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2024 National CEFC Graduation Addresses


By: Dr. Christopher Blum, Provost of the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology
& Sister Mary Alma, CK

The Three Magi cohort of teachers began its journey through ICLE’s Catholic Educator Formation and Credential (CEFC) program on August 1, 2022.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2024, seventeen educators from all over the United States gathered over Zoom to celebrate their official graduation from ICLE’s Catholic Educator Formation and Credential Program. Our first National cohort of teachers was joined by ICLE faculty and staff, diocesan superintendents, principals, campus mentors, family members, and other honored guests for a moving tribute to the ministry of Catholic education. Fr. John Belmonte, S.J., Ph.D., Superintendent of the Diocese of Venice, FL, opened and closed the graduation ceremony with prayer. Dr. Christopher Blum, Provost of the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology, delivered the Commencement Address; and Sister Mary Alma, CK, gave the Graduate Address.

The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education developed the Catholic Educator Formation and Credential (CEFC) program to offer a robust alternative to state teacher licensure. The program prepares educators to infuse a deeply Catholic philosophy and practice of education into their teaching. It is an 18-month program of five integrated courses (The Virtuous Classroom, Pedagogy: Leading from Wonder to Wisdom, Trivium: The Mastery of Language, Quadrivium: The Harmony of Number, and Faith and Reason: The Foundations of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition) delivered through in-person workshops and distance learning.

Commencement Address

Dr. Christopher O. Blum, Provost of the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology
Delivered March 6, 2024.


Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, and spilling over will be poured into your lap.
For the measure you give will be the measure you receive.
Luke 6:38 (Catholic Standard Version)

Each of you has embraced the noble calling of the teacher and thus chosen to make a gift of yourself to your students. Your perseverance in having completed the Catholic Educator Formation and Credential program offered by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education is proof of your generosity and resolve. Let me, then, first say “congratulations,” and, as the parent of two children who much profited from their time in Catholic schools, let me also say, “thank you.”

In reflecting upon the “good measure” that teachers are called to give to their students, we have a rich resource in the writings and the example of St. John Henry Newman. As Benedict XVI observed at his beatification, Newman “sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.” That is the very vision of the I.C.L.E. and, it may be presumed, now also yours as well. Let us together consider each of these aspects of a Catholic school with Newman’s help under the headings of three personal qualities or virtues of the teacher that he identified: discipline of mind, earnestness, and sympathy.

Discipline of Mind
Although Newman’s years as a full-time teacher were few in number and came early in his life, those years and the experiences they contained permanently shaped his vision for education. Foundational to that vision was his conviction about mental discipline. A characteristic expression of that conviction comes early in The Idea of a University. “I hold very strongly,” he said, “that the first step in intellectual training is to impress upon a boy’s mind the idea of science, method, order, principles, and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony” (Idea, Notre Dame edition, p. xliv) Newman’s conviction arose from his understanding of how his own mind had been properly disciplined. A number of years after he wrote The Idea of a University, Newman penned an appreciations of two of his mentors at Oxford, saying of Edward Hawkins that he had taught him “to weigh my words, and to be cautious in my statements,” and of Richard Whately, that he “taught me to think and to use my reason” (Apologia, Penguin edition, pp. 29, 31). Training with such an effect comes, in the first place, from the study of the liberal arts. Here is Newman explaining the point more fully:

Consider . . . what a discipline in accuracy of thought it is to have to construe a foreign language into your own . . . what a trial of acuteness, caution, and exactness it is to master, and still more to prove, a number of definitions . . . what an exercise in logical precision it is to understand and enunciate the proof of any of the more difficult propositions of Euclid… The result is a formation of mind, that is, a habit of order and system, a habit of referring every accession of knowledge to what we already know, and of adjusting the one with the other; and, moreover, as such a habit implies, the actual acceptance and use of certain principles as centers of thought, around which our knowledge grows and is located. (“Discipline of Mind,” p. 378)

Discipline of mind, then, comes from the study of grammar, logic, geometry, three of the seven classical liberal arts. And it would not be difficult to extend Newman’s generalization to the remaining four.

To provide careful instruction in the liberal arts is an act of love. As Benedict XVI helped us to appreciate, “to lead the young to truth” is a work of what may be called “intellectual charity” (Address at Catholic Educators, 17 April 2008). Why this so is easy enough for us to appreciate. There are perennial reasons stemming from the intrinsic difficulty of growing up. Again, Newman: “It is not easy for a young man to determine for himself whether he has mastered what he has been taught” (Rise and Progress of Universities, p. 190), which is why the school of liberal arts is a “place of training for those who are not only ignorant, but have not yet learned how to learn.” (Ibid, p. 214). Ignorance is potentially a cause of shame, but it is also a source of deep vulnerability. Today, our youth are arguably more highly propagandized than in any time before thanks to the intrusive power of digital media. Images, words, and even numbers are regularly used by the unscrupulous to shape our children’s behavior. In present company, examples of such malfeasance hardly need to be offered.

Let us dwell instead upon what we intend and pray for our students. “When the intellect has been properly trained,” as Newman tells us, “it makes itself felt in the good sense, sobriety of thought, reasonableness, candour, self-command, and steadiness of view, which characterize it.” (Idea, p. xliii)

There is a striking resonance between what may be called the tone of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and that of the New Testament, a resonance that may be heard in each text’s use of the various forms of the Greek word spoudaios, an adjective with a range of meaning that include ‘serious,’ ‘earnest,’ ‘zealous,’ and ‘quick to act’. Newman was a close reader of both texts, and his preaching reflects that reading. His sermon “Christian Zeal” from his years as the pastor of the university parish at Oxford provides ready access to the theme of earnestness in his thinking. There he defined zeal as “the earnest desire for God’s honour, leading to strenuous and bold deeds in his behalf” (“Christian Zeal,” Parochial and Plain Sermons, October 1834). Newman explained that zeal is manifested in loyalty to Christ and the desire to advance his kingdom: “To be loyal is not merely to obey, but to obey with promptitude, energy, dutifulness, disinterested devotion, disregard of consequences. And such is Zeal” (Ibid). He admitted that this quality could lead its possessor into conflict: “It is the present fashion,” he averred, “to call Zeal by the name of intolerance, and to account intolerance the chief of sins; that is, any earnestness for one opinion above another concerning God’s nature, will, and dealings with man, or, in other words, any earnestness for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Ibid).

Today, we may be inclined to extend Newman’s observation to any earnestness about the human good, rightly understood. And yet, it is evident to us teachers, that without such earnestness, we cannot actually help the young men and women entrusted to our care. The teacher’s task today involves a bit of knight errantry. We must contend against the dragons of our dying secular culture, relying upon the grace of the Holy Spirit for light and strength. We can take solace and direction from St. John Henry Newman, who fought the same malevolent worms in the nineteenth century, before they had grown into the gem-encrusted tyrants that they are today. Men and women of faith, he exhorts us,

. . . knowing what great things have been done for them, cannot but grow greater in mind in consequence. We know how power and responsibility change men in matters of this world. They become more serious, more vigilant, more circumspect, more practical, more decisive; they fear to commit mistakes, yet they dare more, because they have a consciousness of liberty and of power, and an opportunity for great successes. And thus the Christian . . . cannot but change from the state of children to that of men, when he understands his own privileges. The more he knows and fears the gift committed to him, so much the more reverent is he towards himself, as being put in charge with it. (“Christian Nobleness,” May 22, 1831)

To be just such serious-minded, capable, and bold witnesses to the truth is what Catholic teachers are called to be today. Let us rejoice in the honor that Christ pays us of thus inviting us to share his mission.

As charity is the identifying note of the Christian, so also is the pursuit of charity the essential characteristic of the Catholic school understood as a community. St. John Henry Newman had many things to say about charity; one of his most fruitful discourses on the subject was in a lovely appreciation of the apostle Paul, a sermon Newman gave in the 1850s when he was a Catholic priest and rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. The aspect of charity that Newman chose to examine was what he called sympathy. Here is how he opened up the topic:

there is a knowledge and a love of human nature, which Saints possess, which follows on an intimate experience of what human nature actually is, in its irritability and sensitiveness, its despondency and changeableness, its sickliness, its blindness, and its impotence. Saints have this gift, and it is from above; though it be gained, humanly speaking, either from the memory of what they themselves were before their conversion, or from a keen apprehension and appreciation of their own natural feelings and tendencies (“St. Paul’s Gift of Sympathy,” 1857).

“I am the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “Who is weak and I am not weak?” (2 Corinthians 11:29) “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22). We recognize from these and other passages that St. Paul did indeed have the gift of sympathy, or, as Newman put it, “the virtue of humanity” (Ibid), that is, of being humane because familiar with the trials and sufferings to which the flesh is heir.

This is a virtue, or an expression of charity, that is most becoming in a teacher. It is closely allied to humility and to prudence. The best teachers, like St. Paul, “put aside forms” and let “influence take the place of rule, and charity stand instead of authority,” which is why such teachers draw “souls to them[selves] by their interior beauty” (Ibid).

In the present context of celebrating your achievement and encouraging your commitment to fostering discipline of mind and the love of truth in your students, it is well to consider how the sympathy about which Newman speaks should characterize the exercise of the office of teacher. To be sure, it should mark all your interactions with your students. That point hardly needs be made. Yet it is not enough. It is arguably even more important that this sympathy, this fellow-feeling should characterize the part of your life that you share with your fellow teachers and administrators. Unless we work to counteract the tendency, our schools – like any workplaces – can quickly become scenes of ambition, envy, mistrust, and strife. And that is true even when the men and women within them have the best of intentions to serve the mission of the Church. To learn Newman’s lesson about sympathy is to understand that our task is to choose the good of the whole school as our personal good and adjust our other desires accordingly. If we do so, our students will know that we have, for there is nothing more attractive than a community of whatever kind – from a simple friendship or a family to a team or a whole school – that is united in the common pursuit of the noble end that is proper to it.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and spilling over will be poured into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you receive.” May you give the good measure of your effort as instructors who seek to inculcate discipline of mind, as zealous witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and to the truth about human nature, and as sympathetic co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. And may your reward be great in heaven.

Christopher Blum was educated at the University of Virginia and holds a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Notre Dame. He taught history, philosophy, and natural science for many years at Christendom College and Thomas More College before joining the Augustine Institute in 2013 as Academic Dean. Now serving as Provost, Blum is responsible for the overall direction of the Graduate School of Theology and the development of its programs and alumni outreach. He is the author, with Joshua P. Hochschild (pronounced Hoke-shield) of A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in an Age of Distraction.

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Graduate Address

Sr. Mary Alma, CK
Delivered March 6, 2024.


May God graciously bless us all on this happy evening. I want to begin by thanking our wonderful directors, teachers, and organizers of the Catholic Educator Formation and Credential program. Our time with you has been blessed with knowledge, friendship, encouragement, and grace. In our 18-month course, we have grown as Catholic educators and as followers of Christ because of your goodness and fidelity. If you, our true benefactors, shine so brilliantly here on earth, what will you be like in Heaven? I think each of you will be an eternal blaze of glory within the Heart of Christ!

To my peers in the Three Magi cohort, what can I offer you, a group of Jesus’ dear friends who are so very gifted? I think the one thing I have more of than all in our colorful cohort is years of experience in Religious life and Catholic education. So perhaps, with God’s grace, I will be able to share something which may be helpful.

It is this: ask Jesus to be your teacher. Certainly, you want to keep learning. Then beg the Lord to teach you. Ask Him to be your pedagogue. I am certain, if asked, He will do so. Socrates taught Plato, Aristotle taught Alexander the Great, but your teacher will be Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. In the Gospel of John 6:45, Jesus declares, “. . .they shall all be taught by God.” This is so amazing, and it is true!

What will Jesus teach you? His one subject is love. He will teach you to become love. Have you ever noticed how those who really study dance not only learn to dance but that they almost become dance? Their bodies become graceful, and they hold themselves and move with grace. The same is true in learning Christ’s love. We become love.

How will Jesus teach you? First, He will teach you through prayer. My friends in the cohort, we need to be serious about this. If you don’t yet have a regular time for prayer set in your schedule, you need to set it tonight. Don’t go to sleep until you do. St. Anselm, who we took some time to study, writes: “Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek Him; and when you have shut the door look for Him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: ‘I seek Your face; Your face, O Lord, I desire.’”

If you make time for prayer, you will be more and more able to recognize your Teacher throughout the rest of your day. Jesus teaches at every moment, through each person and every circumstance of our lives. He desires that we receive every instant as coming from His providential hand for our own growth and transformation into love. We know from Romans 8:28 “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

These truths compose the main theme throughout the whole of C.S. Lewis’ story The Horse and His Boy. I’ll literally “cut to the chase” of the narrative where we find two children, Aravis, a princess, and Shasta, a poor boy, riding strenuously toward the gates of Archenland. Their mission is to warn King Lune of a fast-approaching enemy army intent upon a vicious coup. They and their horses, Hwin and Bree, believe they are doing their utmost until a ravenous lion charges into the scene and quickly gains ground on Hwin and Aravis:

“Stop,” bellowed Shasta in Bree’s ear. “Must go back. Must help!” But Bree could not stop running. Shasta slipped his feet out of the stirrups, slid both legs over on the left side, hesitated for one hideous hundredth of a second, and jumped.

One of the most terrible noises in the world, a horses’ scream, broke from Hwin’s lips. And now all three – Aravis, Hwin, and the lion – were almost on top of Shasta. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders. Shasta, half mad with horror, managed to lurch toward the brute. He had no weapon, not even a stick or a stone. He shouted out, idiotically, at the lion as one would at a dog. “Go home! Go home!” For a fraction of a second he was staring right into its wide-open mouth. Then, to his utter astonishment, the lion turned head over heals, picked itself up, and rushed away.

Shasta turned and raced for the gate which Hwin, stumbling and nearly fainting, was just entering. Aravis still kept her seat but her back was covered with blood.

They were met by an old hermit. “Are- are- are you,” panted Shasta. “Are you King Lune of Archenland?” The old man shook his head. “No,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I am the Hermit of the Southern March. And now, my son, waste no time on questions, but obey. If you run now without a moment’s rest, you will still be in time to warn King Lune.” Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. He writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. But all he said out loud was “Where is the king?” and he ran.

Teaching is such a joy. There is scarcely a day when we Sisters aren’t laughing over the children’s antics on the way home from school. I would think, however, that for all in this mission there will be times when you feel as if you have been pursued and injured by a very large beast, or that you have confronted one and are now utterly spent.

We find out later in the story that the lion was actually Aslan, (or, Jesus, in our land’s terms) helping them to go faster so as to save the lives of those in Archenland. We find out that the torn back was exactly what noble Aravis needed. She had once unjustly caused a slave girl’s back to be lashed and had not given the deed a second thought. She needed to learn humility and compassion. By the end of the story she had learned. God had taught her. If ever you feel wounded in your service, ask your Divine Teacher what it is you need to learn from the experience. There may be something you need to understand, or Jesus is just asking you to carry the cross for the salvation of others. Most likely both!

Shasta, thought, after all he had just done, that to be asked for more was cruel and unfair. Perhaps at times we teachers might be tempted to feel the same. Sometimes it can seem that the demands never stop. What Shasta had not yet learned when he writhed internally, and what we need to learn, is that when Jesus is our teacher “if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” Jesus teaches and transforms us through all these demands and challenges. Do we really want Him to stop so that we may take our ease? Shasta ends up becoming the king of Archenland once he has grown, and Aravis is the queen. We who respond to the Lord’s instructive challenges will end up, once we have grown, becoming love; and that is even more royal than earthly majesty.

Ask Jesus to be your teacher, spend time alone with him daily in prayer, then believe that He teaches you through the people and circumstances of your life, all of which are carefully planned and chosen for you. Believe that everything and every instant comes from His providential hand for your own transformation into love. Believe this and you will be free!

One final thought. In the story, the children’s mission to Archenland was crucial. If they had not succeeded, death and the overturn of the kingdom would have ensued. Likewise, our mission as Catholic educators is vital, and this is no children’s story. The attack is on against Christ’s Kingdom. Yet, if we allow Jesus, our Teacher, to transform us into love, we will succeed for “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8).

Thank you for your kindness and for listening!

Sister Mary Alma has been a religious Sister in the community of the School Sisters of Christ the King for forty years. She taught elementary and middle school grades for six years before becoming an administrator. Sister has served as principal for nineteen years at St. Peter School in Lincoln and St. James School in Crete, leading the latter through a liberal education renewal beginning in 2021. She has B.A. degrees in elementary and middle level education, as well as M.A. degrees in Curriculum and Instruction and in Administration.


[Originally published February 27, 2024]