On March 12, fourteen hundred years ago, Pope St. Gregory the Great died. As his honorary title proclaims, he was a great man and a great pope. But this greatness was his not because he wanted to make the Roman papacy great again—which he did. St. Gregory was called great because he was good—the servant of the servants of God, as he phrased it. His greatness was achieved in a spirit of humble reluctance to be great: a spirit of holy meekness. In fact, greatness was the very thing Gregory did not desire, and it was in that desire that he achieved greatness.
This reluctance to be great is a mystery at the heart of St. Gregory the Great’s grudging yet accepting rise to papal power. It is a mystery to be embraced in following the standard of St. Gregory—and the teachings of Christ, for that matter. The reluctance to be great is a measure of both sanctity and sanity, and it is, therefore, a cause for greatness through the virtue of meekness. Meekness is not weakness. It is the noble desire to sit at the lowest place. It is strength. Though the meek do not resist evil with force, they overcome it with patient and enduring goodness. The meek are those whose reason guides impulse, restraining anger and passion. They are not free from anger or without passions, but have the will to control and master them. In this lies strength, virtue, and greatness.
The reluctance to be great is not necessarily a sign of laziness or selfishness or mediocrity. The reluctance of Gregory, and of every great man, is a sign of knowing oneself in relation to God, and embracing the humility that Christ taught us by becoming Man—even by His Own reluctance in the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Gregory was well used to worldly turmoil and the need to rebuild from the ruins, but he did not seek the glory that accompanies such tasks. The world is ever in need of reform and the re-establishment of faith. Gregory was the man to bring this to the world in his lifetime, and his example and leadership are not obsolete. The problems of a crumbling culture which he grappled with are still absolutely real and absolutely relevant. History and reason tell that the best leaders are not those who have ambition for greatness, but rather those whose power in leadership lies in a quiet dedication that is not focused on being great. This is the secret of St. Gregory and it is why he was great.
A true school is a community, a faculty of friends. But a good school will also build a community around itself. A school becomes beautiful when it has cultivated a broad community of friends rooted in the joyful celebration of Catholic culture. Gregory the Great Academy has been richly blessed with this culture of friendship and takes opportunities every year to gather those friends together to strengthen the bonds and to fortify the spirit which breathes new life into that culture and these friendships. Though delightful, such events also fulfill a duty to support one another and to uphold the mission held in common and perpetuated through the Academy.
On February 25, 2017, Gregory the Great Academy held its second annual Soirée in McLean, Virginia, where old friends assembled to renew acquaintances, to make new ones, to enjoy fine food, wine, and music, to laugh, to learn, and to muster behind the Academy as it prepares for a happy and historical move: a return to its original home in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. Held at the beautiful home of the Honorable Mr. and Mrs. Scott Bloch, Gregory the Great Academy was proud to feature creative dishes by an expert team of generous volunteers led by alumnus Marc-Pierre Jansen, and addresses by Fr. Paul Scalia and Prof. Anthony Esolen. A number of original works of art and stunning craftsmanship found homes during a lively auction, and, after a musical performance by the St. Gregory’s Schola Cantorum, an overwhelming show of support was made in the form of public pledges towards the purchase of the new campus.
The Soirée was an absolute and unprecedented success and a wonderful launch for our Homeward campaign. The gratitude felt by the faculty and students is deep. With the devotion and faith manifested by so many good people at this event, efforts to return home are proceeding with high hopes and soaring confidence. Thank you to our guests, to our speakers, to our volunteers, to our sponsors, and to our friends. Thank you and God bless you for your generosity. Our school would not be a school without your friendship.
This poet who crafted the speech of the common man, the man of the soil, the farmer, to the profoundest poetic expression is honored with a feast every year at the Academy, following the tradition of Scots all over the world. We Highlanders are Celtic by adoption and it is fitting that we should celebrate Robert Burns who changed the way English speaking people think about poetry.
Robbie Burns day was filled with happy activity—boys gathering pine branches and festooning the entry, common areas, and refectory with green, boys helping the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Strong, to cook and lay the tables, boys greeting their families who had traveled far to join in the feast. There was the ceremonial parading in of the haggis, accompanied by a recitation of Burns’ “To a Haggis;” the humorous Toast to the Lasses, followed by the lasses’ retaliatory toast To the Lads, both original compositions by staff members. Then guests and hosts sat to a feast of cock-a-leekie soup, shepherd’s pie, and of course, the haggis. The customary Immortal Memory Address by Mr. John Burger, an alumnus, was received with enthusiastic applause, and the freshman class performed “Tam O’Shanter” as a hilarious drama. Each class took its turn to sing either a rousing Burns plea for the rights of Man, one of his sentimental love ballads, or a Scots battle cry.
We love the poets who give us words for “thoughts too deep for tears” and it is right and proper to honor them and to celebrate God’s gift of poetry. It is deeply satisfying to share what we love with our friends, and we pray we will be granted the opportunity to see again the many happy faces we saw on Burns Night for many happy years.