Catholic guilds flourished during the Middle Ages, but by the Nineteenth Century they had all but disappeared under pressure from Revolutionary Governments seeking to destroy all signs of tradition and fidelity to the Church. Guilds in their earliest form had developed out of man’s natural spirit of association. Guided explicitly by Church teachings, guilds encouraged a corporate enactment of charity and political prudence. Practically, they provided a forum for novices and masters to meet and practice their crafts.
Inspired by the original models, Thomas More College has established a series of guilds that enable students to gain practical skills and experience in areas such as woodworking, sacred art, homesteading and music. The College’s guilds take their spirit from those earlier voluntary communities of men and women who advanced their trades and arts while responding to the needs of their local communities.
Each guild meets for a few hours each week and is taught by someone who is devoted to perfecting the skills of his or her trade. Students will be required to meet a series of benchmarks throughout the year so that their performance can be measured.
More than Simple Recreation
For many students, the guilds are a welcome and relaxing break from their studies. This is to be expected, participation in them is meant to enjoyable. However, the guilds offer more than simple recreation. Each guild offers practical experience that is integrated with the College’s academic curriculum. Aristotle himself had stated that a purely liberal arts education, without some exposure to the useful arts was harmful to the student. Pope Benedict XVI has recently pointed out that Our Lord, St. Paul, and the Benedictine tradition all reveal the distinctive nature of Catholic education: an education that does not divide what is contemplative from what is practical, what is beautiful from what is useful. The Catholic student must always remember that he is made imago Dei, in the image of God, and that God Himself is a Creator of things and so he too must learn to be a maker and steward of creation. The guilds are a forum in which the virtues are taught through hands-on experience. The lessons learned through the guilds can be applied to any aspect of daily life, even if one does not go on to pursue woodworking, art, music or homesteading as a career. After all, virtues such as patience, exactitude, practical self-mastery, apprenticeship, and creativity—whether it is learned in the fashioning of a dovetail joint or performance of songs at a festival— profit the whole person and his community.
Through the experience provided by the guilds, students will understand what is meant by a living tradition. A living tradition transmits knowledge that was learned in the past to the next generation. Once the tradition is known, students use their own creativity to speak to the present generation. The core principles of an art come alive and can be passed down—this orderly and personal participation is at the heart of tradition. In the guilds, students learn from a master and in turn are then in a position to become teachers themselves. Our hope is that this dual process of learning and teaching will not stop once students leave the College. For example, each member of the Music Guild will be capable of joining or forming a choir, teaching others, even those with no experience, how to chant the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.
Serving the Common Good
The Thomas More College Guilds contribute to the development of the student, the life of the College and the common good. Each guild instills a spirit of cooperation, prayer and service. Service to the community is as simple as singing to the elderly in nursing homes, taking on construction projects in one’s parish, and baking bread for the homeless. Through habitual consideration of the end to which the guild’s activities are directed, students will understand how work, paid or unpaid, can be directed towards the common good. The old Roman virtue of labor comes alive! Through their twin labors (intellectual and practical) students will find new modes to engage the wider culture and be agents of its transformation.
Thomas More College offers students guilds in the following areas:
Saint Joseph Woodworking Guild
Master Carpenter, Frank Jenkins, explores the properties of the major types of wood used in fine woodworking, the use and care of hand tools, the preparation of rough lumber for finish work, joinery, project conception and design, and finishing. The guild culminates in the completion of a small project of the student’s choice, such as a bookcase.
Saint Luke Sacred Art Guild
Artist David Clayton teaches the Catholic traditions in art as well as the theological principles behind them. In their first year of the guild, students will learn to paint icons in the Western tradition. Students also learn the principles of harmony and proportion that govern composition in art, the basis of geometric patterned art (found in Gothic church floor patterns, for example). In addition, students have the weekly opportunity to attend the internationally known atelier of Paul Ingbretson, who teaches the rigorous “academic method” of drawing developed by figures of the High Renaissance such as Leonardo. Upon graduating, students will be equipped with the core principles that enable them to continue their development to the highest level.
This guild is an excellent choice for young people with a passion to embrace the gifts of nature with a spirit of self-sufficiency. Students will learn mankind’s time-tested techniques for a wide range of priceless life skills: how to bake sour dough bread, keep bees, raise chickens, transform tree sap into maple syrup, make a fire in the woods, track animals, plant fruit trees and clean fish and fowl. Special attention is given to how such traditional crafts have been kept alive in New England. The intention is to stimulate wonder at God’s creation and a desire to preserve the arts of the household for future generations.
Mark Schwerdt teaches students the rich history of folk music through the oral tradition. Each semester, students memorize Irish, Scottish, English and American folk songs. Students learn the history of these songs, which are centered on universal themes of love, war, friendship and community. Through the weekly singing of these songs, students listen to the trials and tribulations of a past generation. Members of the guild are encouraged to make these familiar songs their own, as they perform them for each other, the College and the surrounding community. In addition to memorizing a variety of songs, students are offered banjo, mandolin or guitar lessons.
Under the guidance of Dr. Tom Larson, students will learn Gregorian chant and polyphony. Gifted students will have the chance to develop their skills further through classes with the College’s Composer in Residence, Mr. Paul Jernberg. Mr. Jernberg will offer lectures, specialized singing classes, and advanced classes in the principles of composition. The Thomas More College Choir will showcase and record Mr. Jernberg’s original compositions in Sacred Music, which are receiving exceptional reviews from proponents of traditional Sacred Music (see www.csmus.org). The approach of Dr. Larson and Mr. Jernberg is unique in that it not only teaches students how to sing well, but also equips students with a deep understanding of the fundamental principles of sacred music so that they will be able to establish choirs themselves, as well as leading prayer in the family home.