Excluding Christ from the classroom

A school that The Cardinal Newman Society criticized back in September for its removal of 162 statues and icons of saints from its campus has officially declared that it no longer wishes to be considered a Catholic school.

San Domenico School in San Anselmo, Calif., believing that statues of saints could be offensive to non-Catholic students, had removed the religious images as part of its rebranding as an independent school focusing on “inclusion.” Amy Skewes-Cox, head of the San Domenico School board of trustees, had said that the relocation and removal of the school’s religious icons was “completely in compliance” with San Domenico’s new strategic plan to attract students from other religions.

“If you walk on the campus and the first thing you confront is three or four statues of St. Dominic or St. Francis, it could be alienating for that other religion,” she said, “and we didn’t want to further that feeling.”

Responding to the decision to remove the icons and statues, a Cardinal Newman Society report suggested that it was appropriate for a school to remove its Catholic imagery when it ceases to be Catholic.

Now, three months on, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael who run the school, said in a statement that “San Domenico School will no longer be a Catholic school and will not be recognized by the Archdiocese of San Francisco as such.”

Commenting on the Sisters’ decision to abandon any pretense of teaching the Faith in their school, Patrick Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society, lauded their decision. “It’s the truth, and truth is the aim of education,” he said. “So kudos to the Sisters for at least acknowledging that San Domenico is not interested in providing authentic Catholic education.

“Of course, that’s a poor choice,” he continued. “It fails to uphold the Dominican Sisters’ charism and does a disservice to San Domenico’s students. But the choice was made long before this announcement.

“Clearly something exciting is happening in the WCEA [Western Catholic Educational Association] that forced San Domenico to acknowledge its faults,” Reilly said. “Many other schools remain in the WCEA, and some need improvements. I pray that they either exemplify faithful Catholic education or similarly declare their true intentions.”

The Sisters’ decision means that the K-12 boarding and day school will no longer have accreditation from the WCEA, the agency established by the California Catholic bishops for Catholic school certification.

Father John Piderit, S.J., the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Vicar for Administration, said the school’s philosophy was “not particularly religious” and didn’t meet WCEA accreditation standards.

Abandoning its Catholic roots and heritage, San Domenico School proclaims on its website that it will no longer be particularly Catholic or even Christian but was committed to “inclusive spiritual education” (whatever on earth, or in heaven or hell, that might mean). What it does mean, apparently, according to the school itself, is that “inclusion” means the exclusion of authentic Catholic education. In a candid profession of its lack of faith, the school declared brazenly its intention to break with its Catholic identity, refusing to meet Western Catholic Educational Association accreditation standards:

“San Domenico School’s approach does not align with WCEA standards which require: ‘the permeation of Catholic values in all aspects of school life,’ ‘a Religion curriculum instruction that is faithful to Roman Catholic Church teachings and meets the requirements set forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),’ and [that] ‘all school personnel are actively engaged in bringing the Good News of Jesus into the total educational experience.’”

So let’s get this straight. An “inclusive spiritual education” excludes the permeation of Catholic values; it excludes the teaching of religion classes faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church; and it excludes the teaching staff from being actively engaged in bringing the Gospel of Christ into the classroom. In short, and let’s be blunt about this, the “inclusive spiritual education” at San Domenico School is based on the exclusion of Catholicism from the classroom.

Embarrassed by its own past and in an Orwellian rewriting of its own history, the school omits to mention that it was founded to teach the Faith and that this was what it did for more than a century before it was poisoned by the spirit of modernism. Instead, it claims that the school’s current relativism “reflects [its] 167-year tradition of innovative and values-based education that responds to the needs of the times.”

The school’s statement said the accreditation change was to live out its mission and best prepare students as “global citizens of the world” (whatever that might mean): “To live out our Mission and to best prepare students as global citizens of the world, we believe our School’s curriculum must cover interfaith studies and create a safe space for individuals of varied backgrounds and faith traditions to explore their personal beliefs,” it said. “We also believe our students are best served by a diverse community, including faculty who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience.”

Since the goal of the secular relativism of San Domenico School is to make its students good and loyal “global citizens of the world,” it is safe to assume that these particular words of Scripture will never be taught to its students:

“Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth forever” (1 John 2: 15-17).

Instead of such divine wisdom, San Domenico students will be taught things that are “innovative”—things that are new, things which serve “the needs of the times,” things that are transient. Far from teaching its students the things that “abideth forever” and the things necessary so that the students might themselves abide forever with God in Heaven, they will be taught to be slaves to the Zeitgeist, minions of the Spirit of the age, serving fashions that will be old-fashioned within a few short years. They will be taught to be up to date, thereby condemning them to being out of date when the fads they are taught become passé.

As for the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, they are already out of date and past their sell-by date. Like all religious orders who succumbed to the modernism, which masqueraded as the so-called “spirit of Vatican II,” they are dying out. They ceased to wear habits at the time they ceased to believe what the Church teaches, and in ceasing to believe they ceased to attract vocations. In 1965, the congregation numbered 376 women religious; today numbers are down to only 77 sisters, most of whom are in the final years of life. The writing is on the wall, and the end is nigh. To misquote T. S. Eliot, their world will end not with a wimple but a whimper.

In contrast, those congregations of Dominican Sisters that have remained true to the Faith are thriving and flourishing. The Nashville Dominicans, for instance, are growing fast. Today there are 305 sisters in the congregation, compared with 115 sisters in 1935. The Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, founded in 1997 with only four sisters, now has a burgeoning congregation of 128.

Both of these faithful congregations serve Catholic schools throughout the United States, helping revitalize authentic Catholic education. It is here, and not in the decaying and dying congregations that have abandoned the Faith, that the future lies.

JOSEPH PEARCE is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal. He is a senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and senior editor at the Augustine Institute. His books include biographical works on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn and Belloc.

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