Few Rochester Beacon articles have drawn more readers or intense online debate than “The culture wars come to Aquinas,” Peter Lovenheim’s Jan. 21 look at the deep divide at the storied Catholic school on Rochester’s west side.
The split among students, parents and alumni surfaced after one of the school’s wealthiest alumni, Robert Agostinelli, and his wife visited the school and gave an invited talk to students. At one point during the talk, he urged them to not “fall prey to the tyranny of false deities”—citing as examples critical race theory, the “Marxist Black Lives Matter organization,” feminism and “gender confusion.” That prompted three or four students to leave the auditorium. His remarks were quickly disavowed by the school’s top administrator.
The incident triggered a petition drive by a group of parents and alumni concerned with what they believe is a leftward drift in the Catholic school’s curriculum and culture. Another petition supporting the school administration followed. On Monday, the executive committee of Aquinas’ board of trustees declined to hold a special meeting with the dissident group, saying parents and alumni would have the opportunity to provide input and feedback as part of the school’s ongoing strategic planning process.
To date, little has been heard from the group with the most at stake: Aquinas students. The Rochester Beacon reached out to students on each side of the debate, offering the opportunity to share their views and experiences at the school. They agreed to do so, and their articles are presented in today’s Up for Debate.
Aquinas embraces the real Christian values of love and acceptance
By Sadie Ackley and Taylor Windheim
Aquinas is attempting to become a more welcoming place to students, no matter their sex, race, sexual orientation, or political beliefs. When Robert Agostinelli made hurtful comments against discriminated communities, walking out was not disrespectful; it showed personal strength and character.
Aquinas should teach how to think, not what to think
By Alex Kennedy
The Agostinellis’ speeches at Aquinas were what the school needed. For far too long, conservative students have been faced with leftist ideology in the classroom. The school should be religious, not political; bring people together, not divide us.
Catholic Social Teaching is our best kept secret. It is based on biblical imperatives and should be well taught, experientially, on each grade level in age appropriate ways. “Planned famine” & “The Poverty Game” are just 2 of the simulation games that get across some CST. I am in solidarity with three students who left during what, to them and to me, were cruel, hurtful words. I am grateful to the faculty and student body for excellence in education and faith formation. Back in 1980 I was privileged to be asked by our diocese to bring 10 people from the parish where I was at that time Director of Faith Formation to another parish where we would experience a Friday evening and most of the day Saturday a World Awareness conference led by Maryknoll Sister Maura Clark shortly before she was martyred in El Savador for working with poor people, treating them with human dignity one of the basic Catholic Social Teachings. I remember her compassion, dignity, personal respect for each of the 30 participants and clarity of thought and communication. I recall details of the simulation game she guided. It was one of the most important 8 or so hours of my life. For years I traveled to parishes all over our diocese to teach Catholic Social Teaching to volunteer religion teachers and Catholic school teachers as well as scripture, prayer, spirituality, sacraments, etc. Just retired last year after 47 yrs, twenty as Dir, Faith Formation and RCIA and 27 as Pastoral Associate, always connecting the dots: current events with Cath. Soc. Teaching! I now chair RocACTS Religious Leaders dealing with the tough issues of our day with interfaith inspired response. Know that Sacred Conversations on Race was developed by interfaith clergy of Ferguson after an unarmed black man was killed by police and left in the road unattended for hours. RocACTS stands for Rochester Alliance of Communities Transforming Society. We are the only local interfath group organizing advocacy on justice issues. Our task forces are on poverty, jobs, housing, education, justice system, climate and voting rts. Our members are religious congregations, unions, League of Women Voters and more. Our bd. and leadership is majority black community leaders though many of our Catholic congregations are suburban whites + DUPC and 3rd Presbyterian who has a robust anti racism mission. We collaborate with Children’s Agenda, RASE recommendations, RMAPI, GRCC, UCLM, Pastors Roundtable and more.
When I decided to spend over $10,000 a year to send each of my children to Aquinas despite living in a town with a great school district, the value I was looking for was goodness, discipline and knowledge.
I have been very disappointed in the countless examples and stories I have heard of a faculty and administration that fails to leave their ideologies at the door.
I have taught and will continue to teach my children that the secret to success is dedication and hard work. I will continue to be an example for them by showing them that hard work pays off. Personal responsibility is the most important lesson the school should be teaching, not asking that the children reflect on their white privilege. Education is not about assigning blame or indoctrination of ideologies. Teach our children how to think, not what to think.
As for my youngest, not yet old enough for Aquinas, it is looking unlikely that he will be attending Aquinas when the time comes.
I’ve about had it with people misunderstanding what white privelege means when it is brought I. It is NOT about assigning blame , but acknowledging the inequities that this country was built on and still exists to an extent- and then getting folks to ensure that it stops. That’s it – I wonder why certain people don’t want to hear that or don’t want their children to hear the truth 🤔
I respectfully offer the suggestion that perhaps reflecting on one’s white privilege is in fact an important way to take personal responsibility.
I applaud Mr. Agostinelli’s speech which is his prerogative. Many Catholics agree with him. After all. it is a Catholic school and not a government(public) school where there is much leftist propaganda.
I so deeply appreciate the courage and wisdom of the 3 students who spoke up. While I don’t approve of all the details of cancel culture, and we do need ways to hear those with whom we disagree, it is so important that there are ways to indicate when what is being told is either not true, deeply harmful, or in other ways inappropriate. I encourage Aquinas to continue moving into the modern era in its more inclusionary practices, and to be more careful in discerning the intentions of those it invites to speak in front of the entire student body. Truth telling is more important than the size of endowments or capital campaigns.