Taking Back Our Culture: Catholic Education at Work

Last week I attended an extraordinarily encouraging conference put on by the Napa Institute. Topping my highlights list was hearing: Archbishop Chaput and others speak on the topic of religious liberty, Fr. Robert Barron address the philosophical roots of the challenges in our culture, and Hugh Hewitt articulate how to face specific challenges with media communication. And, surprisingly, it was Frank Hanna’s discussion of Catholic education that spoke to me in an especially powerful way.

What I took away from the conference overall was a sense of optimism. No, this was no “rah-rah” event. It was one that really provided solid exploration of the challenges we face. But it also outlined the reasonable actions we can take to turn the tide. The optimism came from both the speakers and the attendees — many of whom are already making a significant impact in the U.S. and the world.

Frank is an entrepreneur and philanthropist with a particular passion for and a successful track record working with educational institutions. His talk was a practical evaluation of the state of Catholic education — and an insightful exploration of ideas that can help us to dig out of the mess we are in. I walked away convinced that part of the answer is in the current rise of small faithful and well managed Catholic universities and parish schools. One college that I have had the recent opportunity to learn more about is The College of Saint Mary Magdalen.

The College of Saint Mary Magdalen teaches students that it is not enough to be faithful in their private lives. Personal integrity in our faith is, of course, an absolute necessity for true happiness: We must make sure that every aspect of our lives is rooted in and faithfully adherent to the teachings of the Church. But there is more. We are also called to do nothing less than transform the culture and the world.

At Magdalen, they have taken up what Fr. Aidan Nichols describes as “integral evangelization.” Through this approach, they call their graduates to (1) embody the truths of the Church and be ready to articulate them in a compelling way within the public sphere, (2) live holy and sacramental lives that stand as signs of contradiction in the secular culture, and (3) enter and transform the institutions of our civil society. 

From this conference, I have a strong sense that the tide is turning and that we can retake our culture and our nation from the forces of secularism. At Saint Mary Magdalen and many other colleges and schools focused on true Catholic identity, they are training our students to lead from the front lines, offering their lives to become the fathers, mothers, religious, priests and bishops who will know the truth, love the faith and transform the world.

If your son or daughter is soon to consider where they will participate in the future of our nation and the Church, please keep an eye out for our upcoming September issue of the National Catholic Register, in which we will publish our annual College Guide. You can learn more about The College of Saint Mary Magdalen and many other remarkable universities there.

And if you are disillusioned with the waning faith of your own alma mater and you have the means to help, you might consider joining the battle on a ship that may be much smaller, but one that is guided by a moral compass and powered by the Spirit of God. It is from such institutions that many in the next generations will be well-formed for the battles ahead.