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Monday, March 6, 2023

All In For Catholic Education: An Exclusive Remnant Interview with President of New Traditional Catholic College

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All In For Catholic Education: An Exclusive Remnant Interview with President of New Traditional Catholic College

Everyone reading these words has probably heard the following complaints a thousand times before. “Catholic colleges aren’t Catholic anymore”; “College anywhere is too expensive”: “No matter where kids go, they learn nothing, and come back home four years later in debt, atheist, and anti-social.”

These complaints are, unfortunately, as accurate as they are common. Universities in North America—even (especially) the ones run by so-called “Catholics”—charge tuition at the highway-robbery level, fill young people’s minds with Marxist revolution and anti-intellectual nonsense, and have become, let’s face it, little more than staging grounds for the hookup culture. Parents would be better off sending their late-teen children to a Las Vegas strip club or a Taliban training camp than State U. or many of the Novus Ordo higher-ed establishments.

But what if I told you that the problems mentioned above had already been solved?

The good news is that parents don’t have to lament any longer about the sorry state of post-secondary education. There is an alternative, thanks be to God. In early February, I spoke with Dr. Edward Schaefer, the president of a school that is doing big—huge—things for Catholic families who want their college-age children to be educated in mind, kept sound in body, and elevated in the Faith. Parents, rejoice. The Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum is open for business. It is one of the brightest lights in the near-pitch blackness of higher education in North America in many, many years.

All In For Catholic Education

Dr. Edward Schaefer is the president of Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum. The Collegium is located in Hagerstown, Maryland. How he, and the Collegium, got there sounds very much Providential.

“I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware,” Dr. Schaefer tells me during our interview, “but I went to high school in Maryland.

“I later worked at a Jesuit school for twenty-years as a choir director. However, it became harder and harder to support the mission of the school as the school became more and more secular. I left in 2001, despite having tenure there. What was happening was really a crisis in Catholic education systemwide, and not just at that one institution.

“I ended up at a state university in Florida. My wife and I had a very comfortable life. She was doing piano studies and I was teaching music.

“Everything started to change in 2014. My wife and I were at dinner with some friends. We were all going over the usual ground of how Catholic education was falling apart. My wife said, ‘Why not do something about it?’ The gauntlet, however gently, had been thrown down.

“I began to think seriously about starting a Catholic college that was faithful, affordable, and rooted in tradition.”

It was not long after this that I first learned of the Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum. I don’t recall which publication it was, but I saw an advertisement for Heavenly Roast Coffee and noticed that some of the proceeds from sales were to be donated to a new institution of higher education that was in the works. All faculty, staff, and students would take the Oath against Modernism.

Heavenly Roast Coffee had my attention.

After that, I saw snippets of news here and there about what would be called the Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum. At one point, I saw an announcement that Dr. Schaefer was considering purchasing some land in Florida to build the college there.

“Things didn’t work out with the local bishop, unfortunately,” Dr. Schaefer tells me during our interview. It seemed the college had hit a wall before the first brick was even laid.

“It was around that time that I went to my high school reunion, up in Maryland,” Dr. Schaefer continues.

“One of my friends knew a Maryland state senator, whom I was later able to meet. I learned from the state senator about a master plan for revitalizing downtown Hagerstown with a new hospital, a magnet high school, and a University of Maryland campus—‘eds and meds’. I went to Hagerstown to see for myself what was going on.

“Things did work out in Hagerstown. My wife and I sold our home, said goodbye to our comfortable life, and moved to Maryland. We went all in on Catholic education.”

Fully Embracing Tradition

When Dr. Schaefer says that the Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum is a Catholic school, he doesn’t mean that equivocally. The college is unapologetically, unreservedly, unquestionably centered on the Latin Mass, the Prayers of the Church, and the formation of souls.

“We of course want students to come to the Collegium to learn, to get good grades” Dr. Schaefer tells me. “But what’s even more important is that they get to Heaven.”

By the Grace of God, the pastor at the local Catholic church, St. Mary’s, offers the Latin Mass, and has been, according to Dr. Schaefer, “extraordinary” to the Collegium and its students.

“The St. Mary’s pastor invited the Collegium students—all seven of them!—to a pizza supper recently. He has been wonderful, taking us under his wing and welcoming us into the bosom of the life of the Faith in Hagerstown.”

Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life, of course. But we must also eat and sleep. In this, too, the Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum is devoted to the Catholic way.

“The men and the women at the Collegium are housed in separate wings of the old Hamilton Hotel in downtown Hagerstown,” Dr. Schaefer tells me.

On that note, the Collegium website contains language that should cause the eyes of Catholic parents to light up with glee:

“Students entering the wing designated for members of the opposite sex will be expelled.”

At mealtimes, too, the baseline is Catholic.

“We sing Grace before meals,” Dr. Schaefer says.

“We have arrangements with eleven different restaurants in Hagerstown—German, Thai, Italian, lots of burgers and pizzas as well. A couple of hours before each meal, students go to a Google Form and choose from a menu for that day. We sing our prayers and then all go to eat together.”

Faculty, students, and staff sit at the same table and build community, strengthening one another in the Faith.

“One of the problems with our culture today,” Dr. Schaefer emphasizes, “is that families don’t eat together. But mealtime is critical. It’s when a family is a family. We make a big deal about meals. We want to restore the good things that God has given us.”

The Faith is at the center of everything at the Collegium.

“We sing Lauds and Vespers,” Dr. Schaefer continues. “We want students to live wholesome, virtuous lives. This is done mainly in little ways, by making time for God. Life is busy, and it’s easy to let God drop away if the life of the Faith is not structured into daily schedules.

“We live the traditional life of the Church. We make time for God.”

A Serious Place of Learning

The Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum is a 100% Catholic institution.

“When we’re talking about the Faith,” college president Dr. Edward Schaefer tells me during our interview, “there is no middle ground.”

At the same time, the Collegium is also a serious place of learning. Parents who send their children to the Collegium, Dr. Schaefer stresses, should expect them to learn a rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for a wide variety of careers later on.

“The curriculum at the Collegium is classical,” Dr. Schaefer tells me. “Students take history, philosophy, theology, mathematics, the Trivium, Latin.”

The course reading lists are gloriously non-woke—none of the fluff one finds in big-box universities.

“And if students are interested in medicine, then Hagerstown Community College offers almost all the prerequisites needed to take the MCAT exams,” Dr. Schaefer says.

“I have had two doctors contact me saying they are eager to see good, well-formed Catholics enter the medical field. We have an ethics class at the Collegium, in which students learn, in part, about bioethics. Doctors want to support this. The Catholic conscience is crucial to reforming medical care.

“Beyond this, and in whatever field, we give our students a solid education. They learn about the best of Western culture.

“Including, of course, music.”

Music is a special part of the Collegium life, it seems. Dr. Schaefer is himself a music teacher and master singer. Students can study ancient Chant, and there are students, Dr. Schaefer mentions, who are also studying flute, violin, and piano.

“Students take three semesters of music history,” Dr. Schaefer mentions. “We have four students in the Schola, and two faculty members as well.”

Not only that, but the Maryland Symphony Orchestra is in Hagerstown, and the Collegium is a block away from the Maryland Theater.

Collegium students can also play intramural sports, Dr. Schaefer says. There are opportunities to participate in basketball games, join dance troupes, play hockey, take ballet lessons, and more.

In addition, classroom lessons are complemented with “Classes on the Go” (C.O.G.), field trips to nearby sites like the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Antietam National Battlefield, and the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton National Shrine, as well as to outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking. Washington, D.C. is just an hour and a half away, as is Baltimore.

When I interview Dr. Schaefer in early February, the Collegium students had recently returned from a night out at the local trampoline park in Hagerstown. It sounds like good, clean fun—something I had almost forgotten existed on college campuses.

Getting to Heaven from Hagerstown

Something that strikes me powerfully during my interview with Dr. Edward Schaefer, president of the Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum, is how rooted he and his institution are in the local Hagerstown community in Maryland.

“Hagerstown has been good to us,” Dr. Schaefer says. “We work here, we live here, we worship here. The town has embraced what we are doing, and we are very happy to be a part of the present and future of this place.”

Many universities in the US have become virtual cities unto themselves, with gown and town often in more of a tense standoff (especially after the civil unrest of the past few years) than a relationship of mutual support and respect. The Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum appears to be inverting that unfortunate development in a very positive way.

I have never been to Hagerstown, but the photos I have seen give the impression of a piece of Americana, the kind of tight-knit community that I—and surely many readers—knew as a kid.

Perhaps this sense of place, and the rich inter-dependency with the surrounding businesses and institutions, are the secrets to what, besides the Oath of Modernism, is to me the best surprise the Collegium has in store.

When I checked the Collegium website, I thought at first that it was a typo: tuition, room, and board, the website reads, cost approximately $16,800. Per year. Dr. Schaefer confirmed that that figure is correct.

Less than seventeen thousand dollars. That is substantially less than out-of-state tuition at public universities, and less than half of tuition at private schools. And that is just tuition. The Collegium price includes housing and meals.

“Many parents, even Catholic parents, bought into the notion that colleges have been selling, which is that students require endless fancy amenities,” Dr. Schaefer says.

I cringe as I remember my own alma mater, which, some ten years after I graduated, was reduced to attempting to attract incoming freshmen with a lazy river. It is difficult, at many other universities as well, to tell if one is at a place of learning or a waterpark.

“We take a community approach instead,” Dr. Schaefer says. “The community is the campus. Everything we need, and more, is right here in Hagerstown.”

In addition, students work at local businesses part-time to help defray costs. This also provides students with invaluable real-world training that could lead to careers.

For example, under the Ora et Labora student work program, Collegium students can work at a local real estate agency, a digital marketing firm, an insurance agency, a horologist, a catering business, an ice cream shop, a knitting shop, or, of course, Heavenly Roast Coffee.

This program not only makes good business sense. As its name suggests, it also conforms to the ancient wisdom of the Church, namely that man must work to live, and that his work should glorify God and serve his neighbor.

Making the Newman Guide

The reason I contacted Dr. Schaefer for an interview was an e-mail I got from the Collegium (I’ve been a signed-up fan for a long time) announcing that the Newman Guide (the guide to faithful Catholic colleges put out by the Cardinal Newman Society) had provisionally listed the school in its latest report.

This is big news. The Newman Guide is the go-to source for many thousands of families looking to send their children off to places of higher learning that are also faithful to the Magisterium.

“We’re not an official Catholic institution,” Dr. Schaefer clarifies. “We haven’t been officially recognized by the Church. We have a great relationship with our bishop, who has given us the go-ahead to proceed with our educational plans. But we haven’t asked for official status and haven’t therefore received it.

“This lack of offical status was a bit of a hurdle for the Newman Society. Which I understand.

“However,” Dr. Schaefer continues, “every single thing about the Collegium’s mission is in lockstep with the Newman Society’s goals. We hit the gold mark in every single Newman Guide category.”

Dr. Schaefer notes that the Collegium, which has been open for only a year, has not graduated a class yet, which is another hurdle to clear in due course.

But the provisional Newman Guide recognition would seem to be confirmation that the Collegium is on the right track.

Another confirmation is in the first Collegium class.

“Our students took leaps of faith to come here,” Dr. Schaefer says. “They trusted us. We’re all trusting in the Holy Ghost.”

Dr. Schaefer tells me that he has had students apply from Africa and Canada, as well as from across the United States.

“I had to tell the applicants from Africa and Canada that SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System run by the United States Department of Homeland Security, has not yet approved us to accept non-American students,” Dr. Schaefer says.

“We’re to be audited at the end of March, after which we can apply to be in the SEVIS network. It should take a year or so to complete the application process, after which, I hope, we can begin accepting students from other countries.”

All three students who applied from outside the US told Dr. Schaefer that they would wait. More families taking a leap of faith—a testament to the faithfulness that Dr. Schaefer and his wife first showed in working to bring the Collegium into existence.

“The Newman Guide will get the Collegium in front of seventy thousand people,” Dr. Schaefer says. “God willing, we will keep growing.”

--Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan

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Last modified on Monday, March 6, 2023
Jason Morgan | Remnant Correspondent, TOKYO

Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Chiba, Japan, where he teaches language, history, and philosophy. He specializes in Japanese legal history. He’s published four books in Japanese and two book-length Japanese-to-English translations. His work has also appeared at Japan Forward, New Oxford Review, Crisis, Modern Age, University BookmanChronicles, and Clarion Review.