Dale Ahlquist is president of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, creator and host of the EWTN series “G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense,” and publisher of Gilbert Magazine. As one of world’s foremost authorities on the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, he has given more than 700 lectures at universities, conferences, and institutions around the world.
He also is the co-founder of the Chesterton Schools Network — a network of 30 high schools in the United Staes, Canada and Italy. Our Lady of Walsingham, a Chesterton Academy school, is opening this fall on the campus of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Colorado Springs.
How did Chesterton Academy get started?
In the late 90s, my wife and I had children in a classical high school which was not Catholic. We are a family of converts so it was frustrating to be denied the Catholic element of that classical education, but it was the best option available. By the time our next child reached high school age, that classical high school had moved to a location more distant from our Minneapolis home. So Chesterton Academy began for a very practical reason: We wanted a Catholic classical high school close by.
Why name a school after G. K. Chesterton?
I had, by that time, begun working with the Chesterton Society and EWTN. I realized that naming the school “Chesterton” would give us an immediate national profile. But also, when you study the works of Chesterton, you see the continuity. G.K. Chesterton was a Catholic convert and apologist and one of the early 20th century’s most outstanding men of letters. Pope Pius XI called him “a gifted defender of the faith.” He’s often called a complete thinker, which certainly aligns with the goals of classical education.
Why is classical Catholic education so important?
During the formative years of Western Civilization, “education” was synonymous with “Catholic education” because virtually all institutions of formal education were of the Church. And all education was what we would today call “classical” — focused on reading, writing, oral presentation, and the development of critical reasoning skills through logic and philosophy acquired through original sources. At Chesterton Academy schools, those proven classical methods are infused with the truth, beauty and goodness of the Incarnation and Christian virtues. So we see Chesterton Academy as really nothing new. We’re just restoring something that has been lost — retrieving what we have neglected to our peril for too long.
Why do so many young Catholics lose their faith?
We live in an anti-Catholic culture. America has never been a Catholic nation. Catholics always have been outsiders here. And even when we are “mainstreamed,” Catholics are marginalized with regards to our ideas and the morality we support. Because we often have found rather comfortable lives in America, we sometimes forget how little the rest of the world agrees with us.
For Catholic families, it’s a constant struggle to be in the world, but not of it. We often simply teach our kids how to get along in the world, and how to be successful. That is, to be Americans before they are Catholics. And that has cost us in a big way.
We see a Chesterton Academy education as a sort of armor, not just to protect our children, but also to help them fight. We are trying to create evangelists, and we don’t often think of our children that way — as warriors in a spiritual battle, people who will both preserve and spread the faith.
That might sound grim to some people.
Not at all. We’re fond of describing Chesterton Academy schools as joyfully Catholic. We aim to produce well adjusted, confident, self-assured, happy young men and women who know Christ’s redeeming love and can share it with others. One of the most frequent reactions I hear from people who visit Chesterton Academy schools is: “I heard so much laughter as I was walking the halls.” And that’s by design. That’s what we are trying to create — young men and women who are comfortable with their faith, and not at all afraid to defend it.
What would G.K. Chesterton say about the world today?
He saw it all coming. He saw the emerging worship of self, the fading of Church authority, the rise of relativism. He saw the budding of what we now see in full bloom. He rightly noted that if you take any of the modern philosophies to their logical conclusion, they lead to self-destructive insanity. Any of these theories in play today — the pro-abortion campaigns, the militant homosexual agenda, and now the transgender movement — these are self-destructive philosophies that cannot be maintained with any reasonable defense. Try pointing out these logical failings today, however, no matter how calmly, and you are called terrible names. But Chesterton would have related to that phenomenon as well.
The school chose G.K. Chesterton as its patron because he not only represents the fullness of faith and reason, but also Catholic joy and common sense. He always had something pithy and salient to contribute. One Chesterton quote I find encouraging given what our society is going through right now states: “Charity means pardoning the unpardonable, or it’s no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it’s no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it’s no virtue at all.”
Faith, hope and charity — that’s what we’re teaching. That’s what we must.
(Paul Dusseault is a member of the board of the Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Walsingham.