and in the nation’s capital.”

But their pro-life activities don’t just end with the March for Life. As Ed added, “Over this past year, our Collegians for Life organization sponsored a coffee house fundraiser to raise funds for prolife causes, brought in a guest speaker from the Students for Life, hosted a natural family planning information night, had a spiritual adoption tabling event, and served tables at the local Women’s Care Center Bingo Fundraising event.”

Finally, the university has pro bono clinics, which are entirely student-run and serve everyone, especially those who are uninsured or underinsured. These clinics ensure a culture of life on campus — serving those who need it most.

Allison Eiynck is a freshman this year at the university: ever since infancy, she has lived with multiple synostosis syndrome, which means that the joints in her elbows, fingers, toes and feet bones are fused, and she has brachydactyly, meaning that she is missing partial digits in her ring and pinkie fingers. She also needs hearing aids to assist with her hearing. As she explained in a press release, “I am not able to bend my arms, so I cannot reach my face, head, or certain areas above my waist.”

When she first arrived at the university, she really struggled to manage with daily tasks, especially because this was the first time that she would be completely independent. Thanks to the Pro Bono Occupational Therapy Clinic on campus, however, she was able to receive the help she needed to thrive and be independent. The second-year OT doctoral students worked creatively to come up with ideas to help her perform daily tasks that so many of us take for granted — using a straightener, putting in a ponytail, putting on a winter hat.

As one example, she explained to the Newman Society, “The stocking cap was very helpful and effective. Think of it as you’re putting a trash bag into the garbage can. The garbage can is small and made of plastic. I would put my hat in, like a trash bag with the edges hanging over. This created an opening for me to simply pick up the trash can, flip it upside down, and slide my head into it to place the hat onto my head. Then I would remove it from the trash can using my arms and adjust as needed.”

The importance of such a small object is monumental for someone like Eiynck. “This assistance that was provided respected my human dignity. I felt the OT students were more than happy to find ways to help me become independent, and they didn’t make me feel like I was different from anyone else.

“As an individual with a disability, it’s not fun,” she continued. “I always feel like eyes are on me when I’m out in public eating or just walking in general. The pro-bono clinic allows people with limitations to be independent and successful daily. It gives individuals more confidence to be on their own and make them feel wanted in this world.”

These are but a few examples of how Newman Guide colleges remain pro-life all year round, not just during the March for Life. Hopefully, these examples can be inspiring to others who are looking for ways to serve the pro-life cause no matter what time of year, from conception to natural death.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

Scholars Tout Unique, Catholic, Liberal Arts Education at Magdalen College

Dr. Anthony Esolen

Dr. Ryan Messmore

The Cardinal Newman Society was honored to recently interview two scholars who have found a home at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, N.H.: Dr. Anthony Esolen, a renowned translator and professor of literature and a prolific writer, together with Dr. Ryan Messmore, a champion of Catholic, liberal arts education and president of the College.

Recommended in The Newman Guide, Magdalen College provides an education unlike that provided by the typical Catholic college today. Drs. Esolen and Messmore discussed the special value of a true Catholic, liberal arts higher education.

Newman Society: What is the special value that Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts provides students in the 21st century? 

Dr. Anthony Esolen: We are “building soil” at Magdalen: making the cultural ground rich again. We honor and we study the great and good works from the past, not just as detached “great books” to be read and put on a shelf somewhere. Rather, we engage them as embedded in a long history of thought and art and human institutions, as bearing the marks of the cultures that produced them, and that have contributed in their own ways, and in irreplaceable ways, to our civilization. Our four-year-long Humanities course is, in this regard, unique in the nation. Nor do we read the great pagan authors to discover what they got wrong. They are giants, and though they did not see the truth of God or know Christ, still, what they saw, they saw, and we are not too proud as either moderns or as Christians to learn from what they saw.

Dr. Ryan Messmore: To help (in Dr. Esolen’s words) “make the cultural ground rich again,” we not only approach certain texts and authors with the respect they deserve, but we also do so in an incarnational way—meaning face-to-face, in-person, in the context of a faithful learning community. Many college students today—and especially over the last year and a half—have suffered from the prolonged amount of time they spend on screens. This has impacted not only their academic learning and their social/emotional health, but also their worship. In an impersonal world that stokes fear and divisiveness, Magdalen offers a different mode of living and learning. We prioritize small-group conversation; we take the sacraments seriously; we celebrate large feasts and holidays as well as small, campus-wide traditions; faculty and staff eat and work and worship along students. In so doing, we daily embody the sort of cultural richness that Dr. Esolen rightly notes is hard to find in our larger culture.

Newman Society: What do you think most of American education gets wrong with regard to the liberal arts—and especially the liberal arts within a Catholic education?

Dr. Anthony Esolen: Most of American education gets everything wrong with regard to the liberal arts. First, since they do not believe in any transcendent truth, they cut the liberal arts off at the knees; there is simply nowhere for the arts to go, other than to turn back in on themselves in cynicism or in angry political action. If you do not believe that it is good in itself to know things, and to behold beauty, and to share with others what you have seen and come to love, so as to enrich and ennoble human life, then it seems to me that you can have no use for Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach and the rest—no “use,” unless you reduce them to some pallid shadow of themselves, and say that it is alright to read Shakespeare because it will assist you in writing up office memoranda. But that is not why a human being reads Shakespeare. To sum it up, I’d say that the American approach to the liberal arts is utilitarian at best and therefore servile, not free; and that otherwise it turns the liberal arts into political action, which is worse than servile. It is treacherous.

Dr. Ryan Messmore: I would add that many educational institutions either do not take a strong stand on, or perhaps answer problematically, the fundamental question of the liberal arts: What does it mean to be human? For example, what is our nature as male and female?  What is our purpose as persons created in the image of God?

Let’s take each possibility in turn. 1) When institutions shy away from putting a stake in the ground on such questions, they become susceptible to promoting the latest ideology or political agenda (as Dr. Esolen noted). And when institutions won’t commit themselves to what it means to be human, they don’t know what it is they are claiming to liberate. 2) When modern universities do take a stand, they often promote a vision of human beings as simply autonomous, rights-bearing individuals with no transcendent purpose—with no deeper meaning or identity other than the identity they choose for themselves.

What suffers is, again, true freedom. There’s much to liberate the student from, but not much to liberate the student for. The liberal arts should liberate students from ignorance and utilitarianism and liberate them to become fully flourishing human persons.

Newman Society: How do students apply the liberal arts to lead happy and productive lives after graduation?

Dr. Anthony Esolen: Students who are grounded in the liberal arts will be much better readers and writers than their peers will be, and since those skills are rare in our time, that means that a good reader or writer will not find it hard to get well-remunerated work.  Mainly, though, we are talking about the formation of souls, the enriching and elevation of the mind.

Dr. Ryan Messmore: Magdalen students enter life after graduation with certain habits and a certain framework that catalyze true happiness. Dr. Esolen mentioned some of those habits, which entail good communication, but their Catholic liberal arts education also equips them with habits of close reading, critical thinking and faithful living. What do I mean by that? Our students have developed the habit of taking time for prayer and daily Mass; they have developed the habit of putting others first and serving a larger good; they have developed the habit of asking good questions and discerning what they hear in response. When they approach something new in life, they do so with wonder and curiosity, anticipating that it has a deeper purpose and meaning than what others might see at first glance. These formational habits and ways of viewing the world are perhaps the most crucial things an education can provide students.

Photo via Magdalen College.

Newman Society: Do your alumni find success? 

Dr. Anthony Esolen, Dr. Ryan Messmore: Yes, but we both think it’s important to define the term “success.” At the level of employment, Magdalen students go on to find work and satisfaction in many fields—from finance and law, to I.T. and education, to healthcare and journalism. In addition, many continue on to earn higher degrees in graduate school. At the deeper level of relationships, a large percentage of our graduates get married (a larger percentage than is typical of the rest of their demographic!) and they raise strong families. At the all-important level of character, our graduates tend to succeed in prioritizing what is important in life—in Augustine’s terms, how to love the right things in the right way. That’s the path that future saints travel, which is the ultimate standard of success!

Newman Society: Magdalen College is small, close-knit, friendly, and situated in the mountains of New England. For many students, that’s an ideal environment to study and grow in the Catholic faith. What kind of student flourishes at Magdalen College? 

Dr. Anthony Esolen: Students who like being around people and who like to talk about all kinds of things—movies, music, art, language, the greenhouse, how to build a garage, Latin verbs—and who want to draw nearer to God and to their neighbors, by the beauty of worship and by the calm and steady work of the mind.  We have a lot of fun here—and it shows. Meet our students for ten minutes and you will see!

Dr. Ryan Messmore: As Dr. Esolen alluded to, Magdalen is for a special kind of student. It’s not for those who want to design their own curriculum or spend their Friday nights drinking at a sorority party or cheering for a football team in a crowded stadium. Magdalen is for those who have an inkling that the world is enchanted with beauty and meaning and want an education that will help them explore it at a deeper level. It’s for those who prefer Dante’s Comedy and an O’Connor short story to a modern textbook. It’s for those who want to be inspired by sacred music and reverent liturgy. And it’s for those who want to learn from top-notch, faithful professors like Anthony Esolen!

Univ of Mary health sciences male

University of Mary Embraces Health Sciences in ‘Mission of Service’

Where can Catholic families send their children who want to pursue a career in the health sciences? The University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., which is recommended in The Newman Guide, is an exciting option.

The Newman Society recently asked Dr. Mary Dockter, dean of the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences at the University of Mary, to discuss how students are taught about the moral dimension of their work.

Newman Society: The University of Mary has made an extraordinary commitment to programs in the health sciences. Why?

Dr. Mary Dockter: The University of Mary exists to serve the people of this region and beyond. This mission has its roots in the pioneering courage of our Sisters, who first came to Bismarck to serve the needs of the people here, opening up schools and the only hospital between St. Paul and Seattle. They came not simply to educate minds, but to offer desperately needed bodily care to the afflicted. Thus, our commitment to programs in the health sciences is extraordinary because health care is an integral part of our history and a cherished aspect of our identity, and it drives and inspires us to train health care professionals who carry on that mission of service and care for others.

At every point in our university’s history, health care education has led the way. The university’s first master’s degree was in nursing and the first doctoral degree was in physical therapy. Our nursing program is currently ranked #1 in the nation by nursing’s national benchmark service, Mountain Measurement. We also know, now more than ever, there is a need for talented health care providers who can practice within the bounds of Catholic social teaching, lead with moral courage and uphold respect for the dignity of every human person.

As our region has expanded, along with the needs of those we serve, so too have our program offerings. We offer many ways for our students to pursue fulfilling careers in health care, for undergraduate students, graduate students and professionals wanting to begin or advance a career in health care — like the RN to BSN, accelerated second degree BSN and multiple master’s and doctoral degrees. Our online LPN to BSN program is ranked #6 nationally; our Exercise Science program is ranked #15 among hundreds of accredited bachelor’s programs; our Respiratory Therapy program was awarded “The President’s Award for Excellence in Credentialing Success,” which is the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care’s highest distinction.

We at the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences have much to celebrate, but there is also more work to do.

Photo via the University of Mary.

Newman Society: As our culture secularizes, there are an increasing number of medical practices today that run contrary to the Catholic faith, including abortion, “sex reassignment” surgeries, etc. How are students in the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences at the University of Mary taught about the moral dimension of their work?

Dr. Mary Dockter: We chose Saint Gianna as our patroness, not only because she led a life of faith as a physician, but precisely because she knew the value and worth of human life and the inherent dignity therein. We therefore strive to form our students with core components of Catholic social teaching in our health care education — from Ex corde Ecclesiae, informing our mission as a Catholic university, to the USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives” and beyond. Our faculty lead discussions on the profound issues related to the beginning and end of life and guide students through how to consider dignity and respect are ensured for all people, especially given the complex ethical landscape of modern health care. We encourage our students to study bioethics at the University of Mary, in coordination with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and offer not only a master’s degree but concentration and certificate options as well. Inspired and informed by the bioethics program, our students are formed with a focus on the multifaceted and ethical nature of providing health care.

By the time they leave our program, our graduates have a deep understanding of the integration of faith and reason as a foundational component of clinical reasoning and ethical decision making, all toward the end of safeguarding human dignity, and all while providing competent, excellent care.

Newman Society: Why is an academically excellent and faithfully Catholic education crucial for nurses, therapists, laboratory technologists, and other professions in the health sciences?

Dr. Mary Dockter: Academic excellence is crucial for ensuring patients receive quality care from their health care providers. Our program faculty guide our graduates to be the very best in their fields and prepare them to be exemplars of moral courage and defenders of the sanctity of life and dignity of the human person. Combining academic excellence within a faithfully Christian, joyfully Catholic and gratefully Benedictine community means that our graduates, who aspire to be virtuous leaders, can impact societal health in positive and lasting ways.

Moral courage is a great example of how these components come together in the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences. In each of our programs, students become keenly aware why access to necessary treatments and therapies — especially for the poor, the marginalized and the underserved — is something we strive to ensure. We also ask our students to consider this question thoughtfully, “Just because we can do something in medical science, should we do it?” We acknowledge that health care professionals and their patients both have rights of conscience, meaning that we must approach ethical dilemmas with keen perception, personal fortitude and gracious understanding.

Students are often surprised at how engrained, multifactorial and complicated the moral dimension of providing health care is when they enter the workforce. Weaving these conversations into our classrooms and integrating principles of Catholic social teaching into our curricula are critical components of why our graduates have made such a profound impact on health care in today’s world.

Photo via the University of Mary.

Newman Society: Beyond course offerings, how will a student’s experience at the University of Mary help prepare them to defend the life and dignity of each human person?

Dr. Mary Dockter: Our students have many experiences outside of the classroom that prepare them to enter the workforce as health care providers with moral courage and defenders of the sanctity of life and dignity of the human person. Most of our health care students participate in local, regional and/or international service-learning trips and/or experiences. University of Mary students, whether studying health care or another field, can partake in a rich sacramental life on campus, with daily Mass, adoration and prayer. Likewise, our Christian, Catholic and Benedictine values are infused in every single class our students take, in the Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences, and in any one of our other four academic schools. Our students cultivate rich, lasting friendships, nurture the spiritual and moral development of the community and promote the university-wide culture of discernment, engagement and evangelization. As a campus community, we participate in Day of Service, March for Life, Prayer Day and Life and Dignity Week. In addition, the University of Mary has a Mission for Life Office dedicated to finding service opportunities for students.

As a student prepares to defend the life and dignity of each human person, our faculty play a large role in their formation. They are highly engaged with what it means to be Catholic health care providers and educators. Many of our faculty took the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the Catholic Medical Association meeting in September of this year. And before the pandemic, they traveled abroad on pilgrimage to bear witness to the suffering at the concentration camps of World War II and to the miracles of healing at the Sanctuary of Our Lady in Lourdes, France. This pilgrimage was part of an integrated mission to learn about the diversity of human experience, to form faculty more strongly in the Catholic faith and to reaffirm their commitment and understanding of the need to uphold the dignity of human life.

Simply put: every facet of our university works to support students in their path to becoming leaders in their fields and in their communities.

Newman Society: Anything else you’d like to add about your Saint Gianna School of Health Sciences?

Dr. Mary Dockter: We have a long-standing history of providing health care education, and there are some very exciting developments happening at our school. In addition to earning a health care degree, our health sciences students can complete coursework in Catholic Studies to complement their program of study. In addition to serving the needs of our current students, we offer an accelerated second degree BSN, as well as RN to BSN, LPN to BSN, and RT to BSRT degrees to help members of our community upskill their education and achieve the positions that are in high demand. For lifelong learners, we offer a plethora of master’s degrees and certificate options within our school, as well as throughout the university.

We recently commended our entire School of Health Sciences to the patronage of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician drawn to the care of mothers, babies, the elderly and the poor. Her commitment to the dignity of human life inspires us to achieve greatness in our daily life, committing at each step to uphold our Christian, Catholic and Benedictine values. We look forward to October 4, 2022 — the Saint’s 100th birthday — when we will officially rededicate the School of Health Sciences to the patronage of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. During this time, we will thank God for this work that’s been specially given to us and reflect on the many ways our school can further impact the world of both Catholic and secular health care.