July 6, 2023 // Diocese

St. Thomas More Academy Deemed Catholic by Bishop Rhoades

By Very Reverend Father Mark Gurtner and Nicole Hahn

Three years ago, a group of lay Catholic educators and parents began St. Thomas More Academy in South Bend, a classical liberal arts academy whose mission is “to provide an academically excellent, beautiful, Catholic K-12 education for all of our children — an education that leads them to freedom in Christ.” The Academy is located at St. Patrick Parish in South Bend.

“Throughout the course of the three years in which it has been in existence, the establishment and growth of St. Thomas More Academy has truly been remarkable,” said Bishop Rhoades. “Most impressive is its facilitation of the classical liberal arts academic model and its full grounding in the Catholic faith.”

Because of this, Bishop Rhoades has determined the Academy can be considered a Catholic school. Although not directly established or controlled by an ecclesiastical entity, Bishop Rhoades has announced that St. Thomas More Academy will be publicly recognized as a Catholic school in accord with CIC/83 canon 803 §1, which states, “A Catholic school is understood as one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person directs or which ecclesiastical authority recognizes as such through a written document.” The Academy is thus free publicly to use the title “Catholic” in reference to the Academy in all publications and communications.

Bishop Rhoades said, “I am grateful to the entire St. Thomas More Academy community for its witness to the Catholic faith and for its striving to fulfill the highest ideals of Catholic education.”

“As Board President and co-founder of St. Thomas More Academy, I have had a chance to witness firsthand how our community has worked together to glorify God with this new school,” said Kirk Doran. “From the beginning, we have wished to be united to our Bishop, as the Church Fathers taught us: ‘Where the Bishop is, there let all the people be.’ This is a great day for STMA, and we look forward to working closely with our Bishop and with the diocese in the decades to come.”

To remain as a Catholic school, Bishop Rhoades has asked that the Academy continues to maintain communion with the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, to adhere to and to teach the Catholic faith in all its fullness, to promote Catholic practice, especially devotion to the Holy Mass, and to observe the Safe Environment protocols established for the diocese. In this regard, CIC/83 canon 803 §2 states “The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.”

Kevin Powers, Head of School at St. Thomas More Academy, said, “St. Thomas More Academy is truly blessed to hear that Bishop Rhoades has given his blessing for our school to operate as a Catholic school in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. We look forward to working with the Bishop and Catholic schools in this diocese. We are excited to be another option for families who are looking for a strong Catholic education in the diocese.”

Bishop Rhoades explained that the granting of the title “Catholic” does not entail governance or funding by the diocese nor by any diocesan entity, such that the Academy remains independently governed and funded. Nonetheless, the diocesan Catholic Schools Office invites the Head of School to all diocesan principal meetings, which he or she is welcome to attend on a voluntary basis. Also, all Academy teachers will be invited voluntarily to attend all diocesan teacher in-service days.

Utilizing the canonical option to recognize an independent school as Catholic is unusual in our diocese since historically all Catholic schools have been directly governed by the diocese, a parish, or another ecclesiastical entity such as a religious order. However, this is not unusual in other dioceses. For example, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has five independent schools which are recognized as Catholic by the Archdiocese.

Bishop Rhoades said that at first, he was concerned that the Academy would pull students from our diocesan schools. However, he added, this has not proved true, as nearly all the students who attend the Academy were not previously enrolled in one of our schools.

“I am hopeful that the relation between our diocesan schools and the Academy will be one of mutual enrichment and respect,” said Bishop Rhoades. “I am confident that the Academy will benefit from the example of dedication in and stability of our diocesan schools. At the same time, I believe our diocesan schools can be enriched by the Academy’s new-found zeal for using materials and methods that truly reflect what is true, good, and beautiful in the world and in our Catholic faith.”

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