The number of those attracted by the renewal of classical education is growing, as parents confronting the spiritual wasteland of contemporary education flock to schools producing faithful, intelligent, joyful students devoted to the true, the good, and the beautiful, and energized to proclaim them to Church and world…
At a dinner celebrating Catholic classical education in Denver next month, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education will posthumously honor Ron McArthur and John Senior with its first Rabboni Awards. Recalling Mary Magdalene’s exclamation (“My Teacher!”) when she saw the risen Christ, the Rabboni Award will be given to teachers who have been inspirations and models for other teachers. Directly and indirectly, these two great men have inspired two generations of deeply committed teachers who have touched the lives of countless students.
In 1970, Dr. McArthur became the founding president of Thomas Aquinas College in California; that same year, Dr. Senior helped establish the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (IHP) at the University of Kansas. Though different in temperament, they had much in common. Both men suffered through the unraveling of culture and education that occurred with unbelievable swiftness in the late 60s. Yet neither languished in despair; they rather responded to necessity by turning it to opportunity. With American manliness and Catholic hope, they dedicated themselves to bringing about the best possible education for the young of their times. Each had received much from the Great Books movement (Dr. Senior studied with Mark Van Doren at Columbia, Dr. McArthur taught the Integral Liberal Arts Program at St. Mary’s College, which itself benefited from the program at St. John’s College), incorporating its benefits into comprehensive visions of education inspired by Catholic faith and philosophy.
Both were firmly committed to realism, the perennial philosophy and the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Their spirits ignited students with a passionate love of learning scarcely believable in the days of relativism’s collegiate ascendancy. Each found like-minded colleagues of great talent and commitment with whom they founded institutions that radically changed minds and hearts. John Senior joined with Dennis Quinn and Frank Nellick at IHP, Ron McArthur with Mark Berquist, Jack Neumayr and Peter DeLuca at Thomas Aquinas College. With their colleagues, they proceeded as wise men, ordering every detail of matter, mode and life through their vision of the good.
Although they are no longer with us, and IHP’s success begat enemies it could not overcome, the fires they ignited have not died but have spread far and wide. Their students have become light and warmth for others, contributing importantly to the growing classical education movement. Wyoming Catholic College, Mother of Divine Grace School’s distance learning program, St. Gregory Academy in Pennsylvania, The Lyceum in Ohio, and St. Augustine Academy in California, are among the institutions formed by students of Drs. Senior and McArthur that in their turn are providing leadership, inspiration, example and counsel for others.
Teachers, parents, pastors and administrators confronting the spiritual wasteland of contemporary education are aroused when they hear of schools producing faithful, intelligent, joyful students devoted to the true, the good, and the beautiful, and energized to proclaim them to Church and world. They then find that they do not have to grope their way in darkness; a half century of experience in recovering liberal education is available to help them form or transform their own schools. Thanks to the paths blazed by visionaries like Senior and McArthur, they can hope that in a few short years they might hear their own students conclude rousing Valedictorian addresses with words like these:
So, Class of 2016, this is my final address to you: When you wake up one day, wanting more — thirsting for something True in this beauty-deprived, surface-level, and sugar-coated society, drowning in the very lifelessness of its people… start with Christ, encounter the living Truth, and never let Him go. This is the most important thing I can tell you. There is Truth, go out and find it — and with that Truth, make a difference (Emily Normand, St. Mary’s Catholic High School, Phoenix).
Honoring Drs. McArthur and Senior has been a dream of mine for some time. I count myself among those possessed by Dr. McArthur’s love of Truth. I found myself able to share it because of my formation at Thomas Aquinas College. I have experienced the influence of Dr. Senior as I have come to understand the importance of educating the senses, memory and imagination as well as the mind. I have been blessed to work with Catholic classical schools around the country and to rejoice with them because of the joy that fills their communities. I believe we have only just begun. The number of those attracted by the renewal of classical liberal education is growing quickly, especially among Catholic educators and even diocesan leaders who can no longer simply follow the anti-religious secular powers. May the memory of Drs. Senior and McArthur help them believe that the sources of Christian civilization can give Catholic schools a raison d’etre, even joie de vivre.
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