By Nathan Carr 

Seventeen years ago, while applying to seminary, beginning a family, and bouncing between a series of Starbucks I had helped to launch in the greater Oklahoma City area, my wife and I got wind of a new school startup. I was a Presbyterian youth and families director at the time, had recently received our newborn second child back from heart surgery, and had just discovered my first Book of Common Prayer through a friend who is also now, like me, an Episcopal priest. With our wives, we would dine for years every Thursday night, reviewing and comparing our way right into the red front doors of All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City.

But with the collision of our son’s difficult launch in life, the discovery of things like “spiritual directors,” and our piqued interest in a Christian School of Classics being planted in our city, something had our attention. In fact, so much so, I completed all of my master’s degree and two years of post-graduate studies without leaving Oklahoma City.

I joined that same Christian School of Classics as a teacher the same year it started paying faculty (it had a pilot year of volunteer co-op style teaching before my arrival). I taught a series of math and science classes (undergraduate background in sciences), wrote a bit of the remaining middle school and high school booklists, and finally had opportunity to pull a memory card out of my required Western Civ classes at Oklahoma Baptist University.


We had 26 or so students the year I arrived.

Teleport with me, if you would, to 2023. The Academy of Classical Christian Studies, for which I have now been headmaster for over a decade, and have detailed more fully in my recent book Festive School, is a private, independent, cross-denominational, three-campus, two-model, school serving 1,000 students from over 450 families connected to over 150 different churches across the Oklahoma City metro area — churches spanning from Latin-Mass Catholics to multi-campus megachurches. We have 200 employees, a vertically integrated house system named for saints both male and female from church history, and say daily Matins, Noonday, and Evensong prayers on all three campuses every single day with all faculty, staff, and students. You can guess which book informed our prayer life together as this Episcopal priest began leading liturgies years ago.

The Academy, like so many other institutions involved in classics, has exceptional teachers, exceptional curricula, and exceptional graduates. My children have each read about 75 major classics in their entirety by the time they graduate, have rich familiarity with Latin after six required years of language instruction, and can write from any kind of prompt effortlessly. In science and math, they are as familiar with William Harvey and Euclid as they are with graphing calculators or ChatGPT. Throw rich catechesis and training in formal and informal logic on top, and you find the formation and cultivation of affections to be quite powerful: God’s grace everywhere.

Let me pause and allow another thread of this story to emerge: ten years ago, in the middle of learning the management of these multiple institutions, a little boy entered our lives after a phone call from a friend (and active foster parent) mentioned an emergency-placement need. We were not yet certified for foster care, and had some quick catching up to do if we were to provide the temporary respite for this little guy. That little boy is now my son, a move that led us to adopt one more (we already had four bio babies). In fact, I’ve written about foster care on this blog once before.

But with the blessed gift of those children came a new institutional challenge at The Academy. We realized that both of our new sons were wired a bit differently than your more straightforward, neurotypical kiddo, and that The Academy as currently structured was incapable of meeting all their needs. We threw our shoulder into hiring and training our way ahead of this problem, creating a clinician-run Department of Educational Accommodations governed by 504 Plans, TBRI Training, and on-site tutoring options. Barely a step ahead, we were now welcoming dozens of similar babies a year in an attempt to take as many different kinds of children as possible — all God’s people.

But even with these measures, we still had kiddos slipping through while noticing an uptick in students, who after application, would be diagnosed with autism. For these students, we rarely had any kind of answers — 504 Plans or otherwise — that would meet their educational needs. And off they would go to another school. And we to say our prayers for a better way.

Fast forward to April. Twelve or so years ago, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City approved a new school startup for children with autism — Good Shepherd Catholic School of Oklahoma City. At the startup’s prime, it served students at three different sites across the Oklahoma City area through a combination of academic instruction and Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.

But it was in April that all Good Shepherd parents received email that, despite the best efforts of many, Good Shepherd was to close, and Oklahoma City would yet again be without a faith-based option for their neurodiverse children.

Well — never underestimate the power and influence of a mother advocating for her child. I received a call in June from our debate and forensics director and coach. She is a lawyer, an educator, and — above all else —mother of a Good Shepherd student. It didn’t take us but a few minutes to begin prayerfully considering a rescue.

Today, we are ten weeks into our pilot of St. Joseph of Cupertino Program for Autism at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies. As far as we can tell, it is one of a kind. Type 2 or 3 autism is not on the traditional radar of classics studies — much less a program that is as fully integrated with neurotypical peers as possible. These nine students join us for Matins, recess, Noonday Prayers, and Evensong, in addition to House Meetings, lunch, and some occasional classes. For our St. Joe’s kids, the teaching is one-to-one. Each of those students has a buddy/mentor (called an RBT, for Registered Behavior Technician) present at all times. Eight of the nine students came to us (largely) non-verbal. They range in age from 7 to 14. One also has Down syndrome.

And two more of them have already, for the first time, become verbal.

More than that, our neurotypical kiddos and their families have described an overwhelming cultural win that none of us would’ve known to pray for. Some have even described the resulting culture as “finally complete.” It would seem that our neurotypical students were those to benefit most from this program integration. Students across the city want into the program, are praying that it spreads to our other two campuses, and want to know how they can get involved, volunteer, and donate.

It is in every way remarkable.

The church has been prayerfully discussing disability since St. Augustine of Hippo wrote his City of God — and not exclusively for the purposes of providing better services, accommodations, and programming. Deeper yet still is the light that they shine on every other human. As Pope John Paul II observes,

The disabled person, with all the limitations and suffering that scar him or her, forces us to question ourselves, with respect and wisdom, on the mystery of man. In fact, the more we move about in the dark and unknown areas of human reality, the better we understand that it is in the more difficult and disturbing situations that the dignity and grandeur of the human being emerges.

The Rev. Nathan Carr is a bi-vocational priest in the Diocese of Oklahoma serving as vicar of St. John’s OKC, a liturgically vibrant church hosting two schools and a dog park in an urban neighborhood setting.  Furthermore, he serves as Headmaster of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies, a multi-campus school serving 1000 PK-12 students across the OKC metro.  He and his wife Sarah have six children.

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