SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: Benedictine faculty studying, discussing ‘The Rule of Saint Benedict’ 

By Noell Barnidge
Benedictine Military School’s faculty, monks, and administrators have met on the first Wednesday of each month since the 2022-23 academic year began to discuss “The Rule of Saint Benedict,” one of the most influential, enduring documents of Western civilization.

Saint Benedict of Nursia is the patron of Europe, students, and Benedictine monasticism. He established the greatest and most famous of all monasteries at Monte Cassino (85 miles southeast of Rome), which became the home of the Benedictine Order. When he died, there were 14 Benedictine communities, and by the 14th century there were more than 30,000. Saint Benedict wrote ‘The Rule’ for his own monks at Monte Cassino after 529 AD, and it reflects his experience as a monk and abbot. ‘The Rule’ consists of a prologue and 73 chapters that provide teaching about the basic monastic virtues of humility, silence, and obedience, as well as directives for daily living. It prescribes times for common prayer, meditative reading, and manual work.
Benedictine Military School Principal Dr. Jacob Horne, faculty member Sandra Levin, BC Director of Curriculum Peter Newman, and Benedictine monk Fr. Ronald Gatman, O.S.B., were interviewed about this shared activity of reading and discussing ‘The Rule.’ Here are their insights:
“Last year, we had discussions about doing some professional reading, as a faculty, and we thought what better reading to start with than ‘The Rule?’ And so, last May, we purchased everyone a copy of ‘The Rule.’ What we’ve been doing is, starting in pre-planning and every first Wednesday, which is a late start (day) for us, late starts are used for professional reasons, and the first Wednesday of the month is important because it’s a day we are blessed by our parents, by our PTO. They always provide an amazing breakfast. That sets the tone, in my opinion, for community. Both because the parents are supporting us, which they always do, they’re fantastic, but also, again, when you think about community, oftentimes, you think about breaking bread. And for the faculty to be able to break bread with one another, and then have a discussion about ‘The Rule,’ which is the foundational document of the Benedictine Order, is a fantastic start both to our school year but also to our ongoing professional development.

“’The Rule’ is broken down by chapters and so what we did was we started with the opening chapters and then from there we’ve asked some of the Benedictines for which ones they thought best were applicable to the school and the faculty and/or the students because several of them are really focused on life within a monastery. Basically, what we do is we find those chapters and we assign them for reading, and then as a faculty we are divided and assigned to a Benedictine monk. It’s nice. We come in that morning, we have our whole faculty meeting to go over the month, and then we grab some breakfast and go to our classrooms, and we have discussions with a Benedictine leading it to talk about the chapter. We reflect on it and how it could apply to us as the teachers, us as a Benedictine community, as a school community, us in our policies, procedures, relationships with the students. It’s really something that we want to focus on as far as impacting the culture of the school.

“A lot of people are surprised to know the Benedictine Order is the oldest Order in the Catholic church. Saint Benedictine wrote this when he fled Rome, and to escape all of the craziness of Rome as it was falling, and it has withstood the test of time. It became the foundational document for all the Catholic monastic communities that I know of because it was so important. It’s been the game plan. It’s been followed for well over 1,500 years. There are some measures that are mentioned in the book that are no longer accepted but the overall structure of it has continued to be followed. We’re about one-third of the way through (discussing the book). We believe it deserves the focus of an entire school year.
“What we forget is, as the teachers, we are so accustomed to trying to provide the classroom and the educational experience, yet in these professional development settings, we are the ones who are actively participating in that experience and sharing lived experiences that we may not have known we had with one another. It’s really challenged us to dive deeper into ‘The Rule,’ dive deeper into the foundations of what we believe Benedictine Military School should be providing to the generations of young men who are going to walk our halls. But it’s also something for us to reflect upon as individuals and, again, in those classroom settings, people share the experiences they’ve lived both as an adolescent and as an adult that helps them to reflect on it. The faculty are also learning a lot about one another that we usually wouldn’t get to. It’s tied a lot of bonds.

“As strong as the teaching and faculty and staff culture can be, it can only serve to help the boys. Us being true to the Benedictine ‘Rule,’ is only going to strengthen the school. The set-up of those classroom experiences, where we are studying ‘The Rule,’ is to have the Benedictine talk about the chapter, talk in a way that only the Benedictines, who live it, understand it, and then we do share what quotes touched us or any of the questions that the Benedictines want to pose to us laypeople because, again, there’s a sincere feeling of respect for these men who have devoted their life to God, to the Catholic church, to the Order. And they are living this book that we are reading. We have a high degree of respect for their knowledge and their lived experiences that we as laypeople have not experienced.

“Everybody understands the importance of ‘The Rule of Saint Benedict.’ We all could do a better job of reading it and understanding it, implementing it in our classrooms, on the athletic fields, in our daily lives. Speaking with colleagues, it appears to have been a great experience for the faculty. Now we need to think of what’s next. Both ‘The Rule’ being the foundational document and the foundation of our professional learning community that we’re trying to inculcate into our experience as a faculty member at Benedictine, it also provides that foundation, that springboard to continue to have on-going professional development, and continuing to read, and challenging yourself to be a better person, a better educator, a better coach, a better administrator, because, at the end of the day, any professional development is good professional development. It makes you better.”
“It’s an incredible experience to share the spirituality of Christian beliefs. At the same time, to hear people talk about things that have to do with their own life, how they deal with certain situations in school or just in general. What it gives way to is you get to know people. We work with people every day and we still know very little about them. Having to get together periodically and just talk about who we are and what we believe has just been an incredible experience for people. And the school is about sharing humanity. It’s something very important to continue to do and I hope that happens.”
“A couple of years ago, Jacob and I were trying to come up with a faculty ‘reader’ for the summer. Of course, our students have summer reading, and we thought it might be a good idea for the faculty as well, to read something which would bring us together and have an opportunity to discuss. We decided upon ‘The Rule,’ which is what we’re founded upon. It will help us learn more about the Benedictines and our history, and it provides a relevant agenda for our faculty meetings. We read one or two chapters at a time, and the discussions, led by our monks, are an authentic way to address some of the virtues and lessons that we impress upon our students every day. It has turned out to be very enriching and has prompted some wonderful conversations about why we do what we do. We have always approached our lessons, both life and academic, through the ‘what,’ the ‘how,’ and the ‘why.’ What do we do? How do we do it? And why do we do it? Our discussions about ‘The Rule’ have really given us some answers to the ‘why”. I love that about ‘The Rule’ because it applies to so many aspects of our program here at BC.
“Because of the nature of our schedule, we don’t have much opportunity to have genuine conversations about individual philosophies as they relate to what we do. We arrive at school, and we just go-go-go all day, and then crank it up for the next day. These focused discussions allow us to learn where our colleagues are coming from, and why they care so deeply about what they do here. Honestly, it has strengthened some intra- and inter-departmental relationships because we join together in no particular order, which allows us to learn more about others with whom we may not have a natural overlap on a daily basis.
“So much of what is in ‘The Rule,’ has universal application, at least in terms of what we are trying to accomplish at BC. It is perfect as our founding piece of literature. Faculty colleagues have walked by my office, looked in and said, ‘Hey, that was great this morning.’ Or ‘I didn’t know certain departments were going this direction in terms of how they are teaching.’  The reactions to our discussions have transcended the classroom and the collaboration to personal relationships. We all believe that we are on the same page, because you have to be, which reflects the strength of our leadership, and our meetings have really enforced that. When colleagues share both personal and professional reflections through some of these lessons in ‘The Rule,’ it has really reinforced the commitment that so many of our teachers have toward the ethos at BC. There are a lot of important educational readers out there that would certainly be edifying, but I don’t think any would have stimulated the kinds of conversations that this has.” 
“Saint Benedict understood human nature so well, and he wrote ‘The Rule’ which is over 1,500 years old. Today, we might think he was strict but not for that time. He wanted moderation. He borrowed from Saint Basil the Great but he modified things. ‘The Rule’ is a structure that keeps you on track. There’s daily routine. One of the monks in Australia called it a “low impact life.” If you’re in a monastery, you get up, you pray, you work, you eat, and so forth. The next day, you get up and do the same thing, in that sense. You’re not running out to party. But the thing about ‘The Rule’ is it’s so practical. Saint Benedict has a lot of scripture in it. He ties into a lot of scripture. I think the key to ‘The Rule’ is the prologue. It sets the whole thing because he starts out, ‘Listen to the words of your master’ and listening is critical in the monastic life and Benedictine life. Listen. He says, ‘Listen with the ear of your heart.’ Very quickly, he starts out saying this little rule is to teach you obedience so that by doing that you will return to the Lord through whom you departed by disobedience. The whole structure is made for discipline. The discipline is to teach you obedience. Man, turning away from God in the beginning, was disobedient. Christ’s whole life was a turning back to God, keeping God the Father in front of him all the time. He turned that around. Mankind turned away from God and Christ turned back. ‘The Rule’ helps you develop discipline so that you turn back. The words of Saint Benedict are so practical that anyone can do it. It’s a way of living life.

“The three vows that the Benedictine monks take are obedience, stability, and conversion of morals. Conversion of morals is you take a vow that every day you get up, you’re going to try to be better, try to be a more holy, better person. Every day you take a vow to do that. A bow of obedience you take to an abbot, a superior, who represents Christ. And you have stability, which means you stay where you are in that life and, even though you have difficulties and things come your way to test you, you don’t run away. There’s a lot to it but it’s a very rewarding life. If you keep at it, and that’s the key, what happens is it doesn’t just change you in one dimension, it changes your entire person. It’s always about growth of the entire person. That’s what we offer here at Benedictine Military School.

“Saint Benedict was born in 480 AD, four years after the fall of the Roman Empire. He lived about 65, 67 years, into the 500s. After the barbarian invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire, that was the beginning of the Dark Ages in Europe. Dark in the sense that the Roman culture broke down. There were things going on, changing, but there was a sense of chaos. What ‘The Rule’ did, in applying ‘The Rule,’ gave a stability, a structure, a direction to the culture. Saint Benedict and Benedictines, in a sense, saved European culture because it had fallen apart and collapsed, but ‘The Rule’ said, ‘Look, this is the way you go.’ It’s still very sound, very practical, for maintaining your stability in a world that shifts around all the time.”