Reflections of an Atonement Alumna

The Atonement Academy, founded by Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, is a private Catholic school with Anglican roots and provides a classical education for students from Pre-K all the way up to 12th grade. Now a freshman at Trinity University, I’m proud to say that on June 2nd, 2017, I graduated from the Atonement Academy high school along with 24 of my fellow classmates.

The literal translation of the Latin phrase “alma mater” is “nourishing mother,” which is so fitting for me to call Atonement. Both the attached parish, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, and Atonement Academy truly did nourish me in both fides et ratio (faith and reason), in accord with the school’s motto.

As I am writing this, Valentine’s Day is drawing near and I simply could not pass up this chance to express my love and gratitude to this beautiful school. Atonement has taught me so much in academics, but even more so spiritually, and I’m extremely thankful that I chose to attend this school that brought God into every moment of my life.

I love how each class started with a prayer, and how the school brought God in not just its religion classes but even in Latin, History and Literature classes. I love how each month teachers took time out of their classes to bring my classmates and me to the Confession, and above all I love how The Atonement Academy made time for the students to go Mass every day so that we could partake in the beautiful celebration of the Eucharist—the source and summit of the Catholic life—each day and receive the sacramental graces which come with it.

And because of Atonement I can proudly say that I read, outlined, and studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church cover to cover, and that I studied and read the whole Bible in the course of one year. Because of Atonement I was able to go to the March for Life in DC, and go on a week and a half long trip in Italy and the Vatican. Because of Atonement I can proudly say that I’m a Catholic, and that I have been equipped with the tools to help me distinguish right from wrong.

I can go on forever, but in short, the Atonement Academy has taught me things that will stay with me for the rest of my life– things that will prepare me for a world full of persecution and misguidance.

During my studies there I was shown nothing but love from the staff, the parish priests and my peers, but that is not to say my time there was nothing but sunshine and rainbows.

After transferring from St. Luke’s Catholic middle school to my first year in high school at The Atonement Academy, through no fault of the school, I developed a severe social anxiety disorder. Because of this, most of my days went by with me not using my voice at all, save for a few barely audible murmurs of a “thank you” or “good morning.” I had extreme difficulty making eye-contact to where at one point it took herculean effort to simply look up at the board and stay in the classroom full of people. Eventually four hours of sleep became what I considered a decent amount of rest for one night, if I was able to even sleep at all, and this led to an even bigger can of worms– psychiatric medications, long-term depression, and eventually being hospitalized multiple times after having suicidal ideations.

These were the hardest four years of my life, yet these hardships made me love The Atonement Academy even more. Throughout every step of the way, the teachers of the Atonement Academy, most especially Mrs. Catherine Prochko, Mr. John Markovetz and Mrs. Ana Powell, were there to help me and my family and made sure that I was able to graduate; and I cannot thank them enough.

The Atonement Academy showed me nothing but love, and out of all the things I learned during my time there, above all, I was able to learn the importance of loving myself. It was here that I learned that I had to be kind to myself to be kind enough to the world.

Because of the Atonement Academy I am where I am at today. I am now a freshman at Trinity University and the president of Trinity’s pro-life group, Tigers for Life. I am now majoring in Psychology and Business Administration with the aim to be a psychotherapist for the mentally ill. I am now the owner of the best pug in the world, Nugget.

My name is Angelique Lopez, and I am a proud alumni of the Atonement Academy.

Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter of Rome

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day when couples are given special permission to be extra affectionate, guys who never buy flowers buy their wives and girlfriends two dozen roses and when many single people wonder whether next year will finally be the year they have someone for whom to buy chocolate.

Everyone knows that Feb. 14 is a holiday connected in some way to romantic love. Many will know that it has something to do with a Saint named Valentine. A small minority will have some vague idea that he was a priest who married people (or something like that). I personally credit Jason Bach Cartoons with 95% of contemporary Catholic awareness surrounding the life of the actual saint. For those of you who are (defensibly) unaware of the life of this priest, and his festal history in the past decades, allow me to provide a brief primer.

In 1969, following the Second Vatican Council, St. Valentine was removed from regular public commemoration because so little is known about his life. He most certainly existed (that’s his skull at the top there, if you were wondering), and we have records of his public veneration as early as 496, just about two centuries after he was martyred around 270.

Additionally, there were actually two saints named Valentine, both martyred around the same time, and by the same emperor. The first St. Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, Narnia, and Amelia in Italy, and is closely associated with miraculous healings. Bishop Valentine was known as a friend of young people and the sick, and was ultimately martyred for attempting to convert the Roman Emperor Claudius II.

The second St. Valentine, the priest, is where the association with romantic love comes from. The story often goes that he married Christian couples in secret, in defiance of Emperor Claudius’s orders. Once he was found out, he was also executed. Regardless of whether St. Valentine was one priest, one bishop, or two men who were priest and bishop, the association with Christian marriage is one that we should not lose sight of in our modern day celebrations.

Today, a record number of American adults—around 20%—have never been married.

Rising Share of Never-Married Adults, 1960-2012

Also today, less than half of people think society is better off if marriage and children are a priority.

Public Is Divided over Value of Marriage for Society

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic (though I don’t think I am), the family is the foundation of society, and if the family unit crumbles, the society will too. At the core of family is marriage. Thus, if marriage crumbles, so too will family, and the society as a whole will not be far behind. St. Valentine promoted marriage in the Roman empire, and he was literally killed for it. The modern United States isn’t at that point, but that doesn’t mean we should be any less forceful in our defense of sacramental marriage as an institution worth preserving and expanding.

Consider what most people in their 20s and 30s today treat marriage as, in practice. I don’t mean what they put in their vows, or what they speak of, I mean the way they act. Essentially, marriage today is what Dr. Budziszewski would call “cohabitation with formalities.” People who live together before marriage will get married, and very little will change except some rings, a big party and then a vacation. Even popular media is becoming aware of this, as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes remarks in BBC’s Sherlock before Watson’s wedding: “Two people who currently live together are about to attend church, have a party, go on a short holiday and then carry on living together. What’s big about that?”

Marriage as a divinely instituted covenant is something that St. Valentine thought was worth dying for. Marriage is not merely a legal agreement to have a joint bank account, live together and then to possibly divide your possessions in half down the road if you decide it was a mistake. Marriage ought to be a promise before each other and before God. It is something supremely important—something capable of leading yourself, your spouse and your children to heaven. St. Valentine thought that real, sacramental marriage was worth dying for, and we should too.

In college, we are constantly bombarded with questions about our future. “What are you doing when you graduate?” “What are you majoring in?” “Where are you interning this summer?” These are all important questions, and I don’t mind answering them when my friends and family ask, but they all fail to get to the real heart of why I’m studying in college.

Every person of faith, and I daresay even the irreligious, should look to their education as primarily an instrumental good—certainly knowledge has some intrinsic value, but the primary purpose of seeking an education should be to provide a good life for our spouse and our children. You’ll notice I didn’t say “ourselves, our spouse and our children.” That was an intentional omission: the nature of love is to be self-sacrificing, and none in quite spectacular a fashion as the love that comes with marriage and raising children. I don’t have to be married or have children to see how difficult, and fulfilling, it is in the lives of those around me.

If you’re reading this and single, it may seem odd to think of something as foundational to the contemporary American experience as college as being directed towards a spouse you haven’t met and children who don’t exist yet. I don’t have any immediate plans for marriage, but I am dating, so it’s less abstract. We are all called to something in life that will help lead us and those around us to heaven. For most, that vocation is marriage. For others it’s the priesthood, monastic life or living single and in the world. If you are confident that you are called to marriage as the means to sanctify yourself, your spouse and whatever children God blesses you with, but don’t yet have the faintest idea of who that person might be, that’s OK. Pray for them, whoever they are.

Author’s Note: You might notice this is tagged “Luke’s Catholic Corner.” If you liked this (this being a distinctively Catholic take on something), leave some feedback either as a comment or using our contact form, and if it got a positive response I’ll begin writing things like this once or twice a month.

Photo by AlvfanBeem. CCO 1.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Going on a 50’s Date in San Antonio

Although people typically see a lot of the dating etiquette from the 1950s as “ridiculous”  and outdated, many of the customs used then can be adapted easily into 21st century dating. We may now scoff at the idea of only the man asking the woman out or getting parental approval for a first date (especially if you’re in college)—but a lot of the social norms surrounding dating in the 50s had great practical purpose, making them timeless.

Here are some ways you can incorporate ‘50s dating practices into your relationship (or future relationship—these are great for a first date!). While they may not work for every date you go on, having a ‘50s date every once and awhile is a fun way to shake up the monotony of just another night at your mainstay restaurant or coffee shop.

Preparing for the Date

An important part of dating in the 50s was communication and punctuality. It’s recommended that the man asks out the woman at least two days in advance, giving her plenty of time to prepare. This asking also should be done in person, with detail given about what the askee should expect of the date in terms of location and time. Of course, it is also completely okay for the woman to be the asker today, and in a long-term relationship it usually goes both ways.

Once the night of the date has arrived, the woman should be ready on time so the man can pick her up at her door. This means no parking in front of her dorm and sending her an “I’m here” text, but instead actually getting out of the car and walking all the way to her front door. It’s a personal touch that makes all the difference.

Where to Go

In the 1950s, the most common places to go on dates were cheap and fun and didn’t involve a terribly large amount of planning. This is great news, because a lot of popular places (such as ice-cream parlors, diners, parks and coffee shops)  are still accessible today. Here are some great recommendations in and around San Antonio, most of which cost under $25:  

1. The 410 Diner

This 1950’s style is exactly what you’re looking for if you want great food with a bit of vintage flair. It’s fairly inexpensive diner faire with fast service and nostalgic decor and music. Definitely not the healthiest place on earth, but worth it.

2. Japanese Tea Gardens

If you live in San Antonio and have never visited the Japanese Tea Gardens, you’re missing out. Located within walking distance from Trinity University and with free entry from dawn to dusk, it’s practically a broke college students’ dream date location. It’s a great place to go on walks with your boyfriend or girlfriend (possibly after a very filling meal at the diner?) and has beautiful flowers and greenery.

Photo by Maddie D’iorio.

3.  Pearl Market

There are a ton of things of all price points to do at the Pearl. Go shopping at the farmer’s market on a Sunday morning, grab dinner on Friday night, or just take a long walk on the stretch of the Riverwalk which is right below all of main thoroughfares. Events are always going on here, and you’ll never get bored with the Pearl’s endless street musicians, quirky shops, and delicious restaurants.

4. Stars and Stripes Drive-In Theatres

Although this location is not technically in San Antonio (it’s about a half hour drive away from Trinity), it’s definitely one of the most unique and fun places around. Stars and Stripes plays double features on three different screens, and concessions are available. Clear out your trunk and fill it with pillows and blankets.  Even though this option involves making the trek to New Braunfels, it’s an experience you won’t forget.

5. NOLA Brunch & Beignets

This location only works for early morning or afternoon dates, but is still a great option due to the walking distance from campus and the adorable atmosphere both inside and out. Treat your sweetie to some brunch on a cool weekend morning, or if you want to save a bit of money, go for just some coffee and delicious beignets.

6. Commonwealth Coffeehouse and Bakery

Commonwealth is another great morning or afternoon option, and serves great espresso drinks with flakey croissants. This is a great option for a fun between-classes date, or for something simple on a Saturday morning.

7. Amy’s Ice Creams

Amy’s is a staple, and is smack-dab in the middle of the Alamo Quarry, meaning shopping and dining options are bound. Prices are much more palatable than the oh-so-fancy Lick Ice Creams, but with better quality and more fun than just picking up a half gallon of Blue Bell at HEB (which is still an arguably awesome date, by the way).

Photo by Maddie D’iorio.

8. Slab Cinema

If you aren’t feeling like a drive in movie but still want something different than your typical movie theatre, check out Slab Cinema. They have outdoor movie showings at different locations around San Antonio, and nearly all of them are completely free! Nothing beats laying underneath the stars with the person you love, and adding a fun movie just makes it all the better.

9. Sorrento’s Italian Ristorante

An Italian restaurant is a classic date location and Sorrento’s is perfect for this. You know you’re in for a traditional Italian meal when the walls are decorated with old family photos, and what’s not to love about that?

10. Candlelight Wine & Coffeebar

Okay, I might be a little bit biased for this place because it was where I went on my first date with my boyfriend one year ago, and now it’s one of our favorite places. But—Candlelight truly is one of the best date places around. It’s within walking distance from campus, is open late, has a variety of food and drink and a romantic ambiance that is sure to please. Whether you’re in the mood for dinner or just a cup of tea, Candlelight has something for you.

Luke Ayers at Candlelight Wine & Coffeebar. Photo by Maddie D’iorio.

Things to Remember

The most important part about going on a ‘50s date isn’t the location or who picks whom up at the door, but instead the mindset. Put your phone away and let yourself enjoy your time with the person you’re with. Being whimsical and outside the box makes dating all the more fun, especially when it’s with someone you care about. Happy Valentine’s Day!