Transforming Catholic Schools

This week we will celebrate Catholic schools that labor heroically in the face of a hostile culture to educate our children in faith, wisdom, and virtue. Their contribution to the Catholic Church in this country is incalculable, and threatened by forces external and internal. If we wish to see Catholicism flourish in the future, then our schools have to be our number one investment priority. With the collapse of religious sensibilities in America and in the Church herself, the children in these schools are our best hope of reversing the “greying” of the Catholic faithful.

Catholic schools received widespread praise for their determination to provide a real education during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the virus recedes, new challenges are rising: schools perpetually compete against a state-sponsored monopoly whose (seemingly) zero price tag proves irresistible for too many Catholic parents.

So Catholic schools cannot stand still – they have to up their game. Stronger academics and deeper religious formation are the two keys.

Sound daunting? The good news is there are numerous first-rate resources to help make this happen in every facet of a school’s life.

Bishops, pastors, superintendents, principals: Do you want to revamp your schools, save them from declining enrollment, and attract new families, but do not know where or how to start? Contact the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE), which can guide you in implementing a time-tested, Catholic liberal arts curriculum for your school. This is the curriculum that transformed St. Jerome’s Academy in Maryland (profiled in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option) from the brink of closing to rapid expansion in less than a decade. And it is far from the only school to boost its enrollment after adopting this curriculum.

ICLE will provide hands-on support every step of the way, from articulating a compelling vision of Catholic liberal arts education to unit-level teaching guides. Additionally, it offers a unique teacher certification program so Catholic teachers can receive state licensure via a rich, Catholic formation, and not via the progressive pedagogical practices of public universities.

Do you want to shake up your school culture and faith formation programs? Do you want to find new ways by which your chaplains can reach students? Do you want to provide better religious formation for your teachers? Contact Duc In Altum Schools Collaborative, which specializes both in consultive work for improving schools and in offering workshops for schools united in the mission of evangelization.

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By the way, anyone looking to get involved in this back-to-our-Catholic-roots educational mission, be it as a teacher or in other capacities, can search the ICLE and DIA websites for job postings at schools across the country. Moreover, aspiring principals and administrators seeking a traditional, but distinctly Catholic, Masters or Doctorate degree in educational administration need look no further than Pontifex University, whose program is directed by TCT’s own Father Peter Stravinskas.

Curricula in all subjects could benefit from a Catholic approach. Why should Catholic schools use the same history textbooks – which are often loaded with anti-Catholic propaganda – as government schools? History classes in Catholic schools should narrate the indelible contributions Catholics have made to America – the North American Martyrs, the Knights of Columbus, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and on and on.

These groups and saints comprise real American history, not just Church history. So let’s retire state-written history texts for those written by the Catholic Textbook Project, which provides middle- and high-school history textbooks that make Catholics part of American history rather than the butt of it. The Catholic Textbook Project also offers middle and high school science books whose aim is to inspire wonder at creation.

Likewise, English literature curricula in all grades should cease following government-school reading lists and incorporate the diverse writings of the Catholic tradition. Too many schools seem to think C.S. Lewis is the only Christian author who ever lived. Why not read The Lord of the Rings in Catholic high schools? Why not read St. Thérèse’s A Story of a Soul? Teachers have whole centuries of authors to choose from, right up to the present day: my third- and sixth-grade sons have devoured Raymond Arroyo’s Will Wilder trilogy, which brilliantly infuses Biblical themes into thrilling narratives.

Speaking of books, does your Catholic elementary school have a book fair? Likely it’s sponsored by Scholastic Books. It’s time to discard that company with its gender-bending books. Instead, invite Good News! Book Fair to your school with its selection of sound books that will form, rather than corrupt, your children’s souls.

When it comes to religious formation, the resources are plentiful and phenomenal. In no particular order, Midwest Theological Forum, Sophia Institute for Teachers, TAN Books, Ignatius Press, and The Augustine Institute all offer faithful and rigorous programs in Catholic faith formation. To continue to use the vapid Sadlier textbook series when all these magnificent resources are available is almost sinful.

Running a school these days presents great demands on time, energy, and resources. Considering major changes to curricula and school culture on top of all this can seem daunting. But these changes are worth our every effort, since they return us to the core of Catholic education: to form souls “to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.”

This is the promise of Catholic education. The material resources we need to meet it are near at hand.

 

*Photo: Pomona Catholic School, Pomona, California

You may also enjoy:

St. John Paul II on Parents’ role in education

Helen Freeh’s Higher Education in a Different Key

David G. Bonagura Jr. an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.

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