Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Academic Excellence at STM

According the The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools developed by the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University, one of the “marks” of a Catholic School is Academic Excellence.

The Standard for Academic Excellence states:
“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirms the message of the Congregation on Catholic Education that intellectual development of the person and growth as a Christian go forward hand in hand. Rooted in the mission of the Church, the Catholic school brings faith, culture and life together in harmony. In 2005, the bishops noted that “young people of the third millennium must be a source of energy and leadership in our Church and our nation. And, therefore, we must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education” (Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary School is in the Third Millennium, 2005).

The essential elements of “an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program” mandate curricular experiences—including co-curricular and extra-curricular activities—which are rigorous, relevant, research-based, and infused with Catholic faith and traditions.”

What can we take from this and how do we strive to live this out at the High School of St. Thomas More?

“...intellectual development of the person and growth as a Christian”
At the High School of St. Thomas More, it is our Mission to assist our parents in forming students morally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually to become the person God made them to be. This mission seeks to form the whole student and not just the mind from an intellectual development, but how that intellectual development then affects their moral and spiritual aspects of their humanity. We start with this in seeking to form the whole student in giving them a foundation built on truth that seeks to grow the intellectual mind of the student so that they can take that truth with them in growing morally and spiritually. What is this foundation of truth? It is Christ who is the Truth, who gives meaning to our students’ lives by knowing that is in Him they find purpose and direction. By seeking to provide a firm foundation of intellectual development of our students rooted in the Truth of Christ, they can then grow in becoming the person God made them to be.

“...provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education”
What does this foundation of intellectual development rooted in the Truth of Christ look like? It is a program that is “academically rigorous and doctrinally sound.” Let’s look at two of the specific substandards of Academic Excellence that focus on classroom instruction.  

“7.6 Classroom instruction is designed to engage and motivate all students, addressing the diverse needs and capabilities of each student, and accommodating students with special needs as fully as possible.”
Teachers at St. Thomas More are committed to our students and recognize the various needs and capabilities of each student in recognizing their strengths and weaknesses in seeking ways to build student capability and learning. Because STM is a model of the Church, we have a diverse body of students and so our teachers strive to meet each of those students’ needs in engaging and motivating students in taking ownership for their own learning and to engage them in critical thinking of the content and topic that is being discussed in how it points back to the Truth, etc.

“7.5 Classroom instruction is designed to intentionally address the affective dimensions of learning, such as intellectual and social dispositions, relationship building, and habits of mind.”
As discussed already, our intellectual development of our students in Academics is founded on the pursuit of Truth that seeks to form the whole person and not just intellectually. This formation flows from intellectual growth to then seeing how it impacts the students socially in being aware of the world around them and how they play a part in the building of God’s Kingdom, building relationships that help others grow to become the person God made them to be, and building those habits, which we call virtues. Many of our classes seek ways to engage students in learning a base knowledge and foundation of the content to then see how that affects the “real world” and how we
can apply that to our own lives. For example with the recent President Election our students in various classes were able to use their intellectual understanding of politics, society, etc. rooted in their Catholic Faith to discuss the election issues related to it. In challenging students and addressing those variety of needs, our teachers strive to help our students form those academic and intellectual virtues of perseverance, dedication, understanding, wisdom, art - ability to make things, science - ability to make conclusions, and prudence.

What is the result of this?

Our students perform at very high academic levels and are well prepared for college. Our ACT scores are well above state and national averages and are well above the college and career readiness scores. In 2014, we were honored to be named a Blue Ribbon School, which recognizes academic excellence in schools. We will be eligible for this nomination in 2019 and hope to build on what was “started” years ago. With a little over a month until the 2017-18 school year starts, our teachers are already starting to plan lessons that will build and grow on our students intellectual growth in challenging them to grow in their learning and virtue. We hope to build on this strong foundation of Academic Excellence at STM to continue to provide the strong intellectual development that is a sign and mark of a strong Catholic School. We must always remember that this intellectual development is always rooted in Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Friends and the STM House System

Recently Pope Francis addressed the “Serra International Group” in celebrating their 75th convention and talked about friendships. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of what Pope Francis said and then see how that applies to us at the High School of St. Thomas More.
“No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15).
Pope Francis takes what Jesus describes as friendships in the Gospels and hits on a variety of aspects of our friendships with others:
  • “True friendship involves an encounter that draws me so near to the other person that I give something of my very self.”
    • When we are in a true friendship, we truly “love” the other person when we not look inwardly at our own wants, needs, and desires, but look out and seek the good of those we call our friends.
  • Friendship involves a “responsibility that embraces our entire life: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13).”
    • Love, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, is to “will the good of the other.” To love our friends it means truly wanting the best for the other person no matter who they are and not thinking about what it “costs” us.  What greater love can we show to others than willing to lay down our lives, desires, wants, needs, etc. for our friends?
  • Friends “stand at our side … they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words; they are merciful when faced with our faults; they are non-judgmental...They do not always indulge us but, precisely because they love us, they honestly tell us when they disagree. They are there to pick us up whenever we fall.
    • This last point of friends being there to pick us up when we fall is all about what true friends really are and do. A true friend should help us grow and become the best version of themselves in becoming the saints God created them to be.
What does this friendship look like at STM? As said before, a Catholic school is a model of the Church - a body of many believers brought together as one under their one Catholic Christian Faith. Anyone who is involved in a Catholic High School - student, teacher, staff, coach, parent, donor, volunteer, etc. - is part of this “body” of many parts working together as one. This one body is a body of friendship where each person is working together to further the mission of the school, which is to help guide our students on their own path of becoming saints.
There are many kinds of friendships that occur at STM and will only continue to build as we build our STM House Community System. Within the House System, Students and Staff will have the opportunity to form relationships and friendships with those they may not have otherwise. They will have their “housemates” there for them to be at their side and pick them up when they fall, build them up, and be “Barnabas” for them giving them encouragement (see Acts 4:36), and showing a great love for them in seeking their good. High School can be a tough journey for many students and we need as much help as we can
in navigating this journey and staying on the right path in life. In our House System, our House Mentors and Student Leaders will be the ones imitating true friendship and love in the model of Christ to their fellow Sabers in forming relationships that become true friendships. As we welcome and invite new Sabers to our STM family, we hope to build these friendships that will last a lifetime and help us on our God given mission to become the best high school we can be for our students and families in providing a high quality faith filled Catholic Education.  

The words from Pope Francis remind us from the wise words of Sirach Chapter 6 in the Old Testament that describes true friendship. Take some time 10-15 minutes read and reflect on this passage from Sirach and do a “friend inventory” and see who those true friends are - are they leading you away from or towards becoming the saint God created you to be?
So, what kind of friend will you be? Will you be a friend only when it benefits you? When you have something to gain from it? Will you leave during the tough times? OR – are you willing to lay down your life for another? To give yourself to another, your thoughts, dreams, failures, successes, to LOVE another person without expecting something in return, to truly share life with?
“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them.
Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.”
Sirach 6:14-17

Friday, June 30, 2017

"No Longer a Slave to Fear"

“But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion…” Jeremiah 20:11

Reflecting on the readings from Mass this past weekend, a common theme jumps out: FEAR. Fear might be one of the greatest obstacles that human beings face each and every day. Think back on the last day or the last time you made a decision - were there any times that you felt fearful about what might happen or afraid about the outcome of a decision that you had to make? Fear comes from a sense of unknowing about what the future or not being able to control the future. Fear can be very crippling and devastating to our everyday living because living in fear can lead us to becoming “slaves” to fear and not living in freedom to be who we were created to be - sons and daughters made in the image and likeness of God. St. Irenaeus said “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” We reflect the Glory of God when we are truly fully alive and fear slows us down or stops us from being fully alive and reflecting God’s glory through our lives.

In his book “EntreLeadership” Dave Ramsey describes “squirrel theology.” How many times have we seen a squirrel running in the road and the squirrel’s fear of oncoming cars causes it to zigzag to avoid cars and never making a decision until finally...bump, bump - “indecision caused by fear will get you killed.” How many times do we feel like that squirrel because fear cripples us to taking the next step to what is needed to do or to make a tough decision or not knowing what lies next in our lives?

As a Catholic High School at St. Thomas More, we have to be reminded to not live in this fear and to be a Strong Saber and not an indecisive squirrel (no offense to any schools who have squirrels as their mascot ;) ). We often do not know what the future holds for our school especially as we continue to get older and hopefully wiser with our academics, business management, communication, relations, human formation, and ultimately our faith. However, as Jesus tells us in the Gospels “are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). The phrase “do not be afraid” occurs 365 times in the Bible - we literally have a passage each day of the year reminding us of this mindset - to not be afraid! You may be thinking why or how am I going to do this? This is not easy for sure, but as Jeremiah reminds us that the Lord is with me, like a MIGHTY champion...Moses reminds the Israelites before they cross the Red Sea that “the LORD will fight for you; you only have to keep still” (Exodus 14:14). With Christ the Lord at our side, we need not be afraid for what the future may hold at the High School of St. Thomas More.

This summer has been a great way to reflect on the past school year, where we are, how we got here, and where we can go in the future. It’s a good reminder that although it is the teachers and staff “driving” STM into the future, it is the Lord who sets the direction and guides us in our mission, which is His Mission - to assists our families in forming saints of our students to be Christ’s disciples in the world. We are excited for the future of STM and what the Lord has planned for us. Next week will give us a hint of what that future may hold after attending the “Partners in Mission” Summer Institute to help build and grow the High School of St. Thomas More. Let us not be afraid as we go forward not really seeing what exactly the future holds, but through hope, vision, and prayer that we be “still” and put our trust in the Lord and all the great things He has planned for us!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Celebrating our Patron Saint and Following His Example

“May the Lord enable all of us to become saints, to be living images of Christ in our time.  May he strengthen us to be his witnesses and to bring the Gospel to all our brothers and sisters, especially the suffering and those most in need of its message of undying hope.”

Today the Church celebrates the memorials of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, Martyrs for the Faith during the time of King Henry III in England as they gave up their lives as a testimony to the unity of the Church and sacredness of the Sacrament of Marriage. As we celebrate the life of our patron Saint today at St. Thomas More, it is a reminder to us all that we can become great saints by following our own conscience and living a life of faith even when it can be most difficult.

Thomas More was born in 1478 to a well to do family in London where he grew up receiving a quality education and was the page for John Morton the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. More eventually went on to study at Oxford in 1492 where he would go on to become a lawyer, politician, author, and eventually Lord Chancellor of England in 1529. Thomas also was married with four children and later remarried after his first wife passed away. Throughout his life however, More was a man of God even discerning the religious life as a young man and living a life of prayer and penance. As a man of God however, it is his steadfast faith to follow his conscience that is an example for us.

After Thomas More was Chancellor of England, King Henry VIII divorced his wife, remarried, and eventually declared himself the Head of the Church of England. Thomas however, remained faithful to the Church and his conscience knowing the marriage to be unlawful and that the Pope was the true successor of Peter and leader of the Catholic Church. While many politicians, businessmen, bishops, and other prominent Englishman signed the “Act of Succession,” Thomas refused to, which led to him being locked in the Tower of London, charged with treason, and on July 6th, 1535 was beheaded.

There are many times in our days, lives, and world that we can easily “give in” to doing what is easy, taking a shortcut, giving into temptation, or doing something that is seen as “popular.” At

school it can be easy to copy a classmates’ homework, write notes to use on an assessment, join the crowd in immoral actions, or back down from doing the right thing in following our conscience. As adults it can be easy to give in, to hide our faith in the workplace, to bypass our values and morals, or fall in our example of integrity and faith for our students and children. In our world they are those faced with persecution for their faith, pushed to the side in business and politics for following a moral law, and even losing their lives for following their conscience. So, when the situation we are faced with or the tough decision must be made how do we do it?

We can look to St. Thomas More for is his example of perseverance and prudence in following his conscience at a time when not many were in England. There are many Christians in our world today who live as an example of light amongst the darkness in giving up material goods and positions of powers, follow a moral law, etc. all because of their perseverance and keeping their eyes fixed on Christ who is our source of moral strength to follow our conscience. Jesus promised his disciples that they would face persecution, but perseverance and prudence in the face of persecution will lead to true happiness.

In his most recent General Audience, Pope Francis spoke about how “we now look to the saints, to “those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” Although at times we may feel that we can’t be saints or that it is too difficult to be a saint in our world today, the saints remind us that a life of holiness is attainable. It is God who gives us the grace needed to live a life of faith and we can ask for the saints’ intercessions daily as they have paved that road of faith for us.

Let us ask for St. Thomas More’s intercession for our students and for ourselves to have the courage and perseverance in following our conscience to be prudent in making the right decision - especially decisions that may go against the crowd, may not be popular, or may be persecuted for, but to make that decision that helps us on our walk of Faith in life. May we always have the strength to say with St. Thomas More - “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

St. Thomas More...Pray for us!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Finding the Quiet in an "Age of Noise"

In an article entitled “Age of Noise” by Bishop James Conley, Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, he described how we are surrounded by a culture of noise from all various facets of the world. It may not be so much “noise,” but also the information and news that we have access to and so quickly. While it is good to be informed and up to date with what is happening in the world, Bishop Conley argues that “the “age of noise” diminishes virtue, and charity, and imagination, replacing them with anxiety, and worry, and exhaustion.”

As being made in the image and likeness of God, we have been made for communion with the Lord and with others and oftentimes that means conversation and “noise.” However, that noise with the Lord is also silence, contemplation, and prayer. All of the noise of the world can be distracting and overwhelming and driving us away from who we are and what we were made for.

“There is something extraordinary about their lives...They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.”

As we seek to live out our call to holiness in being made in the image and likeness of God, we are essentially called to be “different” in that when others see how we live our lives, they see something
extraordinary about the way we live our lives and are attracted to that. It is easy to get caught up in the age of noise and attracted to the latest political, social, and cultural trends going on in the world. While we can be “in the world” we must be careful to not be “of the world.” We can strive to be “citizens of heaven” by seeking out those times of prayer and communion with the Lord daily especially during the summer as the longer days and warmer weather allow for those more quiet moments in the beauty of creation.

At the High School of St. Thomas More we are “different” because of our faith and the actual school building itself. In our school building we have the Lord with us present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Tabernacle in our Chapel. Our students, faculty, staff, families, and visitors all have this unique opportunity to spend some quiet time in prayer with the Lord in our Chapel. It is in the Chapel we go to the first “classroom” in the classroom of silence where in prayer we can let the Lord speak and teach us about ourselves, our calling in life, etc. Life can leave us restless, stressed, anxious about many things, worried, disturbed, frightened, etc. if we lose our focus and get caught up in the age of noise. “But in silent prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, we can turn down the noise, and the Lord himself can calm our hearts and renew our minds.” This makes us different as a Catholic School in how we reflect the mission of the Church as One - coming together as one body in Prayer - Holy - in putting our faith first - Catholic - in gathering as many unique individuals - and Apostolic - by passing on our faith to others. No other school in our area can offer this opportunity daily to enter into the classroom of silence and let the Lord speak to us in prayer and what a blessing that is for us at STM.

As we get into the heart of summer let us have the virtue of endurance -The strength to suffer through adversity with courage - in getting away from the “age of noise” and sticking to our prayer and mass routine that we have during the school year in the summer. Only through ENDURANCE will we fight through and accomplish our goals and dreams - the dreams the Lord has planned for us in the future at STM! In doing so “we’ll also be, when we quiet the “age of noise” in our hearts, the leaders of wisdom and virtue which our culture desperately needs, right now.”

Read more from the “Age of Noise.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Splendor of Truth and Leaving a Legacy of Faith at STM

On Saturday June 3rd our teachers and staff had the opportunity to journey to Peoria for the Diocesan Summer Institute “The Splendor of Truth” for a day of Spiritual Reflection and Faith Formation. The day was highlighted by keynote speaker Jennifer Fulwiler an acclaimed blogger, author, and Catholic Speaker whose story from Atheism to Catholicism is truly inspiring and encouraging ( In her first talk, Jennifer spoke about her journey from Atheism to Catholicism and the path she took to get there from an intellectual to spiritual journey in experiencing and knowing Jesus Christ as the Truth. From there we had the opportunity to spend some time in prayer with the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration and were very blessed to have many priests available for us to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That is truly one of the ways that makes STM “MORE” in Catholic Education is the opportunity for our students and staff to receive the Sacraments and have an encounter with God’s love and mercy especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To have this opportunity to receive that during the school day is truly a blessing and our students and staff would not be able to receive that anywhere else while at school.

After lunch there were several breakout sessions that our teachers and staff attended:
  • To Love on Earth as They Love in Heaven: Teaching the Basics of a Daily Spiritual Life to Young People with Msgr. Steven Rohlfs the Rector Emeritus St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul Minnesota. Msgr. Rohlfs’ talk focused on how we as Catholic Educators can help our students develop a daily spiritual life through prayer by first modeling that prayer for them and teaching them the various ways of prayer. What is prayer? "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (St. John Damascene). It is our hope and goal at STM to help our students in having that constant heart to heart dialogue in prayer with our Heavenly Father.
  • Ongoing Mission Renewal in Catholic Institutions: Drawing on the Example of Catholic Healthcare with Stephen Mattern the Senior VP Mission Services, OSF Healthcare. Mr. Mattern focused on living out the Mission of a Catholic Institution and forming staff to understand and live out that mission. For us at STM our mission is the mission of the Church - to help form saints. We do this with the help of our families who “have the first responsibility for the education of their children” (CCC 2223).
  • Catholic Athletics: I’m All In with Fr. Chase Hilgenbrinck the Assistant Chaplain, St John Catholic Newman Center, University of Illinois. Fr. Chase inspired and encouraged educators to know the role of athletics at a Catholic School that we want to strive for excellence in athletics, but also in building up the character and virtue of our student athletes. We do this through our SportsLeader program as the 2016-17 school year was “Year 1” of SportsLeader and we look forward to “Year Two” of SportsLeader at STM in building virtue through athletics as the formation of the whole student.
We then welcomed back Jennifer Fulwiler who shared with us ways to speak about Christianity in a Secular World and helping others on the path to conversion or “reversion.” She shared three main ways we can help others to have an encounter with the Truth who is Jesus Christ.
  1. The Head: Like Jennifer, many we encounter have a deep rooted “scientistic” understanding of the world that unless they can see or prove it then it can only be true. For many of these we can share the various intellectual arguments or beliefs of our faith by having a deep understanding of the faith. That is not enough though because not only do we have to be able to share and explain the Truth, but we also have to have a why we believe it, which leads us to…
  2. The Heart: Once we have shared the Truths of our Faith, we then show love through an emotional and lived experience of the faith because “love builds a bridge over which
    truth must pass.” We show others our faith through our love and help them to have an encounter with the Truth of Christ so that they can experience His merciful Love. However, it is not only “our work,” which leads us to…
  3. The Holy Spirit: We can share the greatest intellectual arguments for the faith and do all the praying and works of mercy and love for others, but we then have to remember that conversion (or “reversion”) is God’s work and not ours. There comes a time where we let the Holy Spirit do the work in the hearts and minds of others in drawing them to the Lord. We show an act of trust when we truly go to the Lord in prayer and ask for the gifts that we need to live out our own vocation and also to ask how God is calling me to bring others to Him.

Lastly, the day ended with Mass at the Cathedral with Bishop Jenky who gave an inspiring and encouraging homily on Pentecost and truly letting the Holy Spirit work to bring a renewal of faith to the world.

This was an unique opportunity for our teachers and staff to come together as one with all of the Catholic School Educators across the Diocese of Peoria to be lifted up in prayer and reminded of our mission as Catholic Educators. In living out our mission as a Catholic School, we leave a “legacy” and do that virtuously by having “the strength to hand down a virtuous tradition and memory of your actions.”  This great tradition is the truth of our Faith and lived out through our actions as a Catholic School to lead and guide our students in their own walks of Faith - what a great task and mission we have at STM. I know that our staff will be inspired by the day and have some time over the summer for spiritual growth and reflection then to be able to share and witness that for our students in helping to leave a “legacy” of faith at STM!

Lord, instill in us an undying faith and devotion to You our God. Let the Cross be a reminder of Your sacrifice, Your grace, Your love, Your LEGACY of absolute dedication to us. May we find our encouragement, our peace and our inspiration in You.

Friday, June 2, 2017

STM & Children of Hope and Faith: A Partnership of Service

As we close the 2017-2018 school year we are reminded of the great gift of faith and service that we have at the High School of St. Thomas More. As a Catholic High School we exist because of our Faith and live out that faith through our love and service to others. One way we are able to serve others at the High School of St. Thomas More is through our partnership with the “Children of Hope and Faith” organization that seeks to provide “education for needy children and orphans and hope for communities in Tanzania, East Africa.” The group was started by Father Johndamaseni Zilimu, a diocesan priest from Tanzania, and Jane Walsh, a parishioner at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Champaign, in 2004. We at the High School of St. Thomas More are fortunate enough to have been able sponsor a student’s tuition through elementary and now high school. For many years, we have sponsored a young girl, Pendo Blasio, in her education at St. Peter Claver School and now at St. Augustine Kaisho High School. Over that time, STM has been able to donate thousands of dollars to contribute to Pendo’s tuition and other various projects for Children of Hope and Faith. Part of that funding has gone to provide electricity for Pendo’s High School through a solar energy project so that students can study after dark and to allow for electronic resources in the classroom to be used. This year STM students donated the funds raised during the dress down days during Finals and also our “#givingtuesday” Drive campaign where we donated 5% of funds raised to STM, which amounted to $881.20. Overall as a giving “team” STM has been able to give almost $2,000 towards Pendo and the Children of Hope and Faith. Below are some pictures of Pendo, her classmates, the various building projects in Tanzania, as well as a letter from Pendo herself.

How have we been able to do this? One of the marks of a Catholic High School is it’s community or togetherness as a family or team. By working together as a family and as a team, we are able to do the many great things for our students, families, and the Church at STM. Through “the virtue of TEAMWORK - the strength to put the good of the team above one’s own personal good” - we are able to accomplish the great things the Lord has equipped us and called us to. From high academic standards to athletic achievement to displaying artistic abilities on the stage and canvas and to sharing our faith and love for others, we truly strive to live out the mission of a Catholic High School here at STM. As we enter into summer may we continue to build those relationships with friends and family to work together as a team to build STM in being a light to the world in providing a high quality faith filled Catholic Education for all who desire that for their students and families.

We pray and hope that all of our STM families would have a blessed and restful summer in preparing for the 2017-2018 school year as we continue on our path of faith and community with the building of the STM Family System and SportsLeader Sports Ministry Programs.