CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH SCHOOL
It was the summer when I posted Chapter 2 of the History of Seton, so you may have forgotten where we left off. So have I. I think we had given a little history of the Carrolls and Triumph Magazine, and it was now time to look at the roots of Seton in the first little school that Mrs. Carroll started in Warrenton. So here it is, the story of Christian Commonwealth School.
After The 1972 presidential election, Dr. Carroll’s work for John Schmitz ended, and he was hired by Triumph Magazine (Society for the Christian Commonwealth) to run the educational branch of the enterprise. It was also about this time that Brent Bozell, the head of Triumph, suggested to Mrs. Carroll that she start a school for eighth graders. No normal person would be likely to want to have a school of only eighth graders, but given the situation in Warrenton where Triumph was then located, it did make sense. St. John’s School associated with the parish had grades K-7. An eighth grade, it would seem, would attract the graduates who were finished at St. John’s but still a year from entering high school.
It made sense, but still it was an unusual request. We are somewhat used to the idea of starting a school, since there are now many private schools that have sprung up in various areas, but 1973 predates the “independent school” phenomenon and the homeschooling movement. There were parochial schools run by parishes and dioceses, there were some religious orders whose charism was education who had independent schools within dioceses (the Notre Dame Sisters’ school in Middleburg at this time was an example), there were a handful of Protestant mainline denominations with schools in urban areas, there were the upscale secular private schools, usually of long tradition, that catered to the wealthy and there were military academies. But the idea of a lay-run Catholic school outside the diocesan framework was almost unheard of. Mrs. Carroll knew of only one, Colorado Catholic Academy located in a Denver suburb. Asking Mrs. Carroll to start a school was another example of a forward looking idea that had become the hallmark of Brent Bozell’s Catholic view of reality.
Mrs. Carroll agreed to start the school. The Christian Commonwealth School project was launched in the fall of 1973.
First on the to-do list was to find a schoolhouse, and Mrs. Carroll, perhaps already being guided by the then saint-to-be Mother Seton, turned to the Episcopal Church in Warrenton. The pastor agreed to rent a large room to the fledgling school. This was to be the home of CCS for the two years that it existed.
With the building need satisfied, faculty and students were the next priorities. Faculty was pretty easy, Mrs. Carroll would teach most everything. There were two other teachers, Michael and Roseanne Schwartz, a couple that was very involved in the pro-life movement from its beginning and continued their work until Mr. Schwartz’s recent death. He also worked for Triumph.
Eight students enrolled, and those eight had their picture in the Faquier Democrat as they prepared for the school year. The photo showed them painting used desks – each student choosing his color for his own desk. Therefore, the classroom was to look anything but dull with a purple desk among a kaleidoscope of colors. The eight students included Aloise Bozell and Chris Amirault, son of a Triumph employee. These two graduates had attended St. Johns and three of their classmates joined them: Eirinn Cassidy, Joe Wendleberger and Mark Palo. The other three students came from public school: Jane Crickenberger, Judy Prince and Eugene Furr. Eugene would later attend Seton. The school took pride in its ping pong table and hot lunch service. There was a relaxed atmosphere with no uniform and eating and drinking allowed during class time. And the eight students were being taught World History from notes that Mrs. Carroll was jotting down during the school year that would later become Christ the King, Lord of History. There was a coed basketball team that all eight played on. They lost their only game of the year. Perhaps most impressively there was the trip at the end of the school year to Quebec during which Chris Amirault caused a second floor hotel window to crash to the sidewalk. The second year it was decided that Kings Dominon was a safer summer excursion.
In this inaugural year, the first tradition was begun that has been continued to the present day Seton. School was closed January 22nd so that everyone could attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
The first year was deemed a success, and CCS had a 50% jump in enrollment the second year. Of the twelve students that year, two would continue on to Seton School to begin their high school education, Dorothy Cole and Teresa Eichler. Most noteworthy among the students, at least in a long term point of interest sense, was Michael Breckley. Michael may have forever been lost to the lore of Seton School except that in his bachelor state almost 40 years after his CCS experience, he signed up for an on-line dating service. It happened to be the same service that Christie Harkins, a 1994 graduate of Seton, had also signed up for. They met on-line, but Christie dismissed anything coming of the cyber space meeting since Michael was “too old for me”. After Michael’s insistence, the two met and eventually their wedding bells rang in 2013, in a sense, a marriage of two schools, a connection of Christian historical significance for those associated with Seton.
With the addition of four students, more employees or spouses of employees of Triumph joined the Schwartzs as part-time faculty. Thomas Barbarie coached, Mary Jo Lawrence and Cy and Kathy Brewster, son-in-law and daughter of Brent Bozell, all taught. This gave CCS one of the highest powered faculties in the nation.
In 1975 Triumph magazine closed its operation. During the time of its existence, it had shaped the hearts of some serious Catholic intellectuals, including the Carrolls who would take what they had been given by Bozell and his followers into the field of Catholic education. Dr. Carroll did not hesitate with the close of Triumph to begin planning the opening of Christendom College. He would dedicate himself to this vision full-time with side work to supplement what the Carrolls had saved during his time on Capitol Hill. For her part, Mrs. Carroll decided to close CCS and begin a new school in the more urban setting of Manassas. With the canonization of Mother Seton in 1975, the new junior/senior high school was to be called Seton School.
Before beginning in Manassas, there were some loose ends that needed tending in Warrenton. In a science class during the school year, Mrs. Carroll’s astronomers used colored chalk to draw the solar system on the wood floor of the room they were renting. The chalk was difficult to remove and the floor where the planets once revolved around the sun, now looked gray. The Episcopal pastor demanded that the floor be sanded and sealed to regain its luster. Economically minded, Mrs. Carroll rented a sander and student Dorothy Cole took charge of the sanding. During the sanding process, Dorothy began an interesting conversation with another student. As they talked, the sander remained in one place slowly gouging the floor. It was then decided that a professional would be brought in to get the floor right.
That was the farewell to Warrenton, and the trek to Manassas was begun. Again, location is everything, and Mrs. Carroll once more turned to the Episcopal Church. The pastor from Manassas talked to the pastor in Warrenton who said that he would never rent to the school again. Despite the negative assessment, three rooms were rented in the upstairs of the Episcopal Church building which was to be the first home of Seton School.