National Catholic Register

Education

Born to Teach

A conversation with a young Catholic educator in the classical mold

BY CARLOS BRICEÑO

Register Correspondent

July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 9:00 AM

 

Elizabeth Mitchell earned a doctorate and licentiate in church communications from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. She is also a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville.

While in Rome, she provided translation services and participated in marketing and promotional developments for various Vatican agencies and newspapers, including L’Osservatore Romano, the Holy See Press Office and the Pontifical Council for the Family. Now she is the director of development and dean of students at Trinity Academy, an independent Catholic school in Milwaukee. She was recently attending a communications conference in Rome.

Tell me about your family.

I grew up in Milwaukee. My mom is from Philadelphia and my dad is from London, England. But they both came to Milwaukee to attend Marquette University. I have a family that has great faith. Both of my parents invested a lot of time and energy in nurturing us in the faith.

I have an older brother who is a diocesan priest. He is just a year older than me, and it’s wonderful to have a priest in the family. I have three younger siblings, all with a lot of faith. So faith has been part of my family environment.

What made you decide to study in Rome?

I did something rather radical for my graduate studies. I came to Rome to what was at the time a brand-new program in church communications offered at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. The school was only in its second year when I came. There were no women in the faculty. No lay people. I was the first American, the first female and the first lay person to graduate with a doctorate in church communications.

This was a degree that formed me theologically and as a professional communicator.

Why did you pick communications?

It picked me, really. I had done a literature degree for undergraduate. I sent out applications to a number of graduate schools, and I had the U.S. representative from Santa Croce (Holy Cross) call me and say, “We would like this program to begin catering to lay people. We have a number of priests internationally in the program, but we would like to see lay people begin to be formed as communicators in the faith.”

I received a full-ride scholarship. It was the Lord opening a door.

Had you considered a career in communications before?

No, and I certainly hadn’t considered moving to Rome. I didn’t speak a word of Italian. This was in 1997. I flew over here and took an intensive Italian course. The classes are all in Italian, so I started Day 1 glazed over, intimidated and overwhelmed.

But Rome is a city that grows on you. It was an incredible experience to live in the heart of the Catholic Church for six years. The experience formed me in who I am, and it formed my perspective on representing the Church to the modern world.

What was the most important lesson you learned about communications at the school?

I think the importance of representing the Church professionally to the modern world in the language that the modern world is speaking. If the Church wants to communicate the Gospel, it’s got to communicate the Gospel where modern man is seeking his information and his entertainment and his formation — and that’s in the media.

Modern man is on the Internet, watching TV, on film, in journalism. It’s not enough to have communicated the Gospel in the past. It’s got to be communicated today in the modern language, and that’s the culture of the media.

Tell me about the school you work for. How was Trinity Academy founded?

It was founded by my parents in 1997, the year I came to Rome. It was founded in my home with 17 students in response to a need for authentic Catholic education. By word of mouth, it grew by leaps and bounds, and it’s now 140 students on a 25-acre campus in Pewaukee, Wis.

The students have simply come, the families have come, and we’ve graduated our first three sets of graduates — beautiful young people who know their faith.

Did your parents have any connection with education before?

Both were professional educators. My father was a university professor who had then become the headmaster of a very prestigious private academy in the Wisconsin area — Brookfield Academy, a non-denominational college prep academy.

He took what he learned there and he always had it as a dream to replicate the strong academics at a private academy with the faith formation of a Catholic school. So the independent Catholic school model was the ideal vehicle.

And your mom?

She is, as well, a professional educator. She had her master’s degree in medieval literature and a great love of curriculum, and she’s the curriculum coordinator. She teaches both literature and religion at various levels of the school. My dad is the headmaster of kindergarten through grade 12. He teaches French, literature and medieval history.

Why did you decide to work there?

So many people said, “What? Pewaukee is where? This school is how big?” The opportunities I had when I finished my degree in Rome were worldwide. I had job offers in London and Newark and at the Vatican and all over the map. I had done my doctoral degree on a saint named Edith Stein. And she couldn’t say enough about how important it was spending time forming youth.

 I felt the front lines of the faith were to be found in Catholic education. And I said that’s where I need to be. And so off I went. I said that, if I make a difference in the lives of 15 high school seniors, great. I have found the rewards to be incredible.

What are you trying to accomplish at the school?

We would like Trinity Academy to be the finest Catholic educational institution in the United States. We’ve begun to help set up sister schools, the first being in La Crosse, Wis. There’s a school called Providence Academy, which just opened this fall with 45 students. They are using the Trinity Academy curriculum, and they sent all of their teachers for on-campus training at Trinity Academy throughout the summer months.

Ideally, I’d like to make sure that what takes place at Trinity Academy endures.

Carlos Briceño is based in
Seminole, Florida.