The Thinking 

A School for Boys

October 4, 2012


VINCENT C. writes:

It is rare today, and becoming rarer with each new year, to find an educational institution that personifies what I believe is the primary purpose of education: the transmission of knowledge, both sacred and secular, and the building of Christian character. Both these objectives have been dismissed as marginally relevant by many, if not most, by the leaders of our public educational institutions today. Having labored in the educational domain for a dozen years at an academically oriented public high school in New York City, I have tracked the decline of standards over time – of both teachers and students – to the point that when I inquire about schools children attend, more often than not a parent’s response is, “We home school,” which does not surprise me in the least. It shows. Homeschooled children are, among their other virtues, far better mannered, being taught that, amongst adults, they should be seen but not heard.

While it would be inaccurate to make the same statement about the loss of the primary educational objectives for students at all Catholic schools, I remain unconvinced that Catholic schools today are noticeably better in transmitting knowledge and building a Catholic character for their students. Exceptions exist, to be sure, but not to the point of making me reconsider my statement. Then there is Notre Dame de La Salette Academy for Boys in Georgetown, Illinois. To understand why this boarding school for boys is so different, I need to tell you about its headmaster (not principal), the Rev. Michael McMahon.

In my lifetime, I’ve met scores of priests and other religious officials, but few – very few – are as impressive as Rev. McMahon. He stands tall, very tall, indeed, a 6’5″, which leads you to believe he could be a basketball player. In fact, he was, elected by his teammates the Captain of the Yale University Basketball Team. Born and raised in the bedroom communities of Connecticut, the Good Padre was considered likely to follow in his father’s stockbroker footsteps, but somewhere along the line God intervened, and Rev. McMahon entered the Priestly Society of St. Pius X Seminary in Winona, Minnesota.

 Rev. McMahon is also an inspiration to the boys who attend, for his presence combines the importance of learning with the necessity of character formation. Academically demanding, sports also play a vital role in each boy’s life. Despite the miniscule size of the student body, La Salette recently went to the Illinois state quarter finals in rugby against schools with a 4000 student body. But it is the philosophy of Rev. McMahon that makes this school and its curriculum sui generis.

Six years ago, the first group of students graduated from Notre Dame de La Salette Boys Academy.  It is worth examining what Rev. McMahon said then at the school’s first commencement in 2006:

Being the very first graduation, let us go to the very foundation, the heart of the matter and ask some basic questions. Why are we here? What makes this ceremony so important, especially since there are thousands of such ceremonies occurring across the nation? What is the purpose of La Salette Academy? The answer, my friends, is quite simple, yet most sublime, it is to form men! To properly form Catholic men – a Herculean task in any era, but especially in these times of disorder and chaos.

This is the noble and necessary goal of Catholic education, the formation of the whole man and all his faculties: physical, intellectual and spiritual – forming to life, both temporal and eternal. Let us again listen to the wisdom of the Magisterium.

Graduate comes from the Latin meaning to step or advance and today, my friends, you took your last steps at La Salette leading to your seats on this stage and in just a few moments will take your first into the world as young adults formed in the Catholic Faith. No more bells to rise and bells to bed; no more job checks; no more whistles at Phys.Ed. class exhorting you again . . . again . . . again! The time then has arrived for you to “leave the nest” and regulate yourselves aided by God’s Grace; to enter the world and take your place there as Catholic men.

You have been given various gifts and talents, and now a solid Catholic formation in order to plant – to sow the seeds of God’s glory and of His Church. Fortified by His Grace, you are, paraphrasing from St. John Chrysostom to sally forth, using the weapons with which you have been armed.

You are to be men of character and conviction, true to your word, stable, balanced lights in this poor, dark and ever-darkening world; not necessarily in great words or works, but rather in the daily, diligent devotion to duty – both supernatural and natural.

In short, you are to be Catholic gentlemen. (Emphasis mine) This was our goal throughout your years at the Academy: to form men who seek virtue, both supernatural and natural, who seek to do God’s will in all things, rejecting human respect and the world’s sensual call to selfishness, vainglory and pride; to serve and not to be served. Heed those words, my friends, from Psalm 133 which we have prayed so often together when singing the Divine Office at Compline: “Ecce nunc benedicite Dominum, omnes servi Domini.” Now, servants of the Lord, Bless the Lord . . . bless Him in your words, thoughts and deeds; bless Him in public and private, bless Him at all times and in all places. Go into this world of 2006, a world which has rejected Our Lord, rejected His Church, rejected His teachings and enlighten it with your faith, inflame it with your charity, conquer it for the kingdom of God!

That, I submit, is not the oratory you will hear at most Catholic graduation ceremonies, but, then, there aren’t too many Rev. McMahons amongst us.

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