Patrick Reilly delivering a lecture at Christendom College in Virginia (link)
When “Catholic” Colleges Aren’t Really Catholic
Newman Guide founder brings Catholic parents “truth in advertising”
In June 2022, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts banned Nativity Catholic Middle School in his diocese from calling itself “Catholic.”
He issued the order when the school refused to take down prominently displayed “gay pride” and “Black Lives Matter” flags from school grounds.
It was a rare victory in the “Catholic school culture wars” that is increasing at a rapid pace throughout the Western world.
“The incident at the Nativity School,” said Patrick J. Reilly, 53, founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society, is another example of how “anything in the surrounding culture finds its way into Catholic schools, through the students or through the teachers.”
“To some extent, this is unavoidable,” Reilly said, “but it is a greater problem today, when fewer Catholics are well-formed in the faith and an increasing portion of students and teachers are non-Catholic. The Cardinal Newman Society has been very concerned about the infiltration of critical race theory, gender identity, and cancel culture in Catholic schools.”
Reilly founded the Cardinal Newman Society in 1993, two years after graduating from Fordham University.
Critical race theory was not an everyday phrase back then, but already the fallout of the 1960s’ cultural revolution in the West had been eroding the moral and religious character of Catholic education for decades.
As Domino’s Pizza magnate and Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan wrote in a 2022 article praising Reilly, a UCLA survey from 1997-2001 found that Catholic students’ support for abortion, homosexual unions, and casual sex increased at roughly the same dramatic rate regardless of whether the students enrolled at a Catholic, secular, or other religious college.
“I could not believe it!” wrote Monaghan. “This study confirmed my conviction that I should focus my philanthropy on Catholic higher education and thus my ongoing efforts to build Ave Maria University and Ave Maria School of Law.”
Corpus Christi procession with parents and students at Christendom College of Front Royal, VA
Reilly explained in 2022 remarks at Benedictine College in Kansas, where he received an honorary degree, “My plan was that we would put out a guide reviewing all 200 Catholic colleges in the United States. Father Benedict Groeschel was one of our advisors. He told me, ‘You really ought to focus on the good things. There are some really good things happening in Catholic education.’ So we decided to recommend schools.”
Reilly’s organization publishes the Newman Guide for Choosing a Catholic College, which currently includes 22 Catholic institutions of higher learning, most — but not all — in the US.
The three main criteria upon which the Cardinal Newman Society bases its recommendations are the school’s mission and governance, academics and moral and religious formation.
“The Church doesn’t have anywhere near the appreciation for Catholic education that it should have. Catholic education is supposed to help people be who they should be,” said Reilly. “We should be valuing Catholic education more than just about everything we do, except the sacraments.”
In an interview with the National Catholic Register in June 2022, as the USCCB’s 3-year Eucharistic Revival campaign was opening, Reilly spoke specifically to the crisis of faith in the Eucharist as evidenced by a 2019 Pew study, saying that “it is more a crisis of education and a failure of the Church… about two-thirds (64%) of the young adults who denied the Real Presence admitted to being unsure or unaware of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. And 62% actually believed the Church teaches that the Eucharist is just a symbol of Christ.
“We greatly need a revival of Eucharistic education. It is in faithful Catholic education that young people learn not to separate their lives and their knowledge from Christ, who enters into every study and every activity. We need this in our Catholic parish schools, lay-run independent schools, homeschools, hybrid programs, and colleges.”
“Patrick Reilly, like Benedictine College, believes in truth in advertising,” said Benedictine’s President Stephen D. Minnis. “We are excited to honor him for the great work he has done in celebrating faithful Catholic colleges and giving so many families the opportunity to find colleges that will teach their daughters and sons what the Church truly believes about the Catholic faith.”