Sometime ago I wrote in this column about Saint Francis Xavier School located near the Art Museum in Philadelphia. Founded in 1845 it is now one of the oldest continually operating Catholic schools in the western hemisphere. In this current school year, it serves 206 students enrolled in grades pre-k through 8th, the make-up of whom is similar to other urban Catholic parochial schools. About half are Caucasian, a third African-American, and the remainder Hispanic, Asian and mixed. Over 40 percent are non-Catholic and yet all students are required to attend religious instruction and participate in the liturgical life of the school.
Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Saint Francis Xavier School (www.sfxschool.com) and I remembered what it was that impressed me about SFXS before. It is an impression effectively described by a phrase George Weigel used earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal in a piece about papal succession: robust orthodoxy.
Though neither polemical nor belligerent, the faculty, under the guidance of the school’s lay board of advisors, actively and unapologetically promote a devout Catholic atmosphere as they offer a challenging classical education. It is an apostolic education imbued with the writings of St. Philip Neri and Blessed John Henry Newman and brought to life in the charism of the Oratorian priests responsible for the parish.
Immersed in a cultural desert of indifference and relativism void of transcendence, the school is a veritable oasis where connections of faith and reason nourish its pupils with the unity of knowledge.
But, it isn’t just the minds and hearts of these students that are formed and fortified for their eventual encounter with the outside world. It is also their bodies. Development of the whole person requires attention to the physical as well and here SFSX distinguishes itself. In no other Catholic elementary school in the city can students take up rowing as do these fortunate youngsters on the nearby Schuykill River!
Is it any wonder so many parents, Catholic and otherwise, at considerable financial sacrifice, send their kids to this center of hope where robust orthodoxy meets muscular Christianity!