“We have turned a corner and are seeing lots of new faces here. It’s happening. This is not a niche movement anymore; this is Catholic education.”
The words above were spoken by a Catholic school headmaster who attended the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s 10th annual National Conference in July 2022, its largest gathering to date. This year, in preparation for its 11th annual National Conference, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education expanded conference capacity by 25%, and yet the event still sold out quicker than ever before.
Over 400 Catholic superintendents, school leaders, teachers, bishops, and other clergy from 60 dioceses across the country and abroad have registered for the conference and will spend next week celebrating and strengthening their understanding of the nature and purpose of Catholic education and its roots in the liberal arts tradition.
“More and more Catholic educators are inspired by digging deeper into our own tradition to give students the best possible foundation in faith and learning,” said Michael Van Hecke, President and Founder of ICLE.
And what is this Catholic educational tradition that has captivated a growing number of Catholic educators?
Catholic liberal education is the cultivation of faith and reason for full human flourishing. Based in the liberal arts and sciences, this educational vision that was developed by the Catholic Church was the gold standard of formation for centuries. The proof of its success? It formed many of the holiest saints and keenest minds in history, including such greats as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, St. John Henry Newman, and Pope Benedict XVI.
Today, secular models dominate education, and most Catholic educators have been cut off from this rich heritage. But there is good news: this is rapidly changing. Catholic schools across the U.S.—in fact, across the world—are recovering the Church’s time-tested tradition of education and reversing the narrative of their decline.
“We now find ourselves at a particular point in the history of the Christian West where godless ideologies have had their long march through our institutions: through academia, media, education, and big tech,” said Elisabeth Sullivan, Executive Director of ICLE. “I don’t think there’s been another time when the vocation of Catholic educators was so crucial for spiritual and cultural renewal. The future depends on regaining clarity about the nature of truth and the nature of freedom.”
The growing renewal is not about adopting a new “model” or “program”; it is about infusing a Catholic vision of reality, which is both visible and invisible. It is about raising students who have eyes to see and ears to hear the presence of the Creator in the truth, goodness, and beauty in the world around them. It is an education for joyful hope.
“A liberal education, at its best, reminds students why they’re human and what that means. It gives them the ability to rejoice in the grandeur of the human experience, to make sense of its sufferings, to respect its natural limits, and to acknowledge at least the possibility of transcendent things beyond this world,” said Bishop Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln at last year’s National Conference. “And this is why the work of educators matters.”
This year’s National Conference will take place July 17-20, hosted by the Department of Catholic Studies and the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The event offers rich content in more than 70 talks by prominent leaders and veteran educators in the Catholic liberal arts tradition. Though in-person attendance for the conference is sold-out, those interested are invited to join us via livestream.