In an interview with Father Mitch Pacwa on “EWTN Live” last week, Patrick Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society, emphasized the vital importance of Catholic education for the Church and for American society — especially as the culture continues to turn against the moral values of the Catholic faith.
“Catholic education is the lifeblood of the Church,” Reilly told Fr. Pacwa. “The Church says that Catholic education is the Church’s privileged means of evangelization. So when we talk about the New Evangelization, it’s not just all of those wonderful events that get everyone excited and bring them to Jesus, but it’s the formation that comes with Catholic education that’s so important.”
Reilly explained that the Newman Society’s work to promote and defend faithful Catholic education goes far beyond the classroom and has long-term effects on Catholic families and our broader culture.
“We’ve made the argument at The Cardinal Newman Society that Catholic education is the key solution to the many problems that we’re seeing today in our culture,” Reilly said during the interview. “If we have strong, faithful Catholic education once again, we raise up and form those leaders who will make a difference in our society and turn this around. And it’s the only solution I see for the problems we face.”
Reilly clarified that Catholic education is not merely limited to brick-and-mortar school buildings. “We can lose our schools but we cannot lose Catholic education,” he said, adding that there is no subject that does not belong in Catholic education. The distinctive nature of a Catholic education is “how it is taught,” the underlying assumption that “in Catholic education we seek the truth.”
Reilly held up the patron and namesake of the Neman Society, John Henry Cardinal Newman, as an exemplar promoter of Catholic education because he argued, “Catholic education is the only true education because it’s the only one that doesn’t deny a very important part of knowledge, in fact the central aspect of knowledge, and that is the revelation that comes to us from God.”
Therefore, Reilly explained, “you can’t just convert a Catholic school into a charter school and say it’s the same thing because the impetus, the reason why we’re so good, is because we’re Catholic and because we have an appreciation for [the subjects] in a way that no one else does.”
He cited the Newman Society’s recently released Catholic Curriculum Standards as an example of what should be different about a Catholic education and noted that many dioceses and superintendents are embracing growing movements like classical schools and homeschooling.
When asked about the state of Catholic higher education, Reilly expressed his optimism in addition to acknowledging that there is more work to do.
Catholic education resists the reductionist and career-focused purpose of higher education, Reilly emphasized. “It’s not just about what you learn in the classroom,” Reilly explained, “it’s also about the environment of the university that plays into the formation of students. That’s one of the reasons we recommend students attend a Catholic institution of higher education.”
Reilly and Fr. Pacwa also discussed some of the problems in higher education, including the presence of “safe zones” on college campuses, moral relativism and the trend toward political correctness.
“We’ve very much closed our minds in this culture,” Reilly said, “and Catholic education is very much about opening our minds and opening them to Christ.”
When discussing the decline in the quality of Catholic education since the 1960s, Reilly remained hopeful about the continued presence and renewal of Catholic education.
“We have many great Catholic colleges and universities that have been growing up over the last 50 years that are starting to provide that [faithful Catholic] education,” he said. Reilly noted that the work is far from over, however.
“We need to push that [education] back even further. By the time [students] graduate from high school, they should have a clear understanding of philosophy and theology … and they should know how to think before they even get into college,” Reilly told Fr. Pacwa. “If we don’t start at the elementary level and the secondary level to instill that love and appreciation for Catholic education, then our feeling is we’ll never see that revival of Catholic higher education to the extent that we really need it to happen.”