Thursday, July 9, 2020

Catholic History and Religion :: 2020-2021 School Year

Tis the season for school planning!

Have you been busy pulling together books, resources, and plans for your homeschool? I have been pre-reading quite a lot this summer, and enjoying it all. Usually I leave most of my prep work for my weekly prep session, but with high schoolers this year (and seven students in all!), I felt the need to get a jump start on whatever I could. It has been time well spent.

I have also been preparing a little share here of the Catholic resources we will be using this year alongside our studies for the CMEC. These suggestions are really suitable for any Catholic families studying the Renaissance/Colonial period with elementary through high school students.

I'm also adding in what we'll be doing for Bible and religion this year. I have a few preparing for sacraments and family and individual spiritual reading to schedule, so I have been happily shopping my shelves.

All the details below!


The CMEC follows the PNEU in scheduling Paterson-Smyth's books, which are a very good resource for Bible lessons. In fact, on the programmes, Mason did not even list out the Bible text; she relied wholly on Paterson-Smyth's breakdowns and worked from the Scriptures according to his suggestions.

There are a few reasons I really do like Paterson-Smyth. He knows how to get to the heart of a story without neglecting all of the interesting side stories and details. His abridgments of the Scripture texts are thoughtful and helpful. Mason used his guidance to "bring home the story to the children" and think his words do just that. I have learned a lot from his books and will be using them this coming year as helps in planning our own lessons. We will be using his commentaries on Matthew and on Genesis this year, as suggested.

However, there are a few moments in the text where he misses a key Catholic idea (for example, his comments on p. 114 against the primacy of Peter in the Gospel of Matthew). I like to take his suggestions and add in with Catholic resources, so I rely on a couple other books as well:

:: Knecht's A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture. This tome (it's a thick one!) provides a look at both Old and New Testaments with lots of good Catholic connections, wisdom from the saints, and more. I have used it in various ways over the past few years and always with good results. It is a thorough but usable reference.

:: Mother Loyola's First Communion. If you have not read this, schedule it as a family read! She walks through the "types" for the Eucharist in the Old Testament and walks through the life of Our Lord in chronological fashion. We read her narrative alongside the Gospel of John last year, story by story, and it was truly lovely. This was our second time through the book as a family and the experience was rich.

My plan this year is to read Genesis from Knecht's Practical Commentary. It helpfully includes the abridged Scripture readings as well as the comments, so it will be a good text for me to work from for my Form 1 and 2 students. For the Gospel, I will use the Knecht commentary and the Paterson-Smyth book on Matthew to prepare our lessons and then will read from the Douay-Rheims, which we love.

My high school students will be doing the Bible reading as scheduled by the CMEC: a couple prophetic books from the Old Testament and their commentaries. Saviour of the World alongside the Gospel, and three Epistles spread over the year. Several friends have shared how much they enjoy the Navarre Bible, so I may use the Major Prophets volume for the older kids. The whole set looks so good!

Just a note about Bible lessons: very often I do not provide any additional commentary for my students. The Holy Ghost often "brings home" the story to the children in amazing ways, and in those moments, I don't feel that I should add anything more. But I do always have a thought or questions ready. The process of preparing Bible lessons has enriched me personally and has encouraged me to read Scripture in a new way.

Catholic Historical Supplements

This coming year, we will be studying 1450-1600 along with the CMEC. This is a period I enjoy very much, both in American and British history! There are so many good additional Catholic books for Renaissance England for all ages, so I am compiling some ideas here in one place for those that are using the CMEC and are Catholic. Non-Catholics who are interested in "both sides of the story" when it comes to the persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan England may appreciate these books as well. It is a part of history that is little included in most textbooks but full of living interest and heroic deeds.

I have all of these currently on my shelf and am in the process of selecting which will be assigned which terms for Sunday reading, which will be simply leisure reading and set on the free read shelf, and which might be family read-alouds. I haven't made any of those decisions yet! I'll be pre-reading this summer to decide.

Note: Several of these suggestions have come from Amber Vanderpol and Amy Snell, who are my go-to sources for good Catholic supplements!

Form 2 and 3

Garnett's Crossbows and Crucifixes (historical fiction about priest hunters and recusants -- my Big Kids loved this one when they were in elementary school)
Garnett's The Blood-Red Crescent (on the Battle of Lepanto, the Crusades, and 16th century Italy)
Vision books on St. Thomas More of London, St. Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground, St. Francis of the Seven Seas (family favorites)
Also a Vision book: Father Marquette and the Great Rivers (already scheduled by the CMEC as an option for Term 3)
Canton's The Story of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (scheduled by the PNEU even though it takes place slightly before this era)
Sun Slower, Sun Faster (more historical fiction involving priest holes, relics, and time travel -- what a combo!)
First Martyrs of North America (an out-of-print book I picked up a long while back and will have on the leisure shelf for additional biographies)

Form 4 & 5 (High School)
Some of these will be scheduled as biographies, some as historical fiction, some as spiritual reading.
Please preview before handing to your high schoolers.

Monsignor Benson's Come Rack! Come Rope! (I have an old edition and can't find a good in-print version to link to) and By What Authority? (both historical fiction -- I read these years ago and know my kids will enjoy them too)
Hunt's Treason (in looking for an edition of Come Rack! Come Rope! to link, I came across this book, which seems similar)
Waugh's Edmund Campion (thinking of this to replace Twain's Joan of Arc, which we have already read and LOVED)
Lyra Martyrum (beautiful poetry collection from Catholic martyrs of the English Renaissance)
De Wohl fictional biographies: The Golden Thread, Set All Afire (these are fictional saint biographies but often profound and very engaging -- please preview before reading!)
St. Teresa of Avila's The Way of Perfection and Interior Castle (to offer alongside the poetry of St. John of the Cross, which is already scheduled)
Eamon Duffy's books: Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor and The Stripping of the Altars (I already own these but haven't read them, but I thought some non-fiction would be a nice balance? I need to pre-read them though.)
Belloc's Characters of the Reformation (pre-reading this to choose selections)

My older kids will also be reading from Starr's Continental Ambitions this year, a comprehensive Catholic history of America. I plan for them to read this alongside the CMEC's American history spine. I am hopeful about this pairing and from the pre-reading I have done so far, think it will serve my high schoolers well through their whole four years. (This was a recommendation from Amber, who also is part of the CMEC high school curriculum team.) ETA: There are sections of this book that we will be skipping. Be sure to pre-reading this text if you decide to use it!

As I said before: these books will all be added to the program for leisure reading and Sunday reading. The program doesn't need Catholic substitutions. But my eager readers will appreciate the additional selections!

A few more notes on history:

Ball's Great Astronomers, which my high schoolers will be reading from this year, tells the story of Galileo in the usual way. I would like my kids to read the fuller story so have printed this article on the common misconceptions about the Galileo affair and tucked it into the book.

One thing I like about the CMEC is it tries to tell the story of the French and Spanish settlers of America too, not just the English and Puritans. Even our travelogues highlight some of these lesser-studied figures and events. Much British writing from or about the period is very anti-Spanish by default, so I am happy to have, for example, Cabeza de Vaca's account to balance this out. Just because this was the period of treasure-hunting Spaniards does not mean all Spanish were brutal, obviously! And I'm pleased to be reading about Marquette, who has a beautiful story of adventure and service to the native peoples. I am hoping for a good combination and I am sure these will inspire worthwhile discussion in our home this year.

Arnold-Forster's A History of England and  H.E. Marshall's Our Island Story are both written from a British, Anglican perspective. As such, they laud "Good Queen Bess," pass fairly quickly over the Catholic martyrs, claim that the Church didn't want commoners reading the Bible, approve of the rebellion of the Scottish presbyterians, and so on. I love the books and think they are certainly worth using! I can't really imagine our homeschool without them. However, I do edit a few chapters covering this period and supplement with the above biographies and such about Catholics who lived then and what life was actually like for them. With this approach, I think my kids get to understand how the viewpoint of the author colors their work.

I have listed below the chapters that Catholic families may want to preview. You may decide to include them and discuss them with your kids, or you may choose to omit/abridge.

Our Island Story: chapter 63 (I begin the chapter at "When King Henry heard..." on p. 285), chapter 66 (I edit p. 301), chapter 68 (I omit the first four paragraphs on p. 308), chapter 76 (I read the first half only, stopping at "Like King James" on p. 346)

A History of England: chapter 41 (I omit), chapter 42 (I edit sections on "The Oxford Martyrs" and "The Death of Cranmer"), chapter 43 (we discuss the section on treason on p. 365-6)

Also, if students (or parents!) would like a fuller picture of Guy Fawkes, this article is interesting!

The high school book the CMEC uses for general history, Robinson's Medieval and Modern Times, is much more even-handed on the Renaissance and Reformation. This year's chapters were a pleasure to read. They will provide good context for what my students have read before and it is perfectly timed for their last pass through this historical period.

Religion Reading

I always schedule religion reading in a few different categories:
:: saints' lives (assigned by Form, listed above under history because they are also biographies)
:: spiritual reading (assigned by Form)
:: liturgical-year reading (usually as a family)
:: specific sacramental prep (as needed, assigned individually)

I'll start with that last category first...

Sacramental Prep

This year, I have two preparing for Confirmation and one for First Holy Communion...


My Confirmation kids read Knox's The Mass in Slow Motion (a reader recommended this version, but I have an older one) and The Creed in Slow Motion over the past two years, which I have found to be fantastic preparation.

This year, I have some Confirmation-specific reading for them:
For my 14yo son: Loyola's Soldier of Christ: Talks before Confirmation, Father Lasance's Young Man's Guide
For my almost-14yo daughter: Loyola's Home for Good, Father Lasance's The Catholic Girl's Guide

Really, though, these two kids have read so many wonderful Catholic books over the years that I don't feel like they need much focused preparation for this sacrament! I want to do some special reading to mark the event, but they have read about so many saints, about angels, about doctrine, about the Mass, about the liturgical year, about Our Lady, about the sacraments... Some of these books were written for children, some for adults, and all of them were very good. But we'll see how the year goes and what I end up adding to their stack! Their Confirmation, which was supposed to take place this fall, has been pushed out indefinitely for now due to COVID-related restrictions, so we may have more time for preparation than we expected.

First Holy Communion

For First Holy Communion: I have written up my general approach to First Communion prep before. My daughter who is currently preparing isn't reading fluently yet, which alters my plans somewhat. She has been reading Loyola's First Communion with the family for the past year or so and will finish it this coming year. She has narrated her way through two of the gospels. We will focus this year on learning the Ten Commandments to prepare her for her first Confession, and on memorizing the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism, which includes a short overview of the sacraments and the precepts of the Church and is a requirement of our priest. I think my husband will take the lead on both of those things, as he did for the two last First Communicants we had. It was such a nice time for them to prepare with him! I think I will read First Communion Days with her, and I will ask one of her older siblings to read from a few other books from that old post over the course of this coming school year. (My kids have all loved the story of Blessed Imelda and I wouldn't want her to miss it, for example!)

Liturgical Year

I recently bought three sets with simple devotions for the liturgical year and I can't decide which one to use this year! They all look excellent. I think we will jump into With the Church and then see if we would like to take up the Troadec or D'Hulst books for Advent or Chirstmas or Lent.

With the Church: Advent to Ascension (Volume I) and Ascension to Advent (Volume II)
Crib to Cross: Meditations on the Life of Christ M D'Hulst
From Advent to Epiphany and From Epiphany to Lent by Fr. Patrick Troadec

We have been reading from A Character Calendar most mornings and really like the little stories and meditations.

And as a side note: we recently got Chadwick's My Book of the Church's Year and my littles adore it!

Spiritual Reading

For my Younger Kids

We pulled together a big Kinderleben Guide for the CMEC this past spring, and one category of books we didn't include is religious reading! But it made me excited to straighten up my kindergarten shelves of religious books.

In addition to religious picture books, lists of which you can find in various places, we have some favorites I save for kinder-aged kids: Manners in God's House, I Believe, Jesus and Mary, Saints for Boys, Saints for Girls, Their Hearts are His Garden, and others.

Also, I highly recommend the Saints and Friendly Beasts series of easy readers from Neumann Press. Clara (Form 1) is learning to read this year, so I made her a little shelf of easy/early readers and these are some of the best!

For Form 2

My Form 2 kids haven't read Mother Loyola's Hail, Full of Grace or Marigold Hunt's A Book of Angels yet, so I think I will schedule those for them this year. (Last year they did My Path to Heaven and Montessori's The Mass Explained to Children.)

I also got back out the Catholic Treasure Box series (Set 1 and Set 2) for them to read in free time. It had been a while. They have been loving those this summer!

For the Older Kids

My older kids' spiritual reading is covered above under sacramental prep and history since we are using the CMEC's historically-tied religion reading for the Upper Forms. I also take a bit of time at the beginning of Advent and of Lent to choose a few books for their free reading shelf. They like having this to select from for devotional time.

I hope this is helpful to those joining us for the Renissance and Colonial times this fall! I am so happy to see our shelves begin to fill up for next year's studies.

So -- any wonderful books to add to the list above for this period? Let me know in the comments!

(Amazon links above are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!)


  1. This is so wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing these resources. Do you know which of these books are specific to the old Church calendar? We follow the new calendar and so I try to get books that follow it as well, so as to not confuse my kids. (Though the older books are so lovely!)

    1. Hi Paula! Character Calendar and My Book of the Church's Year are based on the old calendar. The other liturgical volumes I have listed are as well, although they are often labeled by feast and so you could do some re-ordering if needed. However, I think the spirituality of the books is their real benefit, though, so even if you were reading them and they weren't exactly tied to the calendar you are using, they would still be of great benefit. :)

  2. What is assigned Sunday reading? Is there a reason it’s assigned and not leisure? Love this post! Drinking in all the resources listed

    1. Hi Marlon! There are a few books I schedule as Sunday reading that I pace for my kids -- like one chapter a week, etc. These are usually the catechetical books (like on a topic that I want to be sure they read about) or ones that I would like to be able to discuss with them. Then some are just on the free read shelf and they can read at their leisure.

  3. Thank you for compiling these great resources!

    I'm curious what else you have on your easy-reader shelf. My twins will be entering form 1 this year, and while one of them is already reading voraciously the other is still reluctant (I think in part because he views his twin as "the reader"). We've been working from the Bob books but I think if he could choose his own books to read each day perhaps it would help stop the comparison from getting in the way.

    1. I am currently doing reading lessons with the Treadwell Readers with my 1B daughter. The Beacon readers are great too! For easy readers more generally, I like the usuals - Frog and Toad, Biscuit, Little Bear, Elephant and Piggie, Snipp Snapp Snurr and Flicka Ricka Dicka, and others! During that stage, I often get a bunch of good ones from the library so they have a nice variety to choose from. :)

  4. Hi Celeste. One thing I wonder since studying your timetables over at CMEC: where do these religion readings fit in the day? The only explicitly religious subject I see on your timetables is Savior of the World for the older kids. Do you do all the rest over breakfast? Would you be willing to talk a little more about how and where these readings fit in the day? I am working on my own timetables, and with two students, without adding anything else to our day, it's a squeeze to get all the academics in between 9-12! Where are the sweet spots to fit in a few saint readings, catechism lessons, liturgical readings etc without upsetting the balance of our days? How do you handle it? With gratitude,

    1. Hi there! We do our religion reading in a variety of places. The family reading (this past year, that was liturgical reading from A Character Calendar, Bible, and Loyola's First Communion) I do over breakfast. Saints biographies go with the other biographies to be read during afternoon occupations. And then I usually have a catechetical and/or spiritual reading assigned to Sundays. Mason always had Sunday reading on the program! I really like having some special books set aside for Sundays. Hope that helps! :)

  5. Thank you so much for posting this! I had been looking at St. Augustine Academy Press, trying to pick out some good Liturgical and Sunday readings, and I was a bit overwhelmed. We do already have several of what you listed and they are thoroughly enjoyed, so I am at least headed in the right direction (haha). Do you have any other "must haves" from StAAP?

    I haven't heard of that Marigold Hunt book before, but we did read St. Patrick's Summer as a family recently. Her writing style is interesting to me - do you like her other books (other than what you listed)?

    I appreciate the heads up for Our Island Story - My oldest will be 2B this year and this is out first experience with it. Also, I forgot all about the historical supplements list, so between those and your suggestions I guess I need to buy more books, darn!

    One more question - I noticed in my TBG songbook that the Bible recitations are KJV. Is that what you all will be using, or will you use the DR versions?
    Thank you!!

    1. Honestly, almost every book I have purchased from St. Augustine Academy Press is a must-have! You can probably tell that Mother Loyola's books are a particular favorite of ours. But I have loved everything in their collection that we have read. That said, they are always coming out with new titles and there are a lot that I haven't read yet.

      I think I have used all of the Marigold Hunt books at various times and have liked them all. I do like The Book of Angels and The First Christians best.

      And I will print DR versions for us to use for Bible recitations. :)

  6. Thank you so much Celeste for taking the time to put this together. I really really appreciate it!
    God bless

    1. You're welcome, Antonia! Hope to be posting a bit more here this late summer / fall. :)

  7. I love these posts, Celeste. They are so helpful in planning which Catholic books to add in. Thank you for taking the time to write them!

  8. Hi Celeste - in case you see this, I'm wondering if you've ever put together a post or list somewhere of books for California history? Thanks :)

    1. Hi Karen! My go-to source for California history has been Brandy's blog, Afterthoughts: We have used all of the ones she has recommended except the Jed Smith biography. We have also added in some on Junipero Serra, like Demarest's The First Californian. I have talked about it here and there but don't have an actual post about it since we really have just used Brandy's picks! :)

    2. Thanks so much. I’ve seen her list but I’d like to formalize it a bit more. Im on my second trip through TCOO and I feel like the book gives the impression that nothing happened in CA or in the Southwest and west at all until the mid-1800’s. In fact exploration, settlement, the missions, etc. all happened centuries prior. Not to mention the native people already there. But our American history still tends to read as Protestant/English with a little French and Spanish in Florida thrown in. California history is Catholic and even more reason to slot it in. I wish there was some sort of equivalent spine that could be used. I’ll check out her List again, it’s been a while.

  9. Hi, Celeste,

    I am interested in the CMEC but there aren't enough samples for me to decide if it is something my family would benefit from. Is there a way to get a copy of the book lists? I will have a pre-schooler, second grader, fourth grader, and seventh grader in the fall.

    1. Hi Rhebeka! We don't offer a full booklist, but you can direct questions to and they are happy to answer specific questions about individual books we schedule.

    2. Thank you! Just curious - why not offer the list? It seems like it would be hard to convince people to sin up if they don't know what they are getting into, so to speak.

    3. We create a fresh program every year, so our booklist and all of its accompanying support materials are part of what members get when they sign up. The people who have joined have found the video tours available in our sample packet enough to get a sense of who we are and what we offer. But we understand that it isn't for everyone! :)

  10. Bummed you are not doing AO anymore. :(

  11. Hunt's "Treason" is my absolute FAVORITE Catholic book! Just be forewarned... there is one quick (unnecessary) scene that happens near the beginning of the book that is s--ual in nature (can't remember the details because I skip it). I just Sharpie-d over it. Other than those two paragraphs, it is the greatest story!!!!

    1. Thanks for the heads-up, Jennifer. I am very much looking forward to reading it! :)

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Rachel! We do follow the readings of the Church sometimes as part of our Morning Basket reading together at breakfast, but I still like to have this chronological, systematic reading through the Bible for each of my kids. I don't think it has to be either-or. I could see doing reading according to the liturgical cycle for your devotional time and then the other Bible reading as part of lessons. Hope that makes sense!

  13. Hi Celeste,
    This is great info, so glad you've shared it here. It's just what I've been looking for! I was also wondering about the historical ballads in the CMEC programs. I admit, I haven't read them all yet but there was one I read, The Ivry, that perplexed me. It seemed to be about French Huguenots defeating the Catholics and them praising God for "crushing the tyrant", etc. I don't know a lot about the historical setting of this poem so there is probably a lot more to it than I'm just reading on the surface but it brings up some questions in my mind. One is why should we as Catholics read this? And I am asking from a place of sincerely trying to understand, not to be at all argumentative. One thing I thought was maybe it's to understand the perspective of our Protestant brothers and sisters? Or maybe to get a piece of history in poem form? If you have any ideas on this to share, I'd love to know, especially how you would handle this poem with your kids. Secondly, do you see any other ballads that might need to be handled with caution and if so, how would you handle them? There is also the stuff about the Medici Popes from the Michelangelo book but I thought I would just talk to my kids about the office of the Pope vs. the actual person. I find it so difficult to talk to them about these things because they ask me SO many questions. It's like Charlotte Mason said in one of her books (can't remember where) that kids want so much to know things in black and white, who is a good guy, who is a bad guy, etc. But I don't remember her really giving any solution with regards to this because it seems that I'm so often explaining to my kids that it's not so black and white after all, and that seems frustrating for them. I'm hoping that once we start digging deeper into our studies, especially in history, things will become clearer for me. Thank you for this extra bit of info for Catholics and for all your work at the CMEC. The CMEC has been such a blessing for us already and we haven't even started the school year yet!

    1. Hi Leandra!

      Yes, the ballads are understood as learning history in poetic form -- in addition to giving our students a good ear for rhythm and rhyme, they give a sense (like folksongs) for how cultures of the past have expressed their history in this format. The battle between the Hugenots and the Catholics in France does come up in our history reading this year for Forms 3 and up (and a bit for Form 2) -- it was partly a religious battle, partly political, like much of the Reformation. We will just be reading the ballad and discussing it together. That said, you could certainly do one from last year if you didn't do those! They were all wonderful.

      It is great that your children are asking questions! It shows they are eager and thoughtful. Kids do need to learn that not everything is black and white, so it's good to have opportunities of introducing that idea. But it is also okay to let them come to that understanding themselves over time. I always try to emphasize to my kids that writers are always writing from their personal perspective and that means that they see things differently from me and are even sometimes incorrect. For example, I say that British writers are proud of their history -- and that is a good thing, generally! We should all feel love for our country and want to support it. But in doing so, sometimes those writers don't realize there is another side to the story of Queen Elizabeth, for example. They think of her as a hero, when Catholics were very hurt by her at the time. My students have all accepted this idea and had lots of questions about it too -- but I really think I can give a small idea such as this, let them do their assigned reading, and then fill out the story with the alternate perspective. I don't have to go into detail every week with every lesson. The wonderful thing about an idea is that it grows of its own accord. So we can present a good idea to the minds of our children and then trust it to work and to help them think through their reading in fresh ways over time. I'm not sure if that is clear -- just describing how I hadndle it. :)

      (By the way, I am so pleased with the high school spines we are reading for history, as I feel they are really nicely balanced. I am glad my high school kids will get the chance to read them as their last time through the cycle. I don't know if that gives you a sense of patience, but it's the kind of thing I find it helpful to know with my young students -- that the time will come when they will encounter these ideas again and will have the maturity to really think through the difficult ideas.)

    2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Celeste! It is so helpful.
      It is encouraging to be reminded that this questioning is a good thing too!

      God bless,

  14. Here's a link to an in-print version of "The Mass in Slow-Motion":

    It's a softcover reproduction (well-done, not fuzzy) of an old text that someone made a

  15. Celeste, this an odd request, but I can’t figure out how to fix the problem on my end. I commented a while back using my husbands account without realizing it. He continues to get replies to this thread to his email. I deleted my comment in hopes that would stop, but he’s still receiving comments from this thread. Is there anything you can do on your end? Or can you direct me on how to unsubscribe from comments?

    1. Hi Rachel -- Sorry, I don't have any control over whether readers subscribe to my comments or not. I think you only get notifications if you click "notify me" when you comment. I don't think I have any ability to unsub you once you have clicked that box. Maybe you can access (and change) your blog and comment subscriptions in your Blogger profile or Google account? Hope you figure it out!