A Championship Season – Graduation 2017

coach_davis2017Dear Parents, Family, Friends, and Students

I am Garret van Beek the athletic director and head coach for the Highlanders.

As I know you are very well aware, the Highlanders have brought home the 2017 Pennsylvania State Championship Title for Boys High School rugby. Gregory the Great Academy is the best and most successful team in this state, and this was achieved by your sons.

(pictured right: Coach Garret van Beek with 2017 rugby captain Jack Davis)

This is true if your son was the captain, which meant he had to be the decision maker and both friend and leader of his fellow men on the field of battle; if he was a starter, earning his jersey and number, in order to leave it in a better place; if your son was a substitute, charged with the difficult task of always being prepared to come into a match at any time: if he was a junior varsity player, building up the team and fostering the courage to challenge the varsity players, knowing that it is the only way the varsity will be successful on the weekend; if your son was a manager, staying up late in the evenings to have food ready for the players, and doing countless nitty gritty and tiresome duties; if he was a touch judge, helping to officiate the match, and therefore not being able to watch the match in leisure; if he was a water-boy, running on the field to give players the hydration they need, knowing they were too focused on the match to say a thank-you; if he was an enthusiastic and passionate fan and supporter, chanting the Academy’s very own Haka developed by former player and coach Brendan Landell; if he was the bagpiper, waking the student body up with their music and encouraging them during the match; or if your son was the President, Founder, and Sole-Member of the Highlander’s Audio Visual Club, supplying the coaches and players with video for analysis.

A tremendous amount of work was done to get the trophy within the walls of this building we now call home.

For those who never saw our previous location in the Poconos: imagine that we had two fields – yes two fields – but only twice the size of this refectory, which equals about a ¼ of a standard rugby pitch. To state the obvious—it had its challenges and required some ingenuity from both coaches and players.

We pushed and encouraged this team to strive for excellence in the smallest of details such as micro movements in passing. The students developed and strengthened their bodies in the weight room to prevent injuries, slamming tractor tires with sledgehammers. We taught them mental fortitude through such exercises as a trip to the stream for a quick dip in the cold months of March. We told them to dream big: and they did, bringing home the PA state title. We created an environment for self-reflection and honesty through preparation note taking and mini-group discussions. This team was selfless, playing this beautiful game not for themselves but for their brother, the school, and ultimately for the Lord.

There is an extra quality this team has developed over the past few years and which has come to fruition this 2017 season. Rugby – and life – does not always happen as expected. To be successful on the field and beyond, therefore, I had to intellectually turn over much control of the team to the players themselves. We would stop practice or video analysis and give players the opportunity to talk, discuss, and strategize about the problem that lay in front of them that needed solving. This demanded the players be open, honest— sometimes brutally honest with their peers – and to make demands and concessions for the greater good.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, as the saying goes. This season is a testament to the players for putting their trust in the coaching staff, and most importantly in each other.

I hope that you never forget the feeling you had when the final whistle sounded and you were crowned champions. Seeing Aidan Hoffbauer jump for joy with his hands not in his pockets for once, but straight up in the air, says it all. This state title is well deserved and I look forward to telling the story of this season to future Highlanders – as well as hearing the stories spread from student to student, especially when it gets to the point where Vincent Duhig was 6’4” and 230lbs!

I speak for myself and for the rest of the faculty and staff and those that have represented the Academy in past years when I talk about the great admiration we have for this team. This admiration is evident in the number of alumni both old and young that came to watch you beat the number #1 ranked Cumberland Valley. I thank you and am proud of all of you.

2017 Graduation Mass Sermon

fathersermon2017

by Father Christopher Manuele

Truly this is a season of departures, saying ‘goodbye’, yet not abandoning. Our Lord left his Apostles and you seniors leave this Academy today. On that occasion, our Lord spoke these prophetic words to His disciples: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, he that believes in me, the works that I do, he also shall do. And greater then these shall he do.” Today these words are the prayer that we the faculty and your parents have for you as you depart from us: that you do greater than what you have already done and even greater than we ourselves have done.

How mysterious and strange are these words of our Lord Jesus. No doubt, a man like us; yet He is God. How is it possible for a mere man to do greater things than God? And yet the divine promise was given, and so it must be. Not so strange, however, that you seniors do greater than we have done here at Gregory the Great.

St. Gregory’s, if it is anything, it is modest: modest in its purpose, modest in its means, modest in its intention. Gregory the Great has made no attempt to be a ‘school of the wise’ – that is the privilege of a life well lived and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Gregory the Great does not pretend to make you scholars – that is the purview of institutions of higher learning. Rather our purpose simply was to teach you how to PLAY.

Perhaps, you did not realize this. Perhaps, this was even hidden from your parents as the real purpose of this school. But, in fact, this is what Gregory the Great is about. You might have thought you came for a high school education, and, indeed, you received that. Your parents were told this education is an education distinct from all others by its being a schooling in poetic knowledge: to awaken in you the very desire to know the truth, to desire what is good, to be captivated by beauty by leading you into contact with what is real: to discover by experience the totality of what is, in its whole-ality before we begin to articulate what it is. In a word, ‘to play.’

Does not wisdom call,

Does not understanding raise her voice?…

at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:

“To you, O men, I call,

and my cry is to the sons of men…”

Hear, for I will speak noble things,

and from my lips will come what is right;

for my mouth will utter truth;”

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

the first of his acts of old.

Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water…

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

then I was beside him, like a master workman;

and I was daily his delight,

playing before him always,

playing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the sons of men.

And, now my sons, listen to me:

Happy are those who keep my ways.

(Proverbs 8:1, 3-4, 6-7, 22-24, 29-32)

per singulos dies ludens coram eo omni tempore ludens in orbe terrarum et deliciae meae esse cum filiis hominumludens, playing  ludens coram Deo.

Can play, so perfectly exemplified by the child, also be the same activity of the wise man?

Play is the activity of wonder: to discover and touch a mystery, to delight in the inexhaustible treasures of everything. Play. Is it not to imagine what could be, ought to be from what apparently is not so? Is it not to create and to destroy and so to create again, a thousand times over? For what we have made we discover is not quite what it is.

We play because we delight in what God has made: He has left His mark, His inexhaustible truth, His all-encompassing goodness and the splendor of His beauty in all of His works: to behold them is to behold Him.

How unthinkable that He who is wrapped in darkness, a mystery so inaccessible; yet it is for us to glimpse Him – though as in a whisper, covering us by His almighty and creating hand to behold the backside of His uncreated glory.

At St. Gregory’s, if we have given you anything, if we could give you anything, it has been to delight with you in the works of God, to play before Him, to begin to learn this activity of the wise man.

You and I, indeed, – we all have played – though perhaps, it seemed like a labor. But all the activities here at Gregory the Great, all that you have done, were done so that you & I could play and play we did.  The rigors of Euclid, Latin and Algebra, our dabbling in philosophy and theology so as to know the truth; reading history and literature, to parade before our imagination what is noble: the images of the virtuous and evil men so that we might choose the good and flee from evil; the discipline of rugby to subjugate the body and train the passions for what is better; a common life to learn sacrifice and to fall in love with what is beautiful, by creating beautiful things, to delight in what is good.

But this play is hard because we live in a cynical age, we have forgotten how to take delight in what is good. For we have been taught that there is nothing beyond ourselves which is desirable. So we had to learn how to play again. So simple our purpose here: not just to know (the truth), but also to become what we know (the good) and this desire to become them happens only when we first delight in them (the beautiful).

To know what justice is, is not enough- indeed, so exceedingly wonderful and worthy to be known; but to be a just man – that I, Christopher, be a just man – this is more to be prized. And so if, and when, I am persuaded by justice, captivated by its charm, when I take delight in just acts, then, perhaps, – God willing by His grace – I will be a just man. You looked to just men, living here and there; we have looked at the great men of old – saints, statesmen, scholars – and in them we have discovered the splendor and beauty of justice; by poetry and literature our hearts have been enflamed to be like them.

This is why beauty is so prized here at St. Gregory’s. Beauty is the bridge between knowledge and goodness – between what is and what is desirable for me. Beauty is to delight in things – but for me to become, for me to take hold of. And so of the multitude of things we do here at Gregory the Great – these thin encounters with reality which delight us so – is so that we might delight in God himself. ‘To know God’ is exceedingly good; but to be with God: to love and serve Him, to be as holy as He is holy is most excellent. And this is possible because we first have glimpsed the beauty of God, which arrests, draws us to Himself. And so we have delighted in Him.

Only before Him is the ugliness of this world, marred by sin, healed and restored; only there in the divine light is meaning bestowed and hope renewed; only in Him does the beauty of every man and creature shine with such brilliance and clarity that we can but cry out “it is good,” “it is very good.” This is why we never tire of contemplating Jesus, the Son of God; He is the Beautiful Shepherd, who by His incarnation persuaded us, taught us by his example how to be sons of God.

It is on purpose that you and I end our days here at St. Gregory’s in this playground- this chapel- in the Divine Liturgy of the Mass and of divine praise. Daily we have played here, we have been delighted and have delighted in the Lord and in the sons of God. This is why at Gregory the Great the sacred liturgy has first place, this is why the sacred liturgy must be -before all else- beautiful; it must be holy- not merely because of what it is: a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise; not merely because it is our mystical service to the Lord; but because by beauty we can take delight in the Lord, to stand before Him.  So captivated by His grace and His charms, we will desire to be with Him now and in the age to come.

This is why our divine play looks to/ends in the Holy Eucharist – the communion of you and I in God – the foretaste of the divine communion of beatific knowledge perfect in love hereafter. You and I learned the true delight of man: man to God and man to man. Beauty, indeed, we are told will save the world, this beauty will save you and me. For this is the very promise of our Lord Jesus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:23-24)

Gentlemen, today is a day of rejoicing, we have marked it by this Divine Liturgy, we have begun this day in divine play and we will pass this day playing. You have spent these many years learning to play: in the liturgy of divine worship, in the life of Gregory the Great Academy and you have made it your own. We will behold, we will delight in your husbandry – your own handiwork of beauty – in the “Woodcutters Dream,” where truth and goodness embrace in beauty. You will go forth this day playing, growing wise by this play, and you will teach your children how to play. And having forever recourse to the play of the Divine Liturgy you will enter into the presence of the Lord to take delight in Him unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Valedictorian’s Address – Graduation 2017

by David Hahn

Dear families, faculty, and friends,

davidhahn17speechIt is my honor to address you all today. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is David Hahn, and I am the son of the renowned writer and speaker, Kimberly Hahn.

My three years at Gregory the Great Academy will always be among my fondest. The warm times spent in song after banquets, the frigid times spent on the rugby pitch, or the cool moments of silence with my brothers in prayer. From Sophomore Nights up on the fourth floor at Pine Hill, to our Junior trip to Fontgombault, or our many Senior Nights in the Culley Cabin, these are the times that will be enshrined in my memory forever. They will linger like old friends for the rest of my life and remain a link forever to my brothers here with me on this stage. I have been blessed by Our Lord these past three years with nineteen of the closest friends I will ever have. I count myself privileged to have gone upon this journey with these companions, these comrades—and though it is to be seen if we will take what we have been given to become heroes, we have certainly shared the epic journey that heroes often undergo.

It is often said that in an epic quest, the most important thing that the wanderer finds is actually not his initial goal—be it a lost treasure, or a forgotten kingdom—but rather, the most important thing he discovers is himself. As Telemachus searched for Odysseus, the boy learned what kind of a man lay dormant in his blood and what his destiny as the man he was called to become directed. Today, we have reached the end of our odyssey, and we look ahead with a new knowledge of ourselves and what we are called to do as men.

When I came to St. Gregory’s my Sophomore year, I was not familiar with the ancient forms of the Mass. The traditions of the Catholic Church were as familiar to me as they are for any boy, I suppose. And so, when I arrived, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. As it turns out, my experience of the liturgy here at the Academy has been central to my time here, and it is the one experience that reflects my entire education. I was raised attending our local parish in a family with a Presbyterian background. What I found at St. Gregory’s was not the liturgy or the praise-and-worship that I was used to. I was exposed here to a liturgical diversity, especially in the Byzantine rite.

Though it was strange at first, I quickly came to fall in love with the structure and the poetry of the Mass, and most of all, by the musical traditions that bind East and West into a chorus of divine praise. I came to know anew what I had always known, but never understood: the tradition of my Faith. Much in the same way as I was converted to appreciate the many beauties of the Divine Liturgy, I was drawn into a new understanding of the Roman rite, seeing in its structure a common purpose which is the purpose of salvation and the depth of the sacred traditions. Through these traditions and the experience of the liturgy, I was brought into a new experience of my place in the divine family and my spiritual heritage.

I never knew how hesitant I was to encounter real experiences until I came to Gregory the Great, and I was thrown headlong into a new world of tremendous meaning and mystery. And I was introduced to this vast vision through small instances. I remember arriving there on my first day at Carpathian Village. It was slightly rainy and I had just received news that we were going for a hike. I remember shuffling up to Headmaster Fitzpatrick and saying, “Sir, it’s raining… but we’re going for a hike?” He looked at me and said, “Yes, David.” I retorted, a little frustrated, “But it’s raining! How is this going to work?” His eyes gave a kind of sparkle and with a smile is his voice he said, “You’ll probably get wet—and that’s all right.” And wet I got—and it was all right. There were many more such little experiences like this in my first weeks and months at school where I was challenged to step outside of myself and see what I was made of—to learn who I was in the context of things like rain, rugby, and religion. Looking back at the time I thought of myself as a pretty adventurous guy, but this notion was quickly shattered once I began to learn what being adventurous really meant and what being a man really was. My time here was not easy, but just as with the liturgy, I was slowly won over, and came to see the truth that anything worth doing comes at cost.

Just as the sacred music of the liturgy brought me into contact with the beauty of the Faith, so the folk tradition brought me to love the beauty of ordinary experiences and with a new family. What this all comes down to is this: I was introduced to the experience of goodness, truth, and beauty at this school and with these men. This is a fact exemplified by a small yet defining moment the night after the hike in the rain. We all gathered around a large bonfire and one of the guys had two tin whistles in his hand. I asked if I could try it out. Soon enough, Thomas Lawless and I were whistling out The Rising of the Moon, and any other tunes we knew. Though it may not sound like much, it is in the little things that the most important things are often found.

As my classmate, Jack Davis, put it, Gregory the Great has given us a love and appreciation of the good things, the little things: books, music, a cup of coffee, a day of hard work. It’s a place where we’ve shared real, physical experiences with one another, whether easy or tough, in a joyful way. We have shared a taste, we twenty, of what is truly good. We have experienced together something of what it means to experience anything at all through our daily prayer life, the sacrifice of teammates toward victory, and our mutual pursuit of the truth by study.

This sharing of experiences, both big and small, has given us a brotherhood that is unique, both in its depth and its breadth that shall fill up our lives, and never cease to be a blessing to us. So often, when we set out with some good in mind, God seems to love to interfere and turn it all towards something better than we could have hoped for. I came to Saint Gregory’s looking for a friend, and I’m leaving it with nineteen brothers. When I became a student, I wasn’t a boy enrolled at a school. I was a son adopted into a family. A family of war heroes and of poets, and their stories were sung by our own voices—a family of faith and of prayer. I remember one night after I had gotten into a fight, I was brought into Mr. Culley’s office. He listened to my rather hysterical side of the story patiently and then simply told me to pray three Memorares for the next twelve days. My life at St. Gregory’s has never ceased to be blessed by that advice, to turn to in times of hardship. I still pray those three Memorares every day to this day. They have helped me to find myself and to learn who I am.

I would like to thank everyone who has made Gregory the Great Academy a place for boys to experience, and for giving me a home for these past three years. I thank all my classmates for your loyalty, your friendship, and your fraternity. I thank my coaches and teachers for gifting us with this experiential education, for the dedication of your lives to deepen ours. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for the sacrifice I know you made sending me to this school. Thank you to all for these years of study, of play, of fellowship, and of grace. Thank you for your prayers and your support, and for believing that a place like this can and should exist for boys like me. Thank you.