Kansas City light

When visiting Kansas City for a wedding of college mates many years ago, we fell in love with the fun country song, Kansas City Lights. Consequently, whenever I think of Kansas City, pleasant memories flow, and that is the soundtrack that plays along.

Recently, I was sent a video of a school in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and was so impressed that I had to share it with my readers. Since that song bubbled up, I could not help but use it in this article—especially because it so handily evoked the light of truth, beauty, and goodness that marks St. Charles Borromeo Academy.

The transformation of Borromeo Academy is a story that is starting to repeat itself more often across this country. A parish school struggles in spirit, enrollment and funding. Should it close down? Should it turn to a new model focusing on technology, Chinese, or Spanish immersion? Or is there something else? Then, a principal, pastor, teacher, or parent offers the idea that renewing the school’s mission to the mission of the Catholic intellectual tradition might save the school and help restore the tradition. This very decision sparks excitement and interest. After all, the Church is the epicenter of the formation of education over the past two millennia, so she must have some pretty rich things to offer!

To be fair, such a decision also is accompanied by some trepidation, because one decides to let go of, to a greater or lesser degree, the comfort of our habits of following standards and big-publisher-generated testing. Nevertheless, Borromeo Academy made this decision and went full-bore into the change, with the blessing and encouragement of both the pastor, Fr. Donald Farnan, and Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The results have been extraordinary.

It is clear from the first moment of the Academy’s video that this school year was going to be different. Academy Principal Ann Lachowitzer sets the stage so beautifully when she states that “it is not about building enrollment, it is about building disciples.” The more I reflect on that one statement, the more I become convinced that that could be the mantra to renew the whole Catholic school system in this country.

What if we cared more about making disciples? What if we put aside the pressure, stress, and statistics of numbers and focused on creating truly Christ-centered schools? What if we answered the call of the Holy See’s beautiful document, The Catholic School, when she states that the task of a Catholic school is “fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: The first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian”?

If we could again integrate all subjects in the light of the Gospel, in the light of the Creator of all, we would experience a beautiful renaissance of Catholic education, and an explosion of “beautiful little flowers” in Pope St. John Paul II’s image of “the springtime of the Church.” Darkness would subside, and the light would shed its life-giving warmth.

Bishop Johnston beautifully touches on the hope he has for Borromeo Academy’s new educational path in the video, stating, “This model of classical education, that in many places has been lost or forgotten, is a very effective way to not only form the mind, but the inner heart of a person, to touch the soul with truth, beauty and goodness.”

Mary Pat Donoghue, director of school services for the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, echoes the joy of such an adoption. In an interview I had with her about the transformation of St. Jerome Academy in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., she said, “Once we started to employ the elements of our true heritage in Catholic education into every aspect of our school, we started to see how our fundamental philosophy started to affect every decision we made, from the artwork in the halls to the field trips we would take. Everything became more and more ordered toward building a formative environment and culture of truth, beauty and goodness. It totally transformed the way we teachers looked at our job, our vocation.”

Donoghue found the joy of truth in the Holy See’s teaching when it was actually put into practice rather than set upon the shelf as just another Church document. The Catholic School, referenced above, illustrates in paragraph 42 just what Donoghue experienced:

“The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior. This is what makes the difference between a school whose education is permeated by the Christian spirit and one in which religion is only regarded as an academic subject like any other.”

This is what Borromeo Academy has committed to. This is why there is such great joy and excitement surrounding this community. This is why this Kansas City light will shine far beyond the city limits.

MICHAEL J. VAN HECKE, M.Ed., a seasoned headmaster and educational speaker, is also the founder and president of The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and the Catholic Textbook Project. In their spare time, he and his wife farm avocados.

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