“I have seen the unity of Truth that underlies our teaching.” – a conference participant
“This conference has helped me put my heart in the right place before I begin planning for the new year.” – conference participant

​ There has been a good bit of attention paid to the enthusiastic gathering of like-minded people in Philadelphia this summer. No, I do not speak of the DNC Convention, but of an event that happened one week prior: the Fourth Annual Catholic Classical Schools Conference.

This year’s Conference opened on a hot and humid July day in Philadelphia, PA. We gathered, providentially, at Neumann University, named for St. John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia and the founder of the first diocesan Catholic school system in America. Under his watch, the diocesan school system grew from 2 schools to 100. The recent years of crisis for Catholic education have found us, in many ways, returning in spirit and practice to the early days of Catholic education in America. [restrict]

One hundred and sixty-four years later, that same pioneering spirit was evident as Catholic educators came together under the watchful gaze of the great saint to re-imagine and revitalize our Catholic schools. Our days began with Holy Mass offered in the chapel of Our Lady of Angels convent – a place of soaring beauty. Liturgy is the heart of our apostolate and – when celebrated with the beauty and solemnity we experienced – invites us deeper into the sacred mystery of God himself.

Our days were filled with inspirational plenary speakers, applicable and beneficial break-out sessions, and the opportunity to share fellowship with teachers from across the country. I would say that the quality that bubbled to the surface, in fact, couldn’t quite be contained, was the sense of joy we felt in the presence of Our Lord and of each other. This gave rise to a great feeling of hope among the group, despite our different challenges and obstacles. It also quite simply made for a great time!

The evenings found us enjoying wine and cheese to the lovely strains of music played on a harp. We shared our stories (and really, who has better stories than K-12 teachers?), our hopes, our troubles, and found encouragement and humor in our shared mission.

Four summers ago, the first Conference convened in a retreat house on the picturesque hills above Lake Canandaigua in New York. We numbered just over 70 back then and most of us were surprised – and relieved! – to find others engaged in this effort to restore the Church’s riches to her educational system. This year, we numbered just over 200 – a certain sign of the fruits of this movement and a source of great encouragement and joy to all of us on the Institute staff. We are already looking forward to – and planning – next year’s gathering. We hope you will join us!


Mary Pat Donoghue is the Director for School Programs at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.