Adeodatus, new initiative in Catholic education, is hosting its first conference in Pasadena, California this June 21st-24th. Founded by Dr. Alex Lessard, Adeodatus seeks “to support the ongoing renewal of Catholic liberal education through conferences, community-building, publication, consulting, and due diligence.”
This year’s conference, focused on “Major Sources of Catholic Education and Its Renewal,” has brought together an impressive lineup of well-known educators and intellectuals from throughout the country. Speakers include Fr. Robert Spitzer SJ, David Deavel, Dale Ahlquist, James Matthew Wilson, Edward Feser, David Whalen, among others.
Dr. Lessard recently spoke with Catholic World Report about this new initiative.
Catholic World Report: Dr. Lessard, what inspired you to found Adeodatus?
Dr. Alex Lessard: The renewal of education in the face of its modern decline has been an interest of mine since my undergraduate days, when I studied with Don Briel, founder of the Catholic Studies model of renewal, at St. Thomas (MN). In graduate school, I studied at Boston College with and wrote my dissertation in theology under Fr. Matt Lamb, who was sounding the alarm about the loss of specifically Catholic theological education.
Then, when my wife Angela and I were in the early days of educating our children, I met Roy Rohter, a philanthropist who was putting his money to great use in founding classical Catholic schools. In 2019, all three of these men, dear friends of mine, died within a 40-day period. In praying for these men, and thanking God for the gifts I had received through them, I heard a calling to return to the field they had labored in, the renewal of Catholic education.
The name “Adeodatus” is taken from Augustine’s son, for whom I had an affinity for a long time.
CWR: What are you trying to accomplish through Adeodatus?
Lessard: After years of research in the history, philosophy, and mission of Catholic education, as well as conversations with many of the leaders of the current renewal, I saw the need for a handbook on education – reflections by top-level scholars on the deep tradition of education in the Church and its modern renewal.
The current burgeoning of the so-called classical education model, it seemed to me, needed to sink its roots deeper in that tradition. Many parents and teachers want authentic Catholic education, but don’t quite know what that is, or how to recover it in our times. So the basic purpose is to educate educators, including parents, teachers, administrators, trustees, and pastors.
That was what I was thinking at first: a book to set them on their own educational path about Catholic education. But because education happens best in person and in conversation, I realized that it was best to have that handbook I first envisioned grow out of live presentations and discussions at a conference.
The fundamental answer to the question is: we are trying to deepen and spread the renewal of Catholic education!
CWR: How will the conferences contribute to the renewal of Catholic education?
Lessard: The idea of three separate conferences was in fact inspired by the three Baltimore conferences of bishops of the 19th century which, among other things, mandated the incredible parochial school system in the US. The renewal of Catholic elementary and secondary education has been happening for the most part in independent and newer institutions, as many parochial schools failed to meet parents’ expectations.
Meanwhile, bishops are overseeing lots of schools that are both losing enrollment and, in many cases, not doing their most important job of passing on the faith. One of my hopes is that the conferences will help bishops bring the success of new independent and renewed parochial Catholic schools to all the schools of their dioceses.
Obviously this first conference won’t reach everyone, and not all leaders are convinced yet that their schools need to change. But we are making a start, with some dioceses already working on ways to bring these resources to their schools. And the talks themselves, along with supplemental resources, will be available to any educators who are interested.
CWR: Can you provide some highlights of the 1st Adeodatus Conference on Catholic Education & Culture?
Lessard: Well, in all honesty, each speaker and talk will be its own highlight: this is an all-keynote conference focused on some of the greatest educators in the Catholic tradition! To mention but a few highlights: Michael Waldstein on Christ the Teacher, Ed Feser on Aristotle, Jeff Lehman on Boethius, Mike Foley on Augustine, Fr. Spitzer on Ignatius and the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum.
The conference will provide a comprehensive overview of the main sources and greatest thinkers that have shaped Catholic education through the centuries.
CWR: Why should someone sign up for the conference (whether in person or virtual)?
Lessard: These are really top-notch speakers, for one. They were asked to talk not just because of their expertise, but because they are great teachers. And they will be great whether you are able to be here in person or view the talks live via streaming or watch them later.
This conference is aimed for a broad audience: we were thinking of this originally as being for those somewhat new to the idea of Catholic liberal education, a sort of crash course, but many very experienced teachers and leaders have signed up to hear our excellent line-up of speakers. And for all levels and types of educator, each speaker will highlight the practical importance of their subject in the Catholic classroom today. I think this is similar to even the best professional athletes still needing and wanting to work on the fundamentals in the pre-season each year.
Secondly, this will be a lot of fun! One of the really excellent outcomes of conferences I have attended in the last few years is the fruitful friendships that began at them. In planning this conference, I had it very much in mind to leave time and space for these friendships to flourish.
So the conference will include great common meals; a cocktail reception, with our very own Adeodatus cocktail designed by Drinking with the Saints author Mike Foley; and time for conversations. We will also pray together at Mass every day in beautiful St. Andrew’s Church in Old Town Pasadena. Archbishop Gomez will celebrate one of our morning Masses, and our closing event is a Mass celebrated by Bishop Freyer, with music by the Credo Orchestra & Choir singing Frank LaRocca’s “Mass of the Americas”.
If you need any extra reasons: 1) California is a beautiful place to visit, and Pasadena is one of its nicest cities. 2) Thanks to generous donors and sponsors, we are able to offer steep discounts to all educators and to all other friends of Catholic education.
All details are at www.adeodatus.com.
CWR: Tell us more about the conferences in the coming years.
Lessard: Next year our plan is to expand the practical focus on Catholic Education from major figures in the tradition to principles, themes, curricula, pedagogy, and school culture.
And in 2025, we will gather as many wise educators as we can into conversations about the future of Catholic education in America: what is working in their communities and schools, what remains to be done or done better going forward, and how can we work together at all levels to expand this great renewal to every Catholic school and parish in the country.
CWR: Is there anything else you would like to share about the work of Adeodatus?
Lessard: I am available to speak on the history and renewal of Catholic education. Besides the handbooks from the conferences, we will also be publishing and republishing titles important to this movement.
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