Fostering Catholic identity in Catholic schools

Aaron Lambert

Living the Catholic Faith should be evident in all aspects of life, and especially so in the classroom, according to the organizer of the inaugural Catholic High School Formation Summit that took place at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial on Dec. 3 and 4.

There were 55 people in attendance representing 23 schools from around the nation, and the summit featured speakers from all avenues of Catholic education.

The event was conceived and organized by Father Paul Kostka, chaplain at Bishop Macehbeuf High School, and its purpose was to create a national network of collaboration between Catholic high schools around the nation in order to form students as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.

“The spiritual formation of students was the key focus of the conference,” Father Kostka said.

More than that, however, it was meant to be a forum for Catholic educators to come together and help each other become more effective at fostering a strong sense of Catholic identities in their respective schools.

The Catholic school symposium that took place on last October was part of the inspiration for the summit, Father Kostka said. The summit was a natural outflow from the theme of discipleship that was prevalent at the symposium, he said.

Father Kostka has done much ministry around the county, and in doing so, he’s encountered many school faculty and professionals who are doing great things to encourage discipleship at their schools. He’s built a network of Catholic educators from these encounters, and among these were the attendees of the summit.

There were talks on mission, athletics, house communities and other access points that are opportunities to bring kids to Christ, he said.

Thomas Wurtz, founder of the Varsity Catholic branch of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, was one of the speakers in attendance. He gave a talk on school athletic programs and the role they play in making intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.

“A young person involved in sports has the chance to be formed,” Wurtz said. “I hope we can rally around the need to use sports as a tool in the formation of our young people.”

A portion of the conference was also dedicated to Catholic high school teachers, specifically theology teachers, and different ways they could bring kids to Christ in the classroom through the use of primary sources such as scripture.

From this teaching, though, must also come action, and this was another primary goal of the conference.

“We can give talks on mission, but if we don’t have the students go and do mission work, all we’re doing is talking,” Father Kostka said. “There is a teaching part of it, but the teaching then has to manifest itself in concrete actions.”

The culture of collaboration discussed at the summit wasn’t meant only to apply nationally, but also locally. Father Kostka said the independent nature and distance between the two Catholic high schools in the Archdioces¬e of Denver, Bishop Macehbeuf and Holy Family in Broomfield, can make them feel like islands. He hopes to build and foster a more collaborative relationship between the two schools.

“[A lot of people] walked away from the summit encouraged to more intentionally live the faith in their schools, [and to] try some of the ideas people proposed and integrate them into their schools,” Father Kostka said.

The next Catholic High School Formation Summit will be held Oct. 19-21, 2016, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Atlanta, Ga. For more information, visit

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.