Gregory the Great Academy and Don Bosco

St. John Bosco

In his treatise on education, St. John Bosco says, “There are two systems which have been in use through all ages in the education of youth: the Preventive and the Repressive.” Of these two, the Preventive method was adopted by Don Bosco and now inspires teachers at Gregory the Great Academy. Teachers often use St. Francis de Sales’ words: “You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.”

John Bosco was convinced that Reason, Religion, and Kindness, the title of his treatise on education, were the best methods of conquering souls for Christ. We wholeheartedly agree.

Reason calls for the active and friendly presence of teachers with pupils, a pleasant togetherness. We listen to our students, we play ping pong and chess with them, we rejoice and sorrow with them, we work side by side with them. Boys long to belong, to be secure, and to be recognized. We strive to be teachers who are like loving fathers encouraging and praising, rather than finding fault. We fulfill boys’ need for recognition in the wholesome outlets we offer: sports, music, drama, field trips, and countless other interscholastic activities.

The remedy for disordered values is religion, which fosters permanent change for the good. The Religion program at Gregory the Great Academy draws from the rich tradition of our Church, not only in classroom lessons, but most importantly, in the frequent reception of the Sacraments—the ordinary channel of God’s grace and help. Boys learn to serve Christ at both Byzantine and Latin Rites, they pray the Rosary, Lauds, and Compline daily. They sing Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony, not only for their beauty, but because these cultural inheritances foster a deep life of worship. The very atmosphere at Gregory the Great Academy is infused with the love of God and the good things He created. Our spiritual muscles become stronger as we breathe the free air of our Holy Faith.

To Reason and Religion is added kindness. Kindness seeks to create a persuasive atmosphere, where trust and communication are fostered, generating the confidence so much needed by today’s youth. This kindness—another word for charity—guides us to do as we would be done by, to consider a youth’s light mindedness when he misbehaves, and to punish, if that seems necessary, only for the sake of his good.

But when practiced with diligence, the Preventive Method makes punishment rare. When a student realizes that he has disappointed his trusted and friendly teacher, he desires to return to good behavior. Teachers and dorm fathers strive to be like brothers or fathers to the students in their care and treat them with due respect, which is returned in full. As in a family, mistakes can be made on both sides of the student-teacher relationship, but when they occur we are guided by our saintly mentor John Bosco, and both student and teacher meet in the charity of friendship. The Preventive Method of discipline is thus a foundation on which to build character in both student and teacher, reforming both in Christ.

Friendship and Mentorship

Sophomores with table

At Gregory the Great Academy we place high importance on the teaching relationship as a species of friendship. Thus we foster an atmosphere where teachers willingly work with the strengths and weaknesses of the children in their care, and the students, in charity and respect for their teachers, are moved to cooperate in learning more than academics. In our students and in our teachers we wish for good hearts as much as good minds.

We take as our model St. John Bosco, who writes that harmony and friendship between students and teachers must reign freely in a school. Otherwise, a barrier of distrust develops, hindering any real influence for the good the teacher possesses. Being in a position of respected and caring authority, the teachers at Gregory the Great Academy have the potential to teach much more than their subjects. We strive to teach virtue not only in the classroom, but by example on a social and spiritual level, as students see us caring for our own children at banquets, receiving Communion at Holy Mass, being good sports when we lose a chess game to a student, and working alongside our fellow teachers with respect and care. Gregory the Great Academy follows wholeheartedly the tradition that men ought to be virtuous mentors to boys who are in their sphere of influence, and we point our students to the Saints whose example we ourselves work to emulate.

In this spirit, we have enacted a formal mentorship program whereby each of the ten dorm rooms is under the guidance of one teacher who takes a brotherly approach to his assigned room. Each mentor regularly meets with the six students under his guidance, getting to know the boys’ joys and sorrows, rejoicing and mourning with them in the true spirit of friendship, and modeling manly virtues, pursuing wisdom, and refining their tastes. These are opportunities to discuss why some music is worth listening to and some is not, how social media affects our outlook and why it can be dangerous, how to overcome temptations, and how to cultivate goodness.

This sense of togetherness, which is the essence of teaching, is the fruit of a friendly approach. “A master who is only seen in the master’s chair,” writes St. John Bosco, “is just a master and nothing more. But if he goes into recreation with the boys he becomes their brother.” Students who join in their teachers’ laughter and conversation are all the more willing to give their best effort in classroom, sports, and leisure. Love is a more powerful motivator than rigid authoritarianism.

Integration, Love, and Teaching

students pray at Mary statue

Human beings possess a hierarchy of powers. We experience the world first physically through our senses, we respond emotionally to what we sense, we conform our will to love the good, true, and beautiful or hate the evil, false, and ugly, and we reason about meaning and our place in God’s world. The complete man must not ignore any aspect of this hierarchy. 

At Gregory the Great Academy, teachers point to wondrous things, showing the boys in what way things are wonderful, and giving things the esteem that is their due. In this way, students gain an integrated vision of the world, with each of its parts ordered toward mutual dependence on the Creator. First, the students experience with their senses. Subjective experience is not disparaged at the Academy, and boys cannot help but respond emotionally to beauty in the world, goodness in the saints, truth in our holy Faith. These first steps in knowledge seem natural, but must be encouraged and put in their right order. Emotions move students to conform their wills to goodness, truth, and beauty. Finally, teachers themselves reason with their students about the place every created thing has in the world God made.

Parts only make sense in view of the whole, and every whole is just another part in God’s creation. Seeing the world thus integrated is the goal of liberal education, an education which grants a willing learner “the power of viewing many things at once as a whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values and determining their mutual dependence,” as Cardinal Newman says. Ultimately, this integrated vision leads to Christ.

As one cannot teach what he himself does not have, one of our primary academic requirements for our teachers has been that they themselves have this integral vision of things. When a teacher has this vision the same will be reflected in his teaching. With a grounding in just sentiments for the reality of truth and goodness as manifested in Creation, teachers are a driving force which make students thirst for learning and for Christ. 

Plato taught that teaching is a species of friendship, whose highest degree is love, in which persons see each other as integral parts of something greater than themselves—a marriage, a family, a school, a nation, a faith. In the pursuit of happiness while involved in any type of friendship, we have to ask what the whole thing is: what are all those activities and commitments part of? What is the integer? What is the whole? If a student forgets everything he learned at school or college, he had best remember this one question. It will be on the very final examination that his own conscience will make at the last hour of his life: in the pursuit of horizons—of horizontal things—have you failed to raise your eyes and mind and heart up to the stars, to the reason for things, and beyond, as Dante says at the top of the tower in his poem:

The love which moves the sun
And all the other stars?”