Forming the Future: Austin Prep program helps students live Augustinian values of 'veritas, unitas, and caritas'

READING -- In the words of Ally Fanuele, a senior at Austin Prep in Reading, St. Augustine "wasn't such a great kid."

St. Augustine "would get in trouble," Ally explained, but he became a better person as he grew in his faith.

Ally and his classmates, who read the "Confessions" of St. Augustine last year, said that the saint's story reminds them of their own lives as adolescents.

"It shows that no one's perfect," said junior Alex Fernandes, "and anyone at any point in their lives can turn to God and better themselves as an individual."

Ally, Alex, and 12 other Austin Prep juniors and seniors are part of the school's Adeodatus Program, which began in 2022 and is named after St. Augustine's son. Adeodatus students learn public speaking and read religious texts, using them to reflect on their own lives. Through the texts, they learn how to live the Augustinian values of veritas (truth), unitas (unity), and caritas (charity).

"We like to use the Latin here," said Austin Prep Theology Department Chair Dustin Batista, who teaches the Adeodatus class.

Austin Prep is one of only 10 Augustinian schools in North America. Even fewer have an Adeodatus program. Batista got the idea for the program from an all-boys Augustinian school in Pennsylvania.

"It might seem cliché, but I get a lot out of it," Batista said. "Getting to hear these teens share some very personal stories about their journeys, their relationships with God, their relationships with friends and family members. I am always in awe at their willingness to share, and the depths of their reflections."

Along with taking the class, Adeodatus students organize reflection periods for the junior and senior classes. During these reflections, which take place daily in the school's chapel, Adeodatus students will recite speeches they wrote about the things that matter to them. All of the students then observe two minutes of silence. Batista said that silence lets the students practice "interiority," one of St. Augustine's greatest teachings.

"The kids need to focus inward," he said. "They need some quiet time. St. Augustine was big on searching for the inner teacher -- Jesus. (Students) get to let Christ speak to them rather than the hustle and bustle of their very busy lives."

On Nov. 6, senior Lexi Sherry wrote and gave the reflection. In honor of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, she wrote about two departed souls who mean a lot to her -- her grandfather and her childhood friend Riley, who died of neuroblastoma when she was nine years old.

She recalled one of the last conversations she had with her grandfather. He told her that even when he was no longer around physically, she would have his support no matter what she chose to do in her life.

"He taught me that I should not stress about the uncontrollable things in life," she said.

Despite her sickness, Riley always made time to hang out with Lexi. They would talk about their favorite TV shows, sports, and "the crazy things happening in preschool."

"She was another person who was struggling so much and still put others before herself," she said. "She did her best to look for the positive in any outcome, no matter how unrealistic it may be."

She said that it was difficult for her to write and speak publicly about such an emotional time in her life. However, it was important to remember her grandfather and Riley for the things they did, and not "worry about the what ifs" in life. That was the message they taught her.

"I've basically grown up learning about the values of unitas, veritas, and caritas," she told The Pilot, "but I never took the time to learn deeper about what they meant."

The Adeodatus Program changed that. Now, she looks for those values in her life, both in school and in her personal life. She has realized that people like her grandfather embodied those values, and wants to embody them herself. She wants to be a psychologist for student athletes, or any job where she can help people however she can.

"Once I became closer with my faith," she said, "I kind of realized that, whether it's spreading love toward others or just being that helping hand, that's definitely what this class has taught me."

To be in the Adeodatus Program, students who demonstrate the Augustinian virtues must be nominated by staff members. The students then must apply for a spot in the program. If their application is accepted, they go to an annual retreat for Augustinian students.

"They focus on those core spiritual values," Batista said. "They get to do different types of service. They share uniquely how each of those schools live out the Augustinian traditions."

All of the students said that the retreat was an awakening for them.

Janna Vounessea, a junior who has attended Mass every Sunday since joining Adeodatus, said, "It has brought me closer to God."