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.
On Friday, March 3rd, I took a group of students all the way down to the George Washington National forest right across from Shenandoah National park for a weekend camping trip. After a long drive south, we hiked three miles up a mountain on a trail that was at times extremely steep. Once we got to the top, we set up camp. The stars were breathtaking and several of us did not pitch a tent so that we could gaze upon them as we fell asleep. We woke up after a cold first night and ate breakfast and soon after discovered that the Northeast side of the mountain was much warmer and blocked the wind, so we moved camp. Then the guys explored the mountainside and the river, played cards by the fire or worked on their sleeping arrangements for the coming night. After a glorious sunset, the boys sang songs and cooked dinner around the campfire.After dinner, they told stories, sang more songs to the valley below, and went to bed early. The next morning everyone was up before sunrise. James Smith started a fire and we warmed up while watching the sun slowly paint the mountains and valleys around. After cooking breakfast and packing up, we hiked out and attended Mass in Front Royal, VA. After Mass, Peter Gaetano, an alumnus from 2012, and his wife Elizabeth hosted us for a fantastic brunch before the long ride home later that day. The trip was an unforgettable adventure. The Shenandoah mountains and valleys already harken us b
ack and the words of the folk song “O Shenandoah” echo in our minds as we dream of those special places in our hearts.