Striking gold in a vast online rubbish dump


J. Fraser Field says a powerful experience of Christ's presence inspired him to embrace the Catholic faith and eventually to form the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Madeleine and Fraser Field

When I was asked to write about how the Catholic Education Resource Center (CERC) came into being, I was delighted. Almost no one in Britain seems to have discovered CERC, even though it has as much to offer British Catholics as it already offers its many devoted readers in other parts of the English-speaking world.

CERC is a free online resource library and clearinghouse for the best in Catholic faith and culture. Its origins and development are tied up with my own conversion, but before I relate some of that story, I want to quote one subscriber to our free weekly e-Letter. J. Budziszewski, professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote: "The internet is like a vast garbage dump, with trucks dumping new loads every day – yet studded here and there with gold and diamonds. Nothing could be easier than to find information on any subject of interest to Catholics. Nothing could be harder than wading through the acres of garbage to discover the scattered gems.

"I know many piles and hoards of unsorted internet junk, but the Catholic Education Resource Center is different. Every day, with wisdom, discernment, and endless patience, it performs the Herculean labor of finding the treasures, arranging them, displaying them, and making them available to all who seek."

The story of CERC begins with my conversion in 1987, brought about by an intense experience of Christ's love while I sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Andrew's Cathedral in Victoria, BC. I've been on fire about the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church ever since. Reading about the Catholic faith I found myself drawn into the lustre of this "pearl of great price": the depth and richness of the cultural and intellectual heritage of the Church. I came to see that the Catholic Church is not only the great defender of Christian faith in the world; she is also the great defender of reason as well.

Yet despite the Church's eminently sound reasons for her public stances on moral and social issues, she rarely gets fair coverage in the secular press. As my knowledge of Church teaching deepened I could not help noticing that, more often than not, when the Church and her teachings are discussed in the secular media, the particulars are either plainly false or so stripped of context as to be misleading.

In response to the intermittent mauling of my Church, I began writing letters to the editor and editorials which, respectful in tone, aimed to correct factual inaccuracies, to provide missing context, and to make necessary distinctions. I met with surprising success in getting these published.

But I also came to realize that, faced with attacks on their faith and their Church, most Catholics were at a loss to know what to think. As a rule, Catholics simply did not have the facts or the arguments they needed to challenge the misinformation. Having received their education in "secularized" universities, even most educated Catholics were largely ignorant of the good reasons that support Church teachings and of the magnificent intellectual and cultural tradition to which they are heirs.

Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and former United States Ambassador to the Holy See, articulated the seriousness of this disconnect during an address for the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 2004:

I want to suggest to you that poor formation represents a special danger in a society like ours where education in other areas is so advanced. In contemporary society, if religious formation does not come up to the general level of secular education, we are going to run into trouble defending our beliefs – even to ourselves. We are going to feel helpless when we come up against the secularism and relativism that are so pervasive in our culture and in the university. We are going to be tongue-tied when our faith comes under unjust attack.

"There is nothing wrong with taking pride in our Church's intellectual tradition – a tradition that predates and outshines the impoverished secularism that is stifling thought in many leading universities."

In response to such trouble, I sought out and found many Catholic academics, writers, teachers, and priests who shared my concern, and the Catholic Education Resource Center was born.

Since 1996, CERC has been compiling an Internet resource library and publishing a weekly e- Letter made up of the most compelling and convincing articles we can find on the big issues of faith and culture, along with inspiring human interest stories about the lives and witness of faithful Catholics.

Today, CERC is educating a broad range of Catholics and enquiring non-Catholics on the dynamic presence of the Catholic faith in the world. In addition, CERC has become a clearinghouse for the best well-reasoned responses to widespread misunderstandings about the Church and to the frequent hostility of the secular culture.

Many of the finest journalists, authors, and Catholic scholars in the world are supporting this effort by making their writings available to CERC without charge.

I invite Catholic Herald readers to have a look at CERC and to sign up for our free e-Letter. Go to




J. Fraser Field. "Striking gold in a vast online rubbish dump." The Catholic Herald (April 15, 2011).

Excerpted by permission of The Catholic Herald.


J. Fraser Field is managing editor of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2011 Catholic Education Resource Center

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Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.