At Living Nazareth, we don’t simply say that our mission is the complete formation of the human person, but we carefully see to it that several concrete practical opportunities for this kind of formation are present each and every day in the life of the school. It is our belief that if a school is to have this as their goal, they must invest the necessary resources to achieve it. One concrete way in which we do this is to give greater balance and purpose to the way in which we use our time. We insist on only four 45-minute periods of class each day, none of which are back-to-back, situated within a six hour school day. Far from diminishing the degree of academic excellence achieved by our students, such a schedule unlocks the potential for far greater intellectual achievement by actually recognizing the student as a human being, the only creature in visible creation capable of knowledge, and treating him in a way commensurate with his nature rather than contrary to it. Additionally, this gives students more time with their family, giving them the benefit of greater time with their primary formators: their parents. It also concretely and generously gives due space for the spiritual, moral, and social development of the child at the school, which only rarely and accidentally takes place within a classroom. Students can avail themselves of good conversations with close friends and teachers, take advantage of spiritual direction, or engage in sports, clubs, and other planned or spontaneous endeavors that can serve both as an enriching context and parallel to classroom learning while at the same time giving their minds the rest they need in order to pursue difficult topics and higher questions with the rigor they demand and the awe they inspire.
Conventional school schedules give an inordinate preference to a child’s intellectual development to the neglect of every other aspect of their formation, and in some ways even to the detriment of that same type of education they wish to prioritize (i.e. intellectual formation). This leads students to see learning as a burdensome and tedious task that begins and ends with the school day and to be completed and dispatched with as soon as possible. In contrast, we hold that learning should be seen as leisure, as an adventure begun in youth and carried on throughout one’s life. By insisting on a significant part of our daily schedule being left open to allow healthy periods of rest and leisure we ultimately lead students to develop within themselves this contemplative spirit which is the very life-blood of any effective and lasting intellectual formation. Of this there are countless examples and advocates, inside and outside the Church, stretching from before the time of Christ to the 20th century (e.g. Aristotle, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, St. Louis de Montfort, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Schall, Pieper, et al). This model deviates from the norm of treating students like widgets on the academic conveyor belt to treating them like real human persons. While a robot may be capable of “learning” facts, figures, and procedures continuously without rest, the human person requires rest in order to perform the much higher feat of ordering this knowledge well, understanding the implied relationships, and directing it to a higher end. One cannot claim to impart this kind of education to students if one does not also provide what is necessary to achieve it.
With regard to other aspects of formation (human and spiritual), conventional school schedules only give precious little time to these, despite that these must necessarily be the context in which real intellectual formation takes place. Any obstacle in the student’s human or spiritual formation will severely hamper, if not utterly obstruct, any real academic progress. Most good Catholic schools will teach their students about virtue and how to live a good life, but the opportunities to practice many of these are rare or even non-existent. Additionally, the culture at most schools, something so important for the practice of virtue, is oftentimes mixed at best. By contrast, the culture at our school is something we deliberately take precious care to guard and cultivate. Every student (and family) at Living Nazareth is enthusiastically invested in the mission of the school and in being part of a community that embodies the contemplative spirit which defines our school culture. In an educational climate obsessed with scaffolding and safety nets, with participation trophies and censures on any kind of real competition, we emphasize personal responsibility and hold students accountable for their use and misuse of their freedom. This is not simply manifest in how we treat students in the classroom, but in the personal relationships between teachers, parents, and students, furthered and deepened in the multiple periods of leisure and communal prayer each day. With these relationships thus deepened, we can more easily hold one another accountable for making good use of our freedom, our time, and our talents. Additionally, our schedule and the presence of spiritual directors provide many more opportunities for this kind of correction and growth than a typical school schedule could ever hope for. This along with our various school wide events and House system also help students develop an espirit de corps with one another. This is important for their human formation since the human being is a social animal and must live in community. By developing a sense of belonging to a larger community (their House and their School), children become more ready to participate in the greater communities to which they will one day belong and contribute. This is why we also deem it important to instill in our students the virtue of patriotism by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily and by having them take active part in both local and national events of civic import when possible (e.g. letters to officials, demonstrations, the March for Life, etc.). In addition to this, we want to train our students not simply to be contributing members of society, but to be leaders in it, each in a way appropriate to them. Whether they become parents, priests, business owners, coaches, or any number of other vocations, an ability to lead and direct others effectively will be valuable and necessary. Our students are given several opportunities to take on progressively more responsibility at the school as they move on to higher grade levels by leading clubs or other extra-curricular activities, assisting with classes for the lower grades, guiding and tutoring younger students during breaks, and helping run the house system and student government. Finally, we encourage our students to develop a healthy sense of humor. G.K. Chesterton said that angels could fly because they take themselves lightly. We want our students to imitate the angels and saints who view the world in a context that keeps them from an undue sense of worry and allows them to place their full trust in God. We want our students to acquire the good sense and humor of St. Lawrence, who even in the midst of his own martyrdom (being roasted alive), was able to jokingly tell his executioners “Turn me over; I’m done on this side.”
With regard to spiritual formation, St. Francis de Sales counsels in his Introduction to the Devout Life:
It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people… Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to a perfect life… Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? If so, look for a good man to guide and lead you. This is the most important of all words of advice.
If we take his words and his train of thought seriously, then it behooves each of us to seek to practice the devout life as teachers and students and to seek out a guide to help us along the way. In a sense, this is what we mean by a “Heaven-prep” school. This is not to downplay a rigorous academic program (which is oftentimes necessary if we are to understand what is required for the devout life and take the appropriate measures to cultivate it), but rather to see it in its proper context: as a means to a more ultimate and important end. Our priority is to form saints, in whichever particular way God intends for each student. For St. Francis de Sales (and really for all the saints), the single most concrete aid for this formation is the spiritual director, and that is one of the points that makes our school such a unique experience. At Living Nazareth, we provide ample opportunity and enthusiastically encourage students, faculty, and even parents to avail themselves of regular spiritual direction with priests and religious present at the school and make time for these opportunities within the schedule of the school day. In addition to this, we have daily periods of communal prayer and daily opportunities for students to seek out Confession and or practice private devotions. Most importantly of all, we offer our students the opportunity to receive Our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass daily and have a deep commitment never to compromise the ability of any student or faculty member to attend Holy Mass through any policy or schedule of ours. All of these practices are elements of the spirit and culture of devotion at our school, which we constantly and eagerly strive to nurture and strengthen as the principal means of achieving the goal of fostering the contemplative life in our students and faculty, which is the wellspring of any true learning and wisdom.
Because this spirit is constantly opposed by the spirit of the world, it is paramount that we strive to put to death this hostile and malignant spirit within ourselves to the degree that it still takes hold of our souls. To varying degrees, all of us are affected by the spirit of the world in one manner or another, but we must have a firm resolution to fight zealously against its effects, which ultimately destroy the contemplative spirit in a soul if left unopposed. At Living Nazareth, it is understood that all members of our community have this desire and we endeavor, in a spirit of true charity, to help one another live in a manner consonant with this desire. While it may be commonplace, even in Catholic schools, to be well acquainted with less than edifying forms of entertainment, to possess an inordinate attachment to personal devices, or to prioritize one’s worldly ambitions with relatively little thought given to one’s vocation, we courageously challenge each other in the spirit of St. Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” and again “If then you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Rom. 12:2 and Col. 3:1-2)
This kind of schedule and spirit provides the context necessary for a well rounded formation and ample opportunity in the daily life of the child for the work of the Holy Spirit, who is not bound by the plans and programs man devises. This is also reflected in the freedom our students have with regard to their choice of classes. While we have a rigorous core that serves as a common base for all simply on account of their human nature, we also provide progressively greater opportunity for students to exercise greater freedom as they mature in their ability to listen to and obey God’s voice in their hearts. Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, we also understand acutely the necessity of carefully attentive guidance and supervision to see that this time and freedom is employed well. Therefore, what the world may consider “wasted time” is actually full of profound meaning and purpose, the likes of which the world cannot conceive (much like the hidden life of Our Lord). This very kind of education is precisely what the Heavenly Father chose for His own Beloved Son in the house of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth. It is the education Our Blessed Lord chose for Himself when he returned home after three days in the temple, obedient to Joseph and Mary. It is the education that the Holy Spirit allowed Our Lord to experience for thirty years of His blessed life, before finally calling Him into the desert to begin the final three years before His Sacred Passion, Death, and Resurrection. It is the education that Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph administered to Our Lord during those same thirty years of hidden life at Nazareth. Inspired by His example, we affirm that there is no greater education man can devise and we seek this education for each of our students, but our role is to be the context for that education, to be Nazareth; it is you who must be the Holy Family, even as Pope Paul VI says “for this there is no substitute”. We cannot be a substitute family nor do we wish to be. Rather we provide the context in which your family can find the means necessary to be for each of their children what the Holy Family was for Our Lord, and that context is Nazareth.