Anchored by the Classic Learning Test

John Singleton on The Heroic Adventure Spurred by Catholic Classical Education

August 10, 2023 Classic Learning Test
Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
John Singleton on The Heroic Adventure Spurred by Catholic Classical Education
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Anchored, Jeremy is joined by John Singleton, a board member of the Liberal Arts College at Mount St. Mary’s University. Their discussion explores the founder of Mount St. Mary's, John Dubois, and his influence on American education. The conversation then delves into the present state and future promise of Catholic, classical education in America. They emphasize the ability of Catholic mythology to inspire students in their pursuit of a heroic adventure. Furthermore, the conversation highlights the growing enrollment trend in Catholic higher education and the rich history and merits of Mount St. Mary’s, which make it a compelling choice for prospective Catholic families.

Today’s episode of Anchored is brought to you with support from America’s Christian Credit Union. Find out how ACCU can be the banking partner to your school or family by visiting americaschristiancu.com/CLT.





Jeremy:

Welcome back to the Anchor podcast here in Annapolis with John Singleton today. John is a board member of the liberal arts college at Mount St. Mary's University, a graduate from the Mount as well, both undergrad and graduate school, and then also a graduate from St. John's college right here in Annapolis. John, welcome to the anchor podcast. Take. Tate, I didn't know when we had this, we scheduled this podcast that I'd be doing it with a guy named Tate, but I'm proud to be doing it. Thanks for having me. That's a reference, I believe to Andrew Tate, where I am not a brother. I'm not related at all. I get asked that quite a bit. Okay, yeah. Well, it's topical. I was just curious. Just making sure. John, welcome. We always we love to start off talking about the educational background of our guests. You are a graduate of the Mount. What took you to the Mount as a high school student? Had you gone to Catholic schools growing up? Yeah, you know, it was coincidental that I went to the Mount because I started out at the University of Maryland in the engineering school and the Mount was really the only other college I knew anything about. Honestly, I visited there with some friends who were going there and. You know, I saw my destiny is going to the state school and when things didn't work out there, the only place I knew was the Mount and I put in my application and, and work with the team there, um, financial aid team and made it all work. So that's how it was very serendipitous. Tell us a little bit about your time. Cause right now I know you as a man that is super passionate about your Catholic faith, super passionate about the Mount itself. Is that how you were as a freshman in college? No, not at all. You know, I think at that age, I was just trying to figure things out. And, uh, I had just come off not doing too well in the engineering school at university of Maryland. So, uh, probably didn't have a great confidence in my academic ability. And when I went to the mountain, I got into a really, um, you know, sort of a warm, small environment where. Teacher student ratio was great, like one in 10 or something, and lots of liberal arts courses did a lot of reading. and really was a great experience for me coming out of a more technical background. Okay, now at some point a transformation happened. You became passionate about not just your Catholic faith, but deeply passionate about the Mount itself. We're sitting here looking at this beautiful book, The Meaning of the Mount, The Meaning of Mount St. Mary's, which is going to be in the bookstore up at the Mount. It's incredible. You've been working on this for 20 years. I mean, this is the fruit of so much thought and prayer and labor. I'm excited to dig into it. But when did the transformation happen? Were you really started to own this? This education on your Catholic faith with it? I think it really happens when I married a Baptist girl and you know, when you're married, right, you're married for a long time, but even earlier in your marriage, you know, you get saved many times by your wife, your wife. you know, protects you in some ways, right? And I have a great wife and we're married 30 years and she was, she's now Catholic, but at the time she was a Baptist and just love her today as much as I did then. And so I think that really, that maternal love, right? Really helped me reflect on my time at the Mount. on who Mary is, maybe why I ended up at the Mount kind of accidentally. And so that kind of brought it all together for me. And then of course, then you raise a family with three boys and you see. Um, you understand sort of the, the maternal role in the family unit and, uh, you see how powerful it is. And certainly that referred me back to my education to in Emmitsburg. Wow. Okay. I love that. So, so what you're saying is that the fruit of your education, it wasn't, it didn't kind of come to fruition for years after you graduated even, is that right? Yeah. And school isn't always just preparation for a profession. It's preparation for the home. It's preparation for being a good person. And if you have the right type of education, which I think the Mount certainly have an opportunity to get. one there. I think it can make you know professionally successful but I think it can also make you very much have a happy home for the rest of your life. Sure okay okay. Now I'd love to hear if you could you know some of the folks in the audience here may know nothing about Mount St. Mary's. You're saying Georgetown is not it. The Mount is the oldest Catholic university in the country. Tell us a little about the founding, if you would. Right, so when I was at the Mount, we had the saying from the, I guess the marketing team, that said we are the second oldest Catholic college in America. And I always thought that was kind of a strange way to talk about the Mount. And I did a little bit of research when I was writing this book, and the Mount really is the first Catholic college in the 50 states. And what I mean by that is, Georgetown was redistricted to a federal territory in 1791 when there were only 14 American states. So the mountain made it all the way to 50. And not only were we the first Catholic college in the 50 states, we're the first Catholic college named for Mary and we're the first college named for a woman in the United States. And someone will say, wait a minute, John, what about William and Mary? Well, William and Mary is named for a man and a woman. Mount St. Mary's is named just for a woman. It is Mary. So I think the mountain has a tremendous history and Mount St. Mary's is also the mother of Catholic education in the United States. From Emmitsburg came all of these great pioneers who made Catholic education what it is, and that's certainly St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton who opened the first schools. And then you had Archbishop John Hughes of New York, who opened the parochial system in New York city and got that started there, both from Emmitsburg. So you really have all roads leading back to Emmitsburg, really. That's what I like to say. Okay, okay. And so this is early 1800s. The actual founding is 1802? 1808. Okay, okay. And Elizabeth Anne Seaton, is she the founder? No, the founder is a French guy by the name of John Dubois. So the Mount is a product of two revolutions. John Dubois was a priest who was escaping the tyranny of the French Revolution where... You know, a revolutionary government was persecuting the church, beheading priests in the streets and beheading resistors in the streets. Of course, the Catholic church was one of the main resistors. And Dubois actually was a friend and a schoolmate of Maximilien Robespierre. So he was the leader of the French revolution. And they had grown up together. They were friends, but obviously they parted ways, right? As Robespierre became a political superstar in Europe and everyone thought he was. a great person, but he ended up demolishing the Catholic Church in France. The Reign of Terror. The Reign of Terror and killed a lot of people. I think that the count may be over 100,000 really when you look at it. But anyway, Robespierre actually signed the papers that allowed Dubois to escape to America. So they came across each other as grown men. And Robespierre knew what was coming for his buddy, for his buddy, John Dubois, and he signed the papers that allowed him to get out of France and take a boat to America. So it's a lot like Les Mis. If you ever seen Les Mis or Robert read the story, you got the tyrannical representative of the state, and you have the holy priest-like figure. And it's really, and Les Mis was written about 50 years after the. after the French Revolution or maybe a little more. I wouldn't be surprised if Victor Hugo was really writing about John Dubois and Maximilien Robespierre. It's possible. I want to spread that rumor around so people can go research it and think about it themselves. But wouldn't that be cool? It's a French story. And the Mount was founded on the heels of the American Revolution as well. So when John Dubois got to the United States, he met with James Monroe and Patrick Henry. And after meeting with them shortly afterwards, he started opening parishes. And not long after that, he opened Mount St. Mary. So he understood what religious freedom meant. He understood how it worked in the United States because he talked to two of the founders and then he went out and acted on it by opening this, this school that would become, I think the immigrant church's most fertile, um, birthplace for, uh, Catholic education. So it's, and of course the school was named after Mary. and Mary is prolific. Who is more productive at getting things born than Mary? So it all makes sense. in a mythological way and maybe even in reality, but certainly mythologically it works very well. Yeah. John, let's talk about the physical space itself. You go to the Mount, I've been to the Mount several times, and it is a really beautiful part of Maryland, Emmitsburg, but there's this part that gets, I believe, a million or more pilgrims every year, the grotto. Up on the hill, you go up the steps, you go to the grotto. Well, a lot of our audience is not Catholic. We've got a lot of Protestant friends listening right now as well. What is it in reference to in France? Can you tell us a bit about that? Yeah, well the grotto is a Mythological place up the mighty mountain is how you have to go to find to be in the presence of God, right? You got to climb Jacob's Ladder, right? You've got it. You got to go to the top of this mountain. That's sort of where the grotto is It's on the it's actually on the side of a mountain But it's got an incredible view of the valley of st. Joseph's Valley there in Frederick County. So I think what you've got in the grotto at Mount St. Mary's is like Middle Earth or like Anarnia. It's full of mythological figures and there's, you know. dark hollows and long meandering trails and places you can go to sit and be quiet or pray or think about these great stories and these great heroes that came out of the Mount. So it's a really, and it's a historical place and it's really one of the first, if not the first, shrine to religious liberty in the country. It is a national shrine and it has an incredible history. So yeah, the grotto is, it's the birthplace of the Mount. Yeah. And also kind of the bigger story of Catholic education in America, something that just weighs heavily on my heart. And we've had a number of guests on the Anchor podcast when we talked through this. But look, in going back even to 1965, the end of Vatican II, 50% of Catholic kids were in Catholic schools. They were full of priests and nuns for half a century now. We've been closing nearly 100 Catholic schools a year. Just in the past decade, there's been a bit of a rebirth with schools like Divine Mercy Academy. It's still not growing quite as quickly as schools are closing down. What happened to the robust vigor of Catholic education in America and can we get it back? Yeah, I think Catholic schools were built on the numberless small donations of immigrant Catholics. I think that's how the first Catholic schools were built. It was built on this groundswell of enthusiasm for wanting these schools in their neighborhoods. People wanted them in their neighborhoods. And I think there was at that time, more of an adversarial relationship with the larger culture, right? So I think when, when that relationship, um, it becomes, it acquiesces, right? To the larger culture, then there's no differentiation between, let's say a Catholic school and a public school. Right. So I think, I think what we want to do is Catholic school system or, or independent Catholic schools like DMA, which is a great school here in Anne Arundel County, Divine Mercy Academy, great school. We've had Oleg Gafardian on the podcast. Yeah. Oleg's inspirational, great guy. And, um, I think, I think the key is to be distinctly Catholic and be distinctly classical. So when we talk about. Catholic education, we do talk about classical mythological things like dragons, like dark caves, like brave knights, fair maidens, and all the things that go along with it. Mighty mountains. It all is part of a classical education, which is really a Catholic education. We talked over lunch about the needed re-enchantment of Catholic education, and that students, especially maybe young boys, are drawn to this battle. this adventure, but it's been in some ways kind of sterilized. It's been, it's been neutered in many ways. Uh, the Catholic school system has started taking its cues from the secular progressive mainstream public school system. Is that fair? Yeah. Well, listen. We got to talk about your business a little bit at lunch too, which I think is a great innovation in, in the realm of student testing, right? So you're going to, you're going to, you're going to be a testing apparatus like the SAT, but for classical schools, which will intend, will then encourage students to study things like literature, philosophy, theology, mythology, all of these great things and stories of heroes, because all of those disciplines that I just mentioned. have heroes, right? And I think this is what really inspires young people to learn that there is a heroic adventure waiting for them if they'll accept the challenge of their faith because their faith is going to be somewhat oppositional. I mean, faith is about being up here and the world is about being down on the earth. So right there, you have an adversarial kind of a challenge, something to throw yourself up against and to prove who you are, let's say. a young man or a young woman, it doesn't matter. So I think this is what you're doing, I love what you're doing at CLT, so thank you. Yeah, and I think it's really all part of the same idea. Honestly. So you openly embrace, you just said a minute ago, it's gotta be Catholic and it's gotta be classical. But a lot of folks in the Catholic education world, schools I've toured that are incredible schools, they seem to me as classical as any school, they're not real big on the word classical. You think about a group that we love dearly, Institute for Catholic liberal education. They love classical but have some hesitation about the language You know what? I think that is I honestly think that we are so obsessed with everything being new and everything being Sounding not old when you say classical it sounds old and people are afraid of saying oh classical That sounds like something that's not up to date and something that's long ago and something that I can't use right now to maximize or optimize my career chances or my academic, you know, or discipline or whatever, whatever that I'm, whatever my goals are, right? I want to get into whatever the school is. So I think, yeah, classical for some, for some strange reason makes people think that it's not practical, but I would argue the opposite. Now, do we want to give it a different name? I don't know. There's probably lots of different names we could use. And I've even heard, you know, it needs to be, some people push back and say, it doesn't need to be Catholic plus classical. It needs to be just Catholic. Well. I push back and say this has always been the educational tradition of the church. Absolutely. We're returning it. What is new is trying to pair Catholicism. with modern secular progressive education. That's what doesn't fit. You know, it was the monks in the early centuries after the resurrection that are passing down in our recording the great texts. And they're the reason we even have access to some of the great works of literature that came from before Christ. There's no doubt that the modern university system was founded by the Catholic Church in Europe. There's no doubt about it. When the monasteries were first opened in Europe and they became hubs of learning, first for maybe theology and philosophy, but then for mathematics and science and everything else, you know, there, there's seismology labs all across Italy that were manned by monks, right? Who were the first, you know, earthquake detectors, right? I mean, that's, that's science. I mean, that, and that goes back thousands of years. So yeah, all the science, all the math, all the philosophy and theology all came out of. the Catholic system in Europe. There's no doubt about it. And we're in agreement, you know, the classical stories are the foundational stories and they need, and that's how you learn history from the ground up. And I think when we take a very truncated, disjointed way to look at history, it's very confusing to students. I know it was to me, and it took me a lot of, you know, as you get older, you kind of have the time to think about it all and you put together history in a chronology, right? One thing after another and you go, oh, now I get it. And it's almost like that's hidden. So you're like, you play the part of a detective and you have a truth detector if you have a good education and a good faith. And that truth detector leads you to the answers that are there, because they are there. We just have to find them. In your great book here, The Meaning of Mount St. Mary's again, it's gonna be in the books who wrote them out. We're gonna have John at the end give his contact information if you want to book. It's beautiful images, it's incredible stories. You've got a great picture in here. of Babe Ruth. What is Babe Ruth's connection to the Mount? So Babe Ruth visited the Mount back in the early, I'm going to say around 1920. And of course, Babe Ruth went to a Catholic school in Baltimore. So he was a big fan of all the Catholic schools in the area. And some of the priests at the Mount brought him up and he did an exhibition where he blasted fly balls over the roof of the gym onto what is now Route 15. But there were no cars to hit back then, but he impressed everybody. and did this huge exhibition. And I think they actually played a game up there too. And certainly there's a couple of pictures of Babe Ruth on the Mount campus in the book. And that's one of the legendary stories of the Mount. Yes. Yeah. Now, John, I've got to ask you this question that's a bit more loaded maybe in that, I've talked to so many families since starting CLP. Among our base at least, there are some concerns about the Catholic identity of the Mount. It's no longer part of the Newman guide. There's a lot of concerns about that. If you're talking to a family, a passionately Catholic family, and they say, John, what do you think? Is the mountain somewhere that we can send our kid? We're looking at Benedictine, we're looking at Franciscan. How do you respond to that? Well, first of all, I think that Catholic education... and a more orthodox Catholic education is really what people are hungry for. They wanna understand the root causes. They wanna understand first things, right? So I think that's, and that's on every young person's mind. They wanna understand who they are, right? So I think that's just, and you answer that question, right? That identity crisis question, and then all of a sudden you open yourself up to all kinds of new knowledge, right? That's what we're trying to do. So yeah, I'm, you know, not being in the Newman Guide, I'm trying to think. So I think that the Mount being in the Newman Guide would be helpful because I believe there are a great number of students in the country, Catholic students who do want to find the right schools. And I think the Mount is one of them. We obviously have a wonderful seminary on campus. We have a terrific faculty. We've got great administrators. I think it's a matter of really kind of aiming ourselves at that group of students who are coming out of. Catholic schools, classical schools, Catholic classical schools. You know, I think this is, these are the students that we want to bring in. And traditionally, those types of students at the Mount are at the top of the class. These are our best students. They win all the awards. And they're, you know, they're delightful. Yeah, and I got to do an article over at First Things about a year or two ago. And what we did is we took some of the data we have here at CLT and we just shared this in a First Things article. But some of the Catholic colleges with the most explosive growth, you look at what President Minnis has done at Benedictine over a period of 18 years, enrollment has more than doubled. And you go to campus and it's one of the most hospitable, lively, faith-filled. I mean, it is beautiful. But record enrollment at Ave Maria, record enrollment at Franciscan, enrollment at Christendom, kind of on and on and on. There is a growing, my, my perception is there is absolutely a growing group of Catholic families. And of course, these are big families. These are families sometimes, you know, we get, we've got a small family. I've only got six in these circles. They're like, you're just getting started. Right, right. Keep on going. Yeah. They go and take Sam Phillips at Christendom tells me they have the biggest average family in the country. But John Daly over at Thomas Aquinas says, that's not true, he says that TAC has, that's the kind of thing they're having a fun debate about, right? But there's this whole groundswell of reclaiming the tradition, the richness of it, the enchantment of it, and they want faithfully Catholic college options. Yeah, and you know, the Mount can compete with any of those schools you've mentioned, Christendom, Benedictine, et cetera, because the Mount has this incredible history, this incredible. aura about it that I think comes from Mary, right? This is the first Catholic college named for the Mother of God in the United States and that aura, that tradition stays with them out. There's something happening there, still happening. I was up there and talked to one of our pastors, one of our campus ministers, and he said that I think seven people, I could be wrong with this, but seven from the senior class are going into seminary. That's a lot. And when I was there, there were a few, maybe two or three, maybe two, not seven. So things are still happening at the Mount and we can compete for those families and those students who want a classical Catholic education. We call it our liberal arts curriculum. We have wonderful theology teachers, wonderful philosophy teachers. We have great teachers. And that's what I point out when I talk to families and they have questions or concerns about the Catholic identity at the Mount. I say, look at the faculty. People like Barrett Turner, I mean these are solid, and some serious, serious scholars as well. Oh, the Mount has a great faculty. I'm a big fan and, you know, I'm friendly with everyone up there and, you know, love the fact that they are embracing the book and it is going to be available in the bookstore and, you know, I think the whole community has really rallied around it, so I'm really excited. So, John, 20 years ago, you said you just started jotting things down as you were thinking, and then this slowly just took the form of maybe I'll turn all this into a book, is that kind of how it went? Yeah, you know, one of the first stories I wrote down was a ghost story, right. And I was like, you know, this was about a father and son who were, were at the Mount back in the 1800s, right. And they were both musicians and the father was actually kind of a renowned musician and he wrote a lot of. even presidential marches for the presidents down the road in DC. And his son, he wanted his son to be a classical musician too, but they had a falling out and the son stopped playing alongside his father and they stopped talking. And, um, around Christmas, they would always do a Christmas concert for the Mount father and son. And of course he stopped doing that. Um, and when the father died, of course, the son was remorseful and he would always play a Christmas dirge around his father's grave, which is, on the grotto, right? At the grotto at the Mount. And the weird thing about that story is, so at every Christmas, this guy supposedly plays a flute at his father's grave. So I was an RA at the Mount back in 80 something, I wouldn't even say the year. And I was there the last, the first weekend before we're going to Christmas break, right? So it was December 9th or something like that or 12th or whatever. And I decided to take a walk up on the grotto. And I hear a flute. This is before I ever knew about this story. Right. And I hear a flute and I sort of follow the flute and you're like the Pied Piper. And I'm walking down the grotto, the entrance to the grotto where the gate is. And I walk down and I see sitting on a knee wall. This is a true story. A guy playing a flute and he looked, didn't look like he was from this time. And there was nobody else around. The campus was completely vacant. There was no cars in the lot. It was just me taking a walk, walk up on the mountain. And so I walked towards him, he's standing right at the entrance of the grotto cave, sitting on a knee wall playing the flute. So I said, I gotta look at him at least. Kind of scary, right? So I said, you know, nice music or something like that. He looked at me, stopped. He looked at me just for a second and he went back to playing. And then I walked up on the mountain and for some reason got lost and came back down. He was gone. But then like 15 years later or 10 years later, I read this story about the father son thing. And I was like, did I see that guy sitting on the wall playing the flute? So I wrote that story down. It's, it's one of the stories in the book. And yeah, so yeah, it's stuff like that. You know, there's, there's other great stories. There's, there's a story about an Indian way back when the school was first started to a couple of students were possum hunting and ran into him up on a trail on the mountain. And back then there were, you know, there were still. some Indians around and they stopped and the Indian offered him the boys a cigar. Yeah, they all smoked a cigar around a campfire and had some fellowship and talked about Father Dubois, who was running the school and, you know, and, you know, I've got to give our audience just a taste here because I love I love your writing style and this is just a bit from Chapter six. You start off here by quoting Dostoevsky, Beauty will save the world. An artist produces beautiful things to bring order. out of chaos. A writer engages the word to uncover truth. A finished work of art unifies by pointing to something higher. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it is in the mind of God. Incredible, incredible. So well said. Again, the name of the book, the meaning of Mount St. Mary's We're here with John Singleton. John, our final question always of the Anchor podcast is going to be the book that has been most formative for you. Maybe it's a book that you reread every year. What is that for you? Well, it has to be the Bible right first. That's the, well, we always say you got to pick a book in the Bible if you're going to go with the Bible. Well, I would say probably Genesis. I think Genesis is. maybe the most mythological book in the Bible and then Revelation would be second. Of course, the first and the last book are connected in so many ways, including an encounter with a dragon or a serpent or whatever you want to call it. Revelation 12, right? Right. They both involve a woman, Mary or the new Eve. We talk about that a lot in the book. But other than that, I probably like Moby Dick. I think it would end. That's a good one. Again, John Singleton. Check out the Mount St. Mary's. A great CLT partner college as well. John, thanks for being with us today. Thanks for having me.