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.

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?”

A Natural Order of Living

Boys at Gregory the Great Academy discover Truth every living day. They wake to the sounds of nature and of man in harmony with nature: birdsong from an open window, a prefect’s call to Morning Prayer, the bustle of roommates readying themselves for the day. The natural world and their place in it is constantly present, never mediated by some electronic device.

Without first perceiving reality through the senses, a boy would find the abstractions of religion and philosophy extremely difficult. That is why we place such an emphasis on developing the imagination through three means: technological poverty, good (as well as Great) books, and time.

The natural order of learning directs us first to experience the real, to take delight in beauty and goodness, to discover truth, then to wonder at the meaning of each thing and how it fits into the wholeness of Creation. The only way to experience the sensible world is to encounter it with the senses; one can then add a little knowledge about things through learning what others think, but first a student must submit himself to Nature itself, unmediated by anything artificial. Gregory the Great Academy sits on nearly two hundred acres of woods and fields. Students are liberated by our policy of technological poverty and are encouraged to heed Wordsworth’s exhortation to “Come forth into the light of things / Let Nature be your teacher!” Having seen the glory and beauty of nature with their own senses, they cannot help but wonder at and begin to understand God’s love. This is fertile ground for further learning.

The second means to develop the imagination is through good as well as great books, read with delight and taught by imaginative teachers who are in love with them. Imaginative literature opens the mind to truths about human nature as well as the natural world. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Robin Hood, foundational books for Freshman Literature, introduce boys to wonderful descriptions of nature and to the way human beings act in the world. A teacher who loves these books brings them to life; our freshman literature class is always rocking with laughter, thirsting for adventure, or pensive with “the tears of things” because they learn to reflect on the good, the true, and the beautiful. The good books, the habit of reflection, and the training of the imagination are the best preparation for the great books taken up in junior and senior humanities classes. But without time for reflection, little progress in this soul-training could happen.

Unlike many modern schools, including some that espouse Classical training, Gregory the Great Academy does not offer a plethora of courses. Each student in each grade takes the same classes with all his classmates and is thus liberated from the necessity of choosing a track at an early age. We leave the college courses, such as calculus and chemistry, to college, choosing instead to give high school boys time for their minds to expand and flower, time for them to grow and learn how to make big decisions (such as a life’s course). But most of all, we give the boys time to hike in our fields, time to build a campsite down by our creek, time to play board games and ping pong on cold, rainy days, time to build friendships that last a lifetime.

Over and over we hear that true friendship is built at the Academy, and that it is time and the freedom from technology that made it possible. In these days of shallow online influencers replacing friendship, this gift of time might be the very best gift we can provide young men.