Rescuing True Education by Rediscovering the Whole

Rescuing True Education by Rediscovering the Whole

by Stephen Fitzpatrick

It was 95 degrees outside. 

I had just finished digging a hole for a mailbox in the rocky Virginia clay by the side of a parking lot. As I was bending over the hole, pouring concrete into it, a thought came to me: this isn’t what I was expecting.

When I took the job as Head of School at Cardinal Newman Academy a few months ago, I didn’t know it would involve moving pianos (not a joke) and installing mailboxes. But I also can’t say that I’m too surprised. We are still young, and we just moved locations. The Head of a small independent school has to wear many hats. That just comes with the territory and I am happy to do what it takes in order to offer an excellent education to the young men and women under my charge.

When I was not busy with manual labor, I was also doing some preparation work of an intellectual nature. The patron for our school is Blessed (soon to be Saint) John Henry Cardinal Newman. I have therefore been reading his famous work on education, The Idea of a University. In these series of lectures, Newman makes many sensible claims concerning the nature of a true education. Among these is his statement that one is not truly educated unless one has a sense of the whole.

“That only is true enlargement of mind which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referencing them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence.”

It is not enough to know something, or even much, about this or that topic, or even about many and various topics, if you are unable to relate these disciplines to each other. If at the end of your education, you have accumulated knowledge about a good many things, but these things form an unconnected archipelago, you have not gained an education. If, however, the various islands of your knowledge are interconnected by many bridges, you have what Newman calls a philosophical state of mind, which is the characteristic mark of the educated man.

In this view, Newman echoes ancient philosophers such as Aristotle who held that wisdom lay in the connections: in the ability to see how seemingly disparate things relate to each other.

The wise man has a grasp of the whole and is therefore able to assimilate any new truth into his existent framework.

Without this framework, argues Newman, people are at the mercy of emotional rhetoric and popular feeling. They are not able to work out difficulties on their own. They lack the tools necessary to figure out their place in the world. They do not recognize the truth. And education, after all, is about the truth. The truth is the proper object of the intellect, and all truths are reflections of the one Truth. All knowledge is ultimately about one Subject. This is why the connections are so vital to wisdom.

The big picture for which one should strive, will be akin to the image given to us by Dante at the end of his Divine Comedy.

Dante beholds the Divine center blazing with a brilliant light that he can only see having been granted a power of vision beyond the lot of earth-bound men. Around this center orbit the angels and the saints.


I’d seen the general form of Paradise –
my gaze had grasped the pattern of the whole
without yet fixing on a certain place,
And I turned with a fresh fire in the soul
To ask my Lady of those things I see
That hold my intellect in some suspense.

(Paradise, Canto 31, lines 52-57)

In my analogy, the angels and saints represent the correct objects of the particular sciences and disciplines. They can be individually studied, and that to a good purpose, but without the light at the center they lose their meaning and their true significance. Indeed, they would not even be visible at all but for the life-giving light.

The whole cosmology must be at least partially grasped to know what to make of the parts, for the parts form a beautiful and ordered whole. This whole is what the good educator strives to show his students, and this is what Newman considered to be of the utmost importance in the mission of a University.

But I do not run a University, I run a high school.

What does this look like in our high school classrooms?

I had a wonderful example of that speaking with a craftsman who will be teaching a woodworking class to our students. That seems straightforward enough: the students will get the valuable experience of working with the stuff of this world and shaping it into something useful and, hopefully, beautiful. But if one has this vision of the whole, it can go further.

The woodworking teacher told me how he also wanted the students to read for his class. Between classes the students would be assigned passages from, among others, Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Benedict in which they speak about the sanctity of work and the innate desire in man to be, albeit in a small way, co-creators with God. The teacher wanted the students to see how woodworking fulfills a deep and holy desire in man to take the “good” creation of God and offer it back to Him, re-fashioned and made beautiful through the use of his hands coupled with his unique gift of reason.

Woodworking class is now examining the nature of mankind and how he is supposed to relate to the rest of the physical creation. This is a beautiful and profound plan for integrating a woodworking class into this bigger picture, and doing it in a way accessible to high school students.

They will still make tables and shelves but the whole tone of the class has been elevated. Bridges have been built.

The more a teacher is able to make these connections for his students, the more of a holistic view he gives them. Teachers should consciously try to impart this idea of the bigger picture while teaching whatever part of it they are assigned.

It is good for the students to contemplate the mysterious order in creation in a Geometry class. It is good for them to admire a beautifully-crafted sentence in a history book. It is good for them to rest in the poetic wonder that all of the energy that powers their own bodies ultimately comes from the sun. It is good for them to learn with their bodies as well as their minds. We are both, after all.

A holistic education is one that integrates everything into a beautiful big picture with God at the center, giving meaning to everything else. The rediscovering and communicating of this whole must be a priority for any good school.

I contemplated all of this as I was sweating in the hot weather wondering if my hole was deep enough (and very much hoping that it was).

Anyone who passed me might have taken me for a contractor, instead of the Head of School. What I was doing only made sense with a proper understanding of the big picture; an integrated view of the whole.

My very situation was a small example illustrating the larger principle I had been reading the day before in The Idea of a University. I welcomed the reminder as I plan my own classes for the coming semester.



Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Head of School, Cardinal Newman Academy

We’re Moving To Chesterfield County

We’re Moving To Chesterfield County

Dear Friends,

We’re moving! It’s been a busy couple of months for us at Cardinal Newman Academy, and we are thrilled to announce that our new home is in Bon Air, in northern Chesterfield County. We have agreed to a four-year lease to rent the school building formerly occupied by St. Michael’s Episcopal Elementary School at 8706 Quaker Lane, Bon Air, VA, 23235. Along with welcoming our new Head of School, Steve Fitzpatrick, this move is a significant milestone in our continued growth as we enter our third academic year.

Steve Fitzpatrick (Head of School), Eileen Lapington (Founding Director), and John O’Herron (President)

At our new campus, we now have expanded amenities and room to grow. Inside, we are renting approximately 7,000 sq. feet, which includes an office, four large classrooms, and a large Atrium. We also enjoy shared use of a kitchen, stage, and multi-purpose room. We are excited to also have shared use of a gym (pictured above, on the left), outdoor basketball courts, and fields. These amenities will allow us to continue expanding our athletic, academic, and extra-curricular offerings. We will also be able to create, for the first time, a school chapel.

More outdoor space awaits our students and faculty


Four large classrooms and an office surround a large Atrium
(shown holding furniture during our move)


Head of School Steve Fitzpatrick and faculty member Greg Tito helping with our move


In many ways, the West End facility we opened in was perfect for our size and needs. As we enter our third year and look ahead to sustained growth into the future, we could not be more thrilled with our new facility. We look forward to completing our move and opening our doors to welcome you, our community of supporters, to our exciting new space.

In Christ,

John P. O’Herron

Poetic Knowledge in Education: The Importance of Wonder & Delight

Poetic Knowledge in Education: The Importance of Wonder & Delight

A lecture by Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Q&A to follow.

Saturday: April 27,
7250 Patterson Avenue

Hors d’oeuvres and light refreshments will be served.

Stephen Fitzpatrick holds degrees from Thomas Aquinas College and the University of Scranton, and has been an educator for 15 years. This fall he will assume the position of Head of School at Cardinal Newman Academy.

Forming Relationships with our Students

Forming Relationships with our Students

Dear Friends,

As our third quarter ended last week, my medieval European history class had a final test on the Crusades. Both the students and I had hopes for this test: I hoped to see our efforts developing prewriting and organizational techniques work to their benefit, and they wanted to do well on a test measuring content knowledge of a topic they enjoyed.

When I wrote the test, I thought of Seneca’s advice on the role of a teacher: namely, that the teacher and the student ought to share the common goal of seeking the advancement of the student.

At Cardinal Newman Academy, we as teachers have several advantages in forming relationships with our students that help them see that our goals match as Seneca suggests. Our small size allows us to be more accessible to our students, enabling additional academic help as needed.

Our students are able to get to know us outside the classroom and as members of our own families and communities, whether that be through athletic events, community gatherings, or service opportunities. We teachers, in turn, learn a great deal about our students’ interests and families, their ways of thinking and forming opinions, and areas in which we can help them grow.

Our class schedule is built to enhance these opportunities also, particularly our Lunch Conference. Several times per week, our longer lunch period enables teachers and students to interact socially and collegially.

We have enjoyed using this time to talk about a book we are reading, a movie we saw, or even to play a board game. Board games are wonderful ways to enjoy the company, competitive energy, and strategic thinking skills of our students.

From Backgammon to Happy Families (in French or Latin) to Senet to Battle Line, board games are truly a time when teachers and students share a common purpose – and winning surely benefits and advances the student!

In Christ,

Eileen Lapington Cardinal Newman Academy

Eileen M. Lapington
Cardinal Newman Academy

Cardinal Newman Academy March Math Circle

Cardinal Newman Academy March Math Circle

Are you intrigued by math puzzles and brainteasers? Do you enjoy playing logic and strategy games? Do you want to enhance your problem solving and mathematical reasoning skills?

Join us.

Cardinal Newman Academy announces their Middle School Math Circle for Spring 2019.

The Circle is open to students in grades 6-8 who are looking for a challenge and are interested in enhancing their appreciation for mathematics, developing their problem solving skills, and discovering new applications for mathematical concepts.

The Circle is a fun, collaborative, and social way for students to develop analytical thinking skills and gain exposure to math reasoning outside the school curriculum.

To learn more about Math Circles please visit: 

Cardinal Newman Academy
7250 Patterson Avenue
Henrico, VA 23229

Next Date:
Sunday, March 10

For more information or to register, email
[email protected]

Download the flyer

Why Math?

Why Math?

Dear Friends,

I often stress to parents that we seek to both educate and form our students. Yes, we teach important content knowledge, but our students will graduate as more than mere competent thinkers. We aim to form virtuous, thoughtful, and ethical people. An example of this approach is how we teach math.

We think about math as more than just a technical discipline at the service of college or career; it is instead a field of study that demands the habit of careful reasoning, the fluidity of creative thinking, and the rigor of logical contemplation. This method begins with our Middle School Math Circle. Open to students in grades 6-8, the Math Circle explores a variety of mathematical topics by posing a question or problem with a low bar to entry but a high ceiling for discovery – some topics are the sorts of problems that graduate students study for their dissertations! The students work together to parse the wording of the problem, model the questions being posed, and use creative reasoning to work towards a solution.

Our high school math curriculum builds on these habits of mind that we teach in the Math Circle. Our math classes demand deep understanding of mathematical principles. When introducing new topics or problems, though, we offer students encouragement and opportunities for applying critical thought and creative reasoning to arrive at a solution. Through this deeper engagement, students acquire an understanding of the logic of mathematical principles and an appreciation for the depth and beauty of mathematics.

Our goal for our students is not that they achieve mere technical competence, but that they form the habits of reasoning and diligence required for both technical success and human fulfillment.

Interested in learning more about our growing academic and faith community?


8706 Quaker Ln.
North Chesterfield, VA 23235

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