Inspiration and Avalon’s Raison D’être 

In Spring 2001, Richard McPherson and I and two dozen other men attended a spiritual retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore given by a priest of Opus Dei who took Pope John Paul II’s Novo Millennio Ineunte as the retreat’s theme. In Novo Millennio Inuente, John Paul gave thanks for 2000 years of Christianity and exhorted the faithful to Duc in Altum to begin the third millennium. 

Duc in Altum, as DIA members well know, was the phrase used by Christ to Peter, telling him to launch out into the deep waters for a catch. John Paul noted that the world on the threshold of the third millennium needed a new “impetus in Christian living” and “new initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community” (29). Noting that many countries in Europe and the Americas had grown distant from their Christian roots, there was a tremendous need “to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in [contemporary] society and culture.” Great works of “revitalization” are called for. Schools, as we teachers well know, are such things.

Avalon Founded

Rich McPherson and eight other founding teachers opened The Avalon School in September 2003 to 103 boys in grades 3-9 as a response to this clarion call from John Paul the Great. Avalon would be geared to fostering the universal call to sanctity in its teachers, parents, and students and marked by the adventurous dimension of Duc in Altum because, as JP II noted, “it would be a contradiction (for the Christian) to settle for a life of mediocrity marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity.”

McPherson chose Avalon for the school’s name because Avalon was the name of the first colony started for English Catholics to worship. George Calvert chose the name because Joseph of Arimathea first brought the Faith to England during the first century on the island of Avalon in Glastonbury, and Calvert sought to plant the seed of the true Faith in the English-speaking New World.

The Avalon School began with modest financial capital but with ample human capital, primarily the nine aforementioned teachers, all experienced (and many accomplished) who shared a common vision for the new school based on the shared experience of all the founding teachers at The Heights in Potomac, MD.

Avalon would have three essential qualities: it would be a boys’ school because boys and girls thrive best in settings geared to their specific developmental needs and patterns, it would have a classically oriented curriculum rooted in the beauty and wisdom of the Christian tradition, and it would be small so that the faculty could get to know and work with mothers and fathers as the primary educators of their sons. Personally, my favorite aspect of Avalon is the fact that Avalon is a boys’ school founded by fathers who are teachers.

Extra Altum in Duc in Altum

Three years later, Brookewood, Avalon’s sister school, opened its doors for the first time; Avalon had grown to offer grades 3-12, enrollment was strong, and things were going quite well…until the Great Recession hit. The Recession of 2008, as those experienced in school leadership will recall, was coupled with a demographic contraction of school-aged children, and Independent School Management called the combination a “perfect storm” for independent schools. At Avalon, the storm was intensified by the need to move unexpectedly from our third to our fourth building since 2003. Rich McPherson’s line, “We started Avalon to launch out into the deep. It’s a good thing we didn’t know how deep deep was” took on a frightening dimension. 

Fast forward sixteen years, eighteen graduating classes, yet another location (this Avalon’s fifth) in an old parochial school building that had been vacant), and a twentieth anniversary, Avalon and Brookewood are still casting their nets in deep waters. Deo Gratias!

DIA Schools

Several years ago, I happened upon the DIA School’s website. Curious about a consortium of schools with Avalon’s motto and intrigued with the notion of a collaborative of schools willing to proclaim all parts of the Faith, both those popular and unpopular by the present age, I attended the 2021 Summit in Nashville. I was edified and encouraged to rub shoulders with teachers and administrators who indeed share the aim of revitalizing the Church and Christian society here and now. Simply experiencing the fact that there are many teachers and schools committed to authentically spreading the Faith—undiluted—was very helpful. Exchanging notes of experience with them and hearing the advice from the presentations was even more so.

We at Avalon are particularly happy to join DIA schools and share our motto with you as we follow Christ’s call—Duc in altum.