My name is Sean Fitzpatrick. I received the last two years of my high school education at St. Gregory’s Academy, graduating in 1998. Those were two of the most formative and happy years of my life. I was introduced to the world in those years by the dedicated men who gave of themselves to make St. Gregory’s Academy a spirited community of friends who relied on each other in the rhythms of a highly-structured life – a well-balanced mixture of the ship and the monastery. Their sacrifices are marked by their success. It is hard to find such ardor as they had in the task of bringing boys out of the prison of our times to be born in wonder.
I recall one Saturday morning (the only morning we could sleep till nine) when Alan Hicks, the Headmaster, sent for me and another boy at six. Standing in rubber boots, he informed me that one of his sheep had hoof rot to the point where he had to shoot it, and the carcass had to be disposed of. “You look like you could use the experience,” Mr. Hicks told me matter-of-factly, and he was right. After some brief instruction, he left me and the other boy, city kids both, with the filthy, inconceivable task of hauling a two-hundred-some pound dead sheep over hill and dale to the “dump.”
It was just the following Saturday when I was summoned again, early. “There’s a ewe giving birth to a lamb down in the barn,” was the news this time. “I want you to stay with her until the lamb can stand.” Death last week and this week, birth – a full circle was completed that was natural – educational. I learned something in those weeks that I had read between the lines of Homer, heard in my heart at Mass, and was an unconscious part of myself – unconscious until then.
Only teachers who are truly attentive and motivated by the good of their students find the time and energy to furnish such real-life lessons – pure teaching moments that corroborate the classroom lectures on the true, the good, and the beautiful. That was the genius of St. Gregory’s. It was governed with such exceptional care that it cultivated experiences that both complimented and confirmed our studies and fostered a genuinely masculine character; experiences on the playing field, in the dorms, in the woods, in a song, or any place you least expected – like a sheep pen. The men at St. Gregory’s knew how to point boys towards encounters with the real that were informative and formative. And they did this with responsibility, consideration, and confidence. The result was their achievement of an educational, nourishing atmosphere defined by a permeating integration of the physical and the spiritual that can only be achieved through devotion and adherence to the principles of reason, religion, and kindness.
I attended Thomas Aquinas College in California with many of my fellow alumni, and enjoyed and profited from my studies there – but in a large part, only as a direct result from my experiences and friendships that originated at the academy. Nothing could have prepared me for the rigors of the intellectual life better than St. Gregory’s did, where I was given a sense of school and good books before undertaking college and the great books.
After graduation in 2002, my mind was already made up about what I would do next – I accepted a job as head dorm-father of St. Gregory’s Academy from Alan Hicks. There was nothing I wanted to do more than this. While an adolescent at St. Gregory’s, I had experienced something far greater than myself, and now as a youth, I wanted to share those life-changing encounters with reality and mystery – strange glories that make themselves known in moments of music and camaraderie; when the soul is suddenly stirred by the sacred.
I held the post for two years and enjoyed my work immensely, never ceasing to learn from the framework that sustained the school – that teaching is indeed a species of friendship and that moral leadership breeds moral leaders. I was trained to uphold the well-organized principles of discipline and supervision that regulated life in the dormitory, and was mentored by my old teachers as I taught my first class. I cannot enumerate the experiences that St. Gregory’s afforded me in that position, but can say that St. Gregory’s and the faculty of St. Gregory’s picked up right where they left off in making a man out of me. But now that I stood on the other side of the spectrum, expected to be a source of illumination rather than one of the illumined, I saw the inner-workings of an organic system of unity, a faculty of friends, where teaching was really a diffusive consequence of so much good.
After my tour of duty in the dorms, I was married and offered a position on the permanent faculty of St. Gregory’s, which I gladly accepted. I taught several courses over the next eight years while assisting in the administration of the academy and the day-to-day scheduling. Suffice it to say that I was happier than a man ought to expect to be.
And I never stopped learning from the wealth that St. Gregory’s as an institution and as a community had to offer.
Looking back now, as a father of four and seasoned teacher, I am bound to say with confidence and emphasis that St. Gregory’s Academy was a school where every effort was made, and consistently made, towards the safety and well-being of the boys in its care. St. Gregory’s was a school that took education seriously enough that it applied education to every aspect of life, actively striving to form the whole person – which is only possible by keeping a steady finger on the many pulses of life that take place in an all-boys boarding school. The good must be tended constantly, like a garden, and all improprieties and negative influences weeded out – this was the social philosophy of St. Gregory’s, and it was well carried out and passed on.
That boys finished their courses of study and experience at St. Gregory’s with an appetite for life, a devotion to God, a balanced love for poetry and logic, and a rare loyalty to the school where they all claim to have learned these arts of the human condition, is a testament to a great truth: that St. Gregory’s and the men who built St. Gregory’s were faithful to the task that was given them by God, and carried out their duties conscientiously, prudently, and skillfully.