‘Education is about becoming more human’

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By Abriana Chilelli 
Associate Superintendent of Academic Renewal 

When teaching high school-level Humanities at public schools here in Colorado, I hung a sign on the wall of my classroom. I made the sign after reading an interview with Dr. Joseph Almeida, a professor at Franciscan University, during my days there as a student, long before I became a teacher. The sign quoted Dr. Almeida: “There’s a statement in Plato’s Republic that education is a way of turning the soul so that it is in the best position to perceive reality. That notion of education has never left me. It helps me see the pursuit of knowledge as a way of life that’s connected with the human soul. It’s not about information gathering or pragmatic success. It’s about becoming more human.” 

At the time, as a young teacher, I had a sense of what Dr. Almeida meant, but didn’t fully grasp the profundity of his words. The last line: “[Education] is about becoming more human” has been something I’ve been reflecting on since those days I’d glance over and reread this line while teaching or lesson planning.  

The reflection for me has been a pursuit of the question: what does it mean to become more human?  

It’s significant that I read the interview during my own conversion: a time of falling in love with the Jesus I met in the Gospels, learning to pray while sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In those months, Jesus became the person I wanted to follow. And yet at the same time, this reflection on what it means to be human began to sprout in my mind. Why did a friendship with Jesus Christ inspire this question of who I was as a human person?  

When I moved from teaching in public schools to Catholic schools, it was because I had chosen Catholic schools for my own children and began to experience the beauty of Catholic education for the formation of my children. Yet, I thought academics sat next to discipleship as separate and distinct aims of the school, that “academic excellence” served some utilitarian end to send students out in the world to do something, but that spiritual formation was just a separate extra. Now, after five years in Catholic education, I know: that which we teach and study in Catholic schools forms students toward becoming more human because God, in his love for us, created everything, and created man to become his sons and daughters as partakers in his divine nature.   

God created us in his image and likeness, which means we can know and we can love. Becoming more human then is to become more like God: to understand deeply, to come to know things well, and in turn to know our duties as human people, which is to love. We are the only created beings with minds with which to know and hearts with which to love. Growing in those powers is what it is to become more human because it is what we were created for.  

The Church educates to form people who marvel at the world around them and contemplate the truth of things — to help them to become more human — because this is what we were created for! 

The pursuit of knowledge and love is the story of growing our capacity for God: to read history as the chronological story of the longings of the human heart, or to read great literature and examine the struggle of humanity never being fulfilled in anything except by turning to the Lord. To look at a scientific concept, understand it, and then ask why it is. To consider the logic and order of mathematics in awe of how these principles work with such design.  

God made us for contemplation, and while contemplation is principally an act of prayer, it is also the engagement of our intellects with every good and perfect thing, which will point us, ultimately, to him.  

And why did God create us this way? Because he loves us deeply, wants us to know him, and wants us to be happy. And we are happy when we can grow in understanding. John Paul II said, “Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.” The intellectual life is wanting to know more about the marvels of the universe, and wanting to pursue more. The Church educates to form people who marvel at the world around them and contemplate the truth of things — to help them to become more human — because this is what we were created for! 

In 1929, Pope Pius XI wrote something that is still true today: “Since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end.” 

This is why in our archdiocesan schools we have begun to examine our content standards to ensure that what’s taught in our schools directs students to their last end. We began this work last year with our English and science standards, turning this year to our history and art standards. Catholic schools have the unique ability to direct learning towards God through understanding the integration of all created things. Reading literature from the great conversation, rich with stories that inspire sacramental imaginations, helps our students to understand the human story as this pursuit of the longing of the heart to find happiness. History is a chronological story that Jesus Christ himself entered: he is the centrality of history and transforms all that comes after him. Art should invite us into Christian culture, cultivate students’ ability to attend, contemplate, and wonder.  

My sense as a young teacher was really the longing of my heart to wholly know who it was created for: that to be educated means to come to know reality, growing in intimacy and love with He who created me.  

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright