Insights on Saint Thomas More Academy and renewing K-12 education
Kirk Doran, the co-founder of Saint Thomas More Academy (STMA), presented his vision for a classical liberal arts school that is rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition at the school’s first board meeting on October 11, 2020.
In founding the school, Doran’s first priority was the inclusion of daily Mass. Now, two years later, students, faculty, staff, and many parents of STMA gather in St. Patrick’s Church in South Bend to celebrate the Eucharist at 8:00 am each school morning.
Doran told the Rover that daily Mass is the “foundation” of all they do at STMA, as faith is not extracurricular. Dr. Diana Philpott and Lisa Kearns worked together to develop the Saint Patrick Curriculum, which affirms that all subjects should begin from and lead to truth, beauty, and goodness. Philpott elucidated, “The vision is really simple. It’s that we just really need to teach every curricular topic from out of the Catholic intellectual tradition. We know the truth; we just need to teach the truth.”
The STMA website boasts an integrated curriculum “in which academic disciplines are interwoven to illuminate God’s providential design for human history and the wisdom present in all aspects of creation.” Notre Dame alumnus and current STMA math and science teacher Andrew Ganahl explained the importance of this interwovenness: “When you partition [subjects] off, it can cause confusion. The current rift between faith and science can be largely accounted for by a failure to see the connection between the two. They are both truth. No matter what you are studying, you are always trying to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Jason Baxter is the STMA Upper School Curricular Consultant who teaches Latin, Greek, and literature and is a visiting associate professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame. In an interview with the Rover, he contrasted modern and classical education: “Classical education doesn’t see education as downloading kilobytes of information from one brain to another but rather sees learning as more like an apprentice or even a disciple.”
Philpott similarly noted an aspect of modern education: “[modern education] comes out of a different philosophy that is, at its heart, anti-Catholic.” Treasurer Theresa MacArt added, “We live in a culture where it’s very difficult to raise thoughtful, faithful Catholic children who stay in the Church when they’re adults.”
Philpott concluded that the classical renewal of education is “necessary for the salvation of souls [because] it’s necessary for the Church to have well-formed Catholics with a lively faith.” She explained, “The teacher is the key. They’re modeling for the students how to live, how to think, the questions to ask, the hopes to have, the affections to hold in your heart.” MacArt agreed, “A teacher’s role is really pretty holistic. They’re forming students intellectually and morally and spiritually in a school like this.”
In the 2021–2022 school year, its first year, STMA had 59 students. This year, it serves 140 students. Doran told the Rover that 93 percent of the students were previously homeschooled. He speculated, “There are so many families who are homeschooling merely because they’ve always wanted a school like this but [didn’t] have one.”
Doran claimed that the South Bend and Notre Dame Catholic community is “the best Catholic community that I’ve ever seen around the world. If this Catholic community with its intellectual interests and amazing families was not able to produce a school like this, then no Catholic community could.”
Doran told the Rover that growth is not a primary goal within the next few years, but it is anticipated. He continued, “Even in a year where our growth is slowing a bit, we still have a lot of hires to make.” Doran explained how STMA serves more than just students: “One of our goals is to be an institution that will allow people to stay in South Bend and live in South Bend as professional Catholics who want to have a job that pursues excellence … but also want to be able to support their family at the same time.” He continued, “We believe that by working really hard to ensure excellent salaries and really good growth opportunities for our employees, we can build a long-lasting workforce that has many experienced teachers and staff members.”
Philpott provided the Rover with advice for college students who aspire to work in Catholic classical education: “It’s not really helpful to go off and get an education degree. Learn your history, learn your theology, learn the science that you’re in well, so that you can really teach the students from a place of deep understanding.”
STMA is an Institute of Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE) member school. To learn more about classical liberal arts education in a Catholic tradition, visit the ICLE website.
Madeline Murphy is a sophomore studying music and theology. Her future plans include persuading more Catholic schools to adopt integrated, liberal curricula. Please send questions or comments to email@example.com.
Photo Credit: STMA crest. Retrieved from the STMA website.