The Fellowship Of St. Columbanus
I recently read and deeply appreciated the two articles named in the title of this email, and they encouraged me to reach out to you.
Your articles resonated with much of my experience, particularly in graduate schools both in the US and UK. About two years ago some fellow conservative Catholics and I were talking about our frustrations with these growing trends in education, with what we felt were constraints on our ability to teach as a result of the ascendant orthodoxies, as well as a system which is more and more failing both its students and its teachers. We eventually had to face a difficult question, though: what we were going to do about our complaints?
We came to the conclusion that we needed to take radical steps. We have since been told that our plans strongly resemble your “Benedict Option,” though none of us had read your work at the time. Our idea is to found a monastic community on the ancient Irish model, with teaching as our primary charism.
We named our initiative The Fellowship of St Columbanus after the great Irish missionary who helped to re-convert Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and we are hoping to build a tuition-free, self-sustaining “teaching community” of Benedictine oblates. Our desire is to build this community in Appalachia, to reach its chronically underserved, and often publicly vilified, communities.
It is one of our guiding principles that sequestering education from the rest of life has lead to it being treated as a mere commodity to be bought and sold, tailored to the consumer’s preferences. We want to imitate the model of the early monastic schools, both in curriculum by following the Classical model developed by Boethius and Cassiodorus for use in those schools, and in the integration of students and teachers into a common rule of life, including work and prayer.
Despite the discouraging accounts that often come out of higher education, we think that there is reason to be hopeful. There are colleges and universities which continue to fight the good fight and promote a genuinely free exchange of ideas. When I reach out to fellow graduate students and even to faculty at universities here in the U.K. and back home in America, I find surprising amounts of support and encouragement. To promote such schools and ideas, we have even begun producing a little quarterly magazine, The Scholastic, to encourage a discussion of academic reform.
This summer I will defend my doctoral dissertation in divinity at an ancient British university, and then my wife, our toddler, and I will be moving to Appalachia. We are going there to speak to the bishops of some of the poorest and most underserved communities in the U.S., with the hope that they will allow us to establish a teaching community of Benedictine Oblates in the region.
I thought it might be an encouragement to you to know that, while the situation is dire, there is a generation of young academics who are fighting back. It seems that the walls have already been taken by a reckless foe, but we still think that memory and hope will go on in some mountain valley where the grass is green.
What encouraging news! May God bless their efforts — and may some of you readers who have the financial resources to help them reach out. If you write me, I can put you in touch with the author of this piece. I heard today from Giovanni Zennaro in Italy that a number of Italians, and even some Americans, had reached out to him after my post here about the nascent “family monastery” called Cascina San Benedetto. And, I’ve also been in touch with an American PhD student who is willing to take the lead in putting together a Ben Op website to make these connection. All to the good!