Beacons of Light: Chesterton Schools

“Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”  G.K. Chesterton (b. 1874- d. 1936)

Popping up in America are Catholic high schools, and educational tracts within established Catholic schools, offering a classical curriculum, and they are named after Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Chesterton Academy(ies).

The first Chesterton Academy (website here) was launched in 2008 in Minnesota by the President of the American Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquest. Interestingly, at the same time, unbeknownst by each other, a like school was being developed in Italy; named, too, after The G.K.C.: Scuola Libera Gilbert Keith Chesterton.  In the following article (link below), the founder of the Chesterton school in Italy, Marco Sermarini, recounts the beginnings of the school. Sermarini, according to the brief biography at the end of the article, “is a criminal lawyer, rector and founder of Scuola Libera Gilbert Keith Chesterton, San Benedetto del Tronto, Le Marche, Italy, where he lives with his wife Federica and their five children.” Following the article, I will link to a brief video of Sermarini wherein this founder discusses the Italian Chesterton school.

Here is a brief excerpt from the article written by Marco Sermarini:

“When I was nineteen, after a difficult high school experience, I made myself a promise: if the Eternal Father would give me the chance, I would try, somehow, to establish a genuine school. Mine was not. Like most Italian schools, it was secular and public. While there, I found myself drowning in the midst of an ocean, unable to find my way home. Although I had been raised a Catholic, I was in danger of losing my faith. I reasoned that the problem had to be the school; my religious beliefs and family’s traditions found little support there. Because of the absence of freedom in education, students like me were practically forced to attend a school where our ideas and religious heritage were not prioritized. Even though parents technically had the right to choose how to educate their children, at a practical level they had little choice.

The Constitution of Italy does in fact allow a free choice with regard to education: yet this provision is little known and few take advantage of it. There is the right of the parents to support, instruct and educate their children (article 30), and freedom to teach the arts and sciences (article 33). Put simply, parents may educate their children at home, following their own ideas. For me, this discovery was a light in the darkness—a means of escaping the tunnel. But there was more: since our family belonged to the “Shady Fellows,” a confraternity based on the one founded by Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in 1924, we started to work together in order to seize this opportunity. We wanted to establish an actual school based on these provisions. Pope Benedict XVI also motivated us: his ideas about the “educational emergency” and the union of faith and reason confirmed our quest, but it was a couple of searing quotations from Chesterton that provided the final push:

People are inundated, blinded, deafened and mentally paralyzed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves. (G. K. Chesterton, speaking in Toronto, 1930)

That same Chesterton, responding to a question about which posed the greatest danger, capitalism or socialism, also spoke with great presience of “standardization by a low standard.” We were determined to educate our children differently.

And so it was that in July 2008 a group of us in Le Marche (Italy) decided to start the Scuola Libera Gilbert Keith Chesterton (“libera” meaning free, as in non-governmental). In September of that year, lessons began for four children, including my son, Pier Giorgio. We asked the families to provide the instruction, each parent teaching a different subject. We started with a middle school, for children from eleven to thirteen years of age. Since then we have added a high school providing a classical education. There are now 28 students in the middle school, and 32 in the high school. In this way we rediscovered the fundamental right and correlative duty of families to educate their children following their own ethos. For us the Catholic faith is an indispensable perspective, one we could not renounce: it is the one that made Italy beautiful, that promoted a real culture of life, that flourished in the charity of thousands of saints.”

The entire article may be read here.

Here is a link to the video on the same topic: Italian Chesterton school, video link.

In these days, where the Church is undergoing a moral crisis, it is heartening to hear of such initiatives.

They are beacons of light.

May you have a good day!


•American Chesterton Society, link