Supreme Court justice nominee a testament to Catholic education

Neil Gorsuch attended Denver’s Christ the King School

Roxanne King

The nomination of Coloradan Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice during Catholic Schools Week appears to affirm the celebration’s 2017 theme: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Gorsuch’s life exemplifies those qualities, according to President Donald Trump and Catholic educators.

Although Gorsuch attends an Episcopalian church in Boulder, he grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver and a Jesuit high school in Maryland.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who as a parish priest in the ‘80s taught Gorsuch religion at Christ the King, was delighted with his former student’s Jan. 31 nomination.

“I think it’s great that this has happened during Catholic Schools Week!” the archbishop said of the news, which was announced during the Jan. 29-Feb. 4 national observance.

Kevin Kijewski, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic Schools, was equally elated.

“It’s great to see how a Catholic education, especially a Catholic education from within our own Archdiocese of Denver, can not only form and guide students to succeed and be the best they can be, but to provide the moral judgment and competence to play-out in such a highly visible and influential position.

“It is a testament to our schools and to having a Catholic education,” he told the Denver Catholic.

In a Feb. 1 interview with Fox 31, Kijewski noted, “Catholic thought and the Catholic intellectual tradition has shaped him.”

Gorsuch, a Denver native and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, graduated with honors from both Columbia University and Harvard Law School and earned a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University. After law school, he was chosen to be a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He is the son of Anne Gorsuch, who was the first female secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency.

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” file photo

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” (File photo)

“Judge Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado and was taught the value of independence, hard work and public service. While in law school, he demonstrated a commitment to helping the less fortunate. He worked in both Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Projects and Harvard Defenders Program,” Trump said in his nomination. “He could have had any job at any law firm for any amount of money, but what he wanted to do with his career was to be a judge, to write decisions and to make an impact by upholding our laws and our Constitution.

“The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute,” he said. “He is a man of our country and a man who our country really needs and needs badly to ensure the rule of law and the rule of justice.”

JoAnn Ehrlich, who has taught at Christ the King for some 25 years, was Gorsuch’s eighth-grade teacher.

“I’m really proud of him,” she told the Denver Catholic. “I was whooping and hollering for him [Jan. 31] like he had won the Super Bowl. Only it’s better—it’s better that he may be a Supreme Court justice.”

Ehrlich said the virtues of the eighth-grader she taught are evident in the man she watched accept the nomination.

“I remember him as being humble, honest and fair,” she said. “That’s what I saw then, that’s what I see now.”

Not only was Gorsuch a good student but he also had a great sense of humor and was friends with everyone, Ehrlich said. Even then, recalled Ehrlich, she saw “sparks” of his judicial career choice.

“He loved talking about history or government or politics,” she said. “He was just a good kid, a really good kid.”

In accepting the nomination, Gorsuch expressed gratitude and humility.

“Standing here in a house of history, and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country.

“I am so thankful tonight for my family, my friends and my faith,” he added. “These are the things that keep me grounded at life’s peaks and have sustained me in its valleys.”

Featured image by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.