Catholic education is More Than You Realize

Catholic school teachers and staff reminded of their invaluable roles at annual formation day

This year’s annual formation day for teachers looked a little different than years past. You might even say it was More Than You Realize.

All archdiocesan Catholic school employees gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in Stapleton March 8 for a day of training and catechesis hosted by the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools. A series of talks were given by several speakers who all showed that history, art, beauty, science, faith, reason, and ultimately Catholic schools are all More Than You Realize.

Superintendent Elias Moo began his address to the teachers by asking what the fundamental difference between Catholic and public schools is. He used two examples to illustrate his point: a science classroom examining red blood cells under a microscope and a math class learning about the Fibonacci numbers and the elusive Golden ratio.

“In Catholic schools, students have an opportunity to be led out to see in those cells and chromosomes the genius behind their creation, cells that bear the imprint of a loving God who created all things,” Moo said. “In our Catholic schools, students have an opportunity to be led out to see in these mathematical patterns the order and logic God used to create the universe, a God who uses beautiful patterns and sequences to reveal through nature his greatness.

“Through the use of their reason,” Moo continued, Catholic school students will “come to know and discover the mind of God and thus come to love him because in all things they see, they will see the imprint and mark of he who made it all for them.”

Academic success for students at Catholic schools is of the utmost importance, Moo said, and Catholic schools have a great track record. In addition to lower dropout rates than public and other private schools, Catholic schools generally outperform other schools when it comes to high test scores, and a recent study showed that Catholic schools foster better self-discipline among their students.

However, academic success cannot be the only thing that sets Catholic schools apart from other schools, Moo said. An education rooted in the principles of the Gospel demands more from its teachers and everybody else involved because such an education is not solely concerned with the academic.

“We don’t just want academic or career success for our students,” Moo said. “We want more for them because they deserve more.”

In essence, Moo said, Catholic schools need to support parents in raising their children in the faith and forming the whole person.

“This is why our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Denver exist,” Moo explained. “To support parents in forming their children as faithful and virtuous disciples of Jesus Christ who are fully alive and serve the common good. This is our charter and it doesn’t come from a model or educational fad or trend, but from the heart of the Church.”

Frassati Catholic Academy sixth grader John Siurek was invited to speak at the conference about how teachers can inspire students to be the best they can be.

“We need teachers to push us to the heights that we can go,” Siurek said. “Let us do more than just learn! Inspire us with subjects that we have never learned before.”

He implored the teachers to be constant sources of inspiration and encouragement for students: “Help us to believe in ourselves and the things that we are capable of doing! Your words of encouragement make us feel like we can do anything, and they help us to strive to live up to what you believe about us.”

Most importantly, however, he told them to help their students to become saints.

“Help us to be like Jesus. Show us how to love him and serve him,” he said. “Pray with us, sing with us, correct us when we need it, and let us know when we are being good examples…all of our Catholic schools should help us kids to be saints!”

All those in attendance agreed, if their standing ovation was anything to go by.

“I love that we are here to build the kingdom of heaven,” said Linda Capaldo-Smith, Preschool Director and Pre-Kindergarten teacher at Christ the King Catholic School in Denver. She said that after the conference, she is even more excited to teach the little ones that God “is in every part of our lives. God is there and has made everything for us.”

Lauren Powell, a kindergarten teacher at Frassati Catholic Academy, said that the day served as a fervent reminder that her job as a Catholic school teacher is to help form the whole person of her students.

“It reenergizes me in terms of teaching their soul as well as their mind,” she said. “[I’m] wanting to go back and make sure my students know how much God loves them. I want to tell them that more, every day, and hope that they can see that they’re more than they realize.”

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”