HISTORY OF THE MONTFORT ACADEMY
In 2011, on the occasion of its 10th Anniversary, The Montfort Academy published a Festschrift commemorating and celebrating its first ten years. Below is the introductory letter to the Festschrift written by Founder and President of The Montfort Academy, Richard Greco, Jr. The letter remains an excellent summary of our Academy's history.
Dear Friends of The Montfort Academy:
Ten years ago, a small group of priests, educators, and businessmen founded The Montfort Academy as a Renaissance in Education. In designing The Montfort Academy’s academic and extracurricular programs, we drew upon more than two thousand years of educational richness, tradition, and success, beginning with Plato in ancient Greece, building on the Medieval monasteries and high Renaissance schools of Europe, and continuing through the contributions of modern Western thought. Our classical Catholic education would allow students to join what Columbia University professor and scholar of government Mortimer Adler called the Great Conversation: the ongoing conversation of great ideas and minds down through the ages.
Ours was a daring and joyous—but overwhelming—undertaking. No new Catholic high school had opened in the Archdiocese of New York in forty years. But after speaking with Dr. Catherine Hickey and Sr. Marie Papas of the Archdiocesan education office, His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan offered his blessing for our endeavor, proudly saying that Catholic education had a “glorious tradition.” We then began to speak with prospective parents by holding open houses, even though we had not yet found a building.
Our goal was to create a lay-run Catholic high school where students could develop intellectually, spiritually, and physically, in an environment that respected and fostered the highest standards of academic accomplishment, morality, and discipline and whose religious education was faithful to the Church. Monsignors Eugene Clark and Donald Pryor offered their prayers; Fr. John Perricone provided the religious and philosophical foundation; Joseph Pagnozzi designed the pedagogical method; Phil Bafundo, Thomas Lehrman, and Ellen Leigh helped develop the business plan and donated some of the founding financing; Lt. Col. David Petrillo USAF (ret.) was chosen as the first headmaster; Riccardo Vicenzino designed the crest featuring a fleur de lis for the Blessed Mother, a flask for Wisdom, a lion for Bravery, and a Crucifix for Our Lord and Truth; Karen Hanley, Frank Marchetti, Joseph Hopkins, and Catherine Shaffer offered their moral support from the beginning as founding board members; and many, many teachers applied for positions—in fact, we had more resume submissions than teaching spots, with universally shared sentiments that The Montfort Academy was exactly the kind of the school these teachers had always dreamed of teaching in.
Weighing heavily on our minds, though, was what Aristotle said about the education of the youth: “All those who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have come to the realization that the future of civilization rests on the education of the youth.” Ours was a serious mission.
Our approach to education, though mature, even ancient, was simple and proven: Training in character and virtue along with an excellent and rigorous academic curriculum and a serious sportsmanship program would build a strong person, forever. Of paramount importance was the dynamic relationship between student and teacher. Our faculty members have been not only excellent teachers but also distinguished professionals in many fields, dedicated to classical education and character formation. We have always selected our faculty members having in mind the words of Dr. Henry Pritchett, the President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the turn of the twentieth century: "A good teacher calls attention to the moral, social, and intellectual qualities that lead to success in any field."
Vittorino da Feltre, a Renaissance education theorist and humanist, said "We call those studies liberal which are worthy of a free man; those studies by which we attain and practice virtue and wisdom; that education which calls forth, trains and develops those highest gifts of body and of mind which ennoble men, and which are rightly judged to rank next in dignity to virtue only.” This is the inspiration of The Montfort Academy, where students begin to answer the life-long questions, "Who is God? What is man? What is man's purpose and relationship to God and His creation?" Central is our belief that part of man’s pure love for God is learning about His created world, both visible and invisible, and the deeds of man, His supreme creation. Through historical, literary, scientific, philosophical, and theological examples, students come to understand what is important in life—namely that our mission on earth is to practice virtue no matter what one’s chosen profession, work, or vocation is, in the hope of attaining eternal life as saints in Heaven.
The Montfort Academy's education is therefore a rigorous study of man and the world through the ages. It is an education that helps a young student understand humanity's past in order that he may better chart his future and take up his place in society. It is an exciting education based on the Great Books and scientific experiment, using the Socratic method of dialogue and dialectic in each classroom—from astronomy and mathematics to English and philosophy. This approach is the heart of our curriculum and excites and satisfies the Montfort student because he knows he is doing something that is independent and fulfilling, an education that he cannot get anywhere else.
We have brought back to the classroom subjects that have all but disappeared in today’s modern high school curricula—astronomy, civics, geography, Latin, Greek, philosophy, debate, and rhetoric. We use the Socratic method in the classroom to encourage free but disciplined discourse; sponsor debates on the world’s major issues of economics, social and foreign policy; we refrain from the overuse of technology which is becoming a substitute—rather than a complement—to critical thinking. And we write, often by hand, to encourage a thought process that is fully integrated to the mechanics of bodily movement. We believe sportsmanship is not only about the exercise of body and winning but about virtuous competition. And we believe that high school is the most important time for a young man or woman to begin caring for and nurturing his or her soul. As a result, daily Mass and frequent reception of the Sacraments are encouraged.
One might call our education old-fashioned; some even say it is out-dated or obsolete in today’s technology driven, fast-paced, and material world. We disagree wholeheartedly and it proven, tried, and true—a veritable Renaissance in Education, a re-discovery of what Dorothy Sayers called already sixty years ago, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”
We opened The Montfort Academy, first, on Saturday mornings, offering a 16-week seminar program called the Renaissance Man Invitational. Experts—some renowned—in astronomy, geography, physics, architecture, diplomacy, debate Latin, civics, mathematics and many other classical subjects helped us create the foundation for our full-time curriculum. It was out of the Renaissance Man Invitational that our first class of students emerged, and we opened our doors to full-time students in September 2001 with a class of just five boys.
In short order, The Montfort Academy was on its way to hiring teachers, recruiting students, selecting the right textbooks—often original works—and working very hard to raise what has totaled more than $3.5 million over the next ten years. And in these last ten years, our academy has blossomed and achieved a success beyond our expectations and for which we can be enormously proud.
Since we opened, we have attracted a distinguished faculty of more than 30 full-time and part-time teachers, including, among other very talented and dedicated people, an Air Force colonel, a poet, a lawyer, a classics scholar, a Grammy-award winning musician, a professional astronomer, and a Harvard graduate. These teachers do what no others would dream of doing—spending hours and hours with our students, for pay that less than a fraction of what they can earn elsewhere. They deserve daily prayers of gratitude from all of us.
We have taught more than 125 students in our full-time program and 300 additional students in our Renaissance Invitational. These are students who will go out and one day influence the world by their example of virtue, knowing it is not how much money one has that matters but how well one uses that talents that God has given him or her.
We have hosted as part of our Distinguished Speakers Series a United States Senator, a former police commissioner of New York City, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, a fighter pilot, a filmmaker, a United Nations diplomat, and the world’s foremost Latin poet—The Montfort Academy’s very own honorary poet laureate—who, as a boy, served at the altar of St. Padre Pio.
We have led five summer trips to Italy to the heart of Western Civilization, where students have touched and felt the very beginnings of culture and civilization through actual archeological digs and architectural contests. One of our students even unearthed a surprise discovery—the remains of a young Etruscan who lived more than two thousand years ago—and another of our students designed the façade of a 17th Century building undergoing renovation in Abbruzzi.
We have had a successful basketball team, a soccer-team, a baseball team, a lacrosse club, and a fencing club.
We established a robotics program funded by IBM and the L-3 Corporation, a chess club named after Henry Olynik, a first-place national chess champion of the blind and the grandfather of two of our students, a drama club, a junior military cadet corps, even a video game club.
We have had a Gregorian chant and Renaissance Polyphony Schola, a pro-life club, a Eucharistic adoration society, and a club dedicated to the life of St. Maria Goretti. Our extracurricular activities have all begun as ideas in the minds of our students and have been executed with the volunteer help of our very dedicated faculty members.
Further, we achieved an average sat score of 1200 and a 100% college admissions rate. Our students have gained entry into NYU, Baylor University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Boston College, the University of Rochester, Manhattan College, Fordham University, Catholic University, and SUNY Binghamton—all tier 1 ranked colleges and universities, some of them among the top 50 schools in the country—a truly outstanding record for a school so young. One of our students gained entry into the prestigious Norwich University, another at the Merchant Marine Academy, and another was awarded a four-year, full tuition scholarship to The Citadel and earned a nomination to West Point.
We have attracted financing from international sources such as the Monte dei Paschi Foundation, the not-for-profit entity of the oldest and most prestigious banking institution in the world.
After five years first as an all-boys school, we opened up our doors, curriculum, clubs, and programs to our daughters, the girls of The Montfort Academy, our Lady Knights—full and equal to our young men, the Fighting Knights.
What we have achieved over the past ten years—and what happens in our classrooms—is nothing short of remarkable and summarized in the fact that for the past five years we have been ranked by the Acton Institute one of the top 50 best Catholic high schools in the America. This important designation is awarded by a committee of presidents and professors of some of the most prestigious universities in the country whose mission at Acton is “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
The success of and pride in The Montfort Academy, however, is best expressed by our students.
Our first graduate, Michael Dziedzic, said in his Valedictory address:
Throughout my high school years, I never really experienced learning as I found it to be at the Montfort Academy. Before coming here, I went to two other high schools, both basically the same. The usual Regents courses and pampered religion classes, the tests that one can commit to short term memory and pass, and all the cliquey groups and fads. Like most, I was blinded by this atmosphere to all that was good, true, and beautiful. . . If there ever was a place that allows for pure spiritual and personal growth, it is here. . . It is a place where young minds and spirits can blossom and forge their own way through the jungle of daily living based on the principles of just and fair conduct. It allows a young person to grow up in purity and safety as can rarely be found anywhere else.
Yet another Valedictorian said in his address:
The Montfort Academy is a school unprecedented in its time, a true renaissance in the world of modern education for it teaches its students to be. . .virtuous. . . in the truest sense. The school removes many of the frills of the modern world, not to shelter its students, but to preserve them, to quiet their academic lives and focus their attentions, so that their high school education may be uncompromisingly devoted to education and formation. It is here, free of distractions, that the [students] . . . find themselves . . . and grow strong in faith, hope, and love. The Montfort Academy does not form men to live passive, sheltered lives, but rather, it forms men who will be active leaders in every field they enter. After four years, its students are released back into wild to be knights on the frontlines of every battlefield, crusading in the name of truth and justice ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.
And a parent recently wrote me,
Our son . . .is absolutely thriving at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. . .The foundation he received at The Montfort Academy has prepared him with the skills necessary to handle the tough schedule and regimen. We thank you for the opportunity you afforded our son. He continues to offer up his prayers, put God first, and live his faith by example.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” In complete wonder, happiness, and awe over what we have achieved together, I am forever grateful to our donors and benefactors, our teachers and administrators—both past and present—especially Stefano Acunto our Chairman and Steven Terenzio our Headmaster, our students and parents, and most of all, our Lord, His Blessed Mother, and our Patron Saint St. Louis de Montfort.
Happy Tenth Anniversary, Montfort.
Richard Greco, Jr.