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The Faith

Every area of instruction and experience at St. Gregory’s is presented from a Catholic perspective and religion animates all our activities. The direct study of the Catholic Faith is an important duty; however, the order in religious education dictates that our first emphasis should be upon the boys’ active participation in a practical Catholic life. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is at the very center of the spiritual and sacramental life of both the Church and each one of her faithful. In forming the minds and spirits of young men, St. Gregory’s Academy leads them not only to study and know the doctrine of this mystery, but to love and appreciate the true value of the Holy Mass in their lives. Moreover, as education is a kind of friendship between teacher and student, so through the theology, liturgy and devotions of the Church a friendship is forged between Christ and the student, which we call charity. For in Christ, God now shares with us His eternal wisdom and life, which is at the basis of this divine friendship. Therefore, all things at St. Gregory’s are looked upon from this perception of eternal life, the communion of lovers, as the origin and goal.

Liturgy

            Pride of place in the life of the Academy is given to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the prayers and devotions that flow from it and lead up to it. Every way of life has a rhythm, whether it is set by the school bell or the time on the clock. At the Academy, the day, the week and the year move to the tempo of the Divine Liturgy which is the life of Christ as it unfolds in time. It gives formation to those who embrace it. The gymnastic of the Mass, its doctrinal content, its solemnity and silence, its antiquity and resistance to fad, its sheer beauty and the tranquility of order which it imparts to those who live it, make it the perfect instrument of education. Just as secular poetry provides us with new imaginative experiences of objects we may not have previously known, so the Catholic poetry of the liturgy gives us imaginative experience of supernatural realities and sacred truths. These become the living basis of our intellects’ acts of faith, hope, and charity. St. Gregory’s is not a school that happens to have the Extraordinary Form of the Mass said instead of the Ordinary; rather, the traditional Mass is an essential part of our education which, together with our secular studies and recreations, is integral to the formation of our students.

            One way in which the Church encourages boys and young men to grow in devotion to the Mass is by inviting them to serve in the sanctuary, to assist her ministers in their sacred functions. When we participate in the liturgy of the Church our hearts and minds are elevated to a greater love and appreciation of what God has done for us. As part of their formation, the students of St. Gregory’s become skilled altar servers. The boys sing Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony at High Masses and at other liturgical events such as Compline, Benediction, and processions of the Blessed Sacrament. In addition to these liturgical exercises, the students pray the Rosary daily and have regular access to the Sacrament of Penance. Efforts are also made to keep Catholic customs alive and celebrate major Feast days with due merriment. Through these means, St. Gregory’s contributes to the spiritual lives of its students and the spiritual life of the Catholic Church in North America, training a new generation to participate with knowledge and devotion in the Sacraments and ceremonies of the Church.

The Habit of Virtue

            The education provided at St. Gregory’s is not to form the intellect alone, but to form the whole man, including the will. Life at St. Gregory’s presents to the will certain goals and ideas which it can desire and to which it can direct its energies. By presenting Christian virtues to the young, not only is the imitation of Christ set as a goal, but also the aim of acquiring the virtues as a habitual state of soul. Virtue is rule over the exterior and interior senses. It is not a crushing control, but a rational control of human emotions. The aim of St. Gregory’s is not only to teach virtuous control of the emotions, but also, and primarily, to awaken emotions and then refine them through virtuous practice.

            At St. Gregory’s, an attempt has been made to create an island of traditional faith, of fellowship, and of Christian culture. Elsewhere, boys are routinely overwhelmed by pressures of secularism, corruption, and the diminution of religious morals. St. Gregory’s educational philosophy sets it apart from most schools and this is due to a belief at its core which is both profound and simple. It is the belief that if a boy is removed from the pervasive influence of popular culture, exposed to good and beautiful music, literature, and art, is engaged in sport and wholesome recreation, presented with the noble deeds and moral examples of history, invited to participate in the immemorial forms of worship of the Catholic Church, and provided with the affirmation and discipline of Catholic adults and peers, then that boy will learn, over time, to take pleasure in what is good and to despise what is evil: the true mark of a virtuous man.

            But the truest mark of a virtuous man is that he has attained the habit of virtue. A boy can be forced into virtuous action and, like a puppet, perform the required virtuous actions, but what happens when the strings are cut? A virtue must be presented in an attractive way so that, when the situation arises, the boy will be moved to desire upright action and so form the habit of choosing what is right. The community life of St. Gregory’s gives the boys a unique opportunity to recognize and exercise the social virtues and to serve God and man through love of neighbor and deepen their faith through the traditional perspectives and practices of Catholic life.

            Naturally, since the students are adolescents, the practice of virtue is sometimes a struggle: virtue is not attained in a day or holiness without a lifetime’s effort. But with the combination of their desire to grow closer to God and the instruction, guidance and sacraments the Academy provides for them, then, with the prayers of our Blessed Mother to help us, the boys will all work together for the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom upon the earth.

The Salesian Spirit

            Catholic men and women sometimes look at teenagers in the world today and bemoan the state into which our culture has sunk. It would be remiss to say that the corruption of our youth has nothing to do with an already decayed moral order prevalent in our times. It has much to with it. Adults, then, must take responsibility for the breakdown of the social order which allows a barbaric youth “culture” to exist. Responsibilities demand action. There is a natural tendency to respond to the problems of youth with admonition and punishment. These may be necessary at times. However, we must also, out of charity, place teenagers in our care within an environment where civility and moral virtue can reasonably be expected to thrive. Providing that environment through the Salesian spirit of St. John Bosco is the educational approach at St. Gregory’s Academy.

            In his introduction to the treatise on his philosophy of 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 is now practiced by his Salesians, an order he founded that is inspired by the spirit of gentleness, patience, and charity of St. Francis de Sales. Don Bosco often used St. Francis de Sales’ words to express his preference for the Preventive method: “You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.” Thus Don Bosco’s Preventive educational system developed as a product of his own tremendous love for youth and in the spirit of understanding inspired by St. Francis de Sales. The technique of the Preventive method consists chiefly in kindly supervision of the young with the aim of building character and keeping them from harmful influences. Don Bosco was convinced that this was the best process of conquering souls for Christ: the conjunction of vigilance and familial affection, to prevent infractions rather than punish them.

            “(T)his system,” Don Bosco wrote, “is based entirely on reason, religion, and kindness.” The first element of the Salesian educational system, reason, is the power to comprehend and understand the young and at the same time the ability to dialogue and communicate with them. These requisites call for an active and constant presence of the teacher with the pupil; a pleasant and unrestrained togetherness. Efforts are made to supply the legitimate emotional and psychological needs of the young, who seek “to belong,” “to be secure,” and “to be recognized.” These needs are attained by the confidence generated through this interpersonal relationship between pupils and teachers who, in Don Bosco’s words, are like “loving fathers” encouraging and praising at the proper moment. The needs for attention and recognition are fulfilled by wholesome outlets: sports, music, drama, field trips, and countless other interscholastic activities. The Salesian method seeks to minimize the negative effects of the “generation gap” by fostering the proper balance between authority and permissiveness, blending freedom with responsibility, and bringing together the old and the new.

            To offer the student human values alone would be a severe injustice in the process of education. Therefore, great emphasis is placed on the second factor of the Salesian educational method: religion. The message of the Gospel is an integral part of the Salesian education, since the “good news” is the light that will lead individuals through the life of this world to the life in the next. In today’s world, the light of the Gospel is obscured by godless societies and materialistic values. These negative cultural factors touch the young with especial force. Corruption in government, breakdown in families, and disregard for moral restraint are realities that wreak havoc on the healthy development of youth. The remedy is religion, which can dominate the actions of the young and effect permanent change for the good of the individual and society. Salesian education, drawing always from the rich tradition of Catholic inheritance, places the utmost importance on the frequent use of the Sacraments—the ordinary channel of God’s grace and help. The liturgy is for youth a dynamic force for good.

            To reason and religion is added kindness. This basic principle is not a weakness, but rather a show of strength and self-control. It seeks to create a persuasive atmosphere, where trust and communication is fostered. This kindness or charity generates that expansiveness and confidence so much needed by today’s youth. The element of kindness leads us to consider the relationship found on the other side of the educational fulcrum: the teacher, the pupil, and the family. The first school is the family and the first teachers are parents. The Salesian educators understand this important psychological fact and seek to develop in their school a “family spirit,” such as would exist in a truly Christian family where all are united in a spirit of joy, love, and peace.

            The preventive method of Don Bosco, therefore, consists in establishing an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual understanding, or the establishing of rapport. Rapport is the relationship wherein mutual trust and respect is nurtured in a spirit of friendship, sympathy, cooperation, and vigilance. The educator on the one hand is deeply interested in helping people solve their problems; and the educand on the other is appreciative of this attitude. To be effective, this relationship must take on a personalized and an individualized nature. Such rapport must have a “personal touch.” St. John Bosco insisted upon on the import of establishing rapport if a sound and lasting physical, emotional, intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation is to be imparted. Thus, the atmosphere that must pervade a Salesian school, and one that we strive to maintain at St. Gregory’s, is one conducive to affect this rapport. In every domain of activity nature decrees a certain scale of operation which must be obeyed if we would succeed. Human beings cannot be educated with the techniques of mass production. In the art of education, where a personal touch and repeated effort are essential, the small-scale operation is superior. St. Gregory’s is small by design in order to facilitate these goals. Each student receives the attention he needs to grow well. Also, that St. Gregory’s is a boarding school is very advantageous in pursuing this system, since a “family spirit” must always characterize any school employing the preventive methods of Don Bosco.

            Following in the footsteps of this saintly teacher, the teachers at the Academy learn to speak to students in the language of the heart and can therefore exercise a positive influence over them. The students, in turn, are moved to look upon their teachers as friends and benefactors who seek their good. Even when correction and punishment are given, students avoid feelings of exasperation since such actions are accompanied by friendly warnings and admonishments which appeal to reason and the reaches of the heart.

 

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