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The Florida Catholic

Gospel program instills virtue within education

PORT ST. LUCIE  |  Living the virtues won’t necessarily make you more intelligent, wealthy or irresistible than anyone else, but it certainly could make you happier. 

That is part of the message presented at a retreat Aug. 2 for teachers and staff from John Carroll High School and St. Anastasia Parish and School. 

The three entities in Fort Pierce have adopted Virtue=Strength, a virtue-based formation program for Catholic schools that impacted more than 20,000 families last year. Lou Judd, executive director of the program from northern Kentucky, spoke at the faculty/staff retreat at St. Bernadette Parish in Port St. Lucie.

Virtue=Strength was founded in 2004 as Sports Leader, a program geared toward helping Catholic athletes and coaches make a positive impact, he said. But a few years ago, the organization realized that much of its curriculum wasn’t specific to sports but to teaching virtue. The company decided to change its focus to Catholic schools in general.

“We shifted the name from Sports Leader to Virtue=Strength, which was our motto, and now it’s our name,” Judd said.

In two talks to more than 100 educators and staff members, he merged stories about life-changing mentors and coaches with advice on how to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with students and their families.

Judd described five concepts – all words beginning with “C”– that he guarantees will change their life and the lives of their students. The words are:

• Connect: Find a way to connect with students.

• Communicate: Talk and spend time together.

• Care: Supporting someone enough that you care about them. 

• Collaborate: Work together and get through the difficulties of life. 

• Commitment: If you don’t do the first three steps, you won’t get to collaboration and commitment, he said.

Judd encouraged the instructors to talk with their students about God. With a little creativity, even math and science can be an avenue to discuss faith. 

“You have a tremendous platform to share the faith with them, and the kids who love that, who enjoy your class, or they want to study it, bingo,” he said. The thing that hinders Catholic schools from sharing the faith and raising graduates who love Jesus and the Virgin Mary, Judd said, is reticence to talk about any of it.

“Not being willing to think outside the box and to try something new,” he said, keeps educators, mentors and coaches from talking about spiritual topics.   

“Change requires humility, which is the foundational virtue, and without humility we don’t grow in virtue because you have to recognize that you need to improve in this area,” Judd said. “If you think you do everything well and perfectly, well, then you can’t improve because you don’t think you need to.

“That becomes a hindrance to transforming the lives of others because your team or your class every year is going to be different,” he added. “One particular year you have a great class, they’re easy to deal with, and next year maybe not so much. What worked last year, and you’re communicating and connecting with that class, may not work this year.”

The core of Virtue=Strength includes videos, graphics, coloring pages, certificates/awards and ceremonies to recognize students who demonstrate virtues in a special way, Judd said. The online resources, which are made available to teachers, focus on virtues, such as faith, humility, honesty, perseverance, determination, selflessness, love, kindness and respect. The curriculum is designed to teach and be a catalyst for classroom discussion.

The principals from John Carroll and St. Anastasia enthusiastically support the Virtue=Strength program for their schools.

Kevin Hoeffner, administrator of St. Anastasia since 2006-07, said his school is focusing on strengthening core values and virtues this year, and just completed $600,000 in capital improvements over the summer.

“We have been understandably flexible and adaptable for the past couple of years as we kept our students and community healthy and always progressing in their development,” he said. “This year, we are all working to strengthen our resilience and support the values of our families as they grow closer to Christ.”

Corey Heroux, who is starting her fifth year as John Carroll’s principal and 13th year at the school, said she was pleased with the retreat.

“What a joyful testament to the commitment to Catholic education in our community,” she said. “To see so many faculty and staff members gathered together to learn more about developing virtuous men and women of character truly filled me with hope for the future. I am so grateful to have been able to partner with St. Anastasia Church and School in this meaningful day of reflection and learning.”

Jennie Capezza, campus minister at John Carroll, thanked Judd for his talks and making the optional resources available to help students understand and adopt virtue in their lives. A group effort by educators, she said, will help ensure that students hear the message of virtue from many sources, much like how Jesus employed different disciples to spread his message. 

“He taught them in order to teach others, and that’s how the kingdom continued to grow,” Capezza said.

To contact Lou Judd and learn about Virtue=Strength, call 859-512-2572 or email For more on John Carroll High School, St. Anastasia Parish or School, visit or

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