In 2005 the Acton Institute ranked the fledgling academy among the nation’s top 50 Catholic high schools, citing the strength of its Catholic identity.
This first graduating class of seven is, to Petrillo, a sign the school is achieving what it set out to do: form young men intellectually, spiritually and physically by employing a classical model of education.
“We try to address the whole man — body, mind and soul,” he says. “These boys will strive for excellence in their own lives according to their gifts and can make a difference in the culture.”
If they do, they’ll follow in the
footsteps of school founder and president emeritus Richard Greco Jr. Today he’s
assistant secretary of the Navy. In 2002, as a White House fellow, he served in
Also in 2002, The Montfort Academy opened as an independent, lay-run Catholic school. Nestled in a quiet town midway between the Connecticut border and lower Hudson River Valley, it’s been endorsed by New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan and the New York archdiocesan education office.
Armando and Carla Tellez of the
“We were looking for a place where Michael could grow spiritually and academically,” says Carla. She and her husband, Armando, knew their prayers had been answered the first time Michael gave a speech after receiving an award — for virtue.
“Michael wrote it by himself and he spoke so eloquently,” says Carla, who adds that her immediate response was to pray. “God,” she said, “you have given us the right place for him.”
Salutatorian Michael loves
debating, dressing in a suit and taking active roles in his faith and community
service, including a project in rural
“He started doing the Rosary every Thursday,” says Carla. “I told him, “‘God used you to bring Christ into our home.’”
A Life of Learning
The 40-student school — there’s room to hold more than 120 as enrollment continues to expand — combines the sacraments, prayer and study to go beyond education and information, and into moral and character formation.
“That’s what the medieval monks understood so well,” says Petrillo, “and that’s why they began to organize education into the classical liberal arts.”
Students read and discuss the “Great Books” of Western civilization. Then there’s Latin, Greek, Italian, grammar, Aristotelian logic, debate and rhetoric — much imparted through the Socratic method of teaching. This places the course master in the position of questioner, challenging students to figure out answers on their own.
Says Petrillo: “If we give these young men a good, solid, liberal-arts education and teach them how to think and learn, they’ll be able to teach themselves throughout their lives.”
The first graduating class is already proving his point. Latin and literature teacher Chris Bratt recalls the day at the end of junior year when everyone watched an old videotape of a debate they’d had as freshmen. The moment proved both funny and insightful.
First everyone had lots of laughs over things like those squeaky voices.
“We could see how much they had changed,” Bratt says, but the changes went far deeper than that. “They were more learned, more eloquent, more scholarly in general.”
Life-changing learning also came from such activities as the Distinguished Speaker Series, which exposes students to men who have made a difference for the greater good through service. Among the speakers: Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Father Bryce Sibley.
Melding theory with practice,
students serve through corporal works of mercy such as the annual March for
Life and the Midnight Runs to feed homeless in
The school’s patron, St. Louis de Montfort, provides a clue as to what underlies the
curriculum: the determined pursuit of truth and virtue. Petrillo
points out that, also mirroring
“We try to teach To Jesus through Mary,” he says. Everything in the school becomes important only as it reflects Christ and the path to him through the intercession of his mother.
On Fridays, students attend Mass together, then stay for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during which they also pray the Rosary together. Three times a day, the school community gathers for prayer — morning offering, Angelus, and closing contrition and thanksgiving.
Theology classes are based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, studied with pronounced fidelity to the historic faith and to the current magisterium.
Then, too, by the time a student completes his fourth and final year here, he will have learned “a great deal about the dignity of the human person through Pope John Paul II’s teachings and writings,” explains Petrillo. Petrillo says this emphasis is more than any single course; it’s “part of the air they breathe.”
The same can be said of the learning the first graduates have achieved.
“In the beginning I was skeptical about the whole thing,” says valedictorian Justin Hartes, now a great believer in the Socratic method, the Great Books and even religion classes. He admits he had little previous knowledge about his Catholic faith, and no plans for going to church after his confirmation.
All that has changed. “The school reintroduced me to the Catholic faith,” says Hartes. “I learned to appreciate it and know what’s true and right.”
One of his happiest moments came during freshman year, when he got the “excellence of mind” award. At the time he had a full obligation to his football team.
According to Petrillo, the school also teaches students there will be personal fruits to enjoy from achievement. But the real purpose of achievement is, first and foremost, students’ own salvation and sanctification — and that of society at large.
“Make a difference for the good,” says Petrillo, “and point all things toward Christ.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from