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Q&A with Incoming SMHS President Tom Maj
Linda Oppelt

Q&A with Incoming SMHS President Tom Maj

By John Stinar

Editor’s note: In April, the Board of Directors of St. Mary’s High School announced that Tom Maj (pronounced “may”) was selected as the next school president, replacing Deacon Rob Rysavy. Board chairman John Stinar sat down with Maj to get his perspectives on Catholic education. 

Q:  What makes a high school Catholic?

A:  What is essential to a Catholic high school is its formative and educative character. Catholic schools have elements in common with other Catholic institutions, such as prayer and eucharistic liturgy. There are also fundamental features that guarantee the school is Catholic: Catholic intellectual tradition; Catholic school life; and Catholic leadership.

There is a distinct Catholic intellectual tradition extending beyond the theology department into the pursuit of knowledge itself. The essence is:

• Commitment to truth found in experience of history and tradition.

• Positive anthropology acknowledging human sinfulness, but seeing human beings as essentially good and drawn toward good.

• Sacramental approach to life where God is experienced through the created order.

• Rationality, a passion for reasoned rather than charismatic approaches to the world.

The most important element necessary to a Catholic high school is its commitment to study and promote truth as contained within our intellectual tradition and the secular disciplines.  St. John Paul II noted in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” that “a Catholic [school] is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man, and God . . .”

Through rigorous questioning of assumptions and of their meaning and implications we invite students to learn more and to experience a God bigger than the one they’ve created in their own image and likeness.

This is significant:  the way we teach students to learn influences what they’re able to learn about God. Thus, we choose faculty who are dedicated to their fields of study, and who integrate their teaching into Catholic scholarship.

Q:  Why do you believe this is important?

A:  Parents a generation ago worried about drugs and alcohol, educators today worry more about mental health. Students are facing many challenges, how they’re taught to respond is one way Catholic schools differ from other options. Catholic educators teach Aquinas’ basic maxim:

• The pursuit of life is happiness.

• Happiness is found through the development of excellence, expressed through action.

• This path leads to God, the ultimate happiness.

Catholic intellectual tradition starts with appreciation of why you know in the first place, then what you know, then what you do with what you know, then the ultimate meaning of this knowledge.  We offer something larger than “self.”

Q:  How does this apply to education, especially at a time when college seems to be the only goal?

A:  Catholic intellectual tradition is a way of learning and has content. Our commitment to history and tradition leaves a deposit of faith that influences moral, political, and economic life. 

We have the added advantage of teaching theology, a fifth discipline that is the only integrative discipline on a high school campus. In our Catholic schools, our students are crossed trained in five disciplines — math, sciences, literature, history (taught in other schools), and theology (uniquely Catholic). Theology is the only one that speaks to the others through the study of scripture and our 2,000-year worldview.

The content St. Mary’s teaches is integrated into life.  Our faculty walk with students helping them become the best versions of themselves while also developing a perspective to make sense of the world.

Q:  What do you mean by Catholic campus life?

A: It does little good for any school to espouse views about human dignity, truth, authentic Christian principles and not encourage its members to translate these ideals into daily life. There are many opinions on multiculturalism, globalization, and diversity, which often seem to solely promote competing ideological movements. A Catholic school has a unique opportunity to educate in this area since it has been a culture for more than 2,000 years.

Q:  What is Catholic leadership or how is it different from other leaders in education?

A:  I would say that this has to do with the role that St. Mary’s has played for nearly 140 years with respect to the world beyond its campus. It has impacted Colorado Springs and through its graduates other communities.

A Catholic school must try to exercise an influence based on its unique Catholic vision and not allow itself to be led by secular culture. Our schools are more countercultural today than ever. Our schools should not aim to conform to culture but to be society’s intellectual and moral guide.

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