Observations: Letter from a Jesuit Prep School


September 1, 1989

I was graduated from Brebeuf Preparatory School in Indianapolis on May 30, 1989. My four years there gave me an excellent background for college. The math, science, foreign language, social studies, and computer science departments are truly phenomenal. However, I would rather be tortured to death than send my future children to Brebeuf unless some far-reaching changes are made. Mine is a view few people connected with Brebeuf or Jesuit education in general understand, which is why I’d like to explain the reasons for my opinion of my alma mater.

The main problem with Brebeuf is, ironically, the religion department. This department is the sole reason why the advertised promise of “excellence in Jesuit education” is false. One does not receive any sort of valid religious education, let alone an excellent Jesuit one. The four semesters of religion classes required for graduation are nothing more than poorly veiled courses in “social justice,” situation ethics, and liberation theology. Freshman year Religion I gives no warning to the innocent newcomers about what lies ahead. It is a fairly interesting comparative religions class in which one learns about religions one never would have learned about otherwise, such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam, as well as Judaism and Christianity. It is basically an easy A.

Sophomore year Religion II, entitled “Personal Morality,” was perhaps the worst of all for me because I was faced with real dilemmas in my early years of dating which challenged my faith and values; “Personal Morality” did not help me in the least. In fact, it merely confused me more. The class title is a misnomer. No morality was taught. Instead of presenting Catholic theologians such as St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, the religion department team of teachers presented a few philosophers such as Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg’s philosophies about watered-down morality—which even he admitted were problematic years after writing them—were pathetically irrelevant to a classroom full of 15-year-olds.

A few class periods were devoted to sex. Filmstrips were shown which displayed the difference between male and female anatomies. One filmstrip described the mental torment of a girl who thought she was pregnant and then promptly found out she wasn’t. The worst of all depicted a girl who got pregnant, ran away to have an abortion, become very depressed, and eventually killed herself. There was no mention of morality or religion or even God. The repeated theme was merely that it was a shame that she went off and killed herself! We had a very lame textbook describing similar situations with questions at the end of each scenario, such as “What should he/she do? Why?” Most of the time the situations were extremely unlikely catch-22 predicaments where the person involved must rebel against some form of authority in order to “do the right thing,” which is always relative and dependent upon the particular situation, right?

Wrong. At least I thought it was wrong. My teachers did not. In fact, the lowest grade I received on a paper during my entire academic career at Brebeuf concerned a situation in which the captain of a ship must decide who dies and who is rescued. My thesis was that the captain should under no circumstances make such a decision in favor of himself or throw anyone overboard at all. My low grade was an indication that absolute morality was not welcome in religion classes at Brebeuf Prep.

I decided to play along with the game, and conform in order to get my A. Therefore, on the next big test—which consisted of an essay question along the lines of “Paula and Rick want to have sex. They aren’t married. Give two arguments: (1) Why they should, and (2) Why they shouldn’t”—I dished out what I thought the teaching team would want to hear. I got the highest grade in the class on that test. What does that tell you? If one pays the slightest bit of attention in Religion II, one cannot leave without the confusing message that beliefs concerning premarital sex and abortion are really just a matter of opinion and that truth—especially religious truth—is relative.

The junior year class, “Religious Perspectives on Social Justice,” is by far the most hated by the students. The first day the class is lectured that Moses, Plato, Aristotle, and John Locke will be ignored in favor of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom are on the same metaphysical pedestal as Jesus Christ. Jesus’s life and teachings are used to stress passive resistance and civil disobedience. A unit on Central America is taught, mainly because of the interest such religious leftists as the religion teachers have in that area of the world, but partly because of the passionate political interest the department head Father Paul O’Brien has for it.

He is best known for his pro-Sandinista, pro-FMLN, anti-American activism, which often extends to marches, rallies, and other forms of public demonstration. He once taught a whole Religion IV elective on American foreign policy in Central America, the bulk of which consisted of preaching why U.S. support for democratic governments and democratic insurgents in Central America was wrong. I lost yet another battle of the grades when I did my report on Guatemala. The team would not believe that the guerrillas there were funded and supported by Cuba, Nicaragua, and the U.S.S.R., as all of my sources showed. They claimed that my sources were suspect. I had been expected to use Sojourners magazine and had refused.

Father O’Brien did not teach a course of his own my junior year but chose instead to teach snippets of subjects to various classes. He borrowed the team’s class time on one occasion in order to pass out Marxist propaganda railing against the elected El Salvadoran government, denouncing America’s refusal to cut off aid to Duarte’s administration, and openly advocating support for the Marxist FMLN rebels. On another occasion he chose to extol the virtues of liberation theology and to state that the purpose of Jesus’s life and death was to save poor people from political oppressors. It did not seem to bother him that the Vatican has denounced such political theology. He places more stock in base Christian communities than in the Vatican.

It also does not seem to bother him or anyone else in the religion department that it is a traditionally taught, revealed truth that homosexuality—and any other sexual deviancy—is immoral. Kim Franke, once the token feminist on the team, taught a class known as Love and Lifestyles, which portrayed bisexuality and homosexuality as merely “alternative lifestyles” and the moral equivalent to monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Couples from all classifications of lifestyles were brought in to speak to the class about how they lived. It was announced by Father O’Brien a few months ago that this class would be taught once again next year.

Students are not only taught that such deviancy is acceptable but also that their own beliefs and convictions are immoral. The teachers simply imply that conservative Christians aren’t good or charitable people. If a young person actually likes Ronald Reagan, opposes unilateral nuclear disarmament, the redistribution of wealth, or any other political ideal of the U.S. Catholic Conference, he is not a good Christian.

Whatever token female happens to be on the staff at the moment will never fail to be shocked that some female students think inclusive language is awkward and stupid, refuse to call God “She” (I once infuriated a staff member by referring to God as “Our Neuter Parental Unit” when she insisted that God was not our “Father”), and find affirmative action insulting. The teachers find it horrifying that not all women are as rabidly “anti-sexist” as they—particularly when “sexism” is defined as doing such things as opening doors for women, paying for dates, and whistling at pretty girls. Such female students learn to expect B’s on obviously “A” work because of their lack of conformity to the staff’s liberal ideology.

Protestant fundamentalists were assailed during the months preceding the ’88 election. A Pat Robertson campaign video was played—one in which he made a conscious effort to display various symbols of American values. It was roundly jeered by the staff as “reactionary,” “out-of-date,” “right-wing,” “patriotic” (oh no!), and “dangerous.” The staff’s compassion for minorities and the oppressed in foreign countries obviously did not extend to the conservative fundamentalists sitting in their own classroom.

Brebeuf differs from many other American Jesuit schools in that it is co-ed and interfaith. More energy is spent avoiding offending non-Catholics and atheists than is spent acknowledging that the school is Jesuit. Heated debates have erupted on a regular basis about whether or not to mention Jesus during prayer services or Christmas/Advent services. God forbid any atheists feel alienated at a prayer service to a Supreme Being whose existence none of them acknowledge.

Also, a double standard has developed concerning Muslim students. Muslims are allowed to be as abusive and insulting about Christianity and Christians as they wish, but if any student wishes to stand up for his religion or his “white race,” he is denounced as prejudiced. As you can see, it has become increasingly possible for a student to feel isolated in a school where he is a member of the majority.

My suggestion for improving Brebeuf and making it the best Catholic school in the state of Indiana is to give the religion department an overhaul. The classes in that department which I consider to be worthwhile are Volunteer Services, Religions of the World (Religion I), and the Religion IV elective Christian Tradition. These classes place an emphasis on faith and charity, and the last two use the Bible extensively.

Electives such as Love and Lifestyles, Philosophy of God (read: Religion IV for Atheists), and Social Justice Biographies (read: Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.) should be done away with and replaced by History of the Catholic Church, Apparitions and Miracles of Mary, Theology of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Basic Catholic Doctrines, and Catholic Sexual Ethics. Such classes would reaffirm Brebeuf’s religious foundation instead of the religion department’s political views and pet topics. If such changes take place at my alma mater, I would definitely send my children there 20 or so years from now, and I might even consider donating money to the school in the meantime.


  • Kimberly J. Gustin

    At the time this article was published, Kimberly J. Gustin was a student at Butler University.

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