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Turn to Jesus (Article)

At the Top of Their Class
Three Legionary High Schools Listed in the Top 50 Catholic High Schools Nationwide

pinecrest academy

Just as students compete to make the honor roll, so do schools. This year, three private Catholic schools that use the Legionary methodology of “integral formation” emerged near the top in a nationwide competition sponsored by the Catholic High School Honor Roll.

Pinecrest Academy in Atlanta, the Highlands School in Dallas, and Gateway Academy in St. Louis all earned official recognition this year as one of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the United States.

The award is based on three main areas: excellence in academics, Catholic identity, and civic education. The combination of these three areas is not easy to find at many schools, but it is present in every Legionary school as integral formation—a pedagogical style that encompasses the intellectual, spiritual, human, and apostolic dimensions of the person’s formation.

Where the award came from

The Catholic High School Honor Roll is an independent project of the Acton Institute, an international research and educational organization. The Honor Roll was produced in consultation with a national advisory board composed of Catholic college presidents and noted Catholic scholars specialized in many fields of study.

The primary purpose of the Honor Roll competition is to encourage schools to educate
Gateway Academy
students as effectively as possible while also integrating their Catholic faith and preparing them for active engagement with the world. The advisory board statement notes that the Honor Roll hopes to contribute to a reversal of some negative trends in Catholic education: the loss of traditional Catholic identity, a weakening of academic standards, and the support of views contrary to Church teaching.

The results so far have been a great incentive—and a helpful means— for improvement. All applicant schools receive a detailed, comprehensive assessment offering detailed feedback on their strengths and weaknesses.  The existence of a competition that is based on more than academics is leading many Catholic schools to scrutinize themselves in relation to the Church’s educational calling – and to the top-ranking schools.

The selection process and criteria

There are about 1,300 Catholic high schools in the United States. Each of these is sent an invitation to apply to the Honor Roll by completing three detailed surveys designed to evaluate the schools in three target areas: academics, Catholic identity, and civic education. Honor Roll staff compile the survey data and use
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a complex scoring algorithm to calculate a school’s score. The criteria of academics, Catholic identity, and civic education are ranked equally, so placement on the Honor Roll’s Top 50 requires excellence in all three areas.

Academic formation is relatively easy to measure, but how does one measure “Catholic identity” and “civic education” in a school? What standards is the Honor Roll Board using?

According to the Acton Institute, “the Catholic identity component of the Catholic High School Honor Roll relies heavily on official Catholic teaching on Catholic education. The Honor Roll was developed using magisterial sources such as papal encyclicals and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Also considered was Church teaching on Catholic education, including Gravissimum educationis, Ex corde Ecclesiae, and documents published by the Congregation for Catholic Education. These sources offer guidance regarding the calling, mission, and purpose of Catholic education and explain how the Catholic faith should be integrated into the culture and curriculum of Catholic high schools.”

The civic education aspect of the competition is also given great importance since “In a Catholic school, sound civic education depends on a proper understanding of the moral, cultural, economic, legal, and theological underpinnings of a social order reflecting the full truth about the human person as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the formation of the person’s civic responsibilities requires preparing students for fruitful vocations in the civic realm, such as business and politics, as well as the capacity to think clearly about social problems, especially when fulfilling one’s responsibilities as a citizen.”

Three cheers for integral formation

In addition to the overall Top 50 list, there are also specific rankings for each of the three categories taken alone, with a list of the top performing schools in just academics, Catholic identity, or civic education. Pinecrest Academy not only placed in the Top 50, but was also one of only a few schools in the nation to be a category
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leader on two of the three specific lists. This special performance on two out of the three key indicators means that Pinecrest ranks among the top 25 Catholic schools in the nation. It also means that Pinecrest is living up to the standard of Integral Formation proposed for Legionary schools worldwide.

About the top 50 schools in general, Catholic Honor Roll advisory board member Rev. John Schlegel, President of Creighton University, said, “Catholic High schools that excel at forming students in the faith and at teaching them to think critically and act virtuously are a great asset to the Church. Not only do these schools deserve to be recognized, but they should also be imitated by all Catholic schools.”

With their flourishing sacramental life, integrated religious and spiritual formation, emphasis on human virtues, and inculcated sense of mission and calling in life, all three Legionary schools have much to offer to the Church—and something to teach other schools.



Related links

Altius Foundation
Immaculate Conception Apostolic School
Sacred Heart Apostolic School
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Anáhuac Network of Universities
Canyon Heights Academy
Clear Water Academy
Dublin Oak Academy

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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.

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