The Catherine Project builds communities of learning based on conversation and hospitality. We seek simplicity, transparency, and open communication in matters large and small.


Our tutors hold PhDs or have other significant experience in serious and in-depth intellectual work. We seek as tutors academics who are willing and able to work on a volunteer basis; zealous about their own learning; happy to conduct classes by conversation rather than lecture; open to learning from adults in all walks of life; and eager to read outside of their field of expertise.

Our reading group leaders are experienced readers and guides in conversation. We especially welcome as volunteers graduates of academic programs based on reading and discussing great books.

Our executive director oversees the day-to-day management of all functions, takes the lead in all aspects of the start-up operation (evaluating and implementing management information systems and other solutions), manages outreach to tutors and readers, supports the board chair/founder, and helps set the strategic direction for future phases.

Our advisory board provides high-level governance, financial oversight, and, in collaboration with the executive director, sets the Catherine Project’s strategic direction. Along with providing advice and financial support, members also contribute pro-bono professional services (e.g., graphic design and website development) as circumstances warrant.



We endeavor to welcome to our groups any adult who desires to learn and who has the basic abilities to read a book and hold a conversation. We also require that all who are admitted as readers welcome others on the same terms.


Our Project survives primarily on donations, and we encourage each reader to donate in accordance with his or her ability. We would like our readers to have a stake in our organization as well as a place in its community. However, registration in a class is completely independent from past donations or from one’s capacity or willingness to donate. We will never make registration conditional on payment or ability to pay.


Our tutorials have between four to six readers. In the spirit of hospitality and accountability, we ask that tutors make themselves reasonably available for one-on-one conversations, especially if a reader is having difficulties or in order to pass on and receive feedback.


Tutors and reading group leaders have broad authority over their courses in their content or structure, as determined in consultation with the executive director and the head of the faculty. For the moment, commitment to lead tutorials or reading groups is renewed semester by semester, until the organization stabilizes. We hope in the long term to develop a permanent faculty, which would deliberate on all instructional matters.


A reader may be removed from a particular tutorial at the request of the tutor for any reason. The tutor may recommend to the executive director that a reader be removed from the Project if (a) the reader shows no evidence of learning, (b) the reader disrupts the learning of others and does not respond to correction on this point, OR (c) if there is evidence of inappropriate or threatening behavior.

A reading group leader may request that the executive director remove a reader from the Project or a particular reading group for the reasons given above in regard to tutorials. 

The executive director may remove a tutor or reading group leader from a tutorial/reading group or from the Project if the tutor/reading group leader disrupts the learning of his or her readers, or if there is evidence of inappropriate or threatening behavior.

Tutors, reading group leaders, and readers are strongly encouraged to relate any difficulties to the executive director by email or by private conversation.

We seek to maintain a culture of conversation among our members, including habits of difficult conversations.


We endeavor to create a community for our tutors and reading group leaders as well as for our readers.

Current leadership

Anne Folan is founder and president of Anne Folan & Associates, a creative services firm with offices in New York and Washington DC whose clients are drawn primarily from the financial services and pharmaceutical sectors. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Zena Hitz is founder and president of the Catherine Project, and also serves as one of its volunteer tutors. She is the author of Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of the Intellectual Life and of numerous articles on the value of liberal education. Trained in classical philosophy, she is a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Zena can be contacted directly by addressing email to zena.hitz@catherineproject.org.

Kreigh Knerr serves as Headmaster of the Middle School for Great Hearts Irving. His many adventures include teaching, entrepreneurship, and angel investing. Sleigh is the fitting rhyme for his forename.

Thomas W. Merrill is a faculty member in the Department of Government at American University in Washington, D.C. His book, Hume and the Politics of Enlightenment, won the Delba Winthrop Prize for Best Recent Work in Political Philosophy; and he is a co-editor of The Political Thought of The Civil War. He directs the Lincoln Scholars Program, a core texts certificate program for first and second year students at American University.

Roosevelt Montás is Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University and directs its Freedom and Citizenship Program, which introduces low-income high school students to the Western political tradition through the study of original texts. From 2008 to 2018, he served as director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum. 

Maca Olsen is a graduate of the “Great Books” undergraduate program at St. John’s College. She is partner and creative director at Poesis Creative Studio, a graphic design and branding firm.

Mary Peterson is a native Arizonan with deep roots in non-profit and organizational development. She has spent much of her adult life serving in maternity housing, living and working with vulnerable pregnant women.

Jordan Poyner is executive director of the Catherine Project, leading all aspects of its operations and collaborating with the board and founder on intellectual content and strategic direction. He holds an MA in liberal arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis. Jordan can be contacted directly by addressing email to jordan.poyner@catherineproject.org.


Commonplace is a journal maintained by volunteers from the Catherine Project’s community of learners under the supervision of the executive director.

The Catherine Project, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization incorporated in the State of Maryland.

Our employer identification number is: 87-1914842

Our mailing address is: 2631 Housley Road, Box 1006, Annapolis, Maryland 21401