Students from across the country descended upon the campus of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts last month to learn what it means to be a Catholic leader in today’s world. The College declared its inaugural Catholic Leadership Institute a resounding success, attracting nearly thirty students for this intensive three week program where the social and political teachings of the Church were taught.
“It changed my life,” said Ross Bernier, speaking of the program. “I came here not knowing anything about Catholic social teaching. Through this program, we got to really understand how important it is to follow Catholic teachings.”
Catholic Leadership Institute students studied intensively the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other Church documents, and were led through the development of these teachings from Apostolic times, through the Middle Ages, and into its flowering in the modern age.
Bernier added that this program will lead him to follow the Church’s teachings more closely. He noted that he will go to Confession more often because he now knows that “you cannot receive communion with a mortal sin on your conscience.”
“This is precisely the sort of change we wanted to make in young people’s lives,” said Thomas More College President, William Fahey. “There exists a catechesis problem in our country. Most high school students are unfamiliar with the basic content of Catholic social teaching, and they fail to understand that it is an essential part of the Catholic faith. This program was designed to help address this critical problem.”
Daily lectures from Thomas More College faculty gave participants a firm understanding of key ideas such as just war theory, common good, the human person, solidarity, authentic teachings on the family, and other Catholic insights on basic economic and political issues that will confront them throughout their lives.
Students also studied men like St. Augustine, who radically deepened our understanding of charity and community life; King Louis of France, who saw healing and caring for the sick as an extension of his royal office; Elizabeth of Hungary, who used her vast wealth to build hospitals and stood in the ranks caring for the sick; and Catherine Doherty, who escaped the terrors of the Russian Revolution and quietly established a personal apostolate helping rural poor that now has hundreds of workers and priests bringing the light of Christ and charitable relief throughout the world.
“Each week included opportunities for participants to enact the corporal works of mercy,” said Dr. Fahey. “’To serve, rather than be served’ has long encapsulated the essence of Christian leadership. By volunteering at homeless shelters, food pantries, and other charities, students were encouraged to consider these acts as an essential part of Catholic living.”
Students reported that these service projects seared into their daily lives what they had learned in the classroom.
“In participating in the service projects I was able to see the importance of subsidiarity, solidarity, and faith in service work,” said participant Hannah Polsky. “When subsidiarity is abandoned and talk of God banned, efforts seem to fall short of supporting human dignity. On the other hand when these values are respected—human dignity is better upheld and work seemed better completed.”
Students volunteered at several organizations, including the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, Friends of the Unborn Crisis Pregnancy Center, a refugee center in Manchester, NH, and other charities.
Throughout each week, living Catholic leaders joined the program, offering lectures to students about the crucial role the Catholic Faith has played in their leadership experience. Guest speakers included U.S. Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne; Portsmouth, NH businessman Jim Broom; Stephen Peroutka, founder of National Pro-Life Radio; and Fr. Paul McNellis, a soldier in the Special Forces who later became a Jesuit priest.
Students reported that they gained a far deeper understanding of what it means to be a leader each day in their home, at work, and in their community.
“Anyone, anywhere can be a leader, even if they are not publicly acclaimed as such,” said participant Bridget Rogers. “For some reason, this had never occurred to me before.”
Participant Kelly Bohane from Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Still River, MA, agreed. “Everyone thinks that they know what leadership is all about, but during these past three weeks I have realized that my initial impression of leadership was somewhat hazy. Being a leader is more than shining armour and a sword. It is also a silent and simple, yet powerful, way to bring others to follow the ultimate Leader, Jesus, by example.”
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was at the center of each day, and Thomas More College’s artist-in-residence, David Clayton, taught each student how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Each morning began with lauds, and the evenings included vespers and compline, as well as Rosary.
The Catholic Leadership Institute was made possible by a generous grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute. With sufficient funding, the College plans to host the Catholic Leadership Institute again in 2011.