Faith in Action Blog
Yesterday we posted the first in a series of reflections by Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City. Below is part two.
View from Inside Rome
Michael Van Hecke (’86)By Michael Van Hecke (’86)
World Congress on Education
Castel Gondolfo/Vatican City
Thursday, November 19, 2015
During the first full day of the congress, I was very much occupied — with my list. As I met people, and passed them or had lunch next to them, I added them to a list of countries from which they hailed. I counted 62 nations — 62 nations of Catholic educators — and those are only the ones I personally encountered. I do not know the total number of nations represented, but what a grand exhibition of the universality of our church! How beautiful the commitment and love for the Church and children this showing represented. Second on my list of memorable moments today was meeting a most gracious son of the Church, one of the archbishops from Nigeria, and dozens of other holders of the torch of the Gospel mission from the African continent: Cameroon, Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, Congo, Gabon, etc. It was inspiring to be among them.
Other than that, it was a very long day, marked by almost two dozen talks. It was quite a lot to take in, given the worldwide representation and the global perspective. By global perspective, I do not refer to one idea that fits the whole globe, but many ideas emanating from a myriad circumstances of politics, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, war, and persecution. It was overwhelming at points. Yet, in the face of all of that, the message of the necessity of the Gospel and love of neighbor reigned universal. It was the one thing all speakers had in common.
That was the upside.
One downside was a seeming lack of response to the many problems and challenges that face Catholic education. With all the “leaders” in Catholic education from so many varied areas of the world speaking, none seized upon one of the most obvious aids to improving education globally, and that is a better grasp of Christian anthropology as it relates to the manner and material of education. There seemed to be a collective misconception that our world has advanced tremendously from primitive cultures to a most advanced civilization. We seem to not see the beauty around us here in Rome, where every church seems to have a Bernini, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, or a Raphael. How has this come about? By education. By philosophy. By defining terms and honoring the dignity of man, which is a direct result of a growing Catholic intellectual custom. Why have we forgotten this? Why can we not consider our dilemma and ask the simple questions of how we got to where we are today — how have we come this far? And why are we now seeing so many troubles? And to ask all such questions and, yet, not despair!
However, questions from the floor, comments from some presenters, and many conversations between sessions revealed that there still is a common, collective, and reflective sense. Generally, the speakers seemed very committed and focused on the need for relationship and true, sound, Catholic education. The import of many of the participants was that a sound, liberal arts education, rooted in Catholic intellectual traditions, is the human piece of the puzzle that gets us there. It was clear that we need to renew the liberal arts approach, and we need to provide to students sound materials which support Catholic thought, philosophy, and moral structure.
Yes, there is hope. While there still remains confusion, as there always will, a big concern we see in speeches and the document is that we are increasing our reliance and dependence on governmental educational structures which are becoming more antithetical to our mission and the soul of Catholic education. We must recapture the passion and purpose of a true Catholic education. We must not succumb to social, economic, and political pressures — we must do everything it takes to provide sound Catholic education for our children. We must do this for the future of our Church and the future of civilization. As one speaker, representing parents from Italy, challenged the Church: “Do not close the schools!”
Michael Van Hecke (’86)Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City, has published the first in a planned series of dispatches about the international gathering of Catholic educators. The Church has convened the Congress to address “the challenges that the ‘educational emergency’ unavoidably provokes,” while commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Gravissimum Educationis and the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
Prior to the start of the conference, Mr. Van Hecke and his wife, Jessie (Ellis ’86), paid a visit to the tomb of St. Monica, which prompted the following reflection:
“Everything was ordered correctly in St. Monica’s world. She knew her son’s profound intellectual gifts would take him far and wide and make him an intellectual figure of historic proportions, but she also knew that all that really mattered was his immortal soul’s salvation. This is exactly the right orientation to take to a meeting in which we contemplate and discuss Catholic education in the modern world. It is the proper orientation all Catholic education should be modeled upon, in any time or place, but especially the modern world. ‘Ever ancient, ever new,’ as Augustine said.
“If this Congress is to bless the world, it will be because it will have clearly defined Catholic education’s role as a tool of the Church to pass on Catholic culture, both intellectual and moral, to future generations. This culture we aim to pass on means nothing less than living our baptismal call to bring Christ to the world through love of neighbor with our ultimate end, Heaven, as the arbiter of all our acts and decisions.”
Mr. Van Hecke is the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, a K-12 classical school in Ventura, California, that is consistently ranked among the best Catholic schools in the United States. He is also the president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project and the president and founder of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE).
This blog will provide links to Mr. Van Hecke’s subsequent dispatches as they are published.
His Holiness Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families Mass in Philadelphia, as photographed by Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan
The College has received reports — and photos — from a number of alumni who were present for parts of His Holiness Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. Among them are Emily (Barry ’11) and Joe Sullivan (’09), who serves on the parish council for the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Below, the Sullivans are pictured with their two daughters before the World Meeting of Families Mass:
The Sullivan family before the World Meeting of Families Mass
Mrs. Sullivan, who works for Endow, a nonprofit organization that writes study guides for magisterial documents to be used in women’s study groups, participated in a World Meeting of Families panel, “Woman: God’s Gift to the Human Family,” about the feminine genius and St. Edith Stein. A last-minute substitute for another speaker, she “literally had 10 minutes’ notice” that she would be presenting, she reports. “Thank God for four years of learning how to articulate theological ideas well!”
Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96) waits for the Popemobile to pass by in PhiladelphiaAmong the other alumni in Philadelphia were Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96), the pastor of the Parish of Cristo Rey and diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry in Lincoln. Fr. Decaen traveled with a group of some 100 fellow Nebraskans to the City of Brotherly Love, where he had the honor of concelebrating at one of the Holy Father’s Masses. … Sr. Teresa Benedicta Block, O.P. (’02), joined by three of her fellow Ann Arbor Dominicans, led a pilgrimage of 12 high school students from San Francisco to the city. … Jacob Mason (’10) a seminarian for the Diocese of Arlington, attended a brief talk from the Holy Father at Charles Borromeo Seminary, where Mr. Mason is a student and Pope Francis stayed during his visit. … Other alumni on hand for the Holy Father’s trip to Philadelphia include Sarah Jimenez (’10), who works in the chancery for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Becky (Daly) and Greg Pfundstein (both ’05), executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation in New York City.
Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam., before the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra
Meanwhile, several alumni were able to attend the Holy Father’s canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam. (’78), pictured above, served as a concelebrant. Among others in attendance were Aaron Dunkel (’06) and four alumni who are graduate students at the Catholic University of America: John Brungardt (’08), Joshua Gonnerman (’09), Emily McBryan (’11), and Kathleen Sullivan (’06),who provided the photo below:
Kathleen Sullivan (’06) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Grace Kelly (’12)
Photo: Santa Paula TimesJust three years after her graduation from Thomas Aquinas College, Grace Kelly (’12) has been named a parochial-school principal in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
A story in the Santa Paula Times reports on Miss Kelly’s new career, which began as a first-grade teacher at Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Oxnard. While teaching, she earned a master’s degree in education at Grand Canyon University and underwent training in the Archdiocese’ Catholic Aspiring Principals Program. “I loved my days of teaching,” she tells the Times, “but all that time I felt a pull that there was something more to do.” Encouraged by her own principal and mentor — fellow alumna Brenna (Scanlon ’06) Chapin — she applied for, and received, the position at St. Sebastian School in Santa Paula.
Miss Kelly is now responsible for some 150 students and nine teachers at the K-8 school just blocks from her childhood home. Please pray for her as the school begins its new year!
Following up on coverage in CatholicCulture.org and the Catholic Answers Live radio program, Who Designed the Designer? — the new book by tutor and alumnus Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92) — is now the subject of a lengthy article in The Tidings. “The battle to prove or refute the existence of God by the New Atheists and the proponents of intelligent design is mostly waged in attack and defense of evidence,” writes Kevin Theriault in the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. By contrast, Mr. Theriault observes, Dr. Augros “takes a non-polemic approach, drawing readers along a reasoned pathway of general principles in order to see God’s handiwork for themselves.”
Mr. Theriault commends Who Designed the Designer? for, beyond demonstrating the existence of a creator, also probing such questions as, “What is this being that exists all by itself? What is the divine mind and how is it different than ours?” As such, the book does much more than offer another salvo in the ongoing battle between atheists and believers. “Most people, it seems to me, don’t have a clear notion of what God is,” the article quotes Dr. Augros as saying. “If you are supposed to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind, one should be interested in knowing what God is.”
The full story is available via The Tidings’ online publication, Angelus.
“The return of summertime every year often recalls the years that will never return: the golden days of youth,” writes Sean Fitzpatrick (’02). The headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a regular contributor to Crisis magazine, Mr. Fitzpatrick has opened an online conversation about summertime-reading books that arouse seasonal memories of childhood. “What books,” he asks, “should be brought to lakesides, porches, and hammocks? Which stories provide that return to the perennial glories of summer and the passing glories of childhood?”
His initial suggestions are available in his article, What Are You Reading This Summer?
An education success story comes out of Montrose, California, where St. Monica Academy is relocating — because it has outgrown its original campus in Pasadena.
The K-12 school, founded in 2001 with 44 students, has seen its enrollment swell to 240. As a result, it is moving this summer to the campus of a shuttered parochial school at Holy Redeemer Church, where it will open its doors at the start of the academic year.
There are many ties between St. Monica’s and Thomas Aquinas College, beginning with its headmaster, Marguerite (Ford ’79) Grimm. There are also 10 other alumni on the school’s faculty: Mary Kate Zepeda (’89), Darren Bradley (’98), Alexandra Currie (’05), Paula Grimm (’08), Daniel Selmeczy (’08), Marisela Miranda (’09), Jane Forsyth (’11), Colleen Smith (’11), Thomas Quackenbush (’14), and Thomas Trull (’15). Like the College, St. Monica’s employs a classical curriculum and stresses fidelity to the teaching Church.
“The classical model emphasizes the good, the true and the beautiful,” Mrs. Grimm recently told the Glendale News-Press. “Our curriculum overflows with heroes, beautiful illustrations, moral literature, music, poetry, scripture, math and science.” St. Monica’s is a mainstay on the Cardinal Newman Society’s list of “Schools of Excellence,” a ranking of the top Catholic schools across the United States, which also includes several others that are headed by Thomas Aquinas College alumni.
Notably, St. Monica’s has developed a reputation for athletic excellence, too. The Glendale News Press notes that the school’s sports teams have racked up 22 CIF playoff appearances and 13 league titles. This past year, the women’s basketball squad, coached by Colleen Smith (’11) “won 18 consecutive games, while achieving the fourth-highest team grade-point average out of the 576 schools that are in the CIF Southern Section.”
Having recently been a guest on the Catholic Answers Live radio program, alumnus and tutor Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92) now finds his new book the subject of a review in CatholicCulture.org.
In God the Designer: Yes or No?, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, president and founder of Trinity Communications, calls Dr. Augros’ Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence, “a resounding success” in its effort “to refute the many atheists who, especially in modern times, think they have successfully demolished the traditional arguments for the existence of God based on the necessity of a first cause or a prime mover.” Dr. Mirus adds that Dr. Augros “writes well and uses many entertaining examples, making a potentially dry topic extraordinarily readable.”
The full review is available via CatholicCulture.org.
- Dr. Augros on Catholic Answers Live
- An excerpt from Who Designed the Designer?
- An interview with Dr. Augros
- Dr. Augros’ appearance on Salt & Light Radio
Taking a break from his work as the director of the College’s 2015 High School Summer Program, alumnus and tutor Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92) recently appeared as a guest on the Catholic Answers Live radio program. There he discussed his new book, which makes a philosophical case for the existence of God, Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence. Host Patrick Coffin called the book “a wonder-filled romp through the ‘first cause’ approach of Plato and Aristotle and the great Thomas Aquinas.”
The full program is available, both in streaming and downloadable form, via the Catholic Answers Live website.
- An excerpt from Who Designed the Designer?
- An interview with Dr. Augros
- Dr. Augros’ appearance on Salt & Light Radio
Like his fellow graduate John Finley (’99), Christopher Zehnder (’87) sees a connection between Pope Francis’s warnings in Laudato Si’ and the Supreme Court’s recent attempt to redefine marriage. Writing in his personal blog, Notes from the Wasteland, Mr. Zehnder observes:
“It is fitting, in a way, that the Supreme Court’s decision should so closely follow the pope’s encyclical, for the former brings into focus the major theme of the latter. That theme is not the threat of climate change, whatever those who want either to dismiss the encyclical or coöpt it say. A major — if not the major — theme of Laudato Si’ is that, both in the moral order and the natural order, everything is connected. How we treat the ‘environment’ is how we will treat ourselves, and how we treat ourselves is how we will treat the natural world outside ourselves. …
“Those, therefore, who insist on the integrity of the natural world but rejoice at Friday’s Supreme Court decision are self-confused. Those who deplore the decision, call for respect for the nature of marriage and the basic meaning of sexual acts but ignore the integrity of the natural world, are self-confused. Those who think you must respect unborn human life but can subject human labor to irrational market forces are as confused as those who think you may kill unborn children but not oppress the worker. Sooner or later, these groups will need to decide on their core principle — relativism or respect for nature — for mankind will not remain in a state of interior division forever.”
Mr. Zehnder is the general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, which aims to create a new generation of textbooks for parochial schools that accurately, beautifully, and engagingly reflect the Church’s contribution to human history. A high school teacher and former headmaster, he is the author of three of the project’s books: From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America; Light to the Nations II: the Making of the Modern World; and Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.