The chapel at Thomas Aquinas College in California (Pgnielsen79, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
I recently had the opportunity to interview Kelly Salomon of the Cardinal Newman Society. Kelly is the editor of The Newman Guide. I thank Kelly for her time, and for the Cardinal Newman Society’s efforts to draw students into a relationship with Jesus Christ, both during their formal education and beyond. You can likewise check out Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly’s Register posts here.
1) Please give us an overview of your faith journey, and tell us what role Catholicism plays in your life.
I was born and raised as one of five children in a very joyful and beautiful Catholic family, with parents who were, and still are, amazing role models and teachers of the faith. I was also blessed to attend good Catholic schools, and was homeschooled during middle school. I vividly remember my First Holy Communion, and knowing that Jesus Christ was truly present.
The Eucharist has been my source of strength, especially during college, when the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in a chapel in my dorm building! I attended Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which is a faithful Catholic university. My husband is a great inspiration to my faith. He is a convert to Catholicism due to the influence of a faithful Catholic high school, and a priest and friends he met there. He entered the Church shortly before his freshman year of college. Now, we are striving to raise our two young sons in the faith.
2) How long have you been with the Cardinal Newman Society, and how has working for them been a unique ministry?
I have been working for the Cardinal Newman Society for more than five years. It is a unique apostolate for me personally because I have seen firsthand the positive impact of faithful Catholic education for me, my husband, and friends, such as my four college roommates. When I was a high school student, I used The Newman Guide, which recommends faithful Catholic colleges, to find my alma mater. There I met my husband, competed on the Division I tennis team, and prepared for my vocation as a wife and mother, as well as for a career. Now, I am thrilled to be able to share the advantages of a faithful Catholic college education with families across the country.
3) What are some distinct challenges that Catholic schools face in the 21st century when it comes to embracing Church teaching and transmitting the Gospel to their students, and to the broader society by extension?
Some of the most serious problems facing youth today – and thus faced by Catholic parents, schools, and colleges – include the rise of atheism, attacks on the family and marriage, the hook-up and “shacking up” culture, and more. It’s a huge responsibility to care for the souls of students. But Catholic education can be a key means of solving the problems we see in our world today by forming students in the faith.
Unfortunately, much of what the Cardinal Newman Society has exposed is the undermining of the Catholic faith that takes place in many historically Catholic colleges in the United States. These institutions were founded and built through the blood, sweat, and tears of numerous Catholic religious orders and the sacrifices of Catholic supporters. Today, many are places of dissident theology and philosophy, anti-life and anti-family agendas, and places of honor for commencement speakers and others who hold the Catholic Church in contempt. For Catholic families, it’s important to make college choices for your children carefully – and to be wise with what institutions you support financially!
4) What are some ways in which Catholic educational institutions – at all pedagogical levels – can strengthen their Catholic identity, including both the visible and invisible markers of faithfulness? Also, how does a school having a robust Catholic identity ultimately benefit its students?
Catholic schools and colleges can begin by knowing what the Church expects of them and strive for authentic Christian formation of their students. Catholic colleges can review the Newman Society’s Assessing Catholic Identity handbook, which provides self-assessment questions based on magisterial guidance and Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. For Catholic schools, we’ve published Principles of Catholic Identity in Education, which articulates elements that the Church expects to find in all Catholic schools.
The benefits of faithful Catholic education for students cannot be overstated. An authentic Catholic college prepares students for their true vocations as well as successful careers in any field, with essential skills like critical thinking and effective communication. They form students for the rest of their lives – and very fulfilling ones at that! Lives of asking God what he wants of them, and unfolding his great plan. Lives of developing skills and talents, and continuing to study and learn. Lives of growing in virtue and becoming the very best versions of themselves – for the good of their souls and those around them.
5) As the editor for The Newman Guide, why do you recommend that prospective college students take a Catholic educational institution’s fidelity to Church teaching seriously?
Too many Catholic families and students mistakenly think that Catholic colleges are all the same. Unfortunately, on many campuses, Mass attendance is low, professors openly oppose the Catholic faith in the classroom, and student life is scandalous. No wonder so many students lose their faith during college! On the other hand, students will receive strong support in their faith at faithful Catholic colleges, and will be prepared for their vocations, their careers, and for their lives. At these colleges, virtuous living is learned and encouraged.
6) I tend to ask this of my interviewees – what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). This Bible passage was included in the email signature of one of my favorite college professors. It stuck with me ever since! It’s a great encouragement to the Cardinal Newman Society’s work for the renewal of faithful Catholic education. We want students to be equipped with knowledge and love of their faith.
7) What are some signs of hope that you have observed regarding the future of encouraging Catholic educational institutions to be faithful to the Church’s teachings, even in the midst of an increasingly secular-minded worldview?
Many faithful Catholic colleges are boasting record enrollment numbers this year! More Catholic families are discovering the treasure that is an authentic Catholic education.
I am so encouraged by what Newman Guide colleges are doing: Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, is building a magnificent new chapel to glorify God on campus; Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, is opening a second campus on the East Coast to provide more students with its Great Books curriculum; Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, is incorporating sports and faith for student-athletes on campus with President Dr. Bill Thierfelder (a former Olympian) leading the way; and Anthony Esolen is sharing about the treasure that is Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire, through his writing. I could list many more examples of great things happening on these campuses. And our Church and our world benefits from the graduates of these colleges!
Another sign of hope is that more Catholic colleges continue to apply for inclusion in The Newman Guide. Some are closer to the model than others, but it’s a great opportunity for these colleges to work with us and take steps to strengthen their Catholic identity.
Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!