A few months ago I got a call that, quite unexpectedly, changed everything for me. It was from John Mark Reynolds, a name familiar to most of you here, founder of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, new Provost of Houston Baptist University, and my friend and former professor. He called to offer me a job (Intriguing!). We were going to change the face of modern education (Why not!). In Texas (No.). I respectfully declined.

A few days later he was back with another offer that stopped my heart and lowered my resistance. Would I come if he could give me the opportunity to start a school. Well, sort of start a school. Houston Baptist wanted to start reaching out to smart, Christian high schoolers and homeschoolers, providing them with the opportunity to get a deeply Christian, thoroughly classical education before they’d even graduated high school. And just like that, I’m moving to Texas, y’all.

Because, you see, fourteen years ago, I was that smart, Christian homeschooler starting my first year of high school. I was bored with church, obsessed with horses, and plowing along with my school work because I had to. The Summer before my freshman year my mom informed me that I would be joining Escondido Tutorial Service and starting a class entitled Great Books Tutorial I. I was told to start reading the Iliad and Odyssey and that my first paper would be due in three weeks. I was terrified.

houston baptist universityFritz Hinrichs was (and still is) the founder and only teacher at Escondido Tutorial Service. He was strict and clever, good and kind, and held his students to a higher standard than most of us felt capable of rising. Though I think I spent the first couple weeks of GBT I in a blind panic (I have a distinct memory of lying on my parent’s home office floor near midnight of the day the first paper was due, sobbing over my own stupidity as my dad tried to coax me into finishing my paper’s conclusion), I soon found that I was pretty good at this thinking/reading/writing/talking thing that was the new core of my high school education, and, even more surprising, I loved it. Studying Great Books opened up a new place in my soul and mind. It introduced me to a new world, a bigger conversation, and, I think, a new me. It soon became clear to me that this course of study was the most important thing I’d yet done in my young life, and I kept with it for four more years, graduating from Great Books V (having taken two years at once to get caught up) my senior year of high school with a new outlook on my future and an invitation to join the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola.

Torrey picked up where ETS had left off. I was stretched and grown still further and my love for classical education only increased. Since graduating six years ago I’ve been studying spiritual formation under the leaders in the field at Talbot School of Theology, and working with some of the greatest Christian philosophers and apologists in the world as a happy part of Biola University’s Christian Apologetics department, but a part of my heart remained fixated on that moment at 14 when I realized that God and his world were much bigger and more grand than I’d ever imagined.

A few weeks ago I was at my parents’ church and the pastor was preaching about making a dent in the world around us. He told his congregation that we have the greatest impact when a soft spot in our hearts is matched to a great need in the world. Educating high schoolers is my soft spot, and the need is great. Fritz Hinrichs, John Mark, and the rest of the Torrey faculty were there for me when I needed them, and now I get the very great privilege of doing the same for the next generation. Starting this August, Houston Baptist University, John Mark, and I are setting out to change the hearts and minds of kids a mere 14 years behind me in the search for purpose, truth, and God. I could not be more honored to take the torch and carry on and expand the work that others have started. Here we go.

Posted by Cate MacDonald

  • Really happy to hear this news! Godspeed!

  • Josh

    Congratulations, to both you and your future pupils! A burning question now lingers: Where does one begin?! I have 3 boys, four years old and under! Where do I start? What are the resources? Do we jettison Pooh for Homer tonight? Thank you in advance for any direction offered.

    • Josh,

      This is such a good question. At that age, I don’t think it’s as much about the content of your reading as the fact that you are reading to them and that you discuss what you’re reading (though in a few years, it’s time for Narnia and The Hobbit and Harry Potter! Get them started on good epics early :)). Good education is all about learning to learn. I used to teach a preschool Sunday school class, and my favorite part was not the (mostly lamentable) curriculum we had to teach, but the time we spent sitting around the snack table eating gold fish and discussing the lesson. Any child can learn that what they say matters, and that what they read and hear can inform what they say. They can also learn (surprisingly early, I think), to defend their opinions or modify them if they’re incorrect (all within the context of a gentle conversation, of course), and that’s the best preparation for a great education I can think of.

      • Josh

        Cate, thank you for your kind response! My wife and I have had excited conversations since reading your response and are encouraged in some new directions for our family. As well, she will be using your understanding of what a preschool worker does–she has her own “love affair” with curriculum!–to lead/encourage the volunteers she oversees at our church.

  • becca

    Congratulations! This is AWESOME! Hip hip hooray!

  • Mike

    So how exactly is your program going to interact with HS students? Will it be in a classroom setting? Online courses? In other words, is there a way someone can benefit from it if they don’t live in Houston?

    • Hi Mike! I answered your question above. Thanks for posting on the site, as it helped me notice the rest of the comments!

  • Mike

    Thanks!

  • Sharon Harrington

    Hi Cate! This is exciting news! I am a THI alum living in Houston, and I’d like to know more about this new program at HBU. Where can I find specific information?

  • Hi Sharon! Well we haven’t started it yet so I don’t have details yet, but I promise to keep you updated as the program development progresses!