Faith in Action Blog
“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.
In the online magazine Crisis, alumnus Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has a timely piece about the importance of Christmas giving — not the commercialized sort, but the true, sacrificial kind that is fitting for the season. Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
“Just as the Son of Mary was God’s Gift to mankind, so mankind should offer himself as a gift to God; and thus do men and women give gifts to one another as a sign of the Love that unites them to He who was born, lived, died, and rose again for all. Gifts play a central part in the iconography of Christmas …”
As an illustration of this sort of cultural iconography, Mr. Fitzpatrick discusses O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” which he describes as “a quintessential story of that spirit of sacrificial gift-giving that makes Christmas the joy it should be.” In that tale, a young couple — Jim and Della — give up their most prized possessions for their beloved, only to discover, as Mr. Fitzgerald puts it, that “they were, in fact, giving a gift that was priceless.” He concludes:
“We are sons and daughters of the King. If our gifts are true, be they ever so poor, they will be found rich. If our gifts are gifts of love, Love Himself will purify them. If our gifts are gifts of self, they will be “satisfactory.” Then, and only then, are we true gift-givers.”
Be sure to include the whole article among your Christmas reading. Merry Christmas!
In 1993, one year after one of its former medical students died of cancer, the University of Alaska Anchorage created an award in his honor. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of that award, named for Jon B. Syren, a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1987.
The university website notes:
Jon Benedict Syren expected to graduate from the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Class of 1993. He began his medical training in Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1989 as a member of the first class of WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) students enrolled in the Biomedical Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.…
Jon distinguished himself by earning honors in several categories of studies, both in Anchorage and Seattle. He is also remembered by those who knew him for his strong commitment to his family and his faith, and for his unflagging courage and equanimity in the face of personal adversity.
The Jon B. Syren Award recognizes a first-year medical student in the University of Alaska Anchorage WWAMI School of Medical Education who has demonstrated personal qualities of character, integrity, and compassion, combined with a commitment to and promise of community service in medicine.
Mr. Syren’s widow, Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly is a member of the College’s Board of Governors. She has spoken eloquently about the blessing that accompanied her first husband’s holy death for those around him:
When Jon died, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. I saw the effect that our education at the College had had on him. It was absolutely beautiful. And there was a ripple effect on the entire medical community and all that knew him and watched him suffer — in a way so beautifully, not dismayed or broken by it. His suffering was so faith-filled that it was just triumphant.
Twenty-one years later, Jon Syren’s life and death continue to touch lives. May he rest in peace.
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.”
Lora (Calhoun ’78) McClamrock sends along the following prayer request for her husband, David (’85):
As many of you know, my husband David has been diagnosed with kidney failure on account of BPH (swelling of the prostate gland). The doctors say there is a 100 percent need for surgery. David has great devotion to Bl. Margaret of Castello, a patron of life. Please join us in praying this novena for a complete cure, that she may receive the miracle she needs for canonization.
And, please continue to pray for our family.
May God bless you, and may you have a Happy Thanksgiving!! Lora
To obtain her intercession
Almighty and Eternal God, the comfort of the afflicted, the strength of the burdened and the hope of the unwanted; may the prayers of those who call on you in any trouble be heard by you; so that all may rejoice to be helped by your Mercy in their need.
V. Pray for us, Bl. Margaret.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let Us Pray
O God, who wished Blessed Margaret be blind from birth so that the eyes of her soul, enlightened by your grace, might more clearly see the value of spiritual realities: graciously grant that we may perceive the hidden dangers in the world of darkness and safely reach our home of eternal light. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
Bl. Margaret of Castello
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, glorify your servant Bl. Margaret, by granting the favor we so ardently desire. This we ask in humble submission to God’s will, for His honor and glory and the salvation of souls.
(Dominican Nuns, Summit, N.J.)
On March 13, the day of His Holiness Pope Francis’ election to the Chair of St. Peter, Megan Baird (’02) launched a Facebook page dedicated to the new Holy Father. “Initially, it was a small project that I wanted to do during Lent in memory of my Mom, who died of cancer in 2007,” explains Miss Baird, an assistant manager for the Fort Worth Library system. “My mom would have LOVED this new Pope.”
Since then, Miss Baird’s online tribute has grown into something much, much larger. In eight months the page has received more than 50,000 “likes” — 50,650 as of this writing.
Friends of Pope Francis, which is “devoted to the spiritual support of our new Holy Father and the Church,” invites visitors to “leave messages and prayers of support for him.” Its feed contains many of the already iconic photos of Pope Francis visiting with the faithful, notable quotations, and prayers left in his behalf.
As its readership has expanded so, too, has Friends of Pope Francis’ mission. “The page has broadened in scope to honor our Catholic faith and the wise words of Catholics and previous popes and saints,” Miss Baird writes. “For Pope Francis himself said, ‘Christ is the center; not the Successor of Peter.’ It would be appropriate, then, to put focus on the Faith of the Church as well.”
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.
From Director of Alumni Relations Mark Kretschmer (’99):
Eric Stoutz (’93) passed away peacefully early this morning.
He and his family have been praying that his death would bring about great good for many people. As we continue to pray for Eric and his family, let us also lift up this intention.
Thank you all for your prayers.
Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.
Director of Alumni Relations Mark Kretschmer (’99) has sent out the following prayer request for Eric Stoutz (’93):
As you know, Eric has been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and has recently started receiving chemotherapy. Eric, Monica (Chavez ’92), and their eight children have felt buoyed up by all our prayerful support. After being taken to the emergency room yesterday, he is now stabilized after a serious episode with internal bleeding. He is not out of the woods yet and is on a respirator. The family is asking that we pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet today at 3:00 p.m. (or when you get this) for Eric and his family.
Let us join together in praying a Chaplet for Eric’s health, for Monica’s strength, for the well-being of their dear children, and guidance for his healthcare professionals.
Please pray. Updates about Eric’s condition are available via the Prayers for Eric Stoutz Facebook page.