Chesterton Academy in Italy

From the Pages of Gilbert!

The Magazine of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton

By Marco Sermarini, President of the Italian Chesterton Society and Founder, Scuola Libera G.K. Chesterton

From the January/February 2019 Issue of Gilbert!

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. 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.

Years later, I learned that 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, an opportunity from God.

Our family belonged to the Tipi Loschi (loosely translated as “Shady Fellows”), a confraternity based on the one founded by Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in 1924. Together with our friends, we started to work together to establish a school based on the provisions we discovered in the Italian Constitution. The ideas of Pope Benedict XVI on the crisis in education and the union of faith and reason motivated us, but it was a couple of searing quotations from Chesterton that provided the final push.

We were determined to educate our children differently.

And so it was that in July 2008 a group of us 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. We later added a high school providing a classical education.

A few years later, through Fr. Spencer Howe, a young American priest studying in Italy, we discovered our twin school, the Chesterton Academy in Edina, Minnesota, which had started at nearly the very same time as ours, inspired by the very words of G.K. Chesterton which launched ours. He says that education is truth in the state of transmission. Now we are all working together with the same aims and ideals, and united with the growing number of schools in the Chesterton Schools Network.

In starting the school, we helped parents rediscover 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.

Once we thought that education could change everything—and we are still convinced that educational things are important. But we are working with our families to discover a new way of life, a place to live as Christians—a community. We’ve discovered that without community, you can receive the finest education, but you will face a lot of problems. Without a family, without a community of families, you won’t have a good life. You will be lost in a moment.

We believe that this way of life is what makes Scuola Chesterton so unique, the combination of education with community. It’s a permanent friendship. When students leave the school, they can be sure that the school community will be ready to welcome them back whenever they return. It’s so important that our pupils can see education in action in this particular way.

There are now 36 students in the middle school, and 29 in the high school. The secret is the small number, because relationships are so important. Small is beautiful. I am deeply convinced that it’s through the small numbers that you can build relationships with each student. We keep tuition low because we want to give the possibility of attending our school to as many people as possible. If someone can’t pay, they can volunteer in other ways. We don’t ever want tuition to prevent someone from enrolling their students.

The school is owned by a cooperative that has other businesses and revenue streams to help keep the school afloat. We raise money through our annual Gala and festival of Pier Giorgio Frassati. We also have other enterprises, including Pump Street, which sells custom clothing featuring Chesterton quotes, a bookstore, afterschool programs, kindergarten, and summer camps. We even have a construction services business called The Hobbit, providing skilled tradesmen including masons and plumbers and providing landscaping and general contracting services.

At Scuola Chesterton, we teach beyond the state requirements, so the school is more rigorous than others. For example, most schools stop teaching philosophy with the fall of the Roman Empire. Our students continue on to study St. Augustine and St. Thomas. We have also added drama and provide more art instruction than other schools. We offer an hour a week of a subject that we invented: “Via Pulchritudinis,” the Road of Beauty, inspired by Pope Benedict XVI. In this subject, students deepen their knowledge with the use of beauty that can be found in art, the sciences, math, and in all the things that can be encountered.

Our alumni are very involved in the community and school. Some of them came to the USA last August and September to spend some time with Chesterton Academy in Minnesota. Some of them are thinking of coming to work and volunteer in the different areas. Very few have moved away. We are maintaining the idea of community. We remain committed to this idea and to offering our students a good education and preparation for the future. But today we are much more committed to offering them also a way of life—a Christian way of life.