The Revd. W.L. (Chip) Prehn, PhD, former Trustee and past parent, was asked by Father Dunnan to produce a history of Saint James School to commemorate the 175th Anniversary. We are pleased to announce that Saint James School of Maryland: 175 Years has just been published and is available through the Saint James School Store or via Amazon, where it is summarized as follows:
Saint James School is far more than one of the oldest boarding schools in the United States. The school was founded in 1842 in western Maryland as the second iteration of the national scholastic vision of William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877) who, with his principal disciples in five states, established some of the best schools in American history. These schools pursued academic excellence without sacrificing the Christian faith. Saint James, St. Paul's (Concord, NH), St. Mark's (Southborough, MA), and many other schools set a national tone in the preparation of young men for college and for life. Their objective was to educate the whole person to excellence and they largely succeeded. Saint James School of Maryland: 175 Years tells the story of the school by focusing on the long tenures of five headmasters.
This history of Saint James was written with the help of seven scholarly contributors, including Father Dunnan, who focus on the history of the school and its five longest-serving headmasters. The authors made some fascinating discoveries and noted the school's resilient response to adversity — the Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, the changes of the 60’s and 70’s, and now COVID — while remaining true to mission.
Here we interview Father Prehn about what you can expect to find in the new book.
Review (R): Congratulations on the book. You say in your preface that the book tells the story of the School through the five “long-tenured” headships. Does it have a main theme?
Father Prehn (FP): I would say that it does have a thrust. If the reader is enthusiastic about the historic mission of the School, he or she will see that the book is about the “soul” of Saint James. I mean, it’s really about that target for which Saint James has been aiming for almost two centuries.
R: What target is that?
FP: The perennial first purpose of Saint James has always been to educate the whole person to excellence, to provide the kind of comprehensive education that addresses every part of human nature every day. This is the high-aim philosophy of education. Such an aim makes it possible for a diverse student body, adolescents with different gifts and aptitudes, and different backgrounds of all kinds, to pursue virtue: general human excellence. If this is your goal, everything else falls into its happy place – college admissions, developing skills according to your bent, and so on.
R: Would you tell us a bit about the contributing authors and their chapter topics?
FP: It’s an all-star cast. The first chapter is a general historical introduction by Fred Jordan of Woodberry Forest. No one in America knows more than Fred about American boarding schools. But Fred just sets the table for the rest of us. I wrote the second chapter about Dr. Kerfoot’s headship, which of course established the school and its ideals. Professor Emilie Amt, lately of Hood College in Maryland, wrote a fabulous and ground-breaking third chapter on Saint James during the Civil War. Emilie does not shy away from the fact that the School was located in the slave-holding South. It’s terrific historical scholarship! The just-retired President of the University of the South, John McCardell, writes about the long headship of Henry Onderdonk, who essentially refounded Saint James after the Civil War. It’s a short but very interesting chapter. We allow the long headship of Adrian Onderdonk—it went from 1903 to 1939!—to be described in his own words. He was greatly admired by other boarding school headmasters and he wrote a memoir. We annotated it, edited it, and publish it now. Very interesting!
Father Dunnan is the author of the chapter on the School during the headship of Father Owens. That is a heartfelt, moving encomium of a very great man Saint James was blessed to have running the school. And I offer in the last chapter a snapshot of what’s happened at Saint James under Stuart Dunnan. To say the least, a lot has happened since 1992. Professor Hein wrote the foreword to the book, and he was my pilot through the narrows and the straights. David is a first-class scholar with much publishing experience.
R: What do you think Alumni/ae will like most about the book?
FP: I warn them in the preface that the book is not a “coffee-table” book filled with photographs and humorous reminiscences. That will come later. We decided late in the process whether we would have photographs at all. It’s not filled with anecdotes and snippets of memoirs, and there is no appendix with lists of prefects, team captains, prize winners, et cetera. The book is just step one in the Saint James History Project spearheaded by Father Dunnan and Mr. Ted Camp. As I suggested above, I think that alumni/ae of the School will appreciate getting a good grip on the foundation of their dear old Alma Mater – one of the dearest and oldest Alma Maters in America. This book is the Why? of Saint James – why it was founded in the first place. Even though we move from 1842 to 2017, the "why" gets answered over and over again in the chapters.
R: Any surprising facts arising from your research?
FP: The most surprising discovery is that there were enslaved servants at Saint James. Kerfoot and probably other members of the faculty owned slaves. Washington County was very pro-slavery, pro-secession, and pro-South. Dr. Kerfoot likely “inherited” African American servants when Bishop Whittingham purchased Fountain Rock, which was after all a plantation. Kerfoot, like his mentor Muhlenberg, was against slavery and secession, but he—like most Episcopalians—was a “gradualist” about emancipation and abolition. I hasten to say that Dr. Amt also discovered that it appears that Kerfoot bought at least one slave in order to free her. The history of the School, like the history of our nation, is complicated. At the very least, the School was complicated by the fact that it was veritably full of Southern students. Many of them died fighting for the Confederacy. Emilie’s is the premier chapter of the book.
R: Anything else you wish to tell our readers?
FP: Well, of course, I hope people will get the book and read it. I think the book will make people proud of Saint James – what it is, what it has been, and what above all it stands for in American education today. It is a great school. Saint James is doing today what made all the great schools famous in the first place, though Saint James is doing it and many other old schools have abandoned the Mission. The Saint James family should be very proud of the School, and I hope that the book only makes everyone deeply glad for all Saint James is, has been for so many, and will yet be.
Find the book on Amazon or stop by the SJS School Store when you're on campus for Alumni Weekend!