Recently, one of our local high schools celebrated a state championship in track and field. Not remarkable, unless you consider that it was the school’s 16th championship in a row. On the same day, the same high school’s swimmers swept to victory in the state finals. It was their 21st straight championship. This school is also regularly at the top in baseball, basketball, and football. It is not a terribly big school. In fact, its enrollment of boys is far outnumbered by that of most of the schools in the state. Bishop Hendricken’s main distinctions are two: It is Catholic, and it is all-male.
It reminds me of a pretty small (100 or so students) boys’ boarding school in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, St. Gregory’s Academy. The boys there all study Latin. They all take art classes in an art room made to order for boys: a room with a lot of wood, and clay, and rock, with hammers and chisels and saws. They all serve at Mass — the Latin Mass, with its many precise responsibilities. They all learn to sing sea shanties and ballads of brotherhood. They all learn to juggle, under the instruction of a young English teacher; they juggle balls, skittles, hoops, knives, fire, and a host of other things, while clowning, riding a unicycle, weaving in and out of one another’s juggling, and in general putting on comic skits. They all learn to play soccer and rugby and spend a lot of their spare time in the mountaintop fields above their school. They have thereby become a soccer and rugby powerhouse, winning their regional championships against schools many times their size. Most of all, the boys at St. Gregory’s are taught what it means to be Catholic men, the natural virtues of manliness raised by grace and permeated with faith, hope, and brotherly love.
Apparently, after the signal failure of feminism to produce women willing or able to lead boys into manhood — because nothing less than that is what they implicitly promise to do, if indeed they wish to don the robes of leadership in fatherless homes and in increasingly feminized schools — some Catholics have begun to conceive the idea, hardly a novel one in the world, that at some point only men can make men out of boys.
Evidently, the founders of Fraternus think so. Their mission is truly bold. The anti-culture out there exposes children to pornography everywhere; if you doubt this, you have not recently been to a pharmacy, a bookstore, or a grocery store, nor have you taken a good look at the “spam” folder in your e-mail. So Fraternus attempts to instill into young men the old and character-forming virtue of purity. (One wonders — I do not know the answer to this question — whether any comparable organizations for young women do the same.) The anti-culture corrals boys into those pinfolds called “schools,” with less and less time conceded to them for vigorous play, indoors or outdoors. So the men of Fraternus take the boys out for hikes, and for a week’s adventure on the ranch, complete with whitewater rafting. The anti-culture preaches the goodness of boys pairing up with boys for sexual fulfillment. So the men of Fraternus give boys the chance to develop their personalities in the context of healthy brotherhood.
I see such signs, as if an arid land had just been blessed with rain, and the first green shoots had begun to shoulder away the dust. At Princeton, my mater ferox, the black hole where faith and reason used to go to die, a couple of brave young women founded the Anscombe Society for Traditional Morality, an organization that now has chapters on more than 20 campuses. When I asked them whether they had any trouble finding young men to join, they replied that if anything the problem went the other way; male leadership was relatively easy to find. It is as if good men, or men trying very hard to be good in a bad and stupid world, understand better than anyone that the sexual revolution put its stamp of approval on the worst in them, and that if they really want to take action for the common good, they must first revive the virtue of cleanness of body and soul in themselves and in one another.
There is now a chapter of the Anscombe Society on my campus, led by a brother and sister team. There is also an informal reading group for women; last year’s reading included Dawn Eden’s The Thrill of the Chaste. We have, in addition, an informal group for young men, with 20 or 30 members who meet each week to discuss faith and morality with a male professor or with one of our Dominican priests, beginning and ending each meeting with prayer — on their knees. That is not to mention a new and active chapter of the Knights of Columbus.
Something is stirring here. I see a cloud on the horizon, no bigger than a man’s hand. The world assumes, in its blockheaded way, that the sexual revolution is over, and that we must all, from henceforward, grow accustomed to ubiquitous divorce, child-poor families, shack-ups, porn, playboys and playgirls, and the pill. Who will lead us back to sanity?
I’ve long insisted that the sexual revolution has corrupted both sexes, but in different ways, and that no effective opposition can be mounted unless men rediscover themselves as men. It is not a sufficient condition for victory, but it will be necessary. When I was a boy, there were still some 60 Catholic men’s colleges in the country; now there are none. We need them; but before that, we need organizations like Fraternus, and schools like Saint Gregory’s, and Catholic men who understand that good husbands for their daughters will not simply appear, as if by magic, but must be made. If you want an army, you must train the soldiers.
May God, who teaches our fingers to fight, inspire in the hearts of good men the desire to raise up that army, to make good women rejoice, and the enemy tremble.