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Credo: Patrick Reilly

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People,Liz Essley
The Cardinal Newman Society in Manassas is on a mission to "renew and strengthen Catholic identity" in Catholic education. Reilly, the president and founder, started the nonprofit organization in 1993 after a challenging four years at Fordham University in New York City.

Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?

I'm a Roman Catholic. I was actually adopted, and my birth parents wanted to ensure that I was raised in a Catholic family. So it's always been very important to me, but I also grew up in a time in the Catholic Church when most other young people were not well-catechized. Going into college, I found my faith significantly challenged. I attended the Jesuits' Fordham University in New York City at a time when ACT UP was protesting at St. Patrick's Cathedral and abortion was a major controversy on campus. I found myself as editor of the student newspaper, caught up with these many issues on campus, which helped me focus on what the Catholic Church teaches and come to a more adult faith.

How many Catholic schools do you consider to be out of line with the church's traditional teachings?

I think especially with the recent controversy over the health care issues and the church concerned about religious freedom, there's been a lot of talk about many Catholic institutions, particularly colleges and universities, that don't abide by the church's teachings. That's what I saw at Fordham, and that's what we see at the vast majority of Catholic colleges, which at some level have secularized over the last 50 years. About 10 percent of the Catholic colleges in the United States are recommended by the Cardinal Newman Society for their strong Catholic identity.

Are you making headway? Or is this a losing battle?

The bishops, the Vatican and many Catholic educators have all been working toward the same goal, so yes, I've seen significant improvement in Catholic higher education. Nearly every Catholic university in the country is talking about Catholic identity, and some are doing more than others to strengthen it. And part of that is there's a greater interest today among young people in spiritual questions -- that's something studies have documented -- and a sense that they're not getting answers from the type of education that was provided over the last few decades.

What would the church lose if all Catholic schools were secularized?

I think the church would lose a lot. Today many non-Catholics forget that much of Western civilization was developed along with the Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic institutions. Catholic colleges helped preserve the Catholic understanding of truth that pervades all the academic disciplines. Without Catholic education, Catholic students would lose the intellectual contributions of the church in history and social development, not just theology.

At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?

I believe in Jesus Christ. And I believe that everything of value ultimately both comes through him and comes back to him. And that's why it is so important that young people come to know him and have the hope that he gives us -- that there is something more to this life than simple knowledge or entertainment, but that we have something much greater in store for us.

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