39 How can Catholic theology help young people?


In the second session of Raising Resilient Children, Neil Boothby, director of the Global Center of the Development of the Whole Child, and Father Lou DelFra, C.S.C., director of Pastoral Life at the Alliance for Catholic Education, discussed the harmonious relationship between science and faith in the context of early childhood development. This conversation aimed to highlight the critical first thousand days of a child’s life and explore the combination of early childhood development insights with Catholic social traditions to foster resilience and well-being in children, especially those facing adversity.

The Profound Impact of Early Years

The session from the ThinkND series shed light on the profound impact that the early years have on future outcomes. By intertwining scientific breakthroughs in neuroscience with the tenets of faith upheld by the Catholic Church, the discussion aimed to provide insights into the importance of this period in a child’s life. Neil Boothby, the esteemed director of the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child at the University of Notre Dame, facilitated the conversation with expertise and personal insight.

Boothby began by sharing a moving recount of the birth of his own child, Peter. This experience highlighted the individuality of each child and the immense responsibility parents have to nurture and guide them.

The Perspective of Catholic Social Teachings

Father Lou DelFra provided an enriching perspective from the viewpoint of Catholic social teachings. He emphasized the inherent dignity of the human person and the roles and responsibilities of parents and communities. Father Lou highlighted the family unit’s status as the “domestic church” and the fundamental need for responsive caregiving. He emphasized the right of children to grow up within nurturing communities that reflect the Church’s commitment to caring for the vulnerable.

Drawing parallels to the Catholic tradition, Father Lou emphasized the protective and nurturing role demonstrated by Mary. He highlighted the importance of responsive interactions and adequate nutrition in building optimal brain development, shaping neuron development, and ensuring children understand their world as a predictable place.

The Impact of Neglect and Adversity

The discussion addressed the gravity of neglect, abuse, and adversity on children’s intellectual capacity and life expectancies. Neil Boothby highlighted the monumental 30 million word gap that often reflects the impact of poverty on development. These adversities leave epigenetic signatures that affect biology, leading to either resilience or risk. This further reinforces the need for intentional, nurturing care.

Boothby made a compelling case for prioritizing investment in early childhood development, as it has broader societal implications such as poverty alleviation.

Addressing Challenges in an Increasingly Fragmented Society

The speakers also tackled the challenges of loneliness and isolation, particularly among young people, in an increasingly fragmented society. They discussed the role of social media in augmenting this issue and emphasized the need for the Church and educational institutions to foster a greater sense of community and connection.

Father Lou reminded listeners of the Christian theology based on relationships, with the doctrine of the Trinity serving as the ultimate symbol for love and interconnection in shaping human identity.

The Influential Role of Faith-Based Institutions

The conversation celebrated the influential role of faith-based institutions, like the Catholic Church, in fostering mindset shifts and encouraging nurturing behavior. The impact of Notre Dame’s engagement in countries like Haiti and Kenya was highlighted, showcasing the Church’s involvement in shaping communities and promoting resilience.

Neil and Father Lou embraced the notion that faith-based institutions could serve as vectors for delivering developmental and nurturing messages to parents and communities. The Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child represents the University of Notre Dame’s commitment to this mission.


As the episode concluded, Neil and Father Lou reiterated their joint appreciation for exploring such profound topics. They encouraged the audience to remain engaged with the Global Center and the ThinkND Learning Community, as these conversations and initiatives remain vitally important.

The episode, rich in its blend of science and spirituality, reinforces the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child’s commitment to offering insightful and thought-provoking research. The resounding message echoed between the lines of the conversation was a call to action, encouraging parents, caregivers, and communities to embrace the sacred responsibility of nurturing resilient children. This responsibility is built upon the firm foundations of early childhood development insights and the compassionate ethos of Catholic Social Teaching.