Catholic education is More Than You Realize

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

Aaron Lambert

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: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.