From the ancient Greek schole, the word “school” means “leisure.” The ancient Greeks had a profound sense that living virtuously, pursuing excellence in body and intellect, is the key to both the good life and the happy life. Cultivating the habits of living excellently is the purpose of learning, or “school,” then. In this light, the accumulation of information for a short-lived or strictly practical end is antithetical to the real end of the school. Josef Pieper expounds beautifully upon the idea of leisure as the basis of culture, wherein the soul is wrought to see rightly, unfettered by the compulsive motives of the world but rather free to pursue God’s will. The school, therefore, should be a place where the student thrives freely, guided by good rules and not bound by superficial and enslaving habits of being, such as misconceived or false notions of the primacy of the individual self, or the rule of the “I want, therefore it is good” point of view.
What this means for Ave Maria Academy is that the life of the student is grounded in the idea of true freedom. It is not the world’s freedom which translates into anarchy and is actually bondage, but it is God’s freedom which comes by the rightly ordered soul to choose His ways and avoid what does not lead to Him. At Ave Maria Academy the students’ day is ordered naturally by the subjects at hand and their foundation in the holy rites and celebrations of the Catholic Church. Work and play are hinged properly in prayer, and everything is meant to delve more deeply into or to reflect God’s creation.
Student life at Ave Maria Academy gives the freedom to see and act in charity without the distracting fetters that mar and confuse the good of self-giving and sacrifice. For example, technology is used infrequently (and never in the form of personal gadgets, which are disallowed altogether) to protect the integrity of the relationships and friendships meant to be formed and nurtured at school. Conversations, recitations, mentoring relationships, recreation, games, song and prayer – these feed the eyes, ears, and hearts of Ave Maria Academy students. The pursuits and activities that fall outside of the basic daily schedule are not “extra” indeed but are intertwined with the matters of the classroom proper. Gardening, singing, running around outside, playing games, play-acting, receiving visitors, hearing lectures, walking through a field or the woods, taking a sight-seeing trip, and not least, attending Holy Mass – these are part of the whole experience and life at Ave Maria Academy. Most of these activities take place during normal school hours including a Friday schedule that is especially devoted to the fine arts, special projects, and field trips. After school hours, Ave Maria Academy offers individual music lessons, equestrian riding, and clubs for Chess or any other good activity that grows organically out of the relationships between students and teachers.
Prayer, study, play, a love of nature, music, and beautiful things all mark the experience of the student at Ave Maria Academy, and are meant to dispose each student to a pursuit of holiness and virtue in leisure for a lifetime.