From Mother Seton to almost Seton School

Here's the next chapter of the Seton book.  This will tell you things about Dr. and Mrs. Carroll that you might not know and might be interested in.   It also tells of some of the influences on their lives that led to the founding of Christendom and Seton.   First there is a little American history as a lead in.   This is posted on Seton's first day of the new school year.   God bless all concerned with a great year.

            Mother Seton was born the year before America’s War of Independence began, the war usually referred to as our Revolutionary War.   We know that this War was not a true revolution, but what Mother Seton brought to the United States was revolutionary.   Catholic education presents a radical difference to the heart and mind of its students because the Catholic view of the world is fundamentally different from any other view.  This is seen clearly in the response to the conversion of Elizabeth Bayley Seton following her husband’s death and her time spent in Italy where she was introduced to the Catholic Faith.   Relatives abandoned her because they knew that becoming a Papist was a radical change.

            Most of the original Thirteen Colonies declared that Catholics were not citizens.   The exceptions were Pennsylvania where the Quakers practiced toleration, and at its beginnings Maryland, which was founded by Catholics who allowed for the free practice of all religions.  However, during the reign of William and Mary even in Maryland Catholicism was outlawed.   At the time of Elizabeth Seton’s conversion, an anti-Catholic prejudice prevailed in the United States.   In New York City where Mrs. Seton began her new way of life, the immigrants from Catholic Europe were regarded as inferior and despised for their poverty.   Seton’s initial efforts in education in NYC were regarded as proselytizing ventures and, according to some accounts, her relatives urged members of the New York legislature to banish Seton from the State.    This hostile environment nearly drove Mother Seton into Canada.   Father William Dubourg persuaded her to come to Maryland instead to found a Catholic school.   Going to Maryland, Mother Seton was continuing her exceptional life that would lead her to become the first American-born saint.   She lived only to the age of 46, dying in 1821, but her short life as a wife, mother, educator and foundress was lived following the motto she taught her religious sisters:  “Let His will of the present moment be the first rule of our daily life and work.”  

            A little more than a hundred years after the founding of Mother Seton’s school in Emmitsburg, Maryland, an Irish immigrant founded a school in Omaha, Nebraska.   Father Flanagan did remarkable work in the turbulent times of the 1920’s, 30’s and into the 40’s, a time that included the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the Age of Gangsters who were often idolized, and World War II.   He carried on a work among disadvantaged, abused and neglected boys, 20% of whom had had run-ins with the law.  His school became known as Boys Town.  His students included convicted murderers, even ones convicted of patricide, thieves and robbers, the youngest who robbed a bank at the age of eight.  Father Flanagan’s conviction about these youngsters was steadfast:  there was no such thing as a bad boy.   He believed that the seemingly incorrigible lacked love, self-worth and a worship of God.   Given these, each boy’s goodness would come forth.

            Seton School of Manassas, Virginia, opened its doors in 1975, the year of Mother Seton’s canonization, during a time of no less turbulence than those of Mother Seton and Father Flanagan.   The mid-70’s turmoil was the product of the post-60’s “free love” that for many bleared sexual morality and common human decency and bred a drug culture; the post-Vatican II upheaval that led to confusion within the Church, and the post-Viet Nam War reaction that led to a distrust of authority, if not outright rebellion and spawned a “me first” generation.

            The convictions that there is a truth to be known, a goodness to be practiced and an Authority to be loved were the reasons for the founding of Seton School.  

            A little more than a century before, the first battle of the Civil War had been fought in the bucolic surroundings of this railroad junction known as Manassas.   The truth of the dignity and equality of each human life was at stake in this War.   Dispute about the nature of man, his personhood, and his immortal soul were at the heart of the firing of canons and the flashing of bayonets between the Blues and the Grays.  

            In 1975 a different sort of civil war was now being fought on American soil – a war of culture.  Would a slightly built, naturally shy, unbusiness like, farm girl have a chance of advancing true culture in the hearts and minds of teenagers in Manassas who had been influenced by the ever present television and music that rocked the foundations of civilization and promoted such ideas as “find yourself” and “do your own thing”?   These ideas suggested all that had come before was now antiquated because this was the dawning of a new age.  

            Was Anne Carroll in starting Seton School “finding herself” – that is, finding her mission within the Church by trying to start a school, or should she have stayed within her brick rambler on Bull Run Mountain in Haymarket, Virginia, to find her peace there?

            We need to go further back than 1975 to see the foundations of Seton.   We will take a quick look at the influences on Dr. and Mrs. Carroll and what led them to dedicate their lives to Catholic education through their founding of Christendom College and Seton School.

            Dr. Carroll grew up in a New England home parented by Dr. Herbert Carroll, a successful psychologist who taught at the University of New Hampshire, and Gladys Hasty Carroll, an author of renown, whose books chronicled life in their Maine surroundings.   As the Earth Turns  was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 1934.   Mrs. Carroll grew up in a remote part of Northeastern Colorado on a 320 acre farm that her father, Vernon, acquired during the Depression.   Her father had an eighth-grade education.   Marie Westhoff, her mother, grew up in the small Colorado town of Fort Morgan, and had two years of college before teaching for a year in a one-room schoolhouse.   Warren was the first-born of two children; Anne was the first-born of eight children.

            Warren’s formal education began in a “progressive” school in New York City.  Upon returning home once, he was asked what he had learned that day.   He replied, “Nothing, of course, I went to school.”  He had had his first taste of liberal education, and found it not too appealing.   After that year, he was well-educated in Berwick Academy in his hometown of Maine, then at Bates College also in Maine.  While at Berwick Academy, he played on the high school baseball team because, as he said, “No one was ever cut.”   His on-base percentage was .500 – in his two at bats he struck out once and walked once.  He was his class’s valedictorian.   At Bates, he was the college’s ping pong champion.   He then got his doctorate from Columbia University, where he once again found liberal ideology distasteful.   Anne attended Kiowa School which was a two-room schoolhouse on the banks of the Kiowa Creek some ten miles from her family’s farm.   Grades 1-4 were in one room, and grades 5-8 were in the other.   She almost didn’t get to finish her 8th grade at Kiowa.  There was a discussion about whether the junior high students should go to Wiggins, population 200 or so at the time, for seventh and eighth grades.   After  various opinions had been stated, her dad said, “They’ll be going to the big city soon enough.”  That argument carried the day.  While at Kiowa, she played first base on the 4-H softball team and was on the “B” Square Dance Team with her brother Jim.  According to Anne’s 4-H scrapbook, square dancing taught her “grace and poise”.  We are not sure what it taught Jim.   Anne graduated from Wiggins High School where she was the scorekeeper for the basketball team which lost in the State Title Game when Wiley used the brand new defense of a zone.   She was her class’s salutatorian, a “C” in home-economics made her runner-up to her prom date Bert Nittler.   She went on to Loretto Heights College in Denver and majored in English.   She student-taught at East High School in Denver where one student’s evaluation of her teaching was, “Perhaps you should find a different line of work.”

            Warren went into the army after Columbia, then taught for a year at Indiana University where he was once again disillusioned with the relativist mindset.  He left teaching to work for the CIA and the Strategic Air Command and then in 1962 to attend law school at the University of Colorado.  He met Anne in the summer of 1962 when Anne was on a date, and her escort introduced her to his friend Warren who happened to be at the same restaurant.   Warren left law school to do political writing and research in Texas and then Southern California, while Anne got her Master’s at New York University.   Anne taught for two years at Holy Rosary Academy, an all-girls high school in New York, then for a year at Queen of Apostles Junior College.  The college was in its first year and run by the same order of nuns that ran Holy Rosary Academy.

            Warren and Anne had begun writing each other soon after they met and eventually this led to their wedding in 1967 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Wiggins.   The ceremony was brief, since Warren was not a Catholic and no Mass could be said at that time for a mixed-marriage.

            The newlyweds’ first home was in Santa Ana, California, where Dr. Carroll was now working for state senator, John Schmitz, who was a devout Catholic.   Schmitz was elected to Congress in 1970 and introduced the first Human Life Amendment, six months before Roe v Wade.   Dr. Carroll remained on his staff, so the Carrolls moved east and lived in an apartment in Arlington. 

             It was during this time that Mrs. Carroll began working as a volunteer for The Society for the Christian Commonwealth, a Catholic group headed by Brent Bozell, brother-in-law of William Buckley.   The organization published Triumph Magazine, which could be regarded as a Catholic National Review and “Catholic Currents” a newsletter publication of sharp commentary on contemporary events.   Mrs. Carroll was the book review editor for Triumph.   The staff was a collection of bright, forward thinking Catholics who were staunch defenders of Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae.    As one staff member put it, “Brent Bozell made me realize that contraception use was not a peripheral issue.”  Among the practices in the office was the ringing of a bell to announce a period of meditation.  The issue of Triumph after Roe v Wade had a completely black cover, and written in white it said, “For the Children”.    Staff members of Triumph were the first to conduct a “Shield of Roses” though their praying the rosary in front of an abortion mill was not known by that name.   They prayed outside George Washington University Hospital after a gathering in a park for short speeches.   They were asking for a one-day moratorium of the slaughter of innocents, and asked to see personnel inside.   Police were called, mace was sprayed, a policeman started wielding a billy club and one of those praying was shoved causing a glass door to crack.   There were a number of arrests and later convictions of those put on trial.

            The people of Triumph were also involved in establishing the March for Life and awarded Nellie Gray a plaque for her efforts at the conclusion of the March.   The organization and planning for the day was not perfect:  the plaque presented had nothing written on it since it was decided at the last minute to give this award.   Nellie was gracious in her acceptance of the blank plaque.   Mrs. Carroll attended every March for Life from this first one until 2004 when she was in Colorado for her brother John’s funeral during that March.  

            Congressman Schmitz lost his re-election bid, which prompted him to run for President of the United States under the American Party in 1972.   Dr. Carroll was on his campaign staff as was Mrs. Carroll’s sister Kath.   Schmitz won 1.1 million votes, edged out by Nixon and runner-up George McGovern.   The offices of Triumph moved from DC to Warrenton and the Carrolls were now living in Haymarket, Virginia, on Bull Run Mountain where they became organic gardeners and raised chickens, rabbits and bees.    After the presidential campaign, Dr. Carroll went to work for the Society for the Christian Commonwealth as head of its educational branch.

            The chief event that the Society’s educational department conducted was known as the Summer Institute held at the Universidad de Maria Cristina in El Escorial, Spain, under the shadow of the basilica – monastery built by Philip the Second.   The goal of the Institute was to present Catholic teachings to Americans in metaphysics, theology, papal encyclicals and history within the Catholic culture that Spain had in those days.  In attendance in 1973 were Sharon Hickson, who later taught at Seton before becoming an English teacher at Christendom and yours truly.   Attendees of the Institute organized a tennis tournament.  Mrs. Hickson defeated me in the first round of the tournament 6-0,   and gave me a bloody nose in the process.

            It was the following fall that Mrs. Carroll started her first school, which is the topic for our next chapter.


Jezu, ufam Tobie.









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