The St. Marys Down Under
Angelus Press: Father, could you please give a little background on yourself?
Fr. Fortin: I was raised in the state of Virginia, and received priestly formation in Winona. After ordination in 2009, I was assigned for three years in New Zealand, then three years in the Philippines. Presently I am stationed in Tynong, Australia, with the responsibility of being Principal of St. Thomas Aquinas College.
Angelus Press: Have you always been involved with schools, Father?
Fr. Fortin: Yes, happily so! It has been a great priestly blessing to paternally serve in schools since ordination.
Angelus Press: And what were your first impressions upon arrival in Australia?
Fr. Fortin: I would say that I was impressed in Tynong mainly with two things: first, the great number of faithful souls who attend the Masses and who come to confession on the Sundays (there must be about 1,000); and second, how serious the youth are in serving the sacred liturgy. This is very impressive indeed, realizing how utterly secular society has permeated the world, with the consequential effect of producing irresponsible youth. One would have to be blind not to see the wondrous pouring of grace upon these many families which we serve in our parish and school!
Angelus Press: What is the school like?
Fr. Fortin: At St. Thomas Aquinas College in Tynong we have 300 students, both boys and girls. We teach all grade levels, preparatory to year 12. Most of the families have relocated here from all parts of Australia in order to find a true Catholic education for their children. The school was started in 1997 under Fr. Angele and has grown fairly rapidly up to the present.
Angelus Press: Does the school differ much from our schools here in the States?
Fr. Fortin: In respect to the goal, no. All of our schools are established in order to assist parents in forming saints. But each of our schools have a special character of its own. At St. Thomas Aquinas, we focus on Catholic professionalism and leadership.
Angelus Press: How is that done in practice?
Fr. Fortin: It is common for private schools here to have a “House” system. At St. Thomas also, each student is assigned to a House, which is a type of team or family. These Houses have their captains and vice-captains; and each team receives ratings based on academics, punctuality and professional appearance, conduct, sports performance, and leadership. Over all the Houses, there is a Student Council, which meets with the Principal each week to receive directives, but also just as important, they give feedback to me on the spirit of the students. All student leadership positions are chosen through voting of the student and faculty body.
Angelus Press: Do you find this system to work well?
Fr. Fortin: There is a phrase which I recently learned: “The best way to raise a child is to focus on raising an adult.” This is brilliant! It is very true, that from day one we must begin to form ones who will seek truthful knowledge even on their own, and from day one we wish to develop their responsible use of the great gift of freewill. If the youth do not have opportunity to exercise this, they will be open targets for godless “intelligence” and licentious living. Certainly, then, we are in favor of giving as much real responsibility to the youth as they are capable of carrying.
Angelus Press: How do you view the continual development of the school?
Fr. Fortin: It is interesting to note firstly how our dear Society of St. Pius X has been more and more “forced” by Divine Providence toward the important work of the education of youth. Forced by need, since mainstream Catholic schools have abandoned their mission; and forced by circumstance, since there is no one else but the traditional orders to take up the charge. And that is not rocket science, we have willingly received the handed-down perennial principles, and we pass them on to our youth. Other schools, on the contrary, have for the most part abandoned the stability of truth and the happiness of the moral order, leaving very little to offer. So, just as the Jesuits did in their former days of glory, we work to establish more and more perfect schools, firstly in the realm of grounding our children in the Catholic Faith, but also in our efforts to provide excellent curriculums delivered with the best of teaching, while offering (as we are able) good programs of the various arts and sports. Slowly then, we reconquer our nations with the injection of confident and integral Catholic gentlemen and ladies, polite and noble citizens of service.
Angelus Press: Is technology used much in your subject programs?
Fr. Fortin: It seems that schools are well on their way to resembling our modern supermarkets, where you find a computer for self-checkout rather than a human cashier. It is the current rave and even priority in most schools to place an ipad in the hands of each child for all their classes, even beginning from kindergarten! This is madness! Technology will always be a tool, and just that. Tools can assist in learning, but human teachers can never be replaced, just as human parents are essential in raising a child.
Therefore, we use technology at St. Thomas only to assist, in its limited place, but not to block the development of wisdom. It is necessary also to develop in today’s world a responsible use of technology; otherwise the exiting student will find himself swallowed up in stupefied fascination of new technological gadgets and the Internet.
Angelus Press: What of training students who are more geared toward trade work?
Fr. Fortin: It is true that Don Bosco sought to cater for this in his schools run by the Salesians. At St. Thomas Aquinas College, we seek to challenge each student in academic achievement especially through the adoption of Cambridge International standards. But saying this, we realize that some students are gifted more so in the practical fields. So happily, St. Thomas is able to offer a range of subjects such as woodworking, home economics, art, and agriculture. I wish all the students could take classes in agriculture, where one has the splendid opportunity to learn under Fr. Fox the life lessons of raising crops and animals with the sweat of one’s brow!
Angelus Press: Do many priests assist at the school?
Fr. Fortin: There are five of us priests who reside in community life. Monday through Friday we rush off in the morning to the school. Each section of the school (primary, secondary boys, and secondary girls) is assigned a chaplain to care spiritually for his flock of students. All the priests also teach at least a few subjects.
We also are very blessed to have the Dominican Sisters of Wanganui teaching at St. Thomas. Teaching is their specialized apostolate and they carry this task out daily with a joyful spirit and with wonderful organizational skill. Presently they are teaching subjects for the high school girls and also many of the religion courses in the primary section.
This order of Sisters now has many vocations coming in, so the building of a convent is absolutely necessary so they may re-locate to new quarters from their overcrowded rental house. We beg assistance with this big and important project, so please see the website of the Dominican Sisters of Wanganui to help in this worthy cause.
Angelus Press: Are there other staff besides?
Fr. Fortin: Yes, about 30. We meet together each week in order to stay together as a team, especially in regard to our Catholic mission of formation. We seek the wisdom of the great Angelic Doctor in our weekly conferences.
The College also looks forward to special guests during the year. This year we have the honor of receiving Fr. Stehlin, who will give recollection days on true devotion to our Lady and encourage an entire student body enrolment in the Militia Immaculata. We also will joyfully welcome Dr. Peter Chojnowski, who will present a week-long series of conferences on the grand philosophy of virtue, friendship, and happiness.
Angelus Press: May I ask if you enjoy being a principal?
Fr. Fortin: I must confess that being a principal was never in my dreams, but the Good Lord likes to surprise us! And yes, it is a joy! I recognize that I had a huge grace in being sent to St. Mary’s Academy, Kansas by my beloved parents for my last two years of high school; and it is a fact that we receive from God in order to give and pass on to others. Besides this, just seeing the smiles of the children, the precious “little ones” of our Lord, is reward enough for quelling the paternal worries which arise.
Angelus Press: Thank you very much Father, is there anything else you would like to add?
Fr. Fortin: I remember The Angelus magazine ever since my family had the grace to discover spiritual lifesaving Tradition. I was in high school at the time. Even if many of the articles were difficult for me to follow at the time, I recognized and appreciated the Catholic wisdom contained throughout the pages. It is certain that the work of Catholic publications and the work of Catholic schools go hand in hand for the restoration of all things in Christ. So, thank you for your splendid and great work! And if you please allow me to beg your many readers to send a prayer for our dear students here in Australia, that we may grow together in the spirit of consecration, in the spirit of family, and in the spirit of greatness!