CONLOQUIA (Interviews)

Upcoming Interview: Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., Bishop of Lincoln Nebraska

I am please to announce that Bishop Conley has agreed to an interview with this publication.  Bishop Conley gave a very wonderful Eulogy for Dr. Dennis Quinn's Funeral and was directly impacted by the Integrated Humanities Program.  I will be asking him a wide range of questions on the topics of the Liturgy, Education, Family, the Priesthood, Homeschooling, and more.  Stay tuned...

"In his 23 years as a priest, Bishop James D. Conley has served the Catholic Church in a wide variety of ways—as pastor, college campus chaplain, director of Respect Life ministries, theology instructor, Vatican official and bishop. In all of these tasks, he has seen his life as a priest as a call to service and complete surrender to “God’s providential hand.” For his episcopal motto, Bishop Conley, a convert to the Catholic faith, chose the same motto as the great 19th-century English convert, John Henry Cardinal Newman, “cor ad cor loquitur,” which means “heart speaks to heart.”

While in college, he studied in the University of Kansas’s Integrated Humanities Program, a well-known classical great books program. During his junior year, he converted to the Catholic Church on Dec. 6, 1975. His mentor and teacher in the Integrated Humanities Program, Professor John Senior, was his godfather"  (From the Diocese of Lincoln Website)
Part II: Interview with Howard Clark, President of the Gregory the Great Academy


BCL:  Where is current public and Catholic education headed right now?

Howard Clark: It is difficult to generalize about where all public and Catholic education is headed. While most education is in a state of decadence, there are signs of health in both public and Catholic education. In public education the charter school movement is giving parents back the control that is rightfully theirs and greatly improving the quality of school curricula. In spite of this, it must be said plainly that all public education is a poor second to a truly integral Catholic education. All education that is integrally true is integrally Catholic because the Catholic faith is integral truth. It is the whole truth about God, man and the world.

In Catholic education there are many schools, both diocesan and private, that are striving to reestablish orthodoxy in doctrine and excellence in teaching and curricula. A big difficulty that everyone faces is that the decadence we are fighting is deeply rooted. In many ways we are like men living among magnificent ruins without even an idea of what they were, or men searching for the lost key that would open the door of wisdom.

At Gregory the Great Academy we realize that there is much work that still needs to by done. An essential principle of the poetic approach to education is that there is a knowledge deeper than reason which is not to denigrate reason, but simply to state a fact realized by the great poets and philosophers. (One thinks of Paul Claudel's Parable of Animus and Anima and St. Thomas' distinction between ratio and intellectus, a distinction that is not unique to him.) If the fledgling renaissance in Catholic education is to take root and flourish this principle and its consequences have to be acknowledged. A blind and reactive insistence on a kind of rationalist fundamentalism may be attractive in the short term, but will ultimately lead to failure because it does not speak to what Scripture calls the heart, the deepest spring of reason and desire. 

BCL:  Is Gregory the Great Academy model what is needed on the whole in education today, or is it possible to bring modern public education out from the dredge into which it has steadily fallen?

Howard Clark: When we consider all the aspects of the model of Gregory the Great Academy, we can't say that it should be the model for all of education. After all, girls need to be educated too, and there is a place for day schools. However, if we consider it more formally, i.e. if we consider whether poetic education should be the model for all education, I would say, yes it should. A short route to why this is so is by way of the liberal arts tradition. If we agree that all education worthy of the name follows this tradition, then we must affirm that all education should be poetic or, in a broad sense, liturgical or musical. The cultures of Greece and Rome and Christian Europe that gave us the liberal arts were deeply imbued with this ethos, some principles of which I have already tried to give. They did not teach the liberal arts in isolation from one another, nor in the cultural and religious impoverishment characteristic of today. The people of those times lived and learned in what might be called a liturgical or poetic culture.

BCL:  So many Catholic families have had to resort to homeschooling in the absence of any real, viable Catholic school option - why has it gotten to this point and is it possible for parents navigate the waters of educating their children in the same way that the Academy does?

Howard Clark: In his Templeton address, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn recalls that when he was young, the older Russians would explain the calamity of Revolution with the simple but profound explanation: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”  It is the same for us. All of our problems stem from the same cause: we have forgotten God.

There are many things that parents can do to educate their children the way the Academy does. They can follow the principles that I talked about in reply to your first question. Also the books I mentioned above will help, especially the two by Stratford Caldecott, which are more practical, then the others.

But finally I think that a good school can do a better job of educating than homeschooling. The homeschooling movement itself points to this. Homeschooling companies function to some extent as remote schools by providing curricula, advice and grading. In addition homeschooling families tend to pool their resources by forming co-ops that are a step in the direction of a school. The problem is that it is difficult for one person (usually the mother) to master all the subjects and keep children on task. This tends to become more difficult as children get older.

But all of this is a matter of balance. For many families homeschooling is the best option. The homeschooling movement, the liturgical movement and the plethora of good microbreweries are some of the most hopeful signs in our mostly bleak culture.

BCL:  What role does the liturgy play in a solid education for Catholic children, especially boys?

Howard Clark: Thinking again of Solzhenitsyn's diagnosis, the liturgy is the place where man remembers God. Like the monastery of which it is the heart, the liturgy is a “school for the service of the Lord,” a school of Christian life. So the role of the liturgy in Catholic education is central. It is the school within the school. As I've tried to indicate already, because the liturgy represents the presence of the divine world in our world, it witnesses to our world's incompleteness, and thus to the relevance and need for the liberal arts.

BCL:  Do you feel as though vocations to the priesthood are more likely in an environment such as the Academy and if so or if not- why?

Howard Clark: A vocation to the priesthood is a grace and call from God, but God always works through mediation. (Priests themselves are mediators.) In our world that means mainly other human beings. Thus the key to cultivating vocations is the example of the priest. Boys need a model that they are attracted to and want to emulate. They need to see the job of the priest as important, serious, and worth-doing. No boy that is worth anything aspires to the life of an ineffectual nice guy. In the boarding school this means that the example of the chaplain is all-important. A chaplain that is manly and truly dedicated to God and the good of others can plant seeds that will come to fruition years later as a boys matures and thinks more seriously about the direction his life will take.

BCL:  Great historians and cultural thinkers such as Christopher Dawson have stressed that the foundational piece to culture is religion.  What must accompany a solid religious experience in order to foster a truly Catholic Culture?

Howard Clark: There are a number of things. Two that are very important are care for the natural world and the cultivation of language. The world of human culture is built on the natural world even as the plants the farmer cultivates depend on good soil. Continued misuse and disregard for God's creation cannot help but undermine this foundation of human culture. Language is even more central to culture than the natural world, and like the natural world it too is being degraded. The source and re-generator of language is poetry. The poets are the ones that coin the new worlds and phrases that maintain the freshness and vitality of a culture's language.

BCL:  How can adults live and foster the same spirit of education embodied by Gregory the Great Academy in their own, everyday lives?

Howard Clark: There are both negative and positive things that can be done. In his essay “Learning to See Again” (collected in Only the Lover Sings) Josef Pieper addresses the problem of distraction and the way it has undermined our ability to perceive the world around us. This very short essay is well worth reading and meditating on.

In a similar vein, my teacher John Senior offers some tonic advice in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture:

“First, negatively, smash the television set. The Catholic Church is not opposed to violence; only to unjust violence: so smash the television set. And, positively, put the time and money you now spend on such entertainment into a piano so that music is restored to your home, common, ordinary Christian music, much of which is very simple to play. Anybody can learn the songs of Steven Foster, Robert Burns, the Irish and Italian airs, after even a few hours' instruction and practice. And then families will be together at home of an evening and love will grow again without thinking about it, because they are moving in harmony together. There is nothing more disintegrating of love than artificial attempts to foster it at encounter groups and the like: Love only grows; it cannot be manufactured or forced; and it only grows on the sweet sound of music.”

BCL:  Do you mind if we ask what is on your current reading list?

Howard Clark: Currently I am rereading Stratford Caldecott's Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education and Sister Miriam Joseph's The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. On a different register I'm working on The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. Last, but certainly not least,The Bible, an inexhaustible source of wisdom, which I try to read everyday. 

Books that I hope to read soon include: Stratford Caldecott's latest book, The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic ChristianityThe Progymnasmata; and The Golden Key by George Macdonald.

BCL:  How can interested persons best assist you and the Academy in your efforts?

Howard Clark: There are three things that I would ask of anyone who is interested in our mission: pray for us, spread the word amongst your acquaintances, and—if you are able—give us your financial support. Anyone interested in donating or downloading admissions information can find more information by visiting our website at

BCL:  What parting thoughts would you like to share with those who are reading this interview?

Howard Clark: Perhaps I could end the interview by going back to your first question about the uniqueness of Gregory the Great Academy. I find that there is an element that I didn’t mention and that I would like to bring up here because of its importance: the mode of discipline used at Gregory the Great. St. John Bosco made a distinction between repressive system of discipline and the preventive system. The repressive system is the one used by most schools and other organizations. It consists in publishing rules, waiting until the rules are broken and then punishing the ruler breakers. (The headmaster in the French movie Les Choriste often hilariously portrays this systemHis motto for discipline is “action-reaction.”) The preventive method is much more difficult to implement, but much more effective in the long run. The key component in this method is that those in charge of the boys must constantly be with them, sharing in their life in a friendly way, guiding them, reasoning with them, showing them the goodness of following healthy rules so that they are prevented from ever breaking them. While this method is very difficult and is sometimes misunderstood by outsiders, it is far more effective.

I would like to thank Mr. Howard Clark, Mr. Sean Fitzpatrick for facilitating the setup of the interview, and the Gregory the Great Academy for all they are doing for Catholic Culture and Education!
Interview with Howard Clark, President of the Gregory the Great Academy

In desire to spread the message of the work of the Gregory the Great Academy and speak also on the topic of Catholic Education, Mr. Howard Clark has agreed to a two part interview with this publication.  We thank him for his thoughtful and relevant responses.


BCL:  For those unfamiliar with the school, Gregory the Great Academy is a school unlike most, if not all, other Catholic schools- what makes the Academy so distinct in its nature and aim?

Howard: I think we can talk about the distinctiveness of GGA from two perspectives: first, from the perspective of its structure or outward make-up, and second from a perspective that looks more to its interiority or visionFor the more metaphysically inclined these two perspectives are roughly equivalent to the matter and form of the Academy.

So beginning with the make-up: the Academy is somewhat distinctive in three ways (the real distinctiveness comes with the informing vision, but the the vision and the make-up are intimately related): it is a Catholic, all-boys, boarding school. The movement from Catholic to boarding school is a movement from less distinctive to more distinctive in the sense that there are more Catholic schools than there are Catholic all-boys schools and more Catholic all-boys schools than there are Catholic all-boys boarding schools.

The vision that informs the school has often been called “poetic education”, but it can be given other names as well, for example, “education according to the Muses.” The first thing to note about this kind of education is that it is an approach to the liberal arts. What is essential to education in the liberal arts (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) is that it aims to produce a free man (The Latin artes liberales means arts befitting a free man.) In this context, the  “freedom” being sought after is a freedom from the constraints of worldly ends, or, stated positively, a freedom to pursue man's ultimate end or goal which is eternal beatitude.

Poetic education differs from other kinds of liberal arts education in a number of ways, but I want to focus on three that interpenetrate and reinforce each other: First, it gives precedence to synthesis over analysis, in other words, it values the whole over the part. This may seem like common sense, but in fact most schools, at least implicitly, value the part over the whole. They do this by emphasizing the acquisition of analytical skills which allow their possessors to break down wholes into comprehensible parts. The unspoken premise is that truth is to be found in the part, or, more fundamentally still, that matter is higher than form or that form does not even exits.

Of course it is necessary to acquire analytical skills, and the Academy teaches such skills. The problem lies not with analyzing, but with taking analysis as the end of the activity of knowing. In coming to know, we only distinguish in order to unite. Analysis must have a complementary and completing movement which re-situates and views the analyzed parts in the context of the whole. The human mind naturally desires to see the whole, that's why there are scenic overlooks on the side of highways. As St. Augustine said, “Our whole reward is seeing.”

A second way that poetic education differs from the usual liberal arts curriculum is in the precedence it gives to experience over what might be called “remoteness.” This remoteness takes any number of forms, but three examples are textbooks, scientific experiments, and the increasing use of communications technology in the classroom.

Textbooks are an attempt to present complex, wide-ranging and difficult subjects in an attractive and easily accessible form. The problem with this is that it short circuits the learning process and often deceives the student as to the true nature of the subject. It is far better for the student to wrestle with Hamlet or the Odyssey in all their difficulty, profundity and beauty than to encounter them predigested and excerpted in an anthology. This principle applies across the curriculum. Better to study the daises in your own backyard than to read about the exotic orchids that only grow half a world away.

Experiments have their place in an advanced science curriculum, but they cannot replace a basic experience of the natural world. A moment’s reflection reveals how ridiculous it is to dissect embalmed frogs in a lab when the student has never experienced a living frog in its environment. What does he really learn about frogs from such an activity? Experiments are designed to isolate the experimenter, his tools, and his subject from the world at-large. However, the results of the experiment only have meaning when they are interpreted in terms of the very world from which they have been isolated.

Many different kinds of digital technology are being enthusiastically introduced into schools. Most of this is communications technology, or what is called “media.” It is important to remember that all human knowing is mediated, and therefore, in some sense uses “media.” Our senses mediate between their objects and our brains, and our bodies mediate between the world around us and our souls. Further, Our Lord Jesus Christ mediates between the Church and Our Father in heaven. So there is no question of rejecting mediation in general.

However, it is important to critically examine the messenger, in other words, we must ask, “does this communications technology communicate?” In the case of the computer, which is the most prevalent form of communications technology being used in schools, there are serious problems. When we look at the computer, as it is functions in the “real world”, day-to-day life of the school, what jumps out is its power to distract. Thus, even before we question the capacity of the computer to mediate objects effectively, we see that its versatility as a platform for many kinds of tasks makes it an ideal tool for  never getting to those objects, for never completing a given task. This power to distract strikes at the very heart of education which is concerned to build up a habitus, whether a science or moral virtue, through a continual engagement with a given object.

A third characteristic that distinguishes poetic education from other liberal arts education is the centrality of the liturgy. (As Jean Leclercq notes in his book,The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, the liturgy itself is a kind of poem.) There are many ways to look at the liturgy and many things we can learn from it. Being a work of the Holy Spirit it is inexhaustible and of a transcendent integrity that resist all analysis. So what I have to say is in no way exhaustive, I just want to point out two things.

First, the liturgy is the end or purpose of the Christian life made present in time, or, looked at in another way, the liturgy brings us into the presence of the end of the Christian life; it is a participation, already on earth, in the life of the blessed. Now, as I’ve already mentioned, the end of the liberal arts is to free men from the seeming urgency and finality of worldly ends so that they may pursue beatitude. Thus the liturgy is intimately connected to the liberal arts. (Historically this is the case since the tradition of the liberal arts began with Plato’s Academy, and the Academy was an association established to worship the Muses.) It has an irreplaceably centrality in a liberal arts school since only the liturgy can open the school to the divine world, thus protecting it from the everyday world which continually threatens to enclose it.

A second thing to note about the liturgy is that it is a school of praise. The book of the Apocalypse, which lifts the veil on the heavenly liturgy, gives us a glimpse of the praise of the angels and saints. They praise God as both creator and redeemer of the world.  The philosopher Josef Pieper entitled one of his books, Only the Lover Sings, taking the phrase from St. Augustine. What does the lover sing? He sings praises. He praises God and his whole creation—women, wine, the deeds of great men, dappled things—everything under the sun and above the moon. It is here that we are closest to the heart of poetic education. All the great poets are lovers. It’s their love that gives them eyes to see and tongues to sing with. Poetic educations aims to open its student’s eyes to the True, the Good and the Beautiful, not as dead subjects in a textbook, but as objects worthy of praise.

 BCL:  Why have just boys, and why have it be a boarding type school? 

Howard: There is a long tradition of single sex education. This wisdom teaches us that boys and girls fare better when they are educated separately especially after they reach adolescence. This is both because they are different and deserve different approaches, pacing and even different courses of study, and because when educated together they greatly distract one another. This is especially true for boys.

Boarding schools are especially appropriate for boys since the male trajectory involves breaking away from home to search for adventure and to make a way in the world. Chesterton tells the story of the man who left England on a great sea-faring adventure and found himself on the shores of a strange and wonderful island. The island turned out to be England but he only came to see it in all its truth and beauty by leaving it.

BCL:  Do those two elements specifically play into the nature of what you are doing?

Howard: A boarding school works well for poetic education because it allows for a certain withdraw from the surrounding culture and the creation of a new culture reinforced by peers. As I’ve already emphasized, poetic education aims to educate the whole man. To do this effectively there has to be a certain asceticism, a withdraw from technology, media, and popular culture in general.  Music is especially important since it speaks to the heart.

Certainly the parents are the primary educators of their children and the home and family provide the first culture of the child. A boarding school cannot replace this, but it can complement and complete it to some extent. When children become adolescents they become much more aware of, and in need of, the social life of their peers. At its best a boarding school provides a wholesome “micro-culture” in which students reinforce each other in the formation in virtue given by the school. This prepares them to enter the wider culture outside of the school.

BCL:  Why is this mode of education and its content so vital to the future of the Catholic child?

Howard: To say that poetic education is “vital to the future of the Catholic child” is to make quite a claim! This type of education is not a substitute for mother’s milk or the Eucharist. However I would say that there is a need for the positivity and hope of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful that poetic education provides. Children can only grow and thrive when they are given high ideals and the hope that they can brings these ideals into being in their world. Neither careerism nor the sly cynicism and nihilism of the culture of death provide this.

BCL:  Where should the Catholic men of tomorrow (the children of the Catholic families today) take our Culture, Country, and Church?

Howard: That’s a big question! If I could adequately answer it I would probably quit my job and run for President. Generally I would say that in all of these areas there is a need to return to the wisdom of tradition. Doing this does not mean holding on to  particular historical forms, but recovering what is essential in historical forms, returning to eternal principles. For example, the same truth can be expressed in many different languages, in many different places, at many different times. Of course some languages may express this truth better than others, but still the same truth is expressed.

In popular culture today there is a continual polemic against tradition and authority. Often this is cloaked by a storyline or by the sheer repetition of these themes, but the message is communicated on the level of images and attitudes. Against this we need to defend the wisdom of tradition and show its relevance, beauty and vitality.

BCL:  What people, experiences, and texts have shaped the way you think and speak about Catholicism, Education, and Culture?

Howard: Gregory the Great Academy has its roots in the Integrated Humanities Program at The University of Kansas. The leading lights of this program were professors John Senior, Dennis Quinn and Frank Nellick. Three of Dr. Senior’s books have been especially influential in forming the philosophy of Gregory the Great Academy: The Death of Christian CultureThe Restoration of Christian Culture, and The Restoration of Innocence: An Idea of a School. (This last text was never published.) Late in his life Dr. Quinn published a book, which summed up a lot of his thought, called Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder.

These three professors occasionally talked about books that greatly influenced them and the program they founded. Leaving aside the classics such as Plato’sRepublic, the Rule of St. Benedict, and the Bible, three come to mind: The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. (which I’ve already mentioned); Leisure the Basis of Culture by the German Thomist, Josef Pieper; and Werner Jaeger’s Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture.

In addition, there are two recent books by Stratford Caldecott that recommend a kind of  education very similar to what we are doing, but which also offer fresh approaches and resources. These are: Beauty for Truth Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education and Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education.  

PART 2 of the Interview is forthcoming...

Dr. Howard Clark has agreed to an Interview with the Brotherhood of the Common Life.  This is forthcoming and will be posted once it is complete.  My hope is to explore the work that is St. Gregory Academy.

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