Graduation 2020: Headmaster’s Address

Luke Culley delivers the headmaster's address to the graduating class of 2020.

by Luke Culley, Headmaster

Reverend Fathers, Faculty, Families, Students, Alumni, and Graduates:

I remember watching this class when they were freshmen, only days after their arrival in what was then our school in a place situated in the Pocono mountains called Pine Hill. I stood watching them from the porch of the cabin where I lived as they assembled around a rock on the field below and one or other member of their class would step up onto the rock and begin addressing his new classmates, soon to be friends. First I remember John Bateman step onto the rock to preach. And then Max Valentine decided it was his turn so he would take his place on the rock and so it went. After watching this for a while, I turned to Ben Strong (our Math and Physics teacher as well as dormfather at the time) and said that I would give a lot to know what it was they were talking about so earnestly and even formally. I could only imagine. This was only the second or third day of their freshman year and they were already forming themselves into some kind of politic body and, at least I imagined it this way at the time, making plans to improve the place. I remember telling Ben: “this is going to be a special class.”

By the time they were juniors, their manifold gifts of intelligence, strength of character, athletic ability, and – let’s face it – all around coolness, began to take shape in not so surprising and not always so pleasant ways. They knew that they were upper-formers now, leaders of the student body, and they wanted to share their ideas, and respectfully, of course, disagree. Were they a bit cocky at times? Well, YES. But we knew that underneath all that they were really good boys who were growing, doing, and thinking with all their might and main. These were good boys, but they were as yet unfinished. Like a rock under the artist’s chisel, they were still taking shape.

But something began to happen to them between their junior and senior year. Only they could tell us what it was exactly. Whatever it was, I doubt it happened all at once. But it did begin with something decisive: almost as if they had re-assembled around some other rock to re-assess themselves and their role in the school. When they came back to be seniors, they were ready to serve, they were ready to learn how to be true leaders: they were ready to be something remarkable: young men who are constantly trying to see the good of the whole and to serve it well, whether that whole was the boys in their room, the orderliness and cleanliness of the kitchen, the soundness and fun of weekend activities. These young men strove to learn from their head dormthather Jonathan Kuplack, from their coaches, from their teachers, and from one another how they could improve in each of the areas of their lives here — and in the end, they truly accomplished what I like to think they were already dreaming about and planning in those first days of their freshman year around a rock. They did make this a better school. We are proud of them, as I know you are and ought to be. But that expression doesn’t capture quite what I mean. A better way to put it, perhaps, is we are grateful for them and even astonished at them. We stand in admiration of what God has wrought in these young lads during these four years at this school. And my sincere hope is that they too stand in astonishment at what God has wrought in them as they worked well with all the grace God gave them to work with.

It is true that their senior year was cut short. There was no rugby season. No chance to show that this year would be the best season in Saint Gregory’s history. No final goodbyes to their room-mates, over whom they took such excellent care. And worst of all, no thesis defenses. Just kidding. That’s the one thing I think most of them don’t regret missing out on.

But their losses were great: there was no Saint Francis Pilgrimage. All of this is very sad for them, for their teachers, and for the whole school. But when I reflect on this year, I believe that what they are left with is no small thing. For God accomplishes all things well and for God a part can become the whole. In this unfinished year, this year that was cut off in an untimely fashion, I can say with complete confidence that they achieved a knowledge that is an experience of the whole of reality. Not that they now know the whole of reality, far from it, but that they have received the whole of reality that our school can give to young men of their age. I believe this. And I also believe that their sudden exit from the doors of our school, when neither they or we realized at the time that the exit was as final as it actually was, has afforded them a hard lesson from which they can learn much indeed. Their senior year was not finished. The fullness of their Saint Gregory’s experience was incomplete. They did not go on a pilgrimage — and yet, and yet… life is a pilgrimage or rather many pilgrimages and all lives end unfinished. To begin to reflect on this rude experience of loss, of being cut off from what is expected, of what is rightly your own, of the fulfillment of all you have striven for, we might turn to some of the greatest unfinished works of man: Mozart’s Requiem Mass (which they listened to in solitude but also in estranged company with the rest of their their schoolmates in this period of Covid exile), a mass composed while Mozart was dying. He did not finish it. Why? Why did God not give him the strength to finish what was so clearly one of the greatest musical achievements of man composed for the honor and glory of God himself? The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke mused about an incomplete sculpture of the god Apollo. Gazing at what remained of this headless stone torso, Rilke writes:

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

For Rilke the fragment shines in every part in a way that is somehow more powerful than if it were whole. And for him the effect is transformative. Every inch of this unfinished stone cries out to him through the brilliance of a resplendent smile unseen but felt everywhere: You must change your life.

Suddenly these young men found themselves at home, with a pile of essays to write, music to listen to, sonnets to compose, with instructions and encouragement coming from a voice far away but appearing to them weekly on computer screens. This was all good work. But it was definitely not their school. Suddenly they were out of their element. Trying to be who they have learned to be in the company of one another and their teachers and their usual surroundings and events but without one another, without any of these supports. They had become fragments of their own experience, of their own knowledge. Dis-oriented fragments I imagine. And yet bearing within them the resplendent smile of the whole. This uncomfortable, painful, but I dare say illuminating experience of being a fragment and struggling to make of it a whole is the work that each of you will now pursue for the rest of your lives. There will be a pilgrimage and this will be the quest of your pilgrimage. How to take what you know, what has been revealed to you, and revealed even more urgently, more clearly now that you are separated from it. How to take this in hand and translate it, shape it into action for every new circumstance of your life. You must change your life. Because you have already been changed in so many extraordinary ways. This will not be easy, but unlike most Saint Gregory’s seniors who have sat where you sit now, you already know this crucial truth.

Your class began, as I remember, around a rock. (Do any of you remember this?) And it continued to gather around a rock. A rock that took many forms: Countless conversations, class trips into mountains and down rivers, playing on the rugby field and in the IPL league and everywhere else, finding your voice by telling jokes to friends, by giving speeches in rhetoric class, and by being leaders of your room, of your areas, and of the school. When I first taught you in Church History I remember that your class always seemed to be laughing or smiling about something. Now, I know it was probably some comical face Francis Rataj was making, that perfect angel. Or was it James? I still don’t know.

In Humanities you were still full of mirth but ready to tackle serious books and serious conversations. I did not participate in your weekly seminar with Dr. Lefler every tuesday night but I loved to look in on them. It was wonderful to see: the beauty of young men conversing with a wise teacher. The resplendent smile of wisdom is what you have gained here. In your work, in your play, in your contemplation, in your laughter, in your prayer you have been made translucent to a wisdom that will suffuse the rest of your days if you choose to deepen it through memory, inquiry, and prayer. And you have found that the proper home for wisdom is friendship: friendship not only with each other, but friendship with all the students, and even with your teachers, friendship with your parents and your family, friendship with all of Creation, friendship with God. And you know this because you know that it is by giving gifts to one another for something larger than yourselves, like a rugby game, like a class discussion, like a casino night, like a 5 course meal for the freshmen, like a school, that you become more than yourselves. In giving, you are given back, magnified and multiplied. It is the resplendent truth of this rock that you stand around now. And we are all honored to be able to stand here with you.

Sudden Inspiration: A Letter from a Friend

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In the rush of running a lively boarding school for boys, it is easy to lose sight of the impact that our work brings to individuals and thereby to the world. When one lives every day with singing jugglers, monastic culture, an ongoing conversation about the highest things, and the constant support of friendship and the sacraments, it is easy to take even these blessings for granted. Every once in a while, however, something happens that brings the effect of our efforts dramatically to the fore—and it is always a humbling experience. Every now and again, I am reminded of the wonderful importance of our work, and often suddenly, through a conversation, a phone call, a reaction from people we meet on our adventures, or, in the case I would like to share with you, a letter.


Dear Mr. Fitzpatrick,

I am a retired accountant, educated in the public schools, 70 years old. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, from which I became estranged many years ago. I have not attended any church service in over 30 years.

I have been receiving your great newsletter, The Minstrel, for a couple of years now. I don’t remember how it first came to me, but it doesn’t really matter. You might ask, as I have asked myself, why a fallen-away 70-year old Protestant would contribute to a Catholic school for boys, 3,000 miles away. I read your newsletter carefully. It inspires me. As nothing else has in more than three decades, it makes me feel closer to God. I greatly admire your mission to turn boys into Godly, strong men. Our country very much needs Godly strong men. I read the letter from your founding Headmaster, Alan Hicks with his description of the elements of education at Gregory the Great, including “…Latin, poetry, music, Classical Logic, Rhetoric, the Great Books, rugby, the direct experience of nature…” That is the description of a classical education, something that is non-existent in the public schools, public universities and even many Catholic universities.

God bless you, your staff and your boys. Keep up the great work!


I received this letter recently from a man I do not know, but who knows us, and reminded me of who we are and what we are doing. I am deeply grateful to him for his acknowledgement, for his encouragement, and for his support—but especially because he told me how we have touched his life. It is a gift, perhaps even a grace.

Graduation 2016: Valedictorian Address


by Peter Reilly, Class of 2016

Reverend Father, Faculty, Parents, Guests, Students, and Graduates,

Though now is the time for words, I stand here dumbfounded as I wonder where the time has gone, and what these years that I, that we, have spent at Gregory the Great Academy might mean, both now and for the future. What will we take with us? What memories will guide us over the course of our lives? What are the cords that will bind the hearts of these friends of mine together for years to come? What are the chords?

Whatever the string or strain may be, we know the sound of it. We close our eyes, and are enveloped in a symphony of happy thoughts of times together, and they all come with a tune, a song. They are memories that will stay with us with the mysterious strength that songs stay with us, because they all were formed in the music of this school. Rays of warm light fall upon rows of boys dressed in blue and gray chanting the “Kyrie” of a morning Mass. Students, alumni, and faculty sing “My Comrade” bound shoulder to shoulder in an unbroken circle. There is a friend across the candlelit table at the Robbie Burns Supper smiling and singing along with the crowd. We can hear the thud of hands hitting refectory tables as “Sherramuir” is roared. We hear the virile iambs pulsing through the walls as the class in the next room learns a new song. The dorm hallways are alive with noise as in the distance a lone penny whistle plays the Butterfly Jig. Over the shoulders of boys singing “Haul Away Joe” we see bright colored rings and clubs passed across the backdrop of Scranton’s streets. We taste the tears that run down our faces as we sing “Non Nobis” after a rugby game.

These and a host of other memories fill our souls. We know them all by heart and we know their songs by heart. The ten of us before you are linked in friendship by these memories and by this music. One of the foundations of friendship is the enjoyment of a common thing and when you consider the multitude and caliber of our common experiences and memories, so linked together with a shared song, there is much cause for friendship. The harmony of hand and heart has been given to us, and given to us together with a music that will humanize and haunt us for the rest of our lives.

It is truly a blessing to be able to stand here now and know with un-shaking confidence that every member of this class is my friend. It is a blessing to be able to say that we all stand with the confidence that this camaraderie we have founded and celebrated here will prove lifelong. Ours is a friendship that has been forged in the fires of youth and joy, and hammered into shape on the anvils of the rugby pitch. Ours is a friendship engraved and embellished with laughter and jugglery. It is a friendship that has been tempered in waters: in literature, in logic, and poetry. It has been blessed in the chapel and sanctified by the Liturgy. And music, the right music, has presided over all, serving as a Divine voice, as though conducting a choir, and intoning the proper responses to His Divine mysteries. Music is the language of love, of friendship, of the merry life. Together we have heard it, together we have sung it, and we will carry it with us together even as we part ways.

lyreThere is something ethical about music. I would dare to further this thought of Plato’s by saying that there is something mystical about music. Music has the power to awaken and enliven the spirit. It is spiritual. It is religious. Nations have been bound together by their songs, and the rising and falling dynamics of those nations’ music are intimately connected with the rising and falling of their ethics. The power of song lies in its ability to move the soul. This soul-swaying power of music, that power that persuades and inspires, binds souls; and it is in this forge that our Class’s friendship was wrought. Within the songs of Gregory the Great Academy are linked memories, memories that will be remembered at their sound and with their sound. They are memories that, as alumni, we will hold dear to our hearts because in them is reflected the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

On behalf of the Class of 2016, I thank all of you who have made these friendships possible, and who have refused to let the music of St. Gregory’s fade into silence. Our gratitude is beyond words. Seven of the ten members of this class have older brothers who attended the Academy in former times. When the old school was closed, there was a fear and a sadness that we would never have the chance to experience what our older brothers experienced. They told stories. They sang songs. “I heard of those heroes and wanted the same.” We all wanted to follow in our brothers’ footsteps to the doors of St. Gregory’s. And now, I stand here, grateful for so many things, wearing the same tie my brother wore when he stood at this lectern seven years ago to say farewell for his class. Thank you to all of you whose faith has kept this school alive for us, so that we may learn the songs of friendship as our brothers did, and as our brothers will. You have written us into the song of St. Gregory’s: a ballad of camaraderie. You have metered our names in friendship and rhymed them in the rhythms of the happy life. And although it has taken but a few years to learn these lines, they will not soon be forgotten. They are etched into our very souls—the joys, the sorrows, the victories, the defeats, the battles and banquets, the pains and pleasures. These compose the adventures of life that we all sang at the Academy. We are indebted to you for these memories and their music. We thank all of you who have worked and sacrificed so that the song of St. Gregory’s may resonate in the hearts of students, as they will resound in our hearts for as long as we live.