Only the second time I have ever visited Downside School and Monastery. The authorities were kind enough to arrange for the head boy and girl to give the three of us a guided tour without the monks or staff limiting them as to the areas which we could visit.
The difference between my recollection of education in the 1960s at Beaumont College then a Jesuit all boys boarding school and education today at Downside a Benedictine mixed boarding school was very interesting.
The Jesuits then to the best of my recollection appeared to be more individualistic characters than the Benedictine monks do today. Of course appearances can be superficial and doubtless there existed then and do today individualistic Benedictines and community orientated Jesuits. The effect of what must have been in the 1960s and still is in C21, the privilege of being involved with some of the best education in British society is clearly at least potentially, largely significant.
In my humble opinion such education can be very beneficial for the individual child provided of course that he or she matures enough to appreciate the need to share the benefit of that privilege rather than follow the self centred approach that can seem albeit superficially so tempting. One often takes time perhaps years, to realise that self centredness is a superficial temptation.
A difference I perceived which may of course be specific to me rather than more general is that the Benedictine educated students today seem very much more aware of and empathetic to the Benedictines' religious ethos than as I recollect many of us were to that of the Js. That Downside educates boys and girls whereas Beaumont was an all boys boarding school is probably an advantage for C21 students at the former though there must be some difficult ssues arising from the generally faster maturity of girls over boys especially in their late teens. The girls' houses we were shown seemed very happy safe civilised places for the students with adult house mothers present but without inhibiting the students. The boys' houses I guess were probably through untidyness less attractive.
Downside Abbey Monastery school and Grounds are huge and impressive. The children have the benefit of acres of land to roam safely upon and for multifarious sporting activities. Nonetheless the two students were quite happy to show us areas which are probably normally off limits to visitors such as buildings and other areas which have outlived their usefulness and are likely to be redeveloped in due course.
The school to my eye at least, concentrates upon and succeeds in providing an excellent boarding education, which these days seems far less available at other major private schools than used to be the case.
Clearly the monks have their work cut out in maintaining such extensive and beautiful buildings and school whilst simultaneously providing the best education that can be offered to the young men and women in their care. They have recently appointed Downside's first lay Head Master to assist them in maintaining those high standards.
I was humbled by the experience and very much enjoyed speaking with all those who provided the very thought provoking and entertaining visit and overnight stay. Especially informative and appreciated, was staying overnight in a monastery room opposite the other visitor from London. We spoke informally and at length in the common room provided for us both.
The next day silence at Breakfast with the community followed by singing at Lauds in the beautiful abbey afterwards was very moving, especially as I have not attended Lauds sung by both men and women in a monastery previously.