If you had to learn about the Hapsburgs (the royal house that ruled much of the European continent for the better part of a millennium), who would you want as a teacher? An Ivy-league history professor? A docent from the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna?
What about one of the Hapsburgs themselves? Believe it or not, this is what students at a new Catholic school in Boston will have the opportunity to do.
Lumen Verum (Latin for “True Light”) Academy is slated to open in the fall of this year and will feature an educational model meant to provide unique learning opportunities to its students. Students will work from home on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and will participate in on-site activities on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The distance learning component will allow for guest speakers to teach units of particular interest, and that is where Eduard Hapsburg comes in. He is Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, the great-great-grandson of Emperor Franz Joseph, and will be teaching a course to Lumen Verum students.
When speaking about the last year, Tom Carroll, the Superintendent of the Boston Archdiocese, quoted the opening to A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” When the coronavirus first took hold in the region in March of 2020, schools were immediately shuttered and enrollment tanked. At the end of the school year, the Archdiocese was forced to perform the most severe set of school closures in 50 years, closing nine schools.
But then summer came and went and it became time for students to go back to school. As local districts announced that they would not be reopening to in-person instruction, according to Carroll, Catholic school phones “started ringing off the hook.”
The Archdiocese decided to open their schools fully in-person for two reasons. First, they felt a moral imperative to serve students, even if that meant taking on risks. They worried about the environments that students would be in outside of school and believed that they could do a better job keeping students safe. That confidence is the second reason that they opened. As Carroll put it, “if there is one thing that Catholic schools are known for, it is getting kids to follow rules.” Mitigating risk during a pandemic is about following rules and they believed both that they could get students and teachers to follow the proper protocols and that it was highly unlikely that many students would follow such close directives outside of school. School was the safest place for them.
When it became clear that they would be open and had a plan to keep students and teachers safe, enrollment began to surge. After predicting a drop of 5,700 students for the 2020-21 school year (17 percent of the student population), they actually saw a surge of 4,400 students, almost completely making up for recent enrollment declines. What’s more, it appears that many of these families are going to stay even after the pandemic subsides.
One reason that Carroll is confident that the Archdiocese’s schools will continue to thrive is their commitment to great works of literature and classics of Western thought. He authored a now viral tweet in December responding to an article in the Wall Street Journal about a school in Massachusetts banning The Odyssey, saying, “Any public schools that have decided to ban the classics may donate their books to the Catholic schools of the Boston Archdiocese. Let our students benefit from your censorship. Please contact me to arrange the donations.” He believes that schools in the Archdiocese are exposing students to great thinkers and great thoughts and are teaching them to think about important topics, not trying to tell them what to think or shielding them from uncomfortable conversations.
The Archdiocese is also innovating. As Carroll said, “rather than closing schools, we want to open them.” Lumen Verum is a major step to do just that. The virtual component will allow instruction to be better personalized to student needs, with students able to operate at their academic level, even if that level varies from subject to subject. It is also going to allow for exciting guest lectures and guest instructors, like Ambassador Hapsburg.
But the in-person portion of the school’s program is equally important. It will be faith-focused, with days starting with Mass or Eucharistic Adoration, and physically engaging, with outdoor activities and sports playing a large role. It plans to take advantage of the incredible field trip opportunities in the Boston area. The school will also organize optional evening social events for students and families to deepen their connection to the school community.
Tuition is slated to be $14,750 per year, less than three-quarters of average Catholic high school tuition in the Boston area.
The Archdiocese of Boston has a long, proud history of Catholic education. If you talk to Tom Carroll, it is clear that the Archdiocese also has a vision for its future.