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EDUCATION & SANCTIFICATION
Published originally as the District Superior's Letter to Friends & Benefactors in the September 2004 Regina Coeli Report

Fr. John Fullerton

Dear friends and benefactors of the Society of St. Pius X,

On the front of this report ["Educational Conferences"; 482 kb pdf] you have news about the educational seminars held this summer for our principals and teachers. Many topics were covered during these two weeks, but all, as you might expect, had a common end in view —how best to educate or train our youth.

To have the best education or training is a concern not only for our principals and teachers but also for our parents, who have this primary duty in raising their children. Nor does this concern end with parents. In many ways the training of youth concerns us all. These children will one day be adults and take their part in society where they will help or harm the common good. If they have not been taught how to train themselves, which is the task of education, how will they continue the self-training needed to lead good lives?

Thus it is good for all of us to occasionally take a few moments and consider some important questions which pertain to any scheme of training or self-training. What results do we want our training to produce? What materials are available to produce the result? And how can we best handle the material to bring about the result?

The result we want from our training is, in or out of school, men and women of the best and noblest character possible according to capacity and circumstances. Proper training seeks to produce men and women whose lives are dominated by good principles, deeply rooted in the mind and elevated into standards of judgment, taste, feeling, action, and which are consistently referred to throughout life. To do this an all-round development of knowledge, intelligence, judgment, moral and religious uprightness, strength and stamina, energy and enterprise, refinement and culture is needed. Such lives, based on good principles, will be quite distinct from those dominated by mere impulses from within and circumstances from without. We only need to look around or maybe even within to see how lives dominated by such impulses and circumstances create anything but men and women of virtue.

Thus we need to lay before our children the noblest ideals, with a proper subordination, so that we properly construct in them the noblest character and do justice to all that goes into perfecting them. To do this, we need to have a solid foundation of natural virtue. Grace builds upon nature and so this foundation of character must be firmly established to support the building which is to stand upon it.

As the firm foundation is being established we can already begin to build and we do so by the Christian ideals or supernatural virtues which perfect and elevate the natural virtues to a higher plane so that the child is capable of living in harmony with God’s will.

To finish off our building, all that remains is to add the trimmings. These trimmings, when speaking of character, are the various other physical, mental and practical qualities, which develop body and mind (e.g., knowledge, judgment, manners, taste, health and every possible kind of activity whether of business or pleasure.) Thus we seek to produce proper Christian gentlemen and ladies of all-round capability who, for the rest of their lives will act according to the Catholic principles instilled in them.

Every kind of training contributes to accuracy of observation and judgment, to judiciousness of action and self-restraint in moral matters. He who is taught to act on sound principles concerning things on a natural level, will also acquire greater facility in proceeding on sound principles in those things which pertain to the salvation of his soul. Natural development may, it is true, be accompanied by neglect of spiritual development and so lose all higher value. But, given that spiritual development is not neglected, it will certainly not be impeded but rather helped by every form of natural development.

In training we must also consider the material we have available to work with and from which we hope to produce the desired result. As man moves from infancy to childhood, then on to boyhood, and finally to adulthood, he passes through different developmental stages. In each stage he reaches a level of development which gives us certain material to work with. The main concern for the parents of a helpless newborn babe is to see that plenty of food and rest is provided. As the baby grows into childhood, the beginnings of judgement and will are manifest in the child’s observations and impulses. What parent has not had the question "Why?" put to them by their little two or three year old?

As the child develops into the boyhood stage, there is a consciousness of the power of choice, its proper use and the duty of making the right choice. Here the training must focus on the intellect and the will. In the training of youth this is the real breaking point. Here the boy should be considered as an incipient man and the girl as an incipient woman and thus opportunities should be given for him or her to develop by ruling them with adult methods as far as they are able rather than with child methods. Motives of pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, or the will of the parent must be superseded by the idea of duty, which must be again elevated into personal service of God, and this not just out of fear but out of love. Thus ethical conduct will be placed on a sound footing of religious principles and these must be cultivated until they become habit.

In the training process, once again, let us bear in mind that all real training is self-training; we have no power to force the will. Success will be achieved only in so far as we can induce the child to take his own self-training in hand according to the lines laid out for him. For this purpose it is important that we watch each child’s development so that we neither hold the child back nor push too quickly.

Finally the means or method for producing the desired result of our training must be considered. These methods must consist of removing obstacles and providing opportunities as well as providing incitements where development is deficient and imposing restrictions where it is excessive until the child is able to do so for himself.

The first means we can consider is the training of the intellect, otherwise known as instruction. Whether it be formal as in the set tasks systematically imposed, or informal resulting from the interaction of such things as conversation, sightseeing or reading, instruction concerns the communication between the intellects of teacher and student in order to convey thoughts and facts.

There is also the training of the will known as discipline. Discipline is able to instigate and direct actions and thus enforce principles, and, like instruction, has also formal and informal parts. Rules and regulations make up what we call formal discipline, while informal discipline, which is just as important, comes from suggestion rather than law and is derived from the tone of the circle, family or school in which the child lives.

A final means to consider, for producing character, is the influence or example of persons. Example covers the whole ground of instruction and discipline and is a more potent factor of influence than the other two. The reason for this is that we humans, especially when children, have a natural instinct of imitation. The possibilities of achievement are revealed by example thus exciting our aspirations and helping to form our ideals and focus our energies down to a definite line of self-development.

This scheme, as I said, applies to any training. Unfortunately in today’s modern world the result, material and means have been changed. The result sought today are men and women who will be useful to our industrial society, able to make money or able to contribute to the pleasures most seek.

As to the material, modern educators try to force it to fit this same utilitarian mold. Instead of a well-rounded education, given according to the normal developmental stages of man, they try to force specialized education upon children before they are ready. Children, like vessels of clay, must be shaped slowly and given time to dry before firing otherwise they will (and have) become warped or burst apart when put into the fire, being unable to handle the pressure.

The means have suffered even greater attack. Modern educators say instruction between two intellects is no longer necessary. Children can teach themselves or machines can better train them. Discipline or training of the will, what is that? And the icons for imitation today are men and women dominated by impulses or circumstances who seek to fit the subjective result of the utilitarian society.

As Catholics, we know the result expected of us: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." We also know too well how faulty are the material and means we have to work with. But too often we fall victim to the erroneous thinking of the modern world, misusing this material or destroying the proper means. However it is not too late for us to change the trend. To make sure our children have proper education we all must do our part. For most of us, as adults, this can be accomplished simply by taking our own self-training seriously. Let us start with proper instruction and self-discipline. Then our example will give our youth something to shoot for and we will all be working toward the perfection God demands of us.

Sincerely yours in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts,

Fr. John D. Fullerton