By Jordan Grantham
Ben McCabe founded the Augustine Academy, an institute of the Liberal Arts for senior secondary aged students in Razorback, NSW, after the idea came to him while praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I find that I encounter God in a deep way through my studies and through the outdoors, and so I wanted to teach at an institute that offered both these things together.
“It was in that moment that I felt God put it on my heart to start Augustine Academy,” Ben told Catholic Outlook.
Ben had taught homeschoolers and tutored in Literature at the University of Sydney.
“But it was really on my heart to teach the Liberal Arts to young people out in a rural setting where they could encounter the transcendentals in their recreational time as well as in their studies,” he said.
Ben shared his idea with Robert van Gend, a fellow graduate of Campion College Australia, in the Diocese of Parramatta.
Robert is a talented musician who sings in the Schola of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta and plays viola with the Australian Youth Orchestra. They came together in 2016 to launch the academy. Ben and Robert are studying for Masters degrees in literature and philosophy, respectively.
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Canada (OLSWA) also provided inspiration for the Augustine Academy. Ben went on exchange to this small Catholic Academy in Canada while studying at Campion College. OLSWA is on a campus surrounded by the natural beauty of Canadian pine forests and lakes. Students and staff would go canoeing on weekends, building a close rapport that enhanced the learning experience.
At the Augustine Academy, students and staff canoe, play music by the fire and swing dance under the stars. The Nepean River flows past the Augustine Academy campus in Razorback, south of Camden. The campus also has chickens and a vegetable patch.
The one-year course gives students a Certificate IV in the Liberal Arts, in partnership with Vision International College. The studies encompass three subjects for credit: History, Literature and Philosophy, and the trivium of Formal Logic, Rhetoric and Debating.
Each term explores these subjects in a particular era. Term 1 focuses on the Ancient world, Term 2 is about the Middle Ages, Term 3 centres on the Renaissance and Term 4 explores the Modern era. In the final term, students also study drama and perform in a classic play. Classes are held Monday to Wednesday and students can stay at the Academy on Monday and Tuesday night.
The staff are comprised of practicing Catholics and each of them lectures according to their specialty. They include Miriam Makowiecki (Rhetoric and Grammar), Ben McCabe (Literature), Patrick McCabe (Ancient History), Robert van Gend (Philosophy), Gemma McKee (Formal Logic) and Jacob Fulop (Renaissance and Modern History). The students to date have been a mix of Catholic and Protestant. The students pray together each night.
Augustine Academy has received endorsements from significant individuals, such as Professor Hayden Ramsay, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame.
“Last year Professor Ramsay visited Augustine Academy as a guest lecturer. He gave an engaging talk to the students on faith and reason. He encouraged the students to never stop seeking the Truth. Professor Ramsay was very impressed with Augustine Academy and encouraged us to continue our work,” Ben said.
Augustine of Hippo, the important doctor of the Church and influential philosopher, was chosen as the patron of the Academy because he studied the Liberal Arts himself and advocated seeking after the truth.
“I see my work with Augustine Academy as more than just a job. It is for me a vocation, and it is something I can see me myself continuing to do indefinitely,” Ben said.