St. Mary’s High School Reinvigorates Theology Program with New Apologetics Course

St. Mary’s High School Reinvigorates Theology Program with New Apologetics Course

The Schools of St. Mary are delighted to be offering an innovative new course in Catholic apologetics to all twelfth grade students. This curriculum, developed by the Augustine Institute in direct partnership with the Diocese of Rockville Centre, is tailored to the seniors as they develop an adult understanding of their purpose and existence. Our own Bishop John O. Barres was an instrumental piece in bringing this course to St. Mary’s, and two new teachers with backgrounds in apologetics have joined St. Mary’s to teach the 12th grade curriculum.

Catholic apologetics is a discipline within theology that instructs on the explanation and defense of truth through rational discussion. Why Believe? is a unique textbook in that it speaks directly to the teenage desire for concrete answers to the difficult questions facing them as they develop an adult faith. Daniel McInerny, Ph.D., associate editor and contributor to Why Believe?, explains: “The ultimate point of [this textbook] is to help students rise to the challenge of our cultural moment and to discover why life with Christ in His Church is more coherent, reasonable, noble, and attractive than any alternative the culture offers.”

It is crucial to consider that students do face enormous challenges to a Catholic life, especially in college. An important purpose of this course is not only to provide students with an understanding of Catholicism but equip them with the tools to explain this faith to others. “We want our Catholic high school students to be able to articulate cogently and with emotional intelligence why they believe in the existence of God…and advance the mission of mercy of the Catholic Church on earth,” says Bishop Barres. “There will be many discussions in their dorms, in their classes, in their activities, in their friendships about the meaning of life and how they approach life…we are training young Catholics to witness their faith in the public square, and that is very exciting!”

The Augustine Institute wants to bring this excitement to students in ways they can understand. Why Believe? reaches the mind, heart, soul, and imagination of high school students by utilizing cutting-edge digital resources including film and social media approaches. The textbooks themselves reference not only popular books and movies but are imbued with a deep respect for the artistic and historical contributions of the Church, allowing students to view their course not as a separation from the world but as a vital and living part of civilization and their own journey.

Beginning with the philosophic understanding of existence, nature, and human happiness, leading into the answer to these existential questions (God), the book naturally provides the tools needed for a young person to thoughtfully engage with the self and with others on such topics as rational proofs for God, the purpose of human life, the problem of evil, and many others. Most importantly, the book combats the relativistic thinking of our culture by providing veracity. “A crucial task of Why Believe? is to show our students that the Catholic faith is not some private matter, not a feeling or imagining, but a proper subject for rational inquiry into truth,” says McInerny.

Ms. Anna Green and Mr. Kevin White are delighted to be joining the St. Mary’s faculty for the pilot year of the apologetics program. Mr. White is a magna cum laude Stony Brook graduate in Philosophy with minors in mathematics and jazz studies. A “revert” to the Catholic faith, Mr. White cites as deeply influential the wealth of online Catholic apologetics resources, especially those from Bishop Robert Barron, who inspired Mr. White to become “a full-time philosopher.” Mr. White particularly loves Why Believe?’s focus and emphasis on natural reason as a way to understand the truth about God and the human person, and to lead into divine revelation and the person of Jesus Christ. The benefit to students, he explains, is “asking the right questions…what will truly fulfill them, and the meaning and purpose in the universe.” Mr. White also teaches the 9th grade introductory theology course and has a large role in the school’s campus ministry program.

Ms. Green, who also teaches the Why Believe? program, holds an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing/Religious Studies with a minor in Latin language. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in Catholic Apologetics. Ms. Green previously worked as assistant director for a parish religious education program and recognized a deep calling within herself to serve Catholic young people in a more rigorous setting. In class, Ms. Green encourages her students to ask challenging questions, delving into lively discussions and debates. She cites as some of her influences St. John Paul II, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and enjoys deferring to her “heroes” when possible. She particularly loves how the Why Believe? course incorporates the rich artistic and intellectual tradition of Catholic writers and artists, from whom students can learn about God through beauty, truth, and goodness. Besides the 12th grade apologetics program, Ms. Green also teaches 11th grade morality and 9th grade introductory theology.

Part of what makes Why Believe? such an exciting course this year is that the shepherd of our Diocese, Bishop Barres, is so passionate about apologetics. His May 2018 letter on the future Catholic apologetics in America conveys a radical commitment to the New Evangelization through the power of personal testimony, which must be grounded in a strong intellectual understanding of one’s faith.

Bishop Barres has a message for the students of St. Mary’s as they continue their study of apologetics. Seniors, I want you to be prepared and trained to be able to explain to your future friends why you believe in God, why you believe that the Cross of Christ is the answer to the problem of evil in the world, why you believe that Jesus is the unique Redeemer of the world for all peoples, for all times and for all cultures, why you believe that the Church Christ founded subsists in the Catholic Church, why you believe that the Sacred Scriptures are inspired and are a light and lamp for our steps through life to Heaven, why you believe in the seven sacraments and why you are radically faithful as a University student to the Sunday Mass. A radical commitment to Christ and the mission of the Church will make your life an incredible adventure, an incredibly fulfilling and enriching pursuit of holiness that transforms the world and history with Christ’s love.”