Pennsylvania boarding school aims to build Catholic culture

This is a syndicated post from CNA Daily News. [Read the original article...]

Scranton, Pa., Jun 22, 2014 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Gregory the Great Academy, a Catholic all-boys boarding school, has graduated its first class as part of its efforts to form young men in a life of virtue for the building up of a Catholic culture.

“The spirit of the school is certainly characterized by joy,” Sean Fitzpatrick, the academy’s headmaster, told CNA June 11.

“We strive to rejoice in the truth at Gregory the Great and to participate in those mysterious realms of joy where men can, by some miracle, join their voices and even their actions to a chorus of divine praise.”

The academy, presently located in Scranton, was founded after the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter closed down the Elmhurst, Pa.-based St. Gregory’s Academy in 2012 after 19 years in operation.

Many of the school’s lay faculty and a group of alumni decided to begin a new school, with no official link to its predecessor.

The new school’s supporters include Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, who sits on its board of directors, and Abbot Philip Anderson of Our Lady of the Annunciation Monastery in Clear Creek, Okla.

Fitzpatrick said the school, inspired by the ideals of the University of Kansas professor John Senior, aims to foster “an authentic Catholic culture.”

It asks its students to live as “a prayerful community.”

“Saying prayers together, working, studying, and playing sports, our boys form very close friendships with one another and are encouraged to thrive in a healthy and well-balanced way of life.”

“Our students are free to live a life of virtue in a wholesome environment with ready access to the sacraments, athletics, and some of the best works of Western Civilization,” Fitzpatrick continued.

“These are the pillars of our program and it is a program that is not easy to come by these days.”

The headmaster suggested that the academy shows that young people “will often accept the call to discipleship rigorously and without regret” when offered the chance to have “an authentic experience of the Catholic faith.”

Johnathan Gearhart, a 17-year-old from Dayton, is one of four young men in the school’s first graduating class. He said every boy should consider the academy.

“They will go there and they will fall in love with it. Maybe not at first. But they will grow to enjoy it,” he told CNA. “They will appreciate the world much more. They will find the good things outweigh the bad after coming out of Gregory the Great Academy.”

Gearhart, who plans to study engineering, praised the relationships he established with both his peers and his teachers.

Fitzpatrick said the school features a “camaraderie that springs from a semi-monastic life freed from technological distraction and imbued with the fire of faith and friendship.”

The school bars its students from watching television and using personal music devices, computers, or cell phones.

Fitzpatrick said that while electronic devices are not bad in themselves, they are “often a huge distraction” and can separate teenagers from “the real world around them.”

Students who want to listen to music must learn to play songs for themselves, he said.

Gearhart said the school’s rule against electronics helped him become a better conversationalist.

“You get a stronger bond of friendship with the other guys, because when you talk to them, there are no distractions. Your friend’s cell phone won’t be going off.”

The headmaster said the school’s liberal arts curriculum is based on the concept of a “poetic education.”

It prioritizes synthesis over analysis, incorporating analytical skills into a vision that “values the whole over the part.” It also prioritizes experiential learning over “remote” forms of learning such as textbooks, scientific experiments, and the use of communications technology.

“It is far better for the student to wrestle with ‘Hamlet’ or the ‘Odyssey’ in all their difficulty, profundity, and beauty, than to encounter them pre-digested and excerpted in an anthology.”

The school also focuses on the “centrality of the liturgy.” The liturgy is “a school of praise” that fulfills the purpose of the liberal arts to help students pursue their final end – eternal beatitude.

The academy’s schedule includes daily prayer such as a morning Office of Readings, an evening rosary, and chanted Compline at night. Its chaplain, Fr. Michael Salnicky, is a priest of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Passaic.

The students’ choir sings for several nearby communities, including those that celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.

Fitzpatrick acknowledged that boarding schools have the reputation of being “elite” institutions. He said most students are from middle-class families and more than half receive “some form of tuition discount” thanks to the school’s benefactors.

This allows students to come from across the country, including rural areas with few education opportunities.

“Boarding schools are especially appropriate for boys, since the male trajectory involves breaking away from home to search for adventure and to make a way in the world,” the headmaster added.

The school’s extracurricular activities include a juggling troupe; juggling plays a vital role in graduating seniors’ Camino pilgrimage with their teachers to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Fitzpatrick said that students on the pilgrimage are “expected to survive on whatever tips they can bring in.”

“We were on the Camino with no money and the only way that we got money to pay for food was using the fruit of Gregory the Great Academy and by relying on God,” Gearhart said.

Twenty-five students from four grades were enrolled for the school year ending in 2014, while 40 enrollees are expected for the next school year.

“This is a good number as it keeps class sizes small and allows for a tight-knit, familial community among the students, staff, and faculty,” Fitzpatrick said.

He said the school is a small part of “a much larger cultural movement towards authentic Catholic education in the United States,” and voiced hope that the academy can help inspire and support similar institutions.

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