Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
Again this January, huge numbers of young people from around the country showed up in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to abortion. Many were from faithful Catholic schools and colleges that bused students to the annual March for Life.
Seeing all those schools and colleges represented made me very proud of our Catholic educators and their continued renewal of Catholic identity. And so, how perfect was it that we celebrated National Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26-Feb. 1) just following the March?
The two events should remind us: when Catholic education is done well, it prepares its students to be ethical leaders and to transform the culture. And nothing could be more important than defending the weakest among us, the innocent baby in the womb.
Two pro-life leaders with Students for Life of America, one of the most dynamic pro-life organizations, say that their Catholic education prepared them for the work they do today.
Katie Portka credits her faithful Catholic education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, with strengthening her pro-life convictions. Portka learned about Benedictine through The Newman Guide, and then, while a senior in high school, saw the College’s students carrying the banner at the head of the March for Life.
“I loved how energetic they were — this huge group of young adults who were so full of life and passionate,” says Portka. She had been involved in pro-life efforts with her family, but she didn’t often see large groups of young people standing for life as a high school student. Shortly after the March for Life, Portka signed her acceptance letter to attend Benedictine.
On campus, Portka immediately got involved in the large Respect Life Ravens Group. “The school at large was a very pro-life campus,” she says, “in the dorms, in classes, and in the faculty.”
Benedictine “really did embody the Church’s teaching on life and the dignity and sanctity of life,” says Portka. “In college was when I realized why I was pro-life and why I wanted to be pro-life.”
Stephanie Stone works for Students for Life of America as regional coordinator in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. She credits her faithful Catholic education with helping her discover that pro-life work was part of her “mission.”
As a high school student, Stone visited The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and “fell in love with how proudly the school wore its Catholic identity.”
“Catholic University helped me to dive deeper into my faith and experience how faith is applied to the world around us,” says Stone. “It also gave me a number of opportunities to become more active in the pro-life movement, eventually leading me to understand that pro-life work was my mission.”
On campus, Stone served as president of the Cardinals for Life club and was instrumental in organizing the first Pep Rally for Life for students ahead of the March for Life. Stone also found that studying in Washington, D.C., was a great place to learn about politics and grow in her pro-life beliefs.
“In my experience, having a Catholic education really solidified my understanding of the value of the human person,” explains Stone. “It helped me form a deep respect and radical love for all of God’s people, which is what ultimately encourages me to do this work.”
Whether at the elementary, secondary or higher education level, the fruits of Catholic education can be seen in the witness of its graduates. Many alumni of faithful Catholic schools and colleges are doing important work in rebuilding a culture of life in our country.
Hopefully, last week’s celebration of Catholic Schools was a reminder to Catholic educators everywhere to redouble their focus on the most important things that distinguish Catholic education from a secular program. Students should be prepared to follow God’s will for their lives and impact the world.