We need Catholic schools now more than ever

Jared Staudt

Our ancestors, Catholic immigrants to the United States, built up the largest private school system in the world. They made an enormous sacrifice, scraping pennies together for the formation of their children. Why were they so committed to giving their kids a Catholic education? They understood that education provides the foundation for how to live — how to think, what to value, and how to contribute to the world. Catholic schools were formed to give children a complete formation, setting them up for both success and their eternal happiness. Nonetheless, since the 1960s, Catholic education has been in decline and now an overwhelming majority of Catholic children are formed primarily by the public schools.

If public schools educate the bulk of Catholic children, then the state of the public education bears directly on the future of the Church in the United States. Authors Mary Rice Hasson and Theresa Farnan make a poignant and pressing case against public education in Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child from Public School Before It’s Too Late (Regnery Gateway, 2018). Here are their reasons for why public education has become untenable: 1) Public schools are now committed to spreading gender ideology, despite the findings of science; 2) Meant to form citizens, they have eroded patriotism and indoctrinated socialism; 3) The absence of engagement with religion combined with scientism have led to practical atheism and relativism; 4) School systems have been eroding parental rights and marginalizing parents’ role in their child’s education; 5) The steady decline in academic achievement has been furthered by Common Core.

The authors state the urgency of their case: “The risk of harm to a child’s moral and human formation in the public schools today is serious and nearly certain. Few children are intellectually adept enough to detect the illusion being passed off as truth or wise enough to avoid the moral pitfalls that accompany an immersion in ‘sexual health’ or gender ideology” (148). The reality of this claim is hitting home in Colorado right now as the State House considers HB 19 1032, a bill which doubles down on existing standards covering human sexuality for public schools. Its proposed language states:

“Comprehensive human sexuality education . . . also teaches youth about the different relationship models they and their peers may engage in, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peers, and how to be a safe and healthy partner in a relationship. [It] also fosters youth social-emotional health and well-being by teaching self-acceptance and respect for those whose sexuality, gender, gender expression, or lived experience differ from their own. [It] rejects the use of shame, stigma, fear, and gender norms or gender stereotypes as instructional tools and recognizes that such tactics are counterproductive to youth empowerment and particularly harmful to vulnerable and questioning youth.”

We must reverse the decline of our Catholic schools as we need them now more than ever before!  Archbishop Aquila has been leading the way in calling for a renewal of our schools by emphasizing discipleship as our most important task. If our children live as disciples (or students) of Christ, they will know their true identity as children of God, will have the wisdom to see what matters most in the world, and will enter their vocation and work with the courage necessary to thrive in a secular world. The formation of disciples is holistic: entering into a relationship with God, knowing the truth, pursuing what is good by forming virtue, and developing the skills to succeed. Our children need a community of faith and love to reach their fullest potential, as God will help them to be fully alive in Him.

The Church recognizes that parents are the primary educators of their children. The challenges in education today require cooperation to give our children the best education possible. The Archdiocese of Denver is committed to making Catholic education available to all students, an education that is robustly Catholic, provides an integrated liberal arts curriculum, and offers a healthy and holy environment. Our Catholic schools are committed to renewal and growth in the midst of greater need, but parents also must be more involved than in the past. I agree with Hasson and Farnan that it’s time to “look for alternatives. … If you are concerned about your child’s faith, intellectual formation, and patriotism, public schools are working against you. It’s time to get out, now” (177).

COMING UP: Thomas Fitzsimons: The unsung Catholic Founding Father 

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As our nation celebrates the day of its independence and subsequent founding as a country on July 4, a look back some lesser-knowCatholic history of this historic event seems warranted.  

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin: these are names every American knows. Pull out your wallet and you’ll likely see at least one of their faces on the money you carry aroundAnd while this nation was founded on principles rooted in Christianity, none of these men were Catholic. In fact, of the men history calls the Founding Fathers of America, only two were. 

Many may already be familiar with Founding Father Charles Carroll, a Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and whose brother John was the first Catholic bishop assigned to what would become the United States. However, Carroll was not the only Catholic who played a role in the founding of our country. The other was Thomas Fitzsimons, a name that is not mentioned much (if at all) in U.S. history classes but deserves to be recognized nonetheless.  

The unwieldy named Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, published in 1887, paints a vivid picture of Fitzsimons and the way his faith informed his character. While the other Founding Fathers were meeting and deliberating about the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons joined the Continental Army anfought on the frontlines against the British army. 

Captain Fitzsimons commanded his company of militia until 1778, when France entered the war. British troops withdrew from Pennsylvania and began to focus on the southern states. It was at this time that Fitzsimons became more involved in politics at the state level. In 1782, he became a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1786, he was elected as a Pennsylvania state legislator and served for three terms until 1789. In 1787, he was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Congress, where the United States Constitution was written and ratified. He, along with Daniel Carroll, were the only two Catholics to sign to Constitution. 

Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1741, not much else is known about Fitzsimons’ family. He had three brothers – Nicholas, Andrew and John – and one sister, Ann. He and his family immigrated to America as early as 1760, where they became residents of Philadelphia. It was here that Fitzsimons would stake his claim as a businessman and politician. 

In 1763, Fitzsimons married Catharine Meade, whose brother, George Meade, would later go into business with Fitzsimons and build one of the most successful commercial trade houses in Philadelphia. Throughout his life, Fitzsimons was in close correspondence with Bishop John Carrollthese letters revealed insights into the Catholic Founding Father’s personal life. In a letter to Bishop Carroll in 1808, Fitzsimons wrote of being married to Catharine for 45 years. Additionally, local baptismal records show that he and Catharine stood as sponsors at the baptisms of three of Meade’s children. 

In 1774, Fitzsimons began his first foray into politics when he was elected as one of 13 Provincial Deputies who were given authority to call a general meeting of the citizens. It is believed he was the first Catholic to have ever held public office in the budding United States. Even so, anti-Catholic bigotry was common at the time and did exist within some of his fellow statesmen, such as John Adams, who once said in an address to the people of Great Britain that the Catholic faith was “a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.” 

Fitzsimons’ first stint in public office was brief, only lasting from May to July, but it was a foreshadowing his future involvement in state affairs. As the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Fitzsimons formed a company of soldiers to fight against the British army. He was assigned to the Third Battalion under Col. Cadwalader and Lieut. Col. John Nixon, who was the grandson of a Catholic. Behind the scenes, as George Washington and the like organized committees and framed what would become the Declaration of Independence, Fitzsimons ascended to the rank of Captain and continued to serve his country as a soldier and patriot.

In addition to his tenure as a commanding officer and politician, Fitzsimons also found success in other ventures. In 1781, he helped found the Bank of North America, the United States’ first de facto central bank, and served as its director until 1803. The latter years of his life were spent primarily in private business, but he maintained a consistent interest in public affairs; even Fitzsimons wasn’t exempt from the old adage, “once a politician, always a politician.” 

Through all of these endeavors, and even after befalling troubled financial times in the early 1800s, Fitzsimons remained a diligent philanthropist. He gave immense support to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia and was invested in the improvement of public education in the commonwealth. As one of his contemporaries wrote after his death in 1811, “he died in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” 

Fitzsimons was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which is now part of Independence National Historical Park. His name may not be a household one like Washington or Jefferson, but Fitzsimons can be remembered as something of an unsung Founding Father of the United Statesa man whose life of quiet faith, humble service and admirable patriotism exemplifies the values that this country was founded upon in a simple yet profound way.