Now that the Synod on Young People has wrapped up, who will model authentic accompaniment, which was a key theme at the Synod? Look no further than America’s most faithful Catholic schools.
There is good and bad accompaniment. The Church needs examples of youth evangelization that not only show compassion but also teach the truths and the practices of our Catholic faith, which are immensely importance in today’s secular culture.
I’ve had a firsthand look at the exemplary schools recognized by The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll, and they are truly forming young people in love and the Faith. These schools lead young people to holiness and grow the Church through innovative programs, clear doctrine and bold witness to Christ. They accompany youth, day in and day out, seeking not just to hang out with the young but to lead and inspire them to greatness.
Faithful Catholic schools “present them with the tradition,” that is, they offer a compelling and lived Catholic understanding of man, God and the world. This is necessary, so that students can compare the truth as presented in the Gospels and Catholic tradition to the values, beliefs, and attitudes in contemporary culture. Only then can they make a free decision as to which path they will follow. Authentic accompaniment in these schools is particularly effective at evangelizing, nurturing and leading our youth.
Part of authentic accompaniment means providing youth with real content and real answers to life’s perplexing challenges. This is why Frassati Catholic High School in Spring, Tex., established a unique four-year program of philosophy within the school’s new Ethics and Culture Department. The program is a unifying force and also a springboard for discussion in all other academic classes, encouraging an interdisciplinary and fully Catholic approach to life and learning. Courses such as The Human Person and Principles of Ethics use textbooks published by the Nashville Dominican Sisters to help students uncover and understand the beauty and dignity of man and the moral framework given him to live a life of freedom in the Truth. Addressing the crisis of moral relativism and preference for scientific reason, the ethics and culture classes enable students to see that the truth is not compartmentalized, that truth is inter-related and accessible to man, and that truth can be found with certainty in all academic lines of inquiry when using the proper methods.
Frassati Principal Sister John Paul Myers, O.P., finds that her students are better able to recognize the false premises underlying relativism and secularism and errant beliefs about the human person that inform popular culture. Her students are prepared to be apostles of the New Evangelization and adults who can analyze and transform the culture with a discerning eye.
Mount de Sales Academy, a Catholic Education Honor Roll school in Catonsville, Md., also helps students grow in their understanding of human dignity through its new “Seminar of the Human Person” program. The seminar gives students the self-knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to impact and shape the world before and after graduation. Freshmen learn how to navigate the demands of high school, sophomores focus on character development and the importance of serving others, juniors are taught skills to handle stress, and seniors are provided tools to help prepare for graduation and making difficult life decisions. Principal Sister Mary Thomas, O.P., also challenges the culture of self-centeredness that surrounds young people. Her school seeks to create a culture to help students “foster a healthy love and respect for themselves” and to “model their lives after the self-giving love of Christ.”
Authentic accompaniment does not mean simply being in the presence of youth and listening to their woes and desires. Authentic accompaniment means providing Christian guidance on tough topics particular to youth, to help them take on these challenges with a deeper, more mature understanding of God’s desire for man.
One major challenge in today’s world is the ubiquity of pornography and a loss of the proper understanding of the meaning and beauty of human sexuality. Academy of Our Lady, a Catholic Honor Roll school in Marrero, La., is a Salesian school that has found that special faculty training in Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has helped them form students with a balanced and joyful Catholic understanding of human sexuality. A four-week Theology of the Body course during the sophomore year is supported by a broad focus on the beauty of God’s total creation, which is emphasized in all classes. Principal Sister Michelle Geiger, S.M.A., appreciates that the program helps students “learn the true nature of love—gift of self for the authentic good of the other… Students learn to integrate chastity on all levels of their being in addition to investigating the developmental stages of sexual identity,” all within a vibrant Catholic worldview.
Working with parents as primary educators in addressing this important challenge is a goal of Deacon Marc Nestorik, principal at Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver, Colo. In order to help students develop a positive image of the human person and fight the prevalent culture, which largely objectifies and denigrates the human body, Deacon Nestorik designated NoPornNovember. Throughout the month, speakers are brought into the school to discuss the harmful effects of viewing pornography. All school activities are open to parents, with evening presentations so they can attend and remain involved.
Such parental involvement is also a part of authentic accompaniment. The role of the parent is perhaps understated in the working document guiding the Synod on Young People, which was primarily focused on young adults. But parents have an enormous impact on human and Christian formation, so helping them grow in faith has a real impact in helping students grow in faith.
This point is not lost on Basilian Father John Huber, principal of Detroit Central Catholic High School in Michigan. This Honor Roll school reaches out to evangelize parents through the school’s Mothers and Dads Clubs. The Mothers Club has more than 300 participates, and the Dads’ Club more than 100. Opportunities for parents include Bible study, Marian devotions, regular spiritual activities at the nearby Marian Shrine, and a father-son service for the homeless. The Basilian charism of “Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge” is evident at the school and has made an impact on at least seven students who are currently in the seminary. Nine Basilian Fathers invite students to pray the Divine Office, share evening meals, and discuss religious life several times throughout the year.
Goodness is considered the greatest of the three Basilian charisms, Fr. Huber explains. “Goodness comes only through enlightenment from God, and the grace of the Holy Spirit. We are not here for ourselves, we are here to fulfill the vocation that God has given us, to live and preach the Gospel first and foremost, and to put others before ourselves. We must see the face of Christ in all we meet and treat all human life with the dignity it deserves.”
Authentic accompaniment also means serving youth within an inspired and mission-driven community. This allows them to live the Catholic faith while they study it. Notre Dame Regional High School, in Cape Girardeau, Mo., has an especially vibrant school culture, thanks in part to the indomitable spirit of its principal, Brother David Anthony Migliorino, O.S.F. Bubbling with the joy of the Holy Spirit, Brother’s love for Catholic education inspires in his rapid speech and spry step. His inspiration includes his order’s Franciscan charism and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, who observed, “If you are to do His work, the strength will be given you.”
Saint Francis’ love of the Eucharist and the Church, as well as God’s creation, are integrated and on display throughout the school. The Franciscan dictum to “spread the Gospel at all times, using words if necessary,” has resulted in a school rich in Catholic iconography and inspirational quotations, and a school chapel as the focal point of the building. The “Franciscan Leadership Program” invites students to live the Franciscan charism more fully as campus ministers and school leaders. In the “Letters to Clare Program,” based upon the correspondence between Saint Clare and her sister Saint Agnes, alumni of the school write letters of prayer, counsel and well-wishes to the incoming freshmen.
Notre Dame collaborates with parents, the primary teachers of their children, to form students in the moral teachings of the Church, Catholic traditions, self-discipline and Gospel values. Teachers offer a monthly Catholic Man/Catholic Woman Night, when parents can discuss current issues of the Church alongside what the students are learning in the classroom, thus educating and evangelizing families as well as students.
The synod’s full title was “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” and Catholic schools play a critical role in growing the Church, including religious vocations. About two Notre Dame students every year enter religious life or the seminary. Another particularly effective school in fostering vocational discernment is St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville, Tenn. This all-girls school benefits from the presence of the Dominican Motherhouse on the same property allowing students significant exposure to the rhythm of the sisters’ spiritual life. Here the faith is presented not in a strong-armed manner, “but with the joy and freedom that comes from living a life in Christ. Presenting the Gospel faithfully, allows the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts and minds of students, Catholic and non-Catholic alike,” according to its principal, Sister Anne Catherine, O.P.
Sister Anne also acknowledges the attacks on marriage and the family and the aggressive promotion of gender ideology as two areas of concern for young people. She also is concerned about the damage caused by the “totalitarian promotion of ‘tolerance’, and ‘your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth.’” To counter this, the school teaches students to think clearly and to understand objective reality. Students are led toward an authentic life of prayer and the growth of theological and cardinal virtues, “so that they can stand strong in the face of whatever challenges the culture will throw at them.”
Authentic accompaniment of the young requires bold and clear-sighted formation. Too much is at stake to wring our hands in anxiety or despair. We have been entrusted with the life-giving message of the Gospel, and we have been given the means and responsibility to proclaim it to the young. This generation is counting on us to play our part as authentic guides and shepherds.
The Catholic Education Honor Roll schools, along with many other excellent Catholic schools and thousands of faithful Catholic home schools, feed young people who are hungry for the truth. Good educators know that today’s students will be called upon to defend and grow the Church for the next generations. That is why the bishops, whose synod has now concluded, would do well to look to faithful Catholic education as a wonderful example of Catholics confidently proclaiming Christ to the world!
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