Tag: church (page 1 of 2)

The Catholic Church in the US

Some say the Catholic Church is in decline and yet others say it is a Church in hospice. It is true the U.S. Church has experienced about a 3% decline in the last ten years confirmed by two massive PEW studies … and a decline in religious vocations, but don’t be too quick to rush to judgement without carefully considering the data. Most of the Church closures are old inner-city parishes where the demographics are changing. Many of these inner city parishes were established in close proximity in the late 1800’s as each was founded to minister to a particular immigrant population – Irish – Italian – Polish etc. Today, 49% of Catholic adults have a graduate college degree, make an above average income and very few experience protracted periods of unemployment. And, most do not live in the inner cities.

Catholics in the suburban parishes are doing just fine … and there has been no aggregate decline in the number of baptized Catholics who routinely attend Mass in the last 50 years. All these demographics correlate neatly with Catholic fertility rates … the aggregate baptized Catholic population fluctuates over decades between 23% to 27% of the U.S. population.

Catholic schools continue to maintain a presence in the inner cities to serve the urban poor and often the new immigrant population because they are Catholic and education is a path to breaking a cycle of poverty.

University of Navarra Provides Catholic Education Abroad to American Students

I went into this school last month in an overview of Picking A Catholic College, but wanted to get you a more in-depth insight into the colleges mentioned:

Two universities overseas have made it into the latest edition of The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. One is the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain and the other is Holy Angel University in Angeles City, Philippines. Both of these institutions offer international experiences that are faithfully Catholic and are accessible to students who only speak English.

Within the past year, the Cardinal Newman Society visited both of these campuses to get an inside look at how they work. The society analyzed each university’s dedication to Catholic identity and conducted a number of interviews with university professors and staff. The society is happy to recommend these universities to any Catholic families who are looking for a university where their child can get a faithful higher education. Here’s the inside scoop of University of Navarra.  

The University of Navarra was founded in 1952 as a corporate work of Opus Dei. It started out as a law school with only 48 students and four professors. It has since expanded into a contemporary institution that has over 10,000 students and offers dozens of majors. Throughout these years of growth, the University of Navarra has remained dedicated to its founding principles.

The University has an impressive main administrative building with heavy and richly-carved double doors. A few years after the school was founded, Saint Josemaria Escriva constructed a formal meeting room, despite the university’s pressing financial needs. St. Josemaria stated that since this room would be the location for many contract-signing ceremonies of new faculty members, the point of the room was to show the crucial importance of giving new professors a share of the Christian mission. Currently, 85 percent of the university’s professors are practicing Catholics and 60 percent are Opus Dei members. These are impressive numbers for a university of this size.

In the Spring of 2016, University of Navarra had 25 American students enrolled. The University is hoping to draw many more in the upcoming years. The American students spoke highly of the University and its dedication to the Catholic faith. They stated that the University’s focus on quality career formation comes from Opus Dei’s mission for Christians to sanctify their work. While the University states that its high-quality academic programs are the main attraction of the university, there are other benefits too. Students who are entering the workforce can get a leg up on the competition if they are fluent in Spanish and have international experience.

The first two years of the educational experience include “Catholic Worldview” courses in anthropology and ethics. The students also get to choose two “Cultural Keys” courses from a series of options like recent Papal thought, Biblical literature, and Church history. Courses taught in English can be taken in the first two years in the University of Navarra’s schools of communications, economics, humanities and social sciences, engineering, and sciences.

Navarra is home to a number of academic options that not all Catholic universities offer. Pre-medicine students can acquire first-hand experience at the University’s research hospital and communications students can gain the most highly ranked journalism and audio-visual communications degrees in Spain. Philosophy and theology students can learn from an ecclesiastical faculty approved by the Vatican.

On-campus housing is only available for approximately 15 percent of students, so the majority of students live in the flats and apartments that surround campus. Outside of class, many students immerse themselves in Pamplona’s nightlife.

The Catholic faith is a large part of the way the school functions. There is a chapel in nearly every building on campus, and every meal taken in the colegios begins and ends with prayer. The University also offers a number of spiritual opportunities for English-speakers, including Theology on Tap and weekly Mass and confession.

There is a lot to love about University of Navarra. American students enjoy their experience there and develop a large skill set while practicing their faith. It would not be surprising if more American students started heading to University of Navarra for this one-of-a-kind experience.


Catholicism’s Impact on the History of Education

In today’s day and age, when it is easy to both take a Catholic education for granted, and, at the same time, potentially harbor feelings of persecution of faith in education, it is important to remember and appreciate the tumultuous history of public education and Catholic education.

While learning and passing on knowledge is intrinsically wired into the brain of all humankind, and there have been teachers and students as long as man has walked on this Earth, the history of formal education in the Western world is much shorter than the history of man, and it is firmly grounded, from the beginning, in Christianity.

Even in Ancient Rome, long considered the intellectual empire of education the pre-Middle Ages world, there is little record of anything indicating free and available education. Only the elite of Roman wealth and society could expect a complete education, and education in this time was seen as more of a status symbol of wealth and leisure time than it was as a practical concern. For a large portion of the Ancient World, literacy was reserved for religious scholars and scribes, and classes or schooling were largely absent. For years, those without wealth and status in cultures from from Israel to China primarily educated themselves by apprenticing in a trade or devoting themselves to religion. Prior to the Middle Ages, India had the most developed and publicly-available education from around 1500 BC to 600 BC, but as the caste system developed it became far more discriminatory.

It wasn’t until during the early Middle Ages that the monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church  became the centres of education and literacy. Evidence of classes and schools in monasteries as the forerunners to the later idea university can be found dated as far back as the early 6th century, a full century before Islam created The University of al-Qarawiyyin which is the oldest existing continually operated university in the world in the latter part of the 7th century.

Free education for the poor was officially mandated by the Church in 1179 when it decreed that every cathedral must assign a master to teach boys too poor to pay the regular fee; parishes and monasteries also established free schools teaching at least basic literacy skills. This was the basis from which all of modern education has sprung, world-wide.

The first American schools founded by the colonists in the 17th century are not actually the first American schools, as the history of Catholic education in the United States is actually older than the United States itself. Religious education was brought to these shores by Spanish missionaries accompanying explorers and conquistadors, and were followed shortly thereafter by French compeers.

Even though English Catholics founded Maryland as a Catholic colony in 1634, and most colonies were founded by Christians and Catholics seeking religious freedoms from the Anglican church, it took some time for Catholic education to take root widely. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the real growth of Catholic schools in America, with Georgetown University being founded in 1789, just a few short years later.

The Catholic education established in the United States saw hard times hard times and a simultaneous boom in the 1840’s when Horace Mann worked to create a statewide system of professional teachers and “common schools” rather than the private schools that had existed before. Mann believed that education should be available to all, and the movement quickly gained strength. Many states began passing “compulsory attendance” laws. No one person did more for public education in the minds of the American people.

However, Horace Mann was also a Presbyterian minister, was also establishing curriculum and ideology for these public schools that drastically shifted education towards a Protestant one, and required that the King James Bible be used in schools. Catholic teachers who refused to participating in the reading of the King James Bible were often dismissed from their teaching positions, and Catholic children in public schools were often bullied and shunned, Tensions built so high in the 1840’s that they began causing riots and violence, with the most severe being the May 3, 1844 riot in Philadelphia that destroyed dozens of Irish Catholic immigrant homes, with Catholic schools and churches being burned to the ground.

This tension against Catholicism in public education created a demand for private Catholic schools, and in 1852 the First Plenary Council of Baltimore urged every Catholic parish in the country to establish it’s own Catholic school for that very reason.

Growth of the Catholic school system grew until 1920, and then the growth became explosive, with an all-time high in the mid 60’s. The mid 1960’s saw 4.5 million elementary school students enrolled in private Catholic schools, with a further million in high-schools, which began a blossoming need for Catholic universities.

Though we are seeing a decline recently from the years that were the peak of enrollment, it is no doubt that Catholicism, and the drive to educate the world in faith and higher learning for centuries, has made our culture what it is today.

His Holiness Pope Francis on Family, Education, and the Catholic Faith

His Holiness Pope Francis has finally finished his Apostolic Post-Synod Exhortation, after a year and a half of work. The document was requested by Synod fathers, is expected to be published on April 8th, and is greatly anticipated by many. It’s an educational address regarding the family’s role in the Catholic faith.

There is a lot of discussion about what the tone of the writings will be, as he has been recognized for some of his unconventional practices and been dubbed “the modern-day pontiff”, so some of what we may read in this forthcoming document may make some waves in the faith, although he has also been very outspoken on the role of the family in non-secular education, amongst other beliefs, so we may not read anything new, it may be an official word on things he has said and written before. There is a great expectancy surrounding this document, and a fair share of speculation as well.

According to quotes from Catholic Online: “This the most important test for this pope to show us how he deals with dissent in the Church, how he deals with divided issues,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Church historian who directs the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship at the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic school in St. Paul. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “That document notably recommended a significant softening of the church’s practice toward those who have divorced and remarried.”

At the end of the Synod on the Family in the fall of 2015, the attending bishops wrote a summary document with the intention of advising him, and this document will be based on the synod’s final report, as in past synods. “We humbly ask the Holy Father to evaluate the opportunity of offering a document on the family, so that in it, the domestic church may ever more shine Christ, the light of the world,” the Oct. 24 report stated.

This document may just be a restating of the ideas and thoughts of the Bishops in his own words, or it may turn out to be a completely new document of his own writing. “The document will identify the current stresses on family life from poverty, migration, and war, as well as the hostile legal and cultural framework of contemporary Western society, which Francis calls ‘ideological colonization,'” stated Francis’ biographer Austen Ivereigh to ‘Our Sunday Visitor.’ “The exhortation will be an uplifting tribute to the enduring power and beauty of family life, offering support and consolation to those struggling against fierce contemporary headwinds to hold families together.”

In Pope Francis’ three years since having been elected to the papacy, he has been very outspoken on the role of Catholic education in the world and in the Church, and has particularly emphasised parent’s proper role as the primary educators of their children. He has been outspoken in the fact that non-secular schooling alone is not enough for children, that parents need to educate the children in the ways of the Catholic faith at home, as well. “It is your right to request an appropriate education for your children, an integral education open to the most authentic human and Christian values. As parents, you are the depositories of the duty and the primary and inalienable right to educate your children, thus helping in a positive and constant way the task of the school.” Said Pope Francis.

“Taken as a whole, his statements centered on rebuilding a more ‘human’ education — relax the ‘rigidity’ of schools, reach out to the margins of society, decrease the emphasis on intellectual ‘selectivity’ that tends to exclude rather than invite participation, and open young hearts and minds to God,” wrote Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly. He added that the comments by Pope Francis to the Vatican Congress “should not be construed as pulling the reins on evangelization in schools. Instead, we should celebrate Catholic education as the Church’s key means of evangelization, in human formation that invites the student to know, love and serve God.”

“The message you bring will take root all the more firmly in people’s hearts if you are not only a teacher but also a witness,” the Holy Father said when speaking to catechists and teachers in Uganda last December. “You teach what Jesus taught, you instruct adults and help parents to raise their children in the faith.” He also does not limit this role to teachers, but also faculty and coaches who are in the lives of the children as well. “How important it is that a coach be an example of integrity, of coherence, of good judgment, of impartiality, but also of joy of living, of patience, of capacity to esteem and of benevolence to all, especially the most disadvantaged!” Said Pope Francis in May. “And how important it is that he be an example of faith! All of us, in life, are in need of educators; mature, wise and balanced persons that help us grow in the family, in study, in work, in the faith,” he added.

Questions about the leniency of divorced and remarried families receiving Holy Communion is expected to be addressed, as well as how the LGBT should be addressed, and during the Synods there had been a clear division of opinions in that regard. There was, however, a unified idea that families need to have an increased and renewed focus on the church from all involved at the Synods.

“I expect the papal document to be a typical Bergoglio combination of challenge and encouragement,” said Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, using Francis’ family name, according to National Catholic Reporter. “This pope has a strange ability to say things which can be quite searing but end up being heartening.”

“If the pope can get the mix of encouragement and challenge right, he’ll be the unifier that Peter is meant to be, leading us beyond ideological dogfights and confirming us in the faith.”

Pope Francis’ addressing of the topics of divorced and remarried Catholics has become “the most important moment in the Church in the last 50 years. This was the biggest sign of hope that in the Catholic Church there are ideas, and we can talk about it. No one before Francis ever had the courage to think about that,” according to Faggioli.

Spring and Catholic Schools

It’s Spring!

It’s no coincidence that Lent and Spring are at the same time. Both are times of change. There is evidence from nature that Spring is here. New life is sprouting all around us. As Spring brings about changes so does the season of Lent. Lent has the potential to bring about changes and new life in our inner selves. We are called to fast, give alms and pray so that God can create us anew. The same transformation that we see taking place in nature can take place within ourselves. As the bareness of the trees, the flowerless fields and the cold air will burst forth into the beauty of Spring, so will our sometimes barren spirits, cold hearts and failed attempts be transformed into the New Life of Christ. It is for this that He died and rose again.

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman

This month would have been the 215th birthday Of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. One of the first teachers to tackle the modern and utilitarian problems facing Catholic Education, Cardinal Newman was originally an evangelical Oxford University academic and priest in the Church of England. He became later drawn to the high-church of Anglicanism. “Newman provides a much-needed educational vision today as an attractive alternative to the shapeless, relativistic and uninspiring alternatives of so many contemporary universities,” said Paul Shrimpton, who teaches at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and specializes in the history of education. “His practice and example will appeal to those who value the idea of a liberal [arts] education, those interested in the education of the whole person and those with an interest in the idea of a faith-based college or university.”


While it may be hyperbole to say that he foresaw most of the problems that are facing Catholic colleges and universities today, there is a reason and insight in Newman’s writing that is still applicable to this day. While there are many who are aware of his writings, not as many know about the true devotion he had to the vision of an authentic Catholic education.  He was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland, which has evolved into the University College of Dublin, the largest university in Ireland.


Anti-Catholicism was central to British culture at the time, ever since the Protestant Reformation. In order to educated the public, Newman took the initiative and booked the Birmingham Corn Exchange for a series of public lectures. He decided to make their tone popular and provide cheap off-prints to those who attended. These lectures were his Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England and they were delivered weekly, beginning on 30 June and finishing on 1 September 1851.


In total there were nine lectures:


  • Protestant view of the Catholic Church
  • Tradition the sustaining power of the Protestant view
  • Fable the basis of the Protestant view
  • True testimony insufficient for the Protestant view
  • Logical inconsistency of the Protestant view
  • Prejudice the life of the Protestant view
  • Assumed principles of the intellectual ground of the Protestant view
  • Ignorance concerning Catholics the protection of the Protestant view
  • Duties of Catholics towards the Protestant view


-which form the nine chapters of the published book.


Andrew Nash describes the Lectures as: “an analysis of this [anti-Catholic] ideology, satirising it, demonstrating the false traditions on which it was based and advising Catholics how they should respond to it. They were the first of their kind in English literature.”


John Wolffe assesses the Lectures as: “an interesting treatment of the problem of anti-Catholicism from an observer whose partisan commitment did not cause him to slide into mere polemic and who had the advantage of viewing the religious battlefield from both sides of the tortured no man’s land of Littlemore.”


The poet Aubrey de Vere was, at the time, another lecturer appointed by Newman. De Vere stated, “I was pained by the very humble labours to which Newman seemed so willingly to subject himself. It appeared strange that he should carve for thirty hungry youths, or sit listening to the eloquent visitors. Such work should have fallen on subordinates, but their salaries it was impossible to provide.”


Much of his work focused on the importance of Catholic education and the importance it plays on the health of the Church itself. Many Catholic institutions today owe their practices to Newman, as do the Popes, and how they guide education throughout the years.


Catholic Education Available to All

From Vatican City, the Pope spoke on the current state of education. According to His Holiness, there is a current failure of the system in the way that schools interact with families and states that leads to a selective education of the wealthy or intelligent. He used the word “supermen” to describe the children that are lucky enough to come from the privileged background that allows for a non-secular education.


“Behind this, there is always the ghost of money. Always.” Pope Francis said of education. “It has become too selective and elitist. It seems that only those people or persons who are at a certain level or have a certain capacity have the right to an education.” (According to this article from US News, a year at the average Catholic primary school typically runs about $5,330. That number goes up to $9,790 for middle and high school. The average cost for one year of tuition at a Catholic college averages $26,300. The average Christian school, on average, cost $7,960 a year for an elementary student and $16,520 for a secondary student)


This statement took place in a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education and the 25th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic universities and was followed up with an off-the-cuff question and answer session taking questions from administrators and faculty


When asked what makes a school “truly Christian”, the pope responded saying that Christian education is not  just about providing catechesis, but also requires education in “human values”, especially the value of transcendence. Education that favors the tangible like test scores and profitability and ignores the spiritual dimension of existence is “the biggest crisis” in education. “We must prepare hearts so the Lord can manifest himself,” which requires an education that strives to reflect “the fullness of humanity that has this dimension of transcendence,” he said. Educators must work to restore the broken “educational alliance” that has a tendency to put profits before people. “This is a shameful global reality,” the Pope said. “It is a reality that leads us toward a human selectivity that, instead of bringing people together, it distances them; it distances the rich from the poor; it distances one culture from another.”

Educators, he continued, “are among the worst-paid workers: what does this mean? It means that the state simply has no interest. If it did, things wouldn’t go that way. The educational alliance is broken. And this is our job, to find new paths.”


The Pope called for people to educated the poor and the marginalized, even if that meant cutting staff or other expenses at some of their schools in wealthier neighborhoods. “They have something that youth from rich neighborhoods do not through no fault of their own, but it is a sociological reality: they have the experience of survival, of cruelty, of hunger, of injustice. They have a wounded humanity. And I think about the fact that our salvation comes from the wounds of a man injured on the cross.”


And the Pope isn’t wrong. Many college-prep Catholic high schools boast records of 99% of their students go on to college, which is an astounding fact that could change the future for a kid from an under-served community. The wealth of U.S. Catholics is documented by sociologists as rising all the time, and a lot of that affluence has been attributed to -at least in part- to Catholic education.


And this is not a new refrain that we are hearing, either. During an April 2008 visit to Washington, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged people to make schools accessible to all by opening our wallets and getting creative in how we finance schools: “It provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done in cooperation with the wider community to ensure that Catholic schools are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”


Secular Criteria for Colleges Can’t Tell the Whole Story

With a recent article published by Newsmax on the top 40 Traditional Catholic and Jesuit Colleges in America, some debate has been raised on the topic of secular college standards versus faith being the defining factor in choosing a school. Managing editor of the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, Adam Wilson, argues that a college’s Catholic identity should be of paramount concern.


“Students must weigh all options, including a school’s selection of majors, its location, post-graduation job success rate, class size, and student-to-faculty ratio.” Says Newmax, but then it also goes on to say that legacy and influence are subjective criteria compared to statistics like student retention rates. While these factors are great to take into consideration, do they accurately portray the Catholic structure of the college and the ideals that it espouses?


A Newsmax rep spoke with The Cardinal Newman Society to explain “that special consideration was given to “institutions that allow students to give back or care for others while growing spiritually,” but that they ultimately “wanted the list to feature exceptional institutions that ‘strike the perfect balance between integrating faith and reason with a rigorous academic education.’” Only one of the universities in the Newsmax ratings is recommended by the Newman Society for its commitment to a faithful Catholic education. Georgetown University, on the Newsmax list as the number two top Catholic college has actually had a canon law petition filed against it due to the numerous Catholic identity abuses, demanding that the university either remove it’s Catholic affiliation or take significant steps to restore the Catholic identity it once held.


So where should you look to for a college that is based in spirituality but also hits the academic criteria desired for success of the students? Keeping in mind that it is not just a college of faith that is important, and if they adhere to what the Church envisions for Catholic universities, but also that the students will enroll in institutions that aim to strike the perfect balance between integrating faith and reason with a rigorous academic education. The legwork here mainly falls to you. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has compiled a list of Catholic Colleges and Universities in the United States that gives you a base to jump of from, and everyone looking into a Catholic institution should read the apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae. It is important that the institutions and bishops in the United States are understanding and using the application of that document to bring their identity in line with the Church’s vision. The only way you can know if the needs of the college are aligned with the needs of your family and your faith is to ask the important questions yourself. Class size and student retention, while important factors to consider, simply are not representative of the ideals of a college or it’s ability to nourish a student’s faith. Campus ministry and residence life, as well as the faculty and percentage of Catholic students in attendance are all integral to the process.


As Pope Benedict XVI addressed to Catholic educators in 2008 where the Holy Father stated that “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics.” Instead, Catholic identity “demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. In this way, our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society,” he continued. “They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others.’”


Pope Francis at World Congress on Catholic Education

Steven Virgadamo shares some of Pope Francis words from an address to the delegates  at the World Congress on Catholic Education held in Rome on November 18-22, 2015.

At the World Congress on Catholic Education, Pope Francis suggested that education cannot be reduced to just the transmission of ideas and that we must find new ways to help young people develop their capacity to think, to make, and to love.

He went on to say……

“A good educator risks teaching his students how to walk on their own.” And…

“You cannot speak of Catholic education without speaking about humanity, because the Catholic identity is precisely that God became man. Educating people in the faith isn’t just about giving catechesis but instead about helping young people to understand reality and discover transcendence. For me, the biggest crisis in education from the Christian perspective is this closing off transcendence. We have closed ourselves to transcendence.

With regard to whom Catholic schools must serve, he said….


“The most needy have to experience a rigorous value based education as these children have experienced something better off kids haven’t: suffering. They have something that youths in more rich neighborhoods don’t have. It isn’t their fault. It’s a sociological reality. They have the experience of survival, and also of cruelty, and also of hunger, and also of injustice. Their humanity is wounded. The reality is you understand better from the peripheries than from the center, because in the center you are always covered, you’re always defended.”

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo

School Choice Remains Both a Civil Rights Issue and an Economic One


Expanded educational alternatives are needed to provide our next generation with access to a quality education and create the skilled workers that are essential to American competitiveness in the global economy. We cannot continue to ask children and families stuck in chronically failing public schools to wait any longer. Quite simply, parents and children deserve a choice. We must be able to fulfill our obligation to provide parents and their children with educational alternatives. By giving parents the power of choice, we are ensuring that students will have the opportunities they deserve for a bright and successful future.

 The need for improved school choice has never been more evident. Today, thousands of students are trapped in chronically failing schools in our most economically depressed communities and dense urban areas.   Educational Savings Accounts, Charter Schools, and Voucher programs are just some of the potential avenues to reform our failing government run school system. We must focus on urban education reform and work to provide a solid foundation for our children to achieve their dreams. School choice is a no-brainer because we know that kids win when parents choose and every student counts.

With strong leadership and a commitment that never strays from putting the best interest of our children first, change can come.

Thank you for reading!

Steve Virgadamo