Catholic liberal arts: A joy-filled way of learning

St. Charles Borromeo Academy’s third, fourth and fifth graders perform songs from their upcoming musical, A Christmas Carol, during the Prayer Breakfast Dec. 4. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor 

KANSAS CITY — About 375 people from all over the Kansas City area — parishioners, parents, students, friends, family and supporters — filled St. Charles Borromeo Church Dec. 4 to celebrate and explain St. Charles Borromeo Academy at a Mass and prayer-breakfast near the end of its first semester of “joy-filled” learning.

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. was the principal celebrant, with Father Don Farnan, pastor of St. Charles, Father Phil Egan, pastor of Holy Family Parish and Father Sean McCaffrey, pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish concelebrating. They were assisted by Deacon James Olshefski. Students participated by singing in the Academy Choir, by reading the First Reading and leading the Prayers of the Faithful.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston recounted when he was a child, a student in the church pews in his school uniform. He spoke of times when things didn’t go well or he, his brother or one of his two sisters were having a bad day, maybe even having a “meltdown.” “My mother had an expression when that happened. She’d look at us and say, ‘Boy, isn’t he a mess!’’’ He went on to say that when we see a person not having a good day, we do kind of feel like it’s a big mess. “And as I got older, I realized that the more I left God out of my life, the messier it became.”

Life in itself is messy by nature, he said, but the more we leave God out of the details of our lives, try to do it by ourselves, it doesn’t get any better. “And God knows that better than anyone; he created us and knows what will make us happy … He decided, through his great love for us, to take our nature, to become one of us! He wanted to share in the whole experience, even becoming a little baby in a mother’s womb.

That’s what we’re preparing to celebrate during this Advent season as we prepare for Christmas … God’s great love for us. He loved us so much that he said, ‘I’m gonna plunge down into the mess, the mess of the world. I love my creatures so much, and I know they need me. I want to draw as close to them as I can … to share in the whole experience … even to suffer and die, and I’m going to use that to help them, to save them.’”

He reminded the congregation of the great gift of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with Us, and that the season of Advent is a time when the readings and the music of the Mass are full of joy.

He also spoke of the Gospel reading about the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his sick servant, and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word …” words we say just before we receive Holy Communion.

Following the Mass, it was time for the Academy’s first annual prayer breakfast, in the school gym.

Emcee Larry Moore welcomed the attendees and introduced Bishop Johnston, who spoke of “The Importance of Catholic Education.”

After saying Grace, and a few opening remarks, Bishop Johnston said that Catholic education not only helps our children to become smart and successful, “the purpose of our Catholic schools is to help them become wise and good. Ultimately that is the only reason we exist. If it were just for academic excellence, I would say, in a heartbeat, ‘we don’t need to do this.’ We have great schools, both public and private, and if it was just about academics, we wouldn’t need Catholic schools. But by the way, we do give the best academic education there is. … There is a difference between being wise and good and just being smart and successful,” he said.

Referencing a recent talk Dr. John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America, gave on Catholic education, he said Dr. Garvey cited Luke 2:52, “…And Jesus went down to Nazareth and grew in wisdom and grace.” That’s basically the core of what we’re about in Catholic schools, growing in wisdom and grace. Grace becomes primary, first, but grace and wisdom go together.”

Bishop Johnston continued, “Your children and grandchildren are the most important things entrusted to you. You only have a short time to form your children. You want them to grow to be young adults who know how to think, to know what it means to be ‘good,’ to have faith which informs their whole life, and grow in virtue.”

He waved a touch screen cell phone. “We all know what this is. It’s an amazing thing, and it’s only been on the scene for less than a decade. But think how much they form your children.” He looked around, asking his audience to think how much time they spent on their phones, and then how much time their children spent on theirs.

He went on to say that children and grandchildren are the most important things God has entrusted families with. “We want our children to grow into young adults, knowing how to think, knowing what it means to be good, having faith which informs their whole life, and grow in virtue. That is the importance of Catholic schools.”

Borromeo Academy’s third, fourth and fifth graders performed several songs from their upcoming musical, A Christmas Carol, directed by the Music Education teacher, Cynthia Tomes.

Next, Ann Lachowitzer, principal of St. Charles Borromeo Academy, recalled “the troubles” she and the faculty had “just a couple of years back,” and said they were “thrilled to see the life and joy back in the halls.” She expressed gratitude to the “teachers who go above and beyond.”

After reading Slow Dance, by David L. Weatherford, a poem about slowing down, she said that fast and frantic are good words to describe modern life and education. “The influence of progressive education in teaching methods, a multitude of pander and the oversimplification of textbooks make it difficult for students to acquire the mental discipline that traditional teaching methods once cultivated.” There was a time, she said, when education was a “process of joyful discovery” with plenty of time to reflect, even savor what was learned.

Instead of teaching to standards, she added, education should be driven by love and enjoyment. With that in mind, Borromeo Academy has embraced a Catholic liberal education teaching model.

She described the three parts of learning in the classical (the Trivium) model: grammar, logic and rhetoric, and how they apply to the arts, math, science, history, language and Latin (the Quadrivium).

Lachowitzer said the classical liberal education model help a student discover the person he or she wants to be. It inspires teachers and joy-filled students, who love God and one another. “Here at Borromeo Academy, we’re teaching people, not books.”

She then played a video of students, parents and educational experts, produced by Michael McGlinn of Sistine Films.

As the breakfast concluded, Fr. Farnan spoke on the Academy’s hopes for the future. Advent means the coming, he said, and to Christians, it means the first coming of the Christ child. “We are essentially called to bring forth Christ into a world that so badly needs saviors. To do that we are to focus on the child, every child, their innocence, their wonder, their future. “

He recalled his assignment to St. Charles Parish and school 17 months ago, with the school under threat of closing due to declining enrollment. Fortunately, a generous donor stepped forward to keep it open for three years, at the end of which, the school is expected to be self-sustaining. “We needed to come up with something different and creative,” he said. Although the school expects it to take those three years to completely turn it around, with the classical, Catholic liberal instructional model, they have seen a 25 percent growth in enrollment since summer, now it’s at 147. The goal is an enrollment of 200 by 2020. With 200 students enrolled, the school will be financially stable, Fr. Farnan said.

The motto of Borromeo Academy is Ipsum, Sanctus, Sapientia, wisdom, holiness and knowledge, he said. and that is how we will educate the next generation.

Breakfast attendees were invited to tour the school under the guidance of student ambassadors, or to coffee and an open house at St. Charles Retreat House.



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December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph