Angelus Press: What role should the school play in the social formation of a child?
Fr. McMahon: As we know man is both material and spiritual, having a body and a soul, and this human nature is also social. Simply put, man is meant by his very nature—body and soul—to live in society, in community with his fellow man. This is the very essence created by Almighty God. The stupidity of “social contracts” and “noble savages” aside, common sense, sound philosophy, and long experience clearly demonstrate the most basic need from cradle to grave of one man for another. Walk to your kitchen, open up the refrigerator door and pull out something to eat; now stop and think for a moment on the multitude of social interdependencies implied in this simple and mundane action before you eat that piece of mom’s chocolate cake.
Angelus Press: Sounds delicious, but what of the school’s role?
Fr. McMahon: A complete school, one perfect in the philosophical sense, must form a man in the totality of his nature. Educators must leave nothing to chance, but must carefully construct a curriculum which aims at forming body, soul and the social aspect of human nature. Rolling the balls out, for example, at gym class with no care to order and organization, with no plan or purpose is a dereliction of duty and basically a waste of time. Each hour and facet of the school day must be meticulously planned and supervised with a keen eye to formation. What goes for the body in physical education and the intellect in the classroom must go as well for social formation. Thus it is incumbent upon those in charge to be cognizant of the need to direct and form their students socially, to form this nature which God has made.
Angelus Press: Father, the need is obvious, as obvious as human nature itself, but how is it done?
Fr. McMahon: Before answering how, it would be first important to describe what. The essence of living in society, whether it is in the basic unit of the family or any other group or organization, is an understanding of and service to the common good and proper order of that community. Thus correct formation in view of the individual taking his proper place within society will focus there; constructing an environment which fosters this knowledge and service. A great work by teachers and administrators will be their vigilance in first the selfless recognition of neighbor, then of a common good or goal, and one’s own role in being a member and also a servant of both. You can already see that a man must possess humility, knowing he holds a place, plays a role in a larger community, thus accepting a responsibility to fulfill his duties to family, school, country and Church. “Get out of your own bellybutton” is a frequent refrain familiar to my students. In other words, stop thinking only of yourself, your needs, your comfort and be a man—recognize your duties and responsibilities to your neighbor, to your class, to the Academy, and to the Mystical Body. It is truly a beautiful thing to see a young man blossom from the immature, pure receiver to a generous giver and contributor.
Angelus Press: Is there more “what”?
Fr. McMahon: Certainly. The goal is a well-formed man who understands that he is to serve a good greater than himself, more important than his own likes, dislikes, whims, and desires; that he is not “A#1, top of the list nor king of the hill.” In one word, he is meant to be a gentleman. This concept is so important that it demands definition and explanation. The dictionary can get us started: A man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior. This gentleman must be of noble and strong character, one carefully formed and solidly founded upon perennial principles, both of reason and faith. A Catholic gentleman—and in the most profound sense there can be no other—is simply a man grounded in reality and common sense with a flowering of virtues both natural and supernatural. The maturity of this man, actually a very serious definition of maturity itself, will be the recognition of reality—reality as God has made it, and as His Divine Providence governs it.
Angelus Press: “How” now?
Fr. McMahon: There is even more to say on the “what” but given the intended brevity of this interview, we can pass to “how.” Social formation must begin at home, and remain concurrent while a child is at school. This is a serious parental responsibility since the primary end or reason for matrimony is the begetting and educating of children. The primary educators of a child are mom and dad, as natural law and Holy Church teach and maintain. These rights must be respected and, of course the accompanying duties reasonably and vigorously performed even as a good school is entrusted with the care of a child. Responsible parents know well the need for schools which provide what cannot be given at home alone. Homeschooling will always be an emergency measure, dictated by necessity, never an ideal. For all the so-called success stories like a Tim Tebow (N.B.: a die-hard evangelical whose “pastor” father has devoted his life to “converting” Catholic Filipinos to “Christianity” with periodic help from Tebow himself), there is simply too much solid theory, history, and experience which shows otherwise. The properly organized school, with the means at its disposal, will continue and strive to perfect the formation begun at home in terms of ordered and hierarchical social interaction and virtue. Especially for boys who must become men—mature, strong and virtuous—the environment provided by a good Catholic school is essential. A young man is meant to be disciplined and challenged, in order to grow, expand and to conquer. The proper environment will foster and develop that virile spirit of the crusaders, explorers and missionaries. As the great Chrysostom stated: “You have been armed, O Christian man, not to tarry and remain idle, but to sally forth to battle.”
Angelus Press: Does a boarding school outperform a day school?
Fr. McMahon: Having been educated myself at day schools, and now with 17 years of experience teaching, counseling, and administrating both day and boarding schools, the latter is clearly superior, especially socially for young men. The unity of purpose and direction alone in a properly run boarding school ensures this success. The history of Catholic education, especially in nations with strong and solid Catholic roots, speaks volumes on this preference. Proper courtesy, manners, dedication to duty through demanding chores with organizational and management responsibilities, etc. are easier to instill in a boarding school. On the surface, much of this can be done at home, but not with numerous and diverse peers, nor within such a hierarchy. To quote Dr. Brian McCall, one of the very best current Catholic thinkers:
“Schools introduce more hierarchy with different grade levels, teachers, and principals. Boarding schools, particularly a religious one, present a living organic hierarchical community. The students do not only interact with their academic class, but must function in a hierarchical society, day and night. They must work their way through the levels of hierarchy appreciating the good and burdens of each. If there are priests, religious, lay teachers, and staff there are even more distinctions of inequality that play a role in formation.”
Angelus Press: Don’t the boys become too independent away from home and parents?
Fr. McMahon: Distinction: Properly independent, Yes; Too independent, No. Social formation, being an exercise to instill virtue, will demand balance—in medio stat virtus. The goal is to form a Catholic man, one capable of living a strong and vibrant Catholic life today, in this world, today’s world. We need virtuous men, meaning strong men, capable of crushing human respect, dedicated to truth, and standing firm for the social rights of Christ the King. This type of man, a sane and saintly man, must have a strong will, strong enough to docilely submit itself to the will of God, and yet also strong enough to defy an immoral and godless world. The Catholic boarding school provides the necessarily safe environment in which a teenage boy can grow and develop under judicious and religious supervision into a mature young man capable of recognizing reality with an appreciation and exercise of true liberty—the “liberty of the sons of God.” A monumental task, yet a crucial one for the glory of God and salvation of souls.
Angelus Press: Excellent Father, but we need to close for now. Any final words?
Fr. McMahon: I would be remiss if I neglected to speak about the intense communal spiritual life afforded by the boarding school, which contributes not only to the personal sanctification of a young man, but also to the fortification of the Mystical Body of Christ. Each member properly vivified and strengthened makes up what “is lacking in the Body of Christ.” Access to daily Mass, frequent confessions, chapels that are a short walk from bunkrooms, constant priestly and religious presence, the Divine Office, and prayer in common throughout the day—these are irreplaceable in the formative years. This well-structured, disciplined, and religious environment forms a truly Catholic esprit de corps, laying the foundations on the solid rock of ordered charity—the love of God above all, and the love of neighbor as oneself for the love of God. Let me conclude with the bold words of a man’s man, Saint Boniface:
“I yearn to go forth where the dangers are, not because I particularly enjoy those dangers, but because I know it is there that the battle rages for the souls of men and nations. God set me before the front lines. Let me not end my days in comfort and complacency... Run towards the roar of the lion! Run towards the roar of battle! That is where Christ’s most glorious victories shall be won!”