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The gravel road wound through a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountain ridges covered in verdant leaves and fragrant redbuds. Spring had arrived in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and so had we. Cresting a hill, we reached our destination: a lot and a small wood building—the future campus of St. Dunstan’s Academy, an all-boys Anglican boarding school for grades 9–12. If all goes as planned, it will officially open next year.

As the father of two young boys—and the spiritual father of many more—I am increasingly concerned about the state of young men in our disintegrating society. Our culture is producing adult-sized boys and infantile men. Absent real challenge or adventure and without an established masculine community handing down the rites and responsibilities of maturity, boys are often bereft. They need more than a desk or a sports team. These concerns led me to the Blue Ridge. 

After catching our breath at the beauty of the scenery, my wife, my sons, and I descended the drive and arrived at an old farmhouse where we met the Fickley family. Thomas Fickley is the founder of St. Dunstan’s Academy. During his years as an educator at various private and boarding schools, he witnessed the limitations of contemporary education firsthand—particularly how it fails most teen boys. Fickley dreamt of something better—something more for his students, and for his own six sons. God took Fickley’s dream and brought together the providential connections to usher it into reality. This coming January, St. Dunstan’s will launch a six-month program for a dozen recent high school graduates and then open fully as a school in the fall of 2025. Drawing inspiration from similar Catholic boarding schools, St. Dunstan’s aims to provide a pathway to manhood through both the liberal arts and the common arts, combining a holistic classical education with practical skills (e.g. woodworking, cooking, beekeeping, farming, and orienteering).

As a graduate of a military college and a Benedictine seminary, I see the best of my alma maters in the vision of this nascent academy. It is poised to provide a rigorous education full of the challenges and formation that will craft real men out of modern boys. But not just any men—godly men. Although open to all Christians, life at St. Dunstan’s will be ordered around the Anglican rule of life found in the Book of Common Prayer. Students and faculty will begin their days with Morning Prayer—“O Lord, open thou our lips”—and conclude with Evening Prayer—“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” Prayer Book spirituality has often been described as domestic Benedictine spirituality. The Benedictine motto Ora et Labora (“pray and work”) succinctly describes the vision of St. Dunstan’s Academy: to form godly men through work and prayer.

The Fickleys discussed their vision with us over pints and ham sandwiches, but to really understand the school, we had to go hiking. Strapping our youngest children into backpack carriers, we set off through the fields, over creeks, and into the forests. When we stopped at an old dairy barn, I was struck by the technical acumen of Fickley’s seven-year-old boy as he showed me how the joists had been hewed. The plan is to renovate that old barn so that it can house a dozen cows—one step toward a self-sustaining campus. 

Fickley’s ten-year-old son then engaged me in in-depth conversation about my experience as an officer in the Navy. With great detail, we discussed the capabilities and limitations of modern warships, fleet tactics, and the armaments of fighter aircraft. But mid-conversation, he had to attend to more pressing matters: “pardon me, sir,” he said, “I need to catch that monarch.” Then, with butterfly net in hand, he sprang off in hot pursuit. 

Although the first class of formal students at this boy’s school has yet to arrive, Fickley’s own boys are living testaments to the caliber of education that can be gleaned on this mountainside. Besides seeing the fruits, I got to witness the method. Stooping down, Fickley handed two pine needles to my sons. He used these needles to explain some of the more common trees surrounding us and their use in the future building projects of the campus and the forestry that would be preserved and cultivated on the land. Later, we came to a newly hewn log, which had been cut into a proper board; all by hand and ready to frame.

Honestly, I do not want to see my sons go away to a boarding school—they are my precious boys. My wife is an excellent home-educator; why should she not teach them all the way to graduation? The answer, I believe, lies in the difference between boys and men: Boys need a marked transition to begin their lives as men, and they need a brotherhood, a manhood, to join. When the time comes, I hope to send my boys to St. Dunstan’s to become men.

Jay Thomas is the rector of St. Mark's Anglican Church in Moultrie, Georgia.

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