Faith in Action Blog
“Seeking to pass on the wisdom of Western civilization, which was founded on Christian principles, a grassroots movement of parents, educators and others is reviving classical education in the Catholic tradition.”
So begins Classical Education Makes a Comeback, a story in the latest edition of the National Catholic Register that features two graduates of the College who are at the forefront of the classical-education revival: Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87) and Mr. Michael Van Hecke (’86).
A tutor at the College, Dr. Seeley is also the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education in Ventura, California, which promotes authentic Catholic education and assists classical schools across the country. The goal of Catholic liberal education, he tells the Register, is “a Christ-illuminated understanding of what the human person is in all our capacities,” adding that “an encounter with Christ and Christian civilization fulfills and develops students.”
Mr. Van Hecke is the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, a K-12 classical school with 150 students in Ventura, California, and president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project. “We don’t want our children to aim for college and a career. We want them to aim for the good life,” he says. “Do you think our Founding Fathers (just) aimed for college and career? If they would have done that, we wouldn’t have America.”
The full story is available via the Register’s website.
Now featured on the College’s website is a profile of Elizabeth Trojack (’06), foundress and head of the Elizabeth Ann Seton Montessori School in St. Paul, Minnesota:
“When I was discerning what college to go to, I was young, and I had my own mindset,” says Miss Trojack. Perhaps because her older sister, Anne (Schniederjan ’04), was a student at Thomas Aquinas College, Elizabeth was inclined to blaze her own path and go someplace else. “But I believe God had a different plan for me,” she says. While praying at Adoration, she detected an unmistakable call to that Catholic, liberal arts college in California that she had initially forsworn.
More than a decade later, she now understands the why behind that call. “I am so thankful that God led me to Thomas Aquinas College and to meet the people I met, to read the books I read, to learn from the tutors that I studied under,” she notes. “I absolutely wouldn’t be where I am today without the tools, the resources, and the critical-thinking skills that the College gave me.”
Follow the link to read the whole profile.
In July educators will gather in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for Love for Wisdom, Passion for Truth, the 2014 conference of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. Among the speakers will be four graduates of the College:
- Laura (Steichen ’75) Berquist, the founder and director of Mother of Divine Grace School, a distance-learning program serving more than 4,000 students in the United States and abroad
- Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College and the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education
- Jessie (Ellis ’86) Van Hecke, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California
- Michael Van Hecke (’86), Headmaster of St. Augustine Academy and the president of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education
The Conference will take place July 21-24 at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary. More information is available via the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education website.
Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), an assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, has recently published a new book through the University of Chicago Press: The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law. The book, according to the publisher’s summary, attempts to answer the question, “Does the concept of natural rights have the natural law as its foundation or are the two ideas, as Leo Strauss argued, profoundly incompatible?”
Although Seagrave acknowledges that the notion of natural rights does not derive from traditional natural law, he argues that the two concepts are nonetheless compatible — when viewed through the lens of John Locke and St. Thomas Aquinas. After presenting a comprehensive philosophical explanation of natural morality, drawing heavily upon the authors and works studied in the College’s classical curriculum, he then turns to many contemporary issues of political import, from the preservation of marriage, to healthcare, to the death penalty.
The book has already earned several positive reviews, with one scholar hailing it as “one of the most important books on natural law and natural rights in a generation.” It is available for purchase via Amazon, and other of Dr. Seagraves’s writings can be found at The Public Discourse website. Notably, Dr. Seagrave has recently written three articles that touch upon themes contained in Foundations of Natural Morality:
- Aristotelian-Thomism in the Modern World (March 26)
- What Can a Modern Philosopher Teach Us About Natural Law? (March 27)
- Do Ideas Really Have Consequences? (May 9)
For administrators at St. Anthony Catholic School in Sterling, Colo., the situation was bleak. Facing financial peril, the elementary school considered shutting its doors earlier this year. Then, administrators decided to try something new — which, in fact, was really something quite old.
Like many Catholic schools across the country, St. Anthony’s is going back to its roots by embracing the Church’s patrimony of liberal education. “We’ve always distinguished ourselves by our faith, but also academically. We thought this was the best thing,” says Principal Joseph Skerjanec in a Catholic News Agency article. “The purpose of education ultimately is to get to heaven, and we feel this is the best route for us to do that.”
St. Anthony’s is gradually transitioning to a classical curriculum, one that utilizes the great books and which is aimed at teaching students how to think critically by way of the liberal arts. Perhaps not coincidentally, the pedagogical shift has accompanied a tremendous fundraising campaign — which set out to garner $600,000, but yielded $1.1 million — and the renewal of St. Anthony Catholic School.
Assisting St. Anthony’s in its tradition is an alumnus and tutor of Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), who also serves as the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. Dr. Seeley has prepared the school’s staff to teach from a classical curriculum.
Dr. Seeley is just one of many Thomas Aquinas College alumni who are playing an active role in the resurgence of classical education at Catholic elementary and high schools. To name just a few:
- Laura Berquist (’75) founded the international online distance-learning program Mother of Divine Grace School.
- Marguerite (Ford ’79) Grimm is the headmaster of Saint Monica Academy in Pasadena, Calif.
- Michael Van Hecke (’86) is the headmaster at St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, Calif.
- Luke Macik (’87) and Mark Langley (’89) are the headmaster and academic dean, respectively, of The Lyceum in Euclid, Ohio.
- Luke Culley (’94) and Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) have founded Gregory the Great Academy in Falls Church, Va.
- Rev. Mark Moriarty (’95) is the superintendent of St. Agnes School in St. Paul, Minn., and the pastor of the parish.
Many more alumni are also teaching at such schools. Eight members of last year’s Class of 2013, for example, accepted positions at schools with classical curricula. Six of those were at the Great Hearts Academies in Arizona, where some 17 alumni teach, and one graduate serves as an assistant headmaster. A restoration in classical liberal education is under way, and Thomas Aquinas College alumni are at its forefront.
“Is the secular world finally waking up to the needs that motivated parents have been trying to address for the last 35 years?”
So asks Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and a tutor at the College. His question comes in response to much of the language used to promote the “Common Core,” which is similar, in many respects, to that of advocates of classical liberal education. Both, after all, stress critical thinking over crude regurgitation; both emphasize developing a keenness of mind over attaining specific job skills; and both value the role of literature as a pedagogical tool.
Sadly, Dr. Seeley observes, that is where the similarities end.
Writing for the Cardinal Newman Society about the Common Core State Standards Initiative for English Language Arts and Literacy, Dr. Seeley finds that Common Core is far from the fulfillment of Catholic liberal education. Yes, it encourages critical thinking — but at too early an age, before students have been adequately prepared. It may not be narrowly tailored toward developing specific job skills, but it still aims merely at preparing students for the workplace, rather than educating the whole person. And while the Common Core does, commendably, emphasize literature, it does so without a commitment to the pursuit of truth — a deficiency, says Dr. Seeley, that will ultimately foster rootlessness and relativism.
The Common Core is not the secular world’s embrace of the ideals and methods of Catholic liberal education, Dr. Seeley concludes, and Catholic educators would be wise to steer clear of its false promises:
“The Common Core State Standards Initiative intends to form literate, thoughtful, critical readers capable of understanding and judging the best literature and the richest informational literature. But not only are its goals limited — even subversive with respect to a Catholic education — it represents a massive educational project that has not been tried. Catholic classical educators have now more than three decades of experience and over two thousand years of expertise to draw on. Now is not the time to submit children enrolled in any Catholic school to untested, yet no doubt very constraining, shackles.…
“By contrast, time-tested classical approach engages children to discover the truth of reality, both visible and invisible. This is active learning, not passive learning. It cultivates habits of mind that allow the human person to discern what is true, good and beautiful, to glimpse the transcendent. It awakens the soul.”
Notably, Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean and Dean Brian T. Kelly (’88) have arrived at similar conclusions about the Common Core. In November, the two educators signed a letter to each of the nation’s Catholic bishops urging dioceses to reject the use of the “Common Core” curriculum in their schools.
We recently featured a story about Gregory the Great Academy, a new, private, boys’ boarding school founded by Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) and Luke Culley (’94). That school is now the subject of an article Mr. Fitzpatrick has written for Crisis — A School Without Screens, which discusses GGA’s “radical” policy of shielding students from digital distraction.
Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
“Students at Gregory the Great Academy are required to embrace a life of ‘technological poverty,’ which means relinquishing cell phones, iPods, computers, and the like; arriving at school with only the essentials for a ‘disconnected’ life. The pedagogy at work here is simply to free students from distraction and to allow them to focus on the important things in life: growth in virtue, cultivation of friendship, and contemplation of the Divine. …
“The results are surprising. Deprived of the usual modes of diversion, students quickly adopt healthy alternatives to sex-steeped music, inane literature, and mindless entertainment. Without iTunes, boys tend to learn to play the guitar well enough to accompany folk songs. Without television, students enjoy reading aloud to one another round fires. In an environment of ‘technological poverty,’ students actually eat together, pray together, play together, and learn together.”
The ultimate goal of this policy, Mr. Fitzpatrick adds, is to enable students “to make contact with the real … which removes barriers to the world as God made it.”
At its recent Gala Dinner and Auction, Saint Augustine Academy in Ventura, Calif., honored two Thomas Aquinas College alumni, Mary (Kern ’81) and Roberto Orellana (’82), with its Civitate Dei Award for extraordinary generosity. Presenting the award was another graduate of the College, Michael Van Hecke (’86), headmaster of the independent, liberal-arts academy that has been named one of the Top 50 Catholic High Schools in the U.S. for four years’ running.
“Everyone who has been here since the early years knows that, without you, St. Augustine Academy would not be here today,” Mr. Van Hecke told Mr. and Mrs. Orellana. By his estimate, the couple has donated some 10,000 hours of service to the school. The Orellanas have also made many generous financial contributions to St. Augustine’s, which all eight of their children have attended.
An attorney, Mr. Orellana is a longtime member of the academy’s Board of Directors. According to Mr. Van Hecke, he and Mrs. Orellana have additionally contributed to the school in countless other ways — offering “lawyer skills, editing expertise, organizational genius, and the ability to bring together thousands of donated items into the beautiful presentations that have graced our auctions for a full decade.”
“We thank you for the gift of this Academy,” said Mr. Van Hecke to the Orellanas, “for us, for our children and on behalf of the future of our Church and country.”
The video above promotes a new Catholic boys boarding school, Gregory the Great Academy, which is being led by two Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) and Luke Culley (’94). Founded in the tradition of St. Gregory Academy — a recently shuttered school that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter operated for nearly 20 years in Elmhurst, Penn. — GGA aspires to create a similar experience, rooted in the liberal arts and orthodox Catholicism. The new school, located in the Pocono Mountains, recently began its inaugural year with 23 students. “Please keep the Academy and its quixotic mission in your prayers,” asks Mr. Fitzpatrick, the school’s headmaster, “and help spread the word in this new endeavor for Catholic education.”
Please pray for their efforts, as well of those of other alumni who are working to foster a climate of holiness and excellence in Catholic high schools.
Two old College friends who are now colleagues recently appeared on EWTN’s Life on the Rock (above, 1:25 mark) to promote the cause of Catholic liberal education. Luke Macik (’87) and Mark Langley (’89) are the headmaster and academic dean, respectively, of The Lyceum in Euclid, Ohio. They and all 45 of the Lyceum’s students traveled to Birmingham, Ala., last month to discuss their school and share the music of its Schola Cantorum.
The Lyceum, like Messrs. Langley and Macik’s alma mater, uses a great books curriculum taught primarily by way of the Discussion Method. While in Alabama, the Schola — of which all students and half of the faculty are members — provided the music for one of EWTN’s televised Masses. The Schola additionally produced a recording of the Gloria from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, which later appeared on this episode of Life on the Rock.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Lyceum has quickly become one of the top Catholic high schools in the nation. The Cardinal Newman Society gave the school a special recognition on its 2012-2013 National Catholic Honor Roll for “Excellence in Catholic Identity.” A quarter of the Lyceum’s graduates are National Merit Scholars, Finalists, and Commended Students, having scored in the top 1 percent to 5 percent on the PSAT, and the school’s average SAT is in the top 14 percent of the nation.