Headmaster under Examination: An interview with Rev. Patrick Summers

Ite Missa Est

Before Great Britain

IME: First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers in the District of Great Britain and Scandinavia. I know you have been headmaster of St. Michael’s School, Burghclere (Hampshire) since the summer of 2007... but where was your priestly apostolate before then?

Fr Summers: I was sent to Post Falls, Idaho in my native U.S.A. after my ordination in 2002 and spent two years there, teaching in the Academy (for boys) and also in St. Dominic’s School (for girls). After two years in this very busy place I was sent out to India to take over from Fr. Thomas Blute. I was there for nearly three years and established our school there, Veritas Academy, as well as helping to found the orphanage in Palayamkottai and looking after the dependent Mass centres.

IME: What were your first impressions upon arriving in England?

Fr Summers: I was very excited about coming to work in England so that I could see first-hand what I had only read about in the many great works of English literature and history. I was also happy to know I was to be stationed with Fr. Holden, who had been in Winona as a seminarian at the same time I was there. That first summer (2007), I witnessed the heaviest rainfall on record in Hampshire and I distinctly recall hearing the news on the radio forecasting the possibility of the sun coming out on one particular day! I had never heard the weather forecast in such a topsy-turvy way… forecasting the sun instead of rain. However, all in all, the weather down here is not as bad as people think it to be.

The Education System

IME: What were your main challenges/difficulties in those early years?

Fr Summers: I think I was rather taken aback at the socialist mentality and the spectre of the government’s involvement in every aspect of people’s lives. Perhaps in America we go to the other extreme and want the government not to be involved at all in individual’s lives. The other challenge I had to understand was the English educational system (and its exams) which seems to be ever-changing and always in experimental mode.

IME: Yes, indeed.

Fr Summers: I am not against having a standardised testing system in place, but this can easily lead to a two-fold danger: firstly, the teachers feel pressured to teach only what will appear on the final exam and, secondly, the obvious problem of who determines the standards to be tested against? I am afraid those who determine the subject matter for testing (material and modules of each subject) do not understand what a real education is and what the purpose of a school is. If the powers that be think there is no soul, no Heaven or Hell, no Original Sin and its effects, then this changes substantially the ideas and methods of education. Therefore, the difficulty is to somehow beat the system at its own game and give a solid Catholic formation/education whilst still fulfilling all the government’s regulations. Don’t get me started on Ofsted!

St. Michael’s System

IME: So you don’t worry too much about the academic results of St. Michael’s?

Fr Summers: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we don’t worry at all… but rather that we worry in a proportionate way. We constantly remind the students and parents that Catholic education is about ordering the entire person to God: body and soul, intellect, will, and passions. It should be an integral formation that keeps the examination results in their proper place. Of course our teachers do everything within their power to teach their subjects to the highest level and they reap the reward of virtue. In fact, we have been rather pleased with the GCSE and A-Level results and we hope it continues.

IME: Do you have any statistics to hand?

Fr Summers: Well, for the past several years the students have had either 97% or 100% of grades A*-C in GCSE’s and similar high results in A-levels. These are far above the national average but, because we are a small school, they don’t count in the public performance tables.

Local Catholic Schools

IME: If parents cannot send their children to St. Michael’s School, should they be at ease about sending them to local Catholic schools?

Fr Summers: I saw recently in a Catholic publication that the “lapsation” rate of Catholic students after finishing schoolis 96%.1  That means that nearly all the Catholic young men and young women stop practicing the Faith after they leave Catholic schooling… this is a catastrophic situation! There are not enough superlatives to express how terrible this is for the future of the Church!

IME: Why do you think it is 96%?

Fr Summers: I think there are many factors involved in this problem: breakdown of family life, loss of Catholic identity, little or no teaching of the catechism in schools, Catholic staff who are CINO’s (Catholic in Name Only) and the replacement of Catholic culture with the culture of rebellion and death. The largest problem is the general loss of faith in the last two or three generations by the hierarchy and the laity. It seems (to the students) that the Catholic faith is put on equal footing with other false religions and therefore it is far easier to lapse upon reaching adulthood than continue keeping the true faith which is (at times) very difficult. After all, if all religions have truth but they all contradict each other, then there is no truth in religion. Therefore, it can be dropped since religion doesn’t really matter anymore.

IME: Is the situation without hope?

Fr Summers: God is in charge. His Providence is everywhere, either permitting evil to happen for a greater good or pouring out His grace and mercy upon souls to do good and work out their salvation. I think we find ourselves with a rather challenging mission: to restore the Catholic faith and civilisation through individuals, families, schools and (hopefully) governments. Each Catholic individual, each family, each school must become the light shining in the darkness. Rather than complaining and moaning about the situation, let us recognise it for what it is and work on the solution. This is the nobility of the Catholic faith and the confidence in the omnipotence of God. My hope and wish for the future is that more and more persons and families across Britain see the need for real Catholic schools and do something about it!

St. Michael’s School is going to celebrate it’s twenty-fifth anniversary on 29 September and this is a clear sign that the Providence of God is everywhere active.

IME: Deo gratias.

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  • 1proecclesia.com, The Flock, Autumn 2013