Annual brunch spotlights Classical Catholic education

St. Nick’s elves singing about the Visit of St. Nicholas, or The Night before Christmas, during the annual Borromeo Academy Brunch Dec. 13. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The hour before the annual prayer brunch Dec. 13 at St. Charles Borromeo Academy saw guests entering the gym, first in trickles then in a steady stream as the sold-out tables filled up. Four buffet tables set up around the gym’s perimeter awaited guests and the coffee and tea table was busy early on.

Promptly at 11:30 a.m., costumed scholars filed into the gym singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in both English and Latin, and Father Don Farnan, parish pastor, approached the piano in the room’s center to begin the prayer service.

“Advent means ‘The Coming’,” he said, “and as we wait for The Coming of Christ at Christmas, we must stay awake, … be aware, be vigilant and be prepared. … We light candles on the Advent wrath to remind us that Christ, the Light of the World is coming. …. God of darkness and Lord of Light, teach us to imitate your Son who said, ‘Let the little children come unto me.’ We ask the good Lord to show us the way to teach our children, to dispel some of the darkness of our society and teach us to walk together on a path of revitalization of knowledge. As they sprout anew in the cycle of maturation, help them to realize the beauty around them.”

Emcee Frank Boal welcomed the guests, told a few jokes and introduced Jesuit Father Tom Curran, president of Rockhurst University, who gave the keynote talk. His topic was Catholic education and conversation.

Jesuit Father Tom Curran, Rockhurst University President giving the Keynote talk on Catholic Education.

He prefaced his talk by commenting that he is often asked about the university’s religious atmosphere. His response is that it is an invitation vs an expectation. “We are invited to come into a greater experience,” Fr. Curran said, “truly rooted in the Gospel. Catholic education makes people aware of opportunities to accompany, and to evangelize rather than proselytize.”  In other words, conversation, in imitation of Jesus.

Fr. Curran continued, “Consider Holy Scripture. Consider Jesus speaking to Zacchaeus, consider him on the Road to Emmaus, consider his conversation with the Centurion and with the Woman at the Well. Jesus was thought of as breaking the rules, but he argued that he was not saying rules were unimportant, … he was affirming them through conversation.

Jesus invited conversation, accompaniment and companionship, and especially invited his followers, friends, those despised by society, even criminals, to break bread together with him in the Eucharist.

“How do we evangelize,” Fr. Curran asked.  “How do we walk in imitation, at the invitation, of Jesus Christ? It all begins with conversation.”

Catholic education is an example of walking with and having a conversation with Jesus, he said.

How is religion viewed today? In the 1960s, Fr. Curran said, seven or eight percent of Americans identified themselves as “nones,” meaning no religious affiliation. Today, 23 percent, especially millennials and post-millennials, identify as “nones”, saying they are “spiritual” but not affiliated with any church or religion.

“We can begin changing minds,” he continued, “by accompanying them, meeting them where they are, and walking with them in the experience of faith. Our time and presence are the greatest gifts we can give someone.”

Fr. Curran said, “Jesus was always with those on the margins, not just the PLUs, People Like Us. He was with those who were unlike ‘us’ in race, origins, political ideology or religious denomination. He taught us to walk first and conversation unfolds the more time is spent with someone. He showed us that companionship is accompanied by compassion, entering into the chaos of another’s life.” Compassion is akin to love, and “love is willing the good of another.”

In conclusion, he prayed that those present would be invited to know Jesus, not just know about him.

Fr. Farnan took the microphone and pointed out a student dressed as Santa Lucia, patron saint of sight, whose feast day it was. As she circled the room carrying a dish containing eyes, Fr. Farnan reminded the audience that like Santa Lucia, we seek greater foresight and hindsight, and especially clear sight.

He recalled that four years ago it appeared that St. Charles Borromeo School would have to close. He said that past and present parishioners had stepped forward to help pay the bills, but something was needed to keep it from re-occurring . After research and discussion, parish and school leaders and families decided to embark on a unique educational experience. It was announced that the school would become Borromeo Academy offering classical Catholic education.

Borromeo Academy opened three years ago, and enrollment continues to grow, bills are paid on time and, as Fr. Farnan said, “We are headed in the right direction.”

The Borromeo Academy Choir under the direction of Music Teacher Cynthia Tomes, performed their rendition of Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas, T’was The Night Before Christmas,” to sustained applause.

Academy principal Ann Lachowitzer said she had taken 15 new families on school tours in the past month, and their hope was for their kids to “be happy, to love God and to be prepared for the next step.”

She said that classical Catholic education can contribute to happiness, love of God and preparedness for life adding, “When we allow children to take ownership of what they’re learning and doing, they rise to the occasion.”

It took the work of many to accomplish the change from school to academy, Lachowitzer said. “Courage gave us the secret sauce to overcome our doubts and fears and try new things.

One of the “new things” teachers and students have embraced is memorization:

Purposeful memorization trains our brains to retain even more information and increases neural activity.

The ability to be mindful and give purposeful attention to a Bible passage, a quote, or a song, etc. until it becomes a part of the memory will provide years of payback as scholars transfer that skill of concentration into other areas of study.

The more information our scholars possess, and can easily retrieve from memory, the more capable they will be of thinking critically and analyzing the world around them.
Memorization causes lasting positive changes to the brain.

She said that faculty and parents agree with the goals set by the school. In fact, in 2016, only 141 students were enrolled. Today, Borromeo Academy has 203 scholars enrolled, an increase of 44 percent. 

Lachowitzer concluded by quoting Theodore Roosevelt, 1858 – 1919, the 26th U.S, president. “’It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat sand blood; who strives valiantly; who errs , who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself  in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’”

Guests were invited to visit the Academy’s classrooms, the Parish Hall where Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is held, drop by the new parish office and stay for coffee and cookies at the rectory.

Funds raised by the Prayer Brunch will support Borromeo Academy’s Sponsorship Program, which was established to cover the cost of educating scholars, in addition to the new endowment fund to assist other area Catholic schools in implementing a Classical education model. The cost to educate one child is around $5,000 per school year.  Additional costs include teacher training, academic supplies and operational expenses. 

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February 20, 2020
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph