REPORT CARD: Catholic Schools Observe Solar Eclipse; Two Religious Freedom Victories; Marygrove College Ends Undergrad Programs

Catholic schools observe solar eclipse with awe, reverence

This year’s solar eclipse, the first since 1979, occurred throughout the United States on Aug. 21. Catholic schools and colleges were ready.

Benedictine College had a sold-out football stadium with free solar glasses to the first 7,500 attendees. On the day of the eclipse, the Newman Guide college hosted Masses and family activities, including face painting at its new observatory. The college experienced about 2 minutes and 18 seconds of total darkness. Two astronomers from the Vatican Observatory offered presentations on the previous day.

The Catholic News Service reports that COR Expeditions, a program that began at Wyoming Catholic College, offered an eight-day backpacking trip culminating in seeing the eclipse. The package included eight days of backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range. The trek offered hikers a chance to “allow the awesome beauty of the eclipse to sink in.”

Students attending South Florida Catholic schools were dismissed early or given Monday off in order to view the much-anticipated eclipse, according to the Sun Sentinel.

“It was for the safety and well-being of students and staff. It would be occurring when school would be getting out,” said Dianne Laubert, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Palm Beach. “It’s also a once-in-lifetime opportunity for students … to experience this with their families.”

The next total solar eclipse visible from the United States will occur on April 8, 2024.

Catholic education triumphs in two court cases

In a big win for religious freedom, the Second Circuit Court unanimously rejected a dangerous legal effort seeking to strip the Archdiocese of New York of its right to select its own religious leaders, according to a Becket news release.

Last month, in Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York, the same court unanimously rejected a former school principal’s case against the archdiocese and St. Anthony School. But the former principal responded with a petition asking the court to set aside its decision.

The petition outrageously compared the court’s decision to the Dred Scott case and the archdiocese to “slave owners.” With its ruling, the court has correctly affirmed that religious groups have control of their internal employment decisions.

Becket, a public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions, represented St. Anthony School and the Archdiocese. Becket attorney Daniel Blomberg said the lawsuit was “stuffed with anti-religious bigotry.”

In a similar case, NJ.com reports that a judge has refused to order a Catholic school to accept two girls who were denied re-enrollment after their parents sued the school to get one of their daughters on a boys’ basketball team.

“The court does not have the authority to meddle in this decision,” Superior Court Judge Donald A. Kessler said in his Aug. 14 ruling. Despite the girls’ father’s wish to require the school to accept the girls, the judge said the father had “cited no law that would allow the court to interfere with the ecclesiastical (or religious) decision.”

UMary’s healthcare program offered in blended format

The University of Mary’s new Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology (MSCEP) curriculum is one of only nine in the United States—and the world’s first in a blended format, both online and on campus.

The blended format provides “maximum flexibility for our students,” Dr. Moran Saghiv, MSCEP program director and associate professor at the University of Mary, said in a news release. “This format allows our students to have a full-time job, a family, and still do well in the program.”

This blended format, he said, also “lowers the overall cost of the program.”

Starting this fall, the program stretches over five semesters and includes a large amount of hands-on experience with 600 hours of internships, research, and lab work on the Bismarck campus.

Women of Grace partners with Holy Apostles College

Women of Grace, an apostolate with a mission to affirm women in their dignity and vocation, has entered into a unique partnership with Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut to offer certification, undergraduate and graduate credit hours in Catholic Women’s Leadership online.

Women of Grace’s Benedicta Women’s Leadership Studies offers graduate credit hours that can be applied toward a Master of Arts in pastoral studies (MAPS) with a concentration in Catholic women’s leadership studies, according to a Women of Grace news release. Courses include subjects such as Catholic social doctrine, the wisdom of holy women, and the new evangelization, among other subjects.

Father Joshua D. Genig, associate professor of church history and Benedicta Leadership Institute Studies chair of the women’s leadership studies concentration (MAPS program), called Holy Apostles a “perfect fit” because of its affordability, fidelity, and quality education.

“The bottom line is that the world has become chaotic and, sadly, has lost its story,” Father Genig said. “The goal of this program and, frankly, all that is done at HACS, is to bring an ordered, rich, robust theological education that transforms students into those ready and willing to give a winsome witness to a world that is dying to live!”

Courses will be available beginning Aug. 28. A one-week orientation in online learning begins on Aug. 21.

Marygrove College to close undergraduate college

Marygrove College, a Detroit-based Catholic college, is ending all of its undergraduate programs after a sharp decline in enrollment from 1,850 students in 2013 to 966 last fall, according to Hometown Life.

“Given the downward trend in Marygrove enrollment and the plight of other liberal arts colleges, the Marygrove Board of Trustees determined that transitioning the college to a graduate-only institution was the best course of action,” Marygrove president Elizabeth Burns said in a statement.

Nearby Madonna University is encouraging students affected by the decision to consider transferring there, offering them a tuition match and a free double room in a residence hall for the 2017-2018 school year.

There are many reasons for the struggles of small, private Catholic colleges in today’s education market, but The Cardinal Newman Society has long argued that faithful Catholic identity can be a strength in attracting students—and regardless ought not be compromised. See our 2015 report concerning the shutdown of Marian Court College in Swampscott, Mass.

Saint Leo’s adapts to low enrollment, offers online studies

In 1997, Saint Leo University was in trouble with plummeting enrollment and rising deficits. TampaBay.com reports that then-President Arthur Kirk launched an online education program the following year. Today, only a small portion of the Catholic college’s 14,600 students ever actually set foot on campus.

Now, when asked where Saint Leo’s is, William Lennox Jr., university president since 2015, says, “We are where you need us to be.”

Saint Leo has long catered to members of the armed services. One-third of Saint Leo’s students are veterans, men and women currently serving in the military, or spouses of military members. Most of the remaining students are working adults.

Many of the Newman Guide colleges have also entered into online education with some success.

USF hosts segregated ‘Black Student Orientation’

In addition to its standard student-welcoming activities, the University of San Francisco is hosting a segregated Black Student Orientation, according to The College Fix.

The program was “designed by Black students, faculty, and staff to welcome new Black students to the USF Black Experience” and will reportedly “address the specific and particular needs of African American/Black students at USF.”

It was also recently reported that USF, a Jesuit-run Catholic university, published and disseminated a “White Privilege Resource Guide.”

Many brave Catholic priests and lay people risked much to fight segregation in schools. It’s disappointing to see Catholic colleges, well-intentioned or not, resurrecting the idea.

‘Gay-straight alliances’ at Catholic schools created, celebrated

Five years ago, the province of Ontario in Canada required all schools, including Catholic schools, to allow students to form “gay-straight alliance” clubs. While many Catholic schools waited to be required to do so, The National Catholic Reporter (which is not authentically Catholic) says others proactively formed such clubs.

Patrick Daly, president of Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said he’s only received positive feedback about the clubs—which if true raises alarms about the state of the Church in Canada. “Things are going well,” he said.

Calling it “un-navigated territory,” the district’s principal of safe schools, equity and inclusion, Danielle Desjardins-Koloff, said many Catholics see this as “a long journey, a huge shift of perspective because we’re all challenged by getting past our own unconscious biases.”

Those “biases,” of course, are rooted in Catholic teaching and a human anthropology that has long been the foundation for society and the Church.

Desjardins-Koloff said she understands that some Catholics fear a gay-straight alliance would “devalue the traditional sense of a family,” but she is working to “convince the community that these clubs weren’t about sex or sexuality. It was about sexual identity and orientation; it’s about identity and celebrating individuals’ authentic versions of themselves.”

She said she sees Catholic social justice teaching providing “beautiful support” to her efforts.

Catholic educators need to understand the flaws behind such well-intentioned efforts. “Human sexuality policies should, to the degree possible, not single out any particular group or behavior but be placed in the larger context of assisting all members of the school community in virtue formation, furthering of the common good, and the Catholic evangelical mission of the school,” explains the Newman Society’s Human Sexuality Policies for Catholic Schools, available at the Newman Society website.

Fordham asks Fr. James Martin to discuss sexuality

Fordham University will host Father James Martin, S.J., for a program on Sept. 5 titled “Building a Bridge: The Catholic Church and the LGBT Community.”

A Fordham news release says the popular author and commentator will be joined by Patrick Hornbeck, Fordham’s theology department chair, who legally married his same-sex partner the day after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling on marriage.

Fordham asks, “What are the prospects for mutual understanding and engagement between these groups, and where are the limits?”

Fordham’s theology department is sponsoring the event in association with America Media and Fordham’s Office of Alumni Relations.

Fr. Martin has increasingly become a polarizing advocate for recognizing sexual “identity” that is not supported by Catholic teaching. A recent article in the National Catholic Register argues, “Father Martin puts forth the notion that the Church has misunderstood God’s plan for human sexuality for her entire history and that she must now switch to a new teaching, namely that the union of man and woman in marital love is not the only path for the true and good expression of human sexuality.”

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