ST. GREGORY'S ACADEMY FORMS CATHOLIC GENTLEMEN AND SCHOLARS
MOSCOW, Pa. — Over 1,000 years ago, as the great King Alfred surveyed his kingdom, ravaged by warring Danes, its institutions crippled, its people demoralized, its educational centers ruined, its fields unplowed, he decreed that "all the youth of free men" not at work be taught the liberal arts — at public expense.
And he prescribed a specific course of study: St. Gregory's Pastoral Care and his Dialogues (containing the Life of St. Benedict), Orosius' Universal History, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, and a collection of the writings of St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church.
Surely Alfred must have had his critics, complainers who said those courses weren't relevant or were too difficult to understand, and that the country needed arms-makers or tax-gatherers. Witches, moreover, probably accused him of violating the separation of Church and state.
But Alfred knew only the light of Latin culture could penetrate the curtain of darkness covering his land.
Today, in the verdant hills outside Scranton, Pa., in a little place called Moscow, history is repeating itself at an academy dedicated to Pope St. Gregory, the master architect and educator of Christendom.
Founded by priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter, with the blessing of Scranton's Bishop James Timlin, St. Gregory's Academy is on a mission to bring Catholic culture and civilization to a new generation of young men who would otherwise grow up in the toxic playground of modern American culture.
Here, no students slurp soft drinks and burp their way through history classes, yawn through interminable expositions on Catcher in the Rye, sketch genitalia for sex educators, or suffer the verbal, physical, and moral aggression of their peers in the neopagan classroom.
Instead, the 16 students — who comprise the first classes at St. Gregory's — experience on a daily basis the exquisite beauty of the Latin liturgy in a magnificent chapel; exercise their imaginations by reading classic literature; develop their senses by observing nature on the academy's 200 acres of woods and meadows; learn to understand the virtues and vices of men by reading history; and discipline their minds by studying Latin, logic, rhetoric, and mathematics.
What we're doing here," headmaster Alan Hicks explained after a tour of the new boarding school, ''is offering a Newman-inspired liberal arts education for grades 8-12.
The first emphasis for students in the lower forms is on the real, giving them direct contact with nature. If a student is going to study astronomy, he begins by studying the stars, learning their names, recognizing the constellations. They study natural history. Nature hikes are a big part of the science course. Students observe trees, flowers, and wildlife. In winter, they'll follow the tracks of animals to their homes.
Developing The Senses
"All this is a foundation for a higher understanding," he continued.
The next step is to cultivate the boys' imaginations with good literature: Homer Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Mark Twain's works, Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail, Aesop's and Grimms' tales, Robert Louis Stevenson's writings, and classics of Homer and Livy — among others.
Music and poetry are also very important at this time. The students memorize poetry and folk songs, and recite stories. They'll listen to, and practice, Gregorian chant.
In these first years, we concentrate on developing the senses and imagination, because that is the essential preparation for reflective work, the study of math, history, and the catechism.
Before we give them the answers, we let them know what the questions are. We want them to have inquiring minds.
The ultimate purpose of St. Gregory's, however, is not to impart utilitarian knowledge or to form an "intellectual elite." Rather, it is to provide for the Church true and perfect Christian gentlemen, who will, as Pope Pius XI hoped, feel, judge, and act "always and consistently in accordance with right reason and enlightened by the example and teaching of Jesus Christ."
Hicks, recruited by Fr. Arnaud Devillers to be headmaster at the new school, comes to St. Gregory's from the University of Kansas. There, he studied philosophy and logic, and was in the Great Books program under Dr. John Senior, for whom he worked as an assistant instructor.
It was Hicks' job at St. Gregory's to recruit the faculty, which now numbers, in addition to Hicks, four lay teachers and one priest. All, Hicks notes, are influenced by Hilaire Belloc, the militant Catholic journalist, historian, and poet, whose own view of history and biography is very much a part of the program of studies.
Just as the Latin liturgy is the center of the students' lives at St. Gregory's, religion is the axis around which all other courses rotate.
Students are expected to memorize prayers and to know their catechism, and as they advance in their studies, they learn basic apologetics, dogma, and moral theology, Church history and the history of the councils, so that the Church is always relevant to the other courses of study.
The Practice of Virtue
While public schools have become centers for training children in vice, St. Gregory's insists its students act like gentlemen all the time.
The liturgy, of course, is the great molder of personality, and students are required to assist at daily Mass each morning, and to participate in the prayer life of the academy, including a daily rosary in the evening.
The code of conduct expects that students will show courtesy and charity at all times to both their teachers and peers; will exhibit "proper respect in word and deed for holy places, holy persons, and holy things"; will refrain from any profane, abusive, or obscene language; will respect the property of each other; and in all cases will "fulfill the duties appropriate to their lives as students, whether spiritual, academic, or personal."
Breaking any of the rules will lead to disciplinary action, and if not corrected, to expulsion.
In addition to their studies, the boys are responsible for keeping their private living spaces clean and tidy, and alternate among each other the jobs of cleaning the bathrooms, doing the dishes, and other routine maintenance.
The atmosphere at St. Gregory's reflects serenity. The boys' living quarters are neat, but typically those of boys. Each shelf and desk reveal the interests of the particular student — model ships, remote control cars, artwork. There is, however, an absence of the degraded symbols of modern youth culture — no posters of rock stars, or Calvin Klein underwear models, can be found. Instead, there are crucifixes, icons, and patron saints.
Most of the boys who attend St. Gregory's, says Hicks, are there because their parents recognize that it "provides a good atmosphere for them to mature in ways they could not at home." Three of the boys, he said, have no fathers, and their mothers wanted them to "have a chance to be around real Catholic men."
Others wanted their sons to receive a genuine Catholic education and they didn't want to worry about them being exposed to perverted doctrines or liturgical abuses.
Overall, he boasts, "The boys are really good. Full of energy, lots of energy. But they have a true faith."
An Ambitious Endeavor
The sponsor of the school, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter — established by and under the direct authority of Pope John Paul II after the excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — has as its dual purpose the formation and sanctification of priests in conformity with the authentic doctrine, spirituality, and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, and the founding of Catholic schools for young persons.
In July, 1992, the Fraternity was invited into the Diocese of Scranton by Bishop Timlin, who offered the former St. Nicholas' Orphanage to the priests for their residence and school.
At first we said no," explained Fr. Devillers, "because the building was in such poor shape. The electrical, heating, and plumbing systems were a disaster. Bringing the building up to 'code' would cost a fortune. Then, after looking around for a while, we said yes, because it's a very beautiful setting and it's very accessible to the northeast.
St. Gregory's is approximately a two-hour ride from both Philadelphia and New York City, although students come from as far away as Texas and Canada.
Renovation of the building took a year longer than expected. All new heating, electrical, and plumbing equipment had to be installed, as well as stairways for fire escapes, and the entire inside of the building had to be scraped, painted, and, in places, carpeted.
Now all is new, clean, and fresh, though the sounds of power saws and hammering can still be heard in various rooms. Shelves have just been built in the library, though the school's 40,000 volumes remain packed in Dole banana boxes.
A third of the E-shaped building is currently used by the students at the academy, who board three to a room. Each has his own bed, desk, and private space.
The far wing is used by the 14 seminarians studying for the priesthood, a number which will increase to 25 next year.
Eventually, the academy expects to board 110-125 students, and when that number is reached, says Hicks, the seminarians will need to find a new home, for St. Gregory's is to be primarily a school for young men.
When work is completed in the main building, the next project will be refurbishing the woodworking shop, so students can learn carpentry, and to clean the huge round roofed barn, which will house cows for milk and sheep to graze the lawns.
The soul of the academy is the magnificent St. Gregory's Chapel, which was formally dedicated on March 12th by Fr. Josef Bisig, the superior general of the Priestly Fraternity.
The site for daily Mass, Sunday High Mass, benediction, vespers, and Confession, the chapel is both simple and beautiful.
A gorgeous marble altar rescued from a Chicago church slated for demolition, a wooden Communion rail and impressive marble statues of Joseph and Mary from New York City, beautiful windows and murals of the life of Christ all provide a wonderful setting for worship.
What strikes the visitor, however, is the painting of the crucifixion above the altar.
Asked if the painting, which depicts Christ with His Mother and St. John, was imported from an old church in Germany, Fr. Devillers answered that Slovakian-born Canadian Michael Janek, 27, a self-trained artist who is residing at the academy, painted it.
Janek will complete the altar triptych with paintings of St. Peter and St. Gregory.
Devillers added that the workman who installed the marble floor for the sanctuary marveled that Janek's faux marbleizing on the arches and niches looks more real than marble — and it does!
Tuition and board for each student total $6,800 per year. While many students are interested in attending, the academy is trying to provide aid to families who recognize the value of the school but cannot afford it.
This month, said Hicks, the academy sent out a fund-raising appeal, asking supporters of the Fraternity to help sponsor students.
The school needs three levels of committed supporters: those who can support one student for a full year, tuition plus room and board; those who will pay room and board, or $4,000 per year; and those who can pay the tuition, at $2,800.
The expensive restoration of the building was completed primarily through small pledges of $20.00 to $50.00, and the Fraternity is earnestly praying for major benefactors to support a scholarship fund for the school.
On May 28th, Bishop Timlin will confirm students at St. Gregory's Chapel.
On June 4th and 5th, St. Gregory's Academy will host an open house for those who would like to see the school. At 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 5th, there will be a celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, with an outdoor Mass and a procession around the school. The public is invited.
The academy is also hosting a two-week summer camp for boys, and four Ignatian retreats, two for men and two for women, to be led by Fr. James Buckley, S.J., and also a retreat for priests led by Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
For more information on the Academy and/or student applications, write:
Alan Hicks, Headmaster
St. Gregory's Academy
RR 8, Box 8214
Moscow, Pa., 18444
Or telephone: 717-842-8112
The June 26, 1994 issue of
201 Ohio Street
St. Paul, MN 55107