by Michael Van Hecke, M.Ed.

In my previous article, Graduation Speeches (Part 1), I proposed that valedictorian, salutatorian or student speeches given at graduations should be a primary point of judgment, or “assessment” to use the modern term, on whether a school is fulfilling its mission.

by Michael Van Hecke, M.Ed.

In a flurry of headlines, one Catholic high school student made nationwide news when his school rejected the valedictorian address he submitted on grounds that it was too political. Reading it confirmed  Continue reading

This Week in History

First Blood in Paris: July 14-17, 1789

Louis XVI

Although he had recognized the National Assembly, the king had not done so willingly. Secretly he was preparing to deal with the rebellious deputies in the only way he thought he could—by force. During the first days of July, he gathered his mostly German mercenary regiments from the frontiers to the vicinity of Paris and Versailles. The gathering of these troops did not go unnoticed by the National Assembly. It requested the troops’ removal from the capital, but the king refused. Then, on July 11, Louis dismissed Necker as finance minister.

For the Parisians, Necker had stood for reform; his dismissal, along with the gathering of the frontier regiments, alerted them that the king was planning to crush the revolution. In the poor sections of the city, mobs formed, and Paris’s electoral college (which had chosen the city’s representatives to the Estates-General) took command of them. Ammunition and arms, including cannon, were seized from the government’s arms depot in the city. The people prepared for the event that would baptize their revolution in blood. In the mid-morning of Tuesday, July 14, a crowd of about a thousand armed men and women gathered outside a fortress on the eastern side of the city. Called the Bastille, the fortress had long been for the Parisians a symbol of absolute monarchy. It had served as a prison for political opponents of the government as well as a depot for arms and ammunition. Continue reading

This Week in History

Napoleon Seizes the Pope: July 6, 1809

The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.


Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord had until 1807 been Napoleon’s minister of foreign affairs. To Talleyrand, the emperor had entrusted negotiations with the pope and other diplomatic missions. Yet Napoleon had never trusted Talleyrand (whom he had called a “turd in a silk stocking”) and so had finally dismissed him from the ministry. Insulted and resentful — and moreover, in deep disagreement with Napoleon’s policies — Talleyrand contemplated treachery.

Reports that Talleyrand had been meeting frequently with Fouché, the head of the secret police, had brought Napoleon back to Paris. If those two were friends, thought Napoleon, trouble was brewing. Calling Talleyrand before him, Napoleon berated him. “You are a thief, a coward, a man without honor,” said the emperor. “You do not believe in God; you have all your life been a traitor to your duties . . . You deserve that I should smash you like a wineglass. I can do it, but I despise you too much to take the trouble.” But though he mistrusted Talleyrand, Napoleon kept him as one of his advisors. Talleyrand, however, did not forget the emperor’s insult.

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This Week in History

San Fernando Conquers Cordoba:

June 29, 1236

The following is an excerpt from our text, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For information on ordering this or our other texts, please go here.

Fernando III became king of Castile in 1217, at the age of 19, one year after the death of Pope Innocent III and five years after the Iberian Crusade. Thirteen years later, he inherited the crown of León. King Fernando III was a great war leader. Never once in his 35-year reign did he lose a battle against the Moors. But Fernando was more than a great warrior; he was a devout Catholic who fasted, did penances, and sometimes spent whole nights in prayer. It is for this he is remembered in Spain as San Fernando — St. Fernando.

Fernando III de Castilla 02.jpg

King Fernando III of Castile

King Fernando was also a just ruler. It is said of him that he was careful not to overtax his subjects, saying he feared the curse of one poor woman more than an army of Moors.

Fernando was at war with the Moors throughout his reign. One of his greatest triumphs was recovering the fabled city of Córdoba, the former seat of the caliphs of Al-Andalus. Córdoba had been the capital of the Islamic West, fabled for its wealth, its scholars, and the caliph’s huge library of some 400,000 books.

The reconquest of Córdoba began in an unexpected way. On their own initiative a small group of young Castilians, who lived in Ubeda on the Christian borderlands, attacked the great city in the off-season for war. Disguised as Moors, the men, led by a young knight named Domingo Muñoz, scaled the walls of Córdoba in the midst of a storm and took the city by surprise on the night of January 7, 1236. After gaining control of a major suburb, the intrepid group sent a messenger to the Castilian king. They would try to hold their precarious position, they told the king, until he could arrive with an army.

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