Why Boarding Schools Are Good for Teenage Boys

April 23, 2015

Teenage boys will not be freed from the bog they are immured in by new-fangled modifications and medications, but by old-fashioned reason and remedies. Boys today suffer from despondency, lack of direction, and a masculine identity crisis, overwhelmed as they are by widespread feminization, relativism, pornography, and cultural collapse. The quandary is rooted in a neglect of male nature, and a return to real attentiveness is requisite before there can be any renewal in male character.

Meanwhile, boys remain under siege. They live virtual lives. They underachieve and underperform. They don’t go to college. The men they become are often crippled by passivity and insipidity, cheating church and country of priests, fathers, laborers, and leaders. One solution lies in making education lively enough to bring boys back to life. A revival of Catholic boarding schools for high-school age boys is central to this solution, for it allows life and education to be liturgical, imparting the greatest impetus, the truest direction, and the richest culture—which is the foundation of a happy life.

What Makes a Boarding School Good?

The field of education is thirsty for the wisdom of tradition. What is required is not necessarily holding to particular historical forms, but recovering what is essential in historical forms and returning to eternal principles. In popular culture, there is a polemic against tradition and authority, often cloaked in shrewd rhetoric or sheer repetition, but the mantra is communicated loud and clear. Catholics must rise to defend the wisdom of tradition and show its relevance, beauty, and vitality. One arena for this restoration is the lost tradition and wisdom of the boarding school.

The idea of a boarding school does not simply presume resident students. Neither does it presume a reformatory for juvenile delinquents. Good boarding schools lead students in an ordered rule of life. If teenage boys are to be rescued from apathy, cynicism, and mediocrity, the following characteristics are indispensable:

  • Catholic moral, intellectual, and liturgical tradition
  • classical education with poetry, music, the imaginative arts, and natural sciences
  • total abstinence from computers, cell phones, iPods, iPads, television, etc.
  • competitive athletic programs involving contact sports
  • facilities that are simple and Spartan in a rural setting
  • Benedictine balance of daily prayers and daily chores
  • small student body and a faculty of friends

If a renaissance in Catholic education is to take root and flourish, the necessity of these principles have to be acknowledged. A blind and reactive insistence on rationalist fundamentalism may be attractive in the short term, but will ultimately lead to failure because it does not address what Scripture calls the heart, the deepest spring of reason and desire. A boarding school that keeps these precepts can open the shut-up hearts of boys to the realms of wonder and wisdom in a familial yet formal arena geared towards providing teaching moments in the structure of every hour of every day. Within this structure is the potential for Catholic culture—a sense of community and the charity, service, and sacrifice that flow from living and learning with others.

Why is Boarding School Good for Boys?

Boys need nourishing culture. They need retreat. They need pilgrimage. They need to have and share an intense experience of the good in order to be moved by the good. A good boarding school responds directly to the maladies of modern boyhood, creating a lively culture and educating as a way of life. Certainly, parents are the primary educators and the home and family provide his initial cultural formation. A boarding school cannot replace this, but it can complement and complete it. When boys become adolescents they are much more aware of, and in need of, the social life of their peers.

There is a long-standing tradition in schooling that favors single-sex education. It is a model that was accepted by societies for centuries and preferred by many saintly educators. Boys and girls live and learn better when they are educated separately, especially once they reach adolescence. Besides that they are different and deserve different approaches, pacing, and even different courses of study, boys and girls, when educated together, greatly distract one another. This is especially true for boys. Such distraction—whether from girls, entertainment technology, or popular and pernicious media—retards education, which strives to build up good habits through continual and concentrated engagement. Boarding schools can provide such continuity because they render education a continuous, focused, habit-forming thing.

A boarding school rooted in the Catholic, classical mode of learning is good for boys damaged by the utilitarian ugliness of modernity because it allows for withdrawal from the prevailing culture into a traditional culture reinforced by peers. True masculine education educates the whole man, and, to do this effectively, asceticism is required—a withdrawal from the rampant impediments to growth and health. A boarding school provides a wholesome, safe “micro-culture” in which boys reinforce each other in virtuous formation, preparing to enter the wider culture outside. There is a need for the positivity that such intensive, immersive education provides. Boys can only grow and thrive when they are given high ideals and the hope that they can bring these ideals into being in their world, despite the careerism and sarcastic nihilism of the current culture.

Boarding schools should focus on discipline that blends the militaristic and the monastic, thus addressing the issues that boys vie with most. If boys lack drive, give them independence and responsibility. If boys are isolated and neglected, let them taste the camaraderie of community through athletics and shared activities. Boys can only profit by leaving behind large coed classes and learning in a concentrated male environment where they are free to be masculine, and where their masculinity is addressed and cultivated. The common struggle between the rigor of school and the relaxation of home disappears at boarding school, for school and home become a single entity, focused on enacting the good. Boarding schools are intrinsically appropriate for boys since the male trajectory involves breaking away from home to search for adventure and occupation—a trajectory often impeded by the unnatural, defeatist influences of the world.

How is Boarding School Liturgical?

The rhythms of a rightly ordered Catholic boarding school are liturgical because they frame out and measure the interplay of God and man, body and soul, mind and heart. The liturgy is the purpose of Christian life made present in time—it is participation on earth in the life of the blessed. The end of education is to free men from the seeming urgency and finality of worldly ends so that they may pursue beatitude. Thus the liturgy is intimately connected to education. It has an irreplaceable centrality in a school since only the liturgy can open the school to the divine world, thus protecting it from the everyday world that continually threatens.

The liturgy is a school of praise. Education aims to open students’ eyes to the True, Good, and Beautiful not as lifeless subjects in a textbook, but as objects worthy of praise. The environment where such habits can be formed and fostered is best achieved in a boarding school where life can be liturgical: a life of praise and participation, providing direct and decisive remedy against the lethargy so prevalent among teenage boys.

A boarding school loses power in pedagogy, however, without strong spiritual leadership built upon liturgy and the sacraments. One of the main points of a Catholic boys’ boarding school is to allow Holy Orders to sound its call. Key to this is the role of a priest. Boys need a model they admire and want to emulate, presenting the priesthood as essential and meaningful. No boy aspires to be an ineffectual nice guy. In a boarding school, the example of the chaplain is crucial. A virile chaplain dedicated to God and the good of others can plant seeds that come to fruition as a boy matures.

Boarding schools that are rigorous, vigorous, and devoted to Catholic excellence and cultural enjoyment draw boys to maturity—an important goal in any boy’s education when the prevalent plague is a refusal to grow up. Boarding schools offer lost boys the chance to find themselves by revealing who they are—their strengths, their weaknesses, their place in a community of friends, and their role in the liturgy of eternal life unfolding in time. Ultimately, teenage boys respond well to challenge and competition, to facing fears and rejoicing in achievement with friends, and boarding schools provide this as no other school can in a secure environment. In the end, boarding schools are better for most boys because they are hard; and since they are hard, they make boys happy—which is the secret of any real education.

Support Gregory the Great Academy

Gregory the Great Academy is a Catholic boys boarding school forming the next generation of young men to be true Catholic Gentlemen. Gregory the Great Academy nourishes and forms the whole person—intellectual, moral, physical, and spiritual through a rigorous Liberal Arts education in the Catholic tradition, helping young men to cultivate virtue, deepen their faith, and sharpen their intellect.

The Gregory the Great community rejoices not only in the best that has been thought and said, but also in cultural activities that bring life to the souls of students. The boys of St. Gregory’s find happiness through a healthy balance of study, prayer, song, rugby… and juggling. If you would like to support their fantastic mission, click here to donate.

Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.


Sean Fitzpatrick


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Reader Interactions


  1. Serenity Midwest says

    This is a great article. I am so blessed to have read it. We currently home school our 8 and 6 year old, and will continue with our younger children as they become of age. My wife and I will have to seriously consider this as a option as the boys get older and do some research on schools for the girls.



  2. Adam says

    I think the Catholic, all-male, boarding-school model is a good one. One thing holds me back. I only get my son at home with me for a limited number of years. The thought of sending him off for boarding school and taking away 4 of those limited years is hard to swallow. Not to mention, I hate to think of all of the sporting events and other activities I’d miss. I’d prayerfully consider it if he were interested (we actually have one of these schools about 90 min away), but selfishly, I’d have a hard time going through with it.

    • Matt says

      That part is tough. One way we try to shorten the distance is by offering live-streaming of many of the athletic contests, so that parents at a distance can still watch their sons play. And we have a guest house on-campus where you can come visit your son anytime! Check out Subiaco Academy at http://www.subiacoacademy.us/

  3. Paul R says

    good grief! do you have any idea what it cost to send a child to a local Catholic school much less one where room and board are added on? you could send your kid to Yale or Georgetown for that kind of money. even the local schools are out of the price range of most Catholic families i know especially ones with many children. must be nice for those with money to consider this as an option.

  4. Yeoman says

    Is the track record of boarding schools really that good? I think we’d need to look at that really in order to determine if that’s the case.

    I really wonder if local Catholic high schools aren’t a better option, with the boys at home but in a Catholic environment, and one which hopefully works to build their faith and the faith of their families.

  5. KB says

    Adam, I understand your hesitation. This is something my husband and I struggled with when we were deciding on schools for our adolescent son. Then I remembered that the boarding school has a more than three-month summer vacation, three or four weeks for Christmas, a whole week for Thanksgiving, and a week and a half for Easter. In practice, once we had made the decision to send him for a trial period, we found that the quality of the time we had together was very high. We treasured our time with our son in a way we never had when we were homeschooling, and he loved being with us rather than off with friends.

    Relatives were puzzled when we announced our decision. One said, “Why are you sending him? He’s such a good kid.” That was why we sent him–to keep him that way in the good company of young men from other Catholic families who were in love with their Faith. Our son thanks me frequently for sending him to the school which taught him to value his faith, his family, and his own God-given reason. He has made lifelong friends who are living the Faith as he does, going to great Catholic colleges, and now raising great Catholic families.

  6. Brian says

    We had a very positive experience with the boarding option. Our youngest son approached us his sophomore year — while attending a Catholic High School — and asked if he could transfer to a boarding school for the remainder of his high school career. I had the same doubts as Adam; we only had him for a limited time, etc. But as the Abbott (it was a Benedictine institution) explained, “We believe there are benefits to keeping company with virtuous like-minded individuals.” It turned out to be absolutely true. The academic bar was much higher and our son rose to the challenge. This year, as a college freshman at a secular institution, it’s obvious he picked up a suite of skills clearly lacking in his classmates who did not have the benefit of a Catholic boarding school experience: maturity, sound judgement, self-discipline, faithfulness, time management, and the ability to recognize manifestations of buffoonery. Our only regret is that we didn’t fully consider it with our other children.

  7. Abused at boys boarding school from the age of 9 says

    I went to an all boys boarding school in England. There was lots of sport, corporal punishment, Angelus three times a day, Mass before breakfast, compline before bed, and had Latin drummed into us.

    The school was founded by Fr Arthur Tooth, who was imprisoned for ritualism in the 19th century, and it was a bastion against everything modern and upholding traditional liturgy against the sea of change in the 1970s.

    Many of us boys were also sexually and physically abused – tortured, actually – by the sadistic priests and other masters who ran it.

    The late John Hurt went there before my time, and he spoke openly about the abuse.

    So, no, all boys boarding schools do, is attract perverted bullies and predatory males, as has been shown by the evidence collated from other all-male boarding schools in England…


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