All Saints and All Souls Days

The mission of Catholic education, the mission of Gregory the Great Academy, is arguably the most important one in the world—to make citizens for the next world. Dr. John Senior, the teacher whose educational methods and ideas informed the origins of our community, described Christian culture as the cultivation of saints. During this time of year when we honor all the saints and all those souls who will become saints, we are reminded of this truth and, again, honored that we have been given the incredible opportunity to labor in this bright corner of the vineyard and tend to our harvest. Teaching is like tending, like gardening—constantly requiring weeding, watching, and waiting. The faculty at Gregory the Great bear this ever in mind as we engage in the art of teaching and, God willing, in the work of cultivating saints. There are 63 spirited boys at the Academy, each one giving their all to the good school that God has provided for them. May it prove their path to heaven.

Robin Hood Days 2019

Life isn’t all beer and skittles,” wrote Thomas Hughes in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, “but beer and skittles, or something better of the same sort, must form a good part of every Englishman’s education.” The things that often best define a society are the things done when unconstrained by the necessities of society. Leisure is the basis of culture, to borrow Josef Pieper’s title, and what people do in their leisure time is, therefore, central to self-identity and to the quality of life. Education can, by this principle, be either enhanced or undone when school is out. Amusements and activities are a vital aspect of formation, and thus the “beer and skittles” of life have a serious part to play in a serious education.

In Hughes’ words:

Don’t let reformers of any sort think that they are going really to lay hold of the working boys and young men of England by any educational grapnel whatever, which isn’t some bona fide equivalent for the games of the old country… something to put in the place of the back-swording and wrestling and racing; something to try the muscles of men’s bodies, and the endurance of their hearts, and to make them rejoice in their strength. In all the new-fangled comprehensive plans which I see, this is all left out…

Every year at Gregory the Great Academy, there is an event called Robin Hood Days, where the students and faculty process with bows, belts, knives, and flags under the greenwood tree where all live together as merry men for several days. After setting up elaborate campsites, an outdoor kitchen, and a chapel, the boys feast on pit-roasted meats washed down with birch beer as they compete in a series of woodland skittles: archery tournaments, knife and axe throwing, whittling, wrestling, quarterstaff bouts, fire-starting races, and old Native American relay games.

All this may sound unusual for boys of our times to be doing, but to experience it is the most natural thing in the world. Laughter, songs, climbing trees, fires, food and drink, stories, games, hearty cheers, the occasional bloody nose, the ever-accompanying helping hand up, communal prayer, conversation beneath the stars. This is leisure, and it is profoundly educational. Hughes was right — beer and skittles, or their betters, must form a good part of any education.

Headmaster’s Orientation Talk 2019

The founding headmaster of this school is a man named Alan Hicks and he was a serious intellectual, a student from the Integrated Humanities Program at Kansas University, a student of John Senior, who some of you may or may not have heard of, but who you should learn about some day because if Alan Hicks is the father of our school, John Senior is really the grandfather of our school.  But that’s another story for another time.  Right now we are talking about Alan Hicks, the first headmaster of our school, that serious intellectual with glasses.  He once gave a description of this school, our school, your school, that I would like to share with you.  Better yet, let’s see if you can guess what he said: Anyone?

OK, I’ll make it a bit easier for you: I’ll give you a few choices:

  1. A school is a place where morality and philosophy and rugby are taught.
  2. A school is a place where one learns to love what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful.
  3. A school is a place where students have a good time.

So which one is it?

Well, the right answer is the the last one, C: “A school is a place where students have a good time.”  What Mr. Hicks actually said was, “I want St. Gregory’s to be a place where students have a really good time.”  Is anyone surprised or even shocked that he would say that?  Another teacher and former headmaster of our school, Howard Clark, (who was also a student of John Senior — that grandfather of our school I mentioned to you earlier, that someday you should get to know) echoing Alan Hicks phrase, was fond of saying, with mock seriousness,

“Boys, have a good time, all the time.”

Now this may sound silly and foolish to you: but I wish to propose that in the guise of foolishness we are looking at deep wisdom here.   Gregory the Great Academy is a place where you should have a good time, a really good time  – and learn how to do that all the time.

About a year ago, I spoke to a recent graduate of the Academy, and he told me that when he was a student here he always went to bed with a sense of completion and happiness because he had done so many good things that day.  It didn’t matter whether it was a weekday or weekend, just by going about his day starting with chapel in the morning, chores, breakfast and conversation, classes, sports, study hall, free time for fun or more conversation, and then night prayer, he found himself entering into and participating in a rich world of actions and events and ideas that brought him both happiness and joy.

There is a modern novel called the Unbearable Lightness of Being that is about the strange predicament of modern man, where man experiences in himself a lightness of being but not in a good way.  Not light as in “Let there be light – and there was light.”  But light as in “Bud Lite.”  The kind of lightness of being where one doesn’t even feel that one is real anymore: Man has become something so being-less, so insubstantial, that he is not sure whether he even exists or not, and has vague fears that he will float or fade away.  Living a life that is not rooted in what is real: in what is good, in what is beautiful, and in what is true, is actually unbearable: it leads to this feeling of fading away; it leads to boredom, sadness, and anxiety.  But we don’t want you to go down that road. We don’t want anyone floating away out the second or third floor windows.  No, we want boys with density, substance, and character.  And why?  Because we want boys and eventually men who are happy, who have gained a deep and abiding sense of joy in the gift of their existence.

Plato, the wisest of the ancient Greeks, thought that the only way you could explain why people choose to be bad, to be evil, and thus to become less who they are, less really human, and thus less happy, was due to ignorance.  If people truly knew the good, had experience of it, they would always choose it, he believed.  There is a good deal of truth in Plato’s view.  And I think the world today is starving for those realities that will make them good, make them happy – realities that they in fact do not know because they have not truly experienced them.

The hope of our school is that you will experience many good things here  – that in fact your days will be filled with them – and that in giving yourself to these goods, you will learn what and who in fact you are.

Our hope for you here is that by giving yourself to this education, you will learn to be a maker and a builder by making useful and beautiful things out of leather, wood, and clay.  You will learn what it feels like to create and to see anew common things of the world once you have become a creator of them.

You will learn to be a farmer by learning not only how to eat food, but how to grow and care for food (like chickens, eggs, and bacon), and then how to prepare it.  All of this will teach you how to truly enjoy the depth and mystery of food and to participate in the sacred ceremony of eating.

You will learn to be a musician, a singer, and perhaps even a poet: one who can give voice to beauty and the mystery of life through words, music, and song.

You will learn to be an athlete: a kind of warrior of the playing field.  One who learns the discipline of strength, agility, quick-thinking, endurance, and sacrifice for the sake of a common goal.

You will learn to be a juggler: one who can bring gratuitous joy to friends and family with the deft manipulation of ball, clubs, diabolos, devilsticks, and unicycles; you may even learn through this art, how to survive without money in a foreign country.

You will learn to be a philosopher which means a lover of wisdom: one who is not a know-it-all, but one who, through listening and reading and thinking and writing, has begun to see and love and to interpret the order of truth by which all things are made.

And most important of all, by giving yourselves freely to all this goodness, truth, and beauty, in the smallest and the greatest of deeds, you will learn to become a child and son of God, a good son of our good Father in heaven, a man who puts himself confidently and lovingly in God’s hands because he has learned to know and to trust and to love God and all that God is calling him to.

This, I believe is how one goes about having a good time, a really good time, all the time.   Welcome to Gregory the Great Academy.