National Catholic Register


Going Places

Catholic grads on the move


April 23-29, 2006 Issue | Posted 4/24/06 at 11:00 AM


After giving hundreds of talks about chastity to New York teens, Grace Abruzzo has concluded that adults are more skeptical than young people on the topic.

She hears “Yeah, right,” from a lot from adults. But many teens say to her: “How come nobody ever told me this before?”

“Some are virgins who are so excited to hear affirmation of their choice and reasons to maintain it,” Abruzzo says. “Others are kids who have made mistakes and realize that they want something better.”

A 1995 graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, Abruzzo never set out to talk to large groups about sexuality. She was teaching religion at a girls’ Catholic school in Westchester, N.Y., when she was asked to address a group of seventh- and eighth-grade students on the topic of chastity.

“I never thought of myself as a public speaker,” she recalls. “I remember praying, ‘Dear God, please let it go well, and I will never do it again.’ The talk went well, and I actually had fun.”

She left her teaching job in 2002 to devote full time to talking to teens on chastity with her own speakers’ bureau, Love for Life, based in New York City (online at She has given presentations in Catholic schools, public schools, youth groups and retreats. Her message goes beyond religious faith or a catalogue of sexually transmitted diseases. Chastity, says Abruzzo, is a universal value that answers the deepest longings of the human heart.

“I created a sort of Top Ten reasons to save sex for marriage other than the usual ‘because you don’t want to get pregnant, get a disease, or go to hell,” she adds.

After three years of surviving on donations and whatever schools or groups could pay her to talk, Abruzzo recently took a full-time job as director of The Narnia Clubs, which was founded in New York 25 years ago as an alternative religious-education program that uses the Montessori method. She oversees the curriculum and the teachers, who meet with students in age-specific groups in the home of families. She still gives talks on a part-time basis.

Her experience at Franciscan University prepared her for the challenges she faces in teaching and giving talks. “At Steubenville I learned that if you were really open and willing to seek the truth, you would find it,” she says. “Catholicism can hold its own. God is up to any challenge.”


Sign of Service

As the second child in a family of 17 children, Tom Henry learned at an early age about working hard for the common good — and he has applied the lessons to a wider community as an adult. After graduating in 1976 from the University of St. Francis in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., Henry served in the U.S. Army, then returned to civilian life to serve 20 years as a part-time elected official on Fort Wayne’s city council. He earned a master’s in business from St. Francis in 1981.

Now he owns a full-service insurance business and a health-care consulting company in his hometown.

Over the years, he has remained close to the university, serving for five years as a trustee, rooting for St. Francis at football games and attending Sunday Mass in the small campus chapel. He and his wife, Cindy, have two grown children.

“My mother and father were both devout Catholics who taught all of us to be involved in church and community,” Henry says. “The University of St. Francis instilled the same values of service that have guided me through life. It was very much like a family for me.”

The small-school atmosphere changed the course of his life. “It was a comfortable learning environment,” he explains. “I was an average high school student, but excelled in college. The ratio of professors to students was lower than at the big state university I could have gone to. There were 25 to 30 students per class. And I found caring individuals and professors who were dedicated to working in a Catholic environment.”

Henry adds: “The one thing that I took away from the University of St. Francis that I still abide by to this day is that you’re never done learning. The more I learned at St. Francis, the more I became convinced that I needed to learn more. They really instilled a love for the power of the intellect and the need to develop it throughout your life.”


Schooling Scholar

Laura Berquist is well known in home-schooling circles as the developer of the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum and author of the book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum (Ignatius Press). She traces the inspiration for all her home-school activities, as well as the direction of her life, to a summer day in 1971 when her parents brought her to California’s scenic Malibu Canyon to meet “two very tall men” who were starting a new Catholic college.

Ronald McArthur and John Neumayr invited Berquist, who had just graduated high school in St. Cloud, Minn., to join the inaugural class of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

“I loved the program at Thomas Aquinas in every way,” she says, “and I respected and esteemed the people, both the tutors and the students. I learned that liberal education, sometimes called classical education, is the education of the free man; the word liberal comes from the Latin liberare, to free. This education was once the patrimony of all educated men, and formed Western civilization at its best.”

She not only got a quality education, but she also met her future husband, Mark, who was a tutor at the college. “We both loved philosophy and fell in love with each other talking about Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas,” she remembers. They married in 1976, a year after she was in the college’s first graduating class, and have six children, ages 29 to 17. Four have graduated from Thomas Aquinas, one is a student there and the youngest will begin studies in Santa Paula in September.

Her experience of home schooling all her children was the basis of her published curriculum. “For 10 years I looked for a curriculum that would give a big return on a small investment of time, and that would fit into the natural stages of learning I observed in my children,” she says. “So I worked on that, mostly by trying out various curricula on my children. At the end of 10 years, when I had found something that worked, my mother and some friends urged me to publish the results.”

Her mother, Donna Steichen, is author of Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism, also published by Ignatius Press.

Berquist started Mother of Divine Grace in 1975 “with 35 brave families, in large measure because of the number of people who called me after reading Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.” Now 980 families and a total of 2,800 students use the program.

Home-schooling, she says, “gives one an opportunity to live in a Catholic culture at home, and to pass on the faith, the most important gift we have.”

Stephen Vincent writes from

Wallingford, Connecticut.