Monday, 27 October 2008

Catholic Halloween? The Eve of All Saints

On Friday 31st October, while everyone else is either studiously avoiding Halloween or else honouring it by dressing up as a devil or a ghost, we at Chavagnes, for the 7th year running, will be disguising ourselves as historical saints.

Having previously attempted St Isidore of Seville, St Edmund Campion, St Anthony of the Desert and, I forget the others, I am quite lacking in inspiration this year ... any suggestions?

To be honest, I'd really quite like to dress up us a wizard or some other kind of spirit of evil, as we used to do when I was a child, but that would be against our rules.

The rationale behind our way of celebrating All Hallows Eve is this: the modern celebration of Halloween has got so far from its Christian roots as to end up glorifying witches and devils as an end in itself. So, by dressing up as saints, we remember the true meaning of the Feast and remind ourselves that we should imitate the saints in all that we do.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

In my spare moments: A History of Catholic Education

In my spare moments (ha ha) I am putting together a website on the History of Catholic Education. Comments welcome.

Turning the clocks back ...

'You're right that education is in a terrible state, Ferdi, but you can't just turn the clock back', someone (older than I am) once told me. 'Well, we do it every autumn ...'

Older clocks, like older people, don't like being moved back in time. Walking around an empty school this morning (it's half term break) I counted up all the clocks we are going to have to correct now that summer time is over. The old-fashioned ones are much more difficult to put back than the modern ones, because they don't like going backwards, and in order not to mess up the chimes, you have to listen to every quarter hour chime and pause a few seconds before moving on to the next. It's much easier in the spring, of course, when one is moving forwards.

The much discussed wave of conservatism (or even reaction) that is supposed to be afflicting/blessing the thrity-somethings of today is - I think - much more subtle. Like those modern clocks, we can move backwards and forwards with equal ease. The challenge for us is to find our own place in time and space and give honour to past, present and future. Sometimes that means that like St Paul, we have to play the conservative and hold fast to that which is good; other times we must put away childish things and accept the blessings of the future.

We are meant to be salt and light for the world. The salt makes food, and life, palatable. Without Christians, the world would surely be an even more wretched place .... But we are - by virtue of the One we represent and imitate, light. 'In him there is no darkness at all' ... in the light of Christ, which we must bring to bear on the world, that holy light of truth lights up every situation and helps us see what we must do.

And so autumn - the season of mellow fruitfulness - is here, and winter is just straining to blast her cold at us, forcing us to spend thousands of precious euros on oil. The hedgehogs are still about, so winter can't be here quite yet. At the moment we are experiencing clear blue skies and sunshine by day, and cold at night. But our thick stone walls keep in the heat until morning, at least for the moment.

It's a traditional season for contemplation, for finding comfort and strength in old certainties and customs. Time to huddle around the fire, literally and metaphorically. It's a good time to turn the clocks back for a season ...

Friday, 24 October 2008

Catholic boarding schools on Wikipedia

I have submitted a suggestion to Wikipedia for a page on Catholic boarding schools.

I am hoping to include in that page a general history of Catholic boarding schools (catechetical schools, medieval monastery schools, the new educational orders, lay-run schools, schools in the missions, etc), the situation today (decline in boarding; abandonment of single-sex education; the importance of competition between schools) ... should be interesting once it gets going, and would provide another good launchpad for redirecting people to find out more.

I have also created a UK-based joint site for Chavagnes and La Bonne Nouvelle, redirecting to both sites. It can be found at:

Friday, 17 October 2008

Mr McDermott's new enthusiasm

My new enthusiasm (sigh ...) is AQA's pick-n-mix A-level and GCSE syllabuses for Religious Studies. It is possible to design a very rewarding RE programme around these examinations which are essentially composed of an enormous list of options, from which one can choose a thoroughly Catholic selection. This is one of the joys of the British market-driven exam system, where quality is assured, but pedagogical and academic choices are left to schools and parents, rather than to the State or the exam boards.

I am building a site to house good Catholic resources for these excellent examinations:

We are doing Old Testament and New Testament as our options for the AS-level. For the A2 we have some great possibilities such as the Counter Reformation and Ethics, as well as more Scripture.

I am using Fr Lawrence Boadt's Reading the Old Testament (Paulist Press) and The Literary Guide to the Bible (Alter and Kermode, Fontana) and so far have found these a good basis; the former for commentary and the latter for convenient summaries of content.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Joint marketing

It is not good for man to be alone, says the Good Book. Following this spirit, Chavagnes has launched a joint marketing initiative with La Bonne Nouvelle, our like-minded girls' school. This most emphatically does NOT mean that we are thinking of goind 'co-ed', but it does mean that we will working together to make our schools better known, and to promote La Bonne Nouvelle/Chavagnes as a practical solution for families seeking the same kind of Catholic education for their daughters and their sons.

Both schools are real Christian communities where prayer and regular attendance at Mass are part of school life; both schools encourage fluency in French and English from within a basically British curriculum structure. And we also work together for various theatrical and musical efforts each year.

The first stage in our joint marketing strategy is the launch of a series of combined 'launchpad' sites that will direct enquirers to Chavagnes for their sons and to La Bonne Nouvelle for their daughters. went live today and we hope it will start to generate more visits to the sites of both schools.

The plan is that by pooling some of our efforts we might be able to help each other to grow. So please keep both schools in your prayers.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Shakespeare in Love ...

I have been thinking a lot recently about the personality of Shakespeare. This is because I am watching, together with our Sixth Form English Literature group, a fascinating documentary series from the BBC, called In Search of Shakespeare, with Michael Woods. I can heartily recommend it.

We are studying Twelfth Night together for the A-level syllabus, and we have been trying to find new critical angles for our reflection. Something that I came up with today was how the play sets out a vision of all the different kinds of love, making the point (not too distant from the Pope's in Deus Caritas Est) that they are all really very much closer than we think.

We looked at the relationships between

Viola/Cesario/Sebastian and Olivia, Orsino, Antonio

and also those between all the other characters ... and we found platonic love, the love of friends, sexual love, family love

and then we used the Sonnets as a kind of guide to the whole vexed, but interesting question of love between man and woman, and man and man.

In the early sonnets Shakespeare advises his protege to marry so as to leave the world a copy of his beauty, a theme taken up by Cesario/Viola in her exchanges with Olivia. It is also reminiscent of Orsino's exchanges with Cesario/Viola. There is a moment, however, in Orsino's advice to Cesario/Viola, where he notices that Diana's lip is not more rubious, and that all is semblative of a woman's part; a more delicate treatment of the theme taken up in the somewhat bawdy Sonnet 20, "A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted..."

One supposes that at the same time that Orsino is falling in love with Cesario/Viola, because of his(her) extraordinary good looks, Antonio is doing the same with Sebastian. Given that Viola/Cesario and Sebastian are supposed to be as alike as peas in a pod, there is an obvious comparison invited between the restraint of Orsino and the more freely expressed devotion of Antonio.

The fact that at the end of the play three lovers are left somewhat marginalised (Malvolio, Sir Andrew and Antonio) and also that love is so often spoken of in the same breath as pain or death, certainly reinforces the message that, despite the plays incredible fairy-tale ending, there is no real love without sacrifice; also that 'pleasure will be paid' ... Sir Toby's 'cakes and ale' and Malvolio's Puritanical Lent are both essential parts of life.

A contextual point which I have seen in none of the editions of crib notes, but which occurred to me after watching the BBC documentary, is the fact that Shakespeare himself had twins from whom he was separated by a kind of exile, and that the boy twin, Hamnet, died, when on the threshold of manhood. The tale of Sebastian and Viola is very close to this. The love of Antonio for Sebastian might tell us as much about a father's love as about male Platonic love; one never sees Antonio played as a 'happy father' figure at the end of the play, but it might work.

There are all sorts of interesting points that come out of Woods' documentary. I cannot recommend it highly enough, even if his excessive 'bardolatry' is sometimes a bit tiring.