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A Massachusetts Miracle

SBCA Story [1] from St. Benedict Classical Academy [2] on Vimeo [3].

Last weekend I was in suburban Boston to give a Benedict Option talk at a fundraiser for St. Benedict Classical Academy [4], an independent Catholic elementary school in South Natick. I went to a private dinner with some of the board members and families involved in the school, and then, the next night, to the gala. I also visited the school itself, and was utterly charmed by the sweet, light spirit there.

What an amazing place, and beautiful community. I talked at length with a number of parents, who told me how much this little school means to them. It is really and truly orthodox in its Catholicism. Parents see the school as an oasis, and it’s easy to see why. I even met a young Baptist couple at the gala whose child isn’t old enough to attend yet, but who have come out to the gala to support St. Benedict school for two years in a row, because they are so grateful to have a seriously Christian classical school around. It is so encouraging to me to see and to speak with parents who love their school so passionately, and who give so sacrificially to support it. My guess is that this comes, in part, from knowing how hard it is to pass on the the faith in such a post-Christian part of the country. They take nothing for granted. For someone like me, coming from a local culture that is less secular than Boston’s, this was really impressive. The St. Benedict folks are pioneers. They have heart like you wouldn’t believe.

St. Benedict Classical Academy is a wonderful example of the Benedict Option. In a time and a place (Boston) where the news about Catholicism is so discouraging, this community of faith built around this independent school is a source of light and hope and good cheer. At the gala, headmaster Jay Boren announced that they have just purchased a small piece of farmland nearby, and will be raising money to erect a schoolhouse there. They are bursting at the seams in their current schoolhouse. If you are a Catholic or other small-o orthodox Christian who would like to donate or otherwise help a terrific school in the Boston area, click here. [5] Lots of us lament the darkness and moral chaos of our time, but in the Boston area, the St. Benedict Classical Academy community is meeting the challenge with faith, hope, and creativity. In so doing, those believers are making something beautiful for God, and for their children.

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13 Comments To "A Massachusetts Miracle"

#1 Comment By DM On April 9, 2019 @ 11:52 pm

Massachusetts is also home to the original “classical Christian school”, Trivium School founded 1979, and also Imago School founded in 1981. We are way ahead of you up here.

#2 Comment By Ted On April 10, 2019 @ 7:49 am

Here’s another miracle from Massachusetts. Somebody grew a spine:

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#3 Comment By anon parent On April 10, 2019 @ 9:07 am

This is exactly how our parents feel about the classical Christian school my kids attend(ed). We only have about 120 families but we raised 100,000 at this year’s gala for a much-overdue library and resource learning center. Our biggest problem is the high school issue.

More power to the parents in MA. Looking at stats recently for that state it is eye-popping: second in the nation for opioid deaths and comparatively high rates of sexual non-conformity (16 % among 18 to 24 year olds). And it is rather interesting to note that, especially among Cambridge, MA is a huge pharmaceutical hub. [See Matt in VA on this issue.]

#4 Comment By Eric Mader On April 10, 2019 @ 9:31 am

Yes, it looks like the people at St. Benedict really get it. From their statements, web page, etc. And from your assessment.

It’s well worth it to offer financial support to such a school. More than worth it.

No, I don’t personally have much to offer, but am thinking of diverting some of my normal weekly offering to the Church into, shall we say, more trustworthy, smaller institutions.

You say it’s “really and truly orthodox in its Catholicism”. Really? To me, especially given where it’s located, this leads me immediately to want to question the headmaster: “What will your school do if the child of one of your families declares him/herself ‘trans’ and if the family is behind the child?” Also: “Does the state of Massachusetts require you to teach any ‘diversity’ curriculum in terms of sex and gender in order to maintain your school license? If they don’t require it now, what will your school do when they do require it?”

There’s the rub. If I were to hear from the headmaster that they would be as “supportive as possible” of a “gender-nonconforming student”, not a dime of my money would go to their school. Sad but true. I’d look into sending my small yearly check to a real Catholic school–in Africa, say.

Another one: What would the school do if a “married” pair of men (yes, I still use scare-quotes and will continue to do so) insisted on enrolling their child there for this “classical education”? Would the school say No? What would the fallout in Boston be?

And here’s one for you, Rod. If a “married” pair of men wanted their surrogate-delivered child enrolled in that school, what do you think the school should do? I admit it’s a hard question. Because the child is a soul precious to God and in need of being educated. But if the child keeps coming to school with “My Daddies took me to …” etc., and if the “fathers”, a contradiction in terms, were to start pressuring the school on “diversity”, what would be the school’s approach to this in relation to the other, presumably more orthodox families?

I’d be curious to know your answer to this, Rod: What should the school do if this latter happens? Really. Because it very well will happen sooner or later. It may have happened already.

But the truth is, you never answer questions I pose you in comments. And this one is a tough one. I hope you surprise me this time.

In any case, these are the kinds of questions that, when answered, establish the lines to be held–or if rather the lines are no longer going to be held.

Should I write the school and pose these questions? Again, I’m asking honestly.

And no, I don’t mean to come off as negative or suspicious. This school really does look wonderful. But a truly “orthodox” Catholic school in the Belly of the Beast that is Boston? Really? How can it be?

[NFR: How am I supposed to know what this particular school would do in one of those hypothetical situations? — RD]

#5 Comment By Charming Billy On April 10, 2019 @ 10:03 am

Stories like this make me think that for traditional Christians our post Christian future might resemble that of Dissenters or Nonconformists in 17th and 18th England. Dissenters were marginalized by law, yet formed vibrant educational and cultural institutions that in some cases came to rival to established institutions. Dissenting schools, for example, were sometimes patronized by leading Anglican families who preferred their sons to be educated by well qualified Nonconformists rather than by mediocre Conforming educators at the prominent public schools. Nonconformists were, as traditional Christians will soon be, subject to social and legal exclusion, but it was comparatively mild, as I expect it will be here in the US. Nevertheless, it was a real thing.

As a historical analog, I think the future for traditional Christians in the US will be more like that of Nonconformists than, for instance, that of Christians in the USSR. I expect there will be genuine legal toleration, alongside social and cultural intolerance, leading to a diminished acceptance of traditional Christianity, and eventually leading to some legal abridgements, but not, I hope, outright persecution.

#6 Comment By BF On April 10, 2019 @ 10:44 am

Eric Mader poses some tough questions. Of course none of us here can know what this school in Massachusetts would do under any of his tough hypotheses, but it is worth asking what should such a school do under such circumstances? As everyone knows, the Mormon church has struggled recently with such issues. Gone are the days where we could rely on the idea that no one will raise these questions.

Genuinely transgender people exist. The condition isn’t anything like as common as it seems in these times when it has become something of a fad, but not every child making such declarations is simply seeking attention. I believe that “gender dysphoria” is a species of mental illness, but in no way am I an expert in such matters. The Catholic school of my childhood would have expelled such a child on some pretext or other, just as it had no room for autistic children, retarded children, or really any child who differed from the norm.

I am remembering that none of my childhood friends had divorced and remarried parents either. What should a modern “traditional Roman Catholic school” do with a child with divorced and remarried parents? This situation is far more common now than it was when I was a kid. Divorce and remarriage is a grave sin specifically condemned by Christ in the gospels. I’m not at all sure that the conviction that one is transgender is a sin at all. Anyway I’m not certain that a promise that a child at this school will never meet a sinner or the child of sinners at the school can be kept.

The desire to wall the more unsavory aspects of modern American life off away from one’s family is certainly understandable, but it may not be possible or virtuous.

#7 Comment By Alcuin On April 10, 2019 @ 11:08 am

There’s a similar movement of independent, Catholic high schools following a classical curriculum called the Chesterton Academies, which as the name implies, were inspired by the eponymous English writer.

There appears to be about 15 of them with more on the horizon.

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#8 Comment By charles cosimano On April 10, 2019 @ 11:18 am

“comparatively high rates of sexual non-conformity”

They’re staying virgins?

I think Eric makes some serious points while of course Rod cannot answer a hypothetical I would think that experience would indicate that they would ultimately cave. In any event the school is a bubble. What happens when the kids grow out of the bubble and have to deal with a world that thinks what they have been taught ranges from useless at best to downright crazy to positively evil at the worst end of the spectrum?

How will they deal, not with the sort of horrors we hear about but the simple, “Do you really believe that?” followed by laughter?

Is any form of education capable of preparing for that? I don’t know. I doubt it.

#9 Comment By Eric Mader On April 10, 2019 @ 12:09 pm

[NFR: How am I supposed to know what this particular school would do in one of those hypothetical situations? — RD]

Well, my actual question to you, Rod, wasn’t What would the school do in these situations? but more specifically: What do you think the school should do?

Let’s take two of the test cases:

1) Boy declares “I’m not a boy, but a girl!” Formerly “orthodox” parents come out in support, saying “God is love,” etc. What should the school do? Say the parents are wrong and expel the boy? What would Ben Op Headmaster Rod Dreher do?

Serious question.

2) Two “married” Boston men insist that their daughter attend the school and get a “traditional” Catholic/Classical education. But they also want to take part as much as possible in school life, and of course it’s clear that they want the school to start shilling for their marriage as something possible in a Catholic context. What do you, Rod, suggest the Ben Op school in Boston do? Refuse the new student on Catholic grounds?

Serious question.

I don’t think these are easy questions. That’s not my point in asking. But the thing that I’d like to know is how, according to Rod Dreher, does this kind of institution draw lines, or does it draw lines? I think I’m asking this because of my general principle that, if no lines can be drawn, then this battle is over. The traditional Catholic/Classical school will eventually have rainbow flags on its bulletin board.

If, however, lines are drawn, there will be immediate repercussions from the surrounding Rainbow zealots–those in the media, those in the state government, those in the activist public. The school will be swarmed.

Yes, @BF above underlines that there may very well be good reason not to draw certain lines–vis-a-vis the “trans” child or the surrogate child of pseudo-married “Dads”. But I think, again, re: both these cases, that the “orthodox” school that doesn’t draw lines will no longer be orthodox by 2022. Tough, yes, but nobody said it would be easy.

Charles underlines the different issue of sending out the “orthodox” into the mainstream.

In any case, Rod, since I see others find the questions challenging and worthwhile, I’d honestly like to hear your considered advice, as the writer of The Benedict Option, on the two specific cases above.

[NFR: Well, I think they should draw clear and bright lines, and enforce them. I would expel, and/or prevent folks like that from coming into the school. Even if I felt personally favorable towards the individuals, as is likely, I would draw and hold that line based on what I know from talking to legal scholars, regarding how the law works re: establishing precedents. But I wouldn’t want to say more about this particular school because I don’t know what the specific legal situation is in Massachusetts. Let me just say that three years ago, having a conversation with the headmaster of a classical Christian school in another state, I heard him say how much he, and the board, worried over having admitted a couple of students with gay parents. They had been told by their lawyers that having crossed that line, they would now have much weaker legal ground to stand on to object to future challenges to the school’s identity. The school admitted these kids with the understanding, shared by the parents, that the school’s orthodox Christian view of sex and sexuality was not to be challenged. The administration hoped that these kids would gain from being in a school where traditional Christian teaching in all aspects of life was upheld. The two sets of lesbian parents did not object to this. The school’s lawyers, though, said that by making this exception for pastoral reasons, the school had left itself wide open if, in the future, gay parents, or the parents of LGBT kids, want to take them to court to destroy their policy. — RD]

#10 Comment By David Cunis On April 10, 2019 @ 2:01 pm

Another great orthodox Catholic school is in Massachusetts is Sparhawk Academy, not far from St Benedict’s, in Millis, MA. Boys only, grades 3 through 8. It just opened in September of 2018 and has an educational philosophy very much like St Benedict’s.
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#11 Comment By Sandra Diaz On April 10, 2019 @ 6:02 pm

Some two cents’ worth from a St. Benedict parent…The admissions process makes it very clear to prospective parents that the school is uncompromising in its Catholic identity, and students are only admitted if their family is “mission-compatible.” This may mean that an Eastern Orthodox or evangelical family who are nonetheless small-o orthodox in the practice of their faith would get preference over lukewarm Catholic families who are only interested in a private “prep school” for their kids. We haven’t run into any of those scenarios described above involving existing students, but the admissions process is designed as a preventative measure for those sorts of situations. Massachusetts Catholic schools have furnished many examples of those situations where the schools were not vigilant in protection of their missions, so St. Benedict is careful not to go down that road. Being independent from the Archdiocesan education bureaucracy also helps in that regard.

#12 Comment By Joyful Housewife On April 10, 2019 @ 7:11 pm

Is there some sort of clearinghouse or “Fans of Classical Schools” website or Facebook group or something where people can learn about what’s available in their area, or connect with other parents who might be interested in starting one?

#13 Comment By Eric Mader On April 10, 2019 @ 10:06 pm

Many thanks for the reply, Rod. You clarified some of the legal issues for me re: the peril of such schools setting precedents on their own. I hope this school sticks to its mandate.

And thanks, Sandra Diaz, for the update. I’ll be contacting the school in hopes of giving some support.

Meanwhile over at Slate: [9]