By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 23, 2016
CUMMING—Seeking a more intense learning experience, Jim Stewart entered the first freshman class of St. John Bosco Academy in Forsyth County, a parent-inspired hybrid school focusing on classical education.
While he experienced the inevitable frustrations of a school in formation, he embraced the format, studying independently and also attending classes three days a week. The son of Skotti Frese and Steven Stewart, Jim just gradated as valedictorian of his class of 10 and will attend the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and compete on the rowing team. The family attends Christ Redeemer Church, in Dawsonville.
“I wanted to push myself and get myself prepared for college. … I wanted to have something to really just make me work for it,” he said. “It was kind of a leap of faith. My classmates and I decided it would be worth a try and we just went for it.”
“It’s been great,” he said. “I had a very, very positive high school experience.”
And he’s excited to see the growth of the hybrid home school and traditional school, which, while not an official Catholic school, is faithful to the magisterium of the church. Serving pre-kindergarten through high school, the academy now has 330 students and is constructing a new facility across from St. Brendan Church in Cumming to be completed by August.
“They are expanding rapidly,” he said.
As a freshman Jim happily delved into classical Roman and Greek literature.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I’d have to go home and six hours a day be reading Herodotus and Plato, ancient Greek or ancient Roman texts. It required a lot more time than anything out of a textbook. There was no group collaboration for Herodotus,” said Jim, whose mother teaches history at St. John Bosco.
“If you come to class and couldn’t participate in discussions, everybody would know you didn’t do the work—lots of group accountability,” he said. “I loved all the work we did with the antiquities.”
At Notre Dame he plans on majoring in the classics to study them “with greater depth and intensity” and eventually attend law school.
“I love going back to thousands and hundreds of years ago and seeing how people haven’t changed. Situations have changed and technology has changed, but human nature has remained fairly constant. History is the best way to understand humanity,” said Jim, whose father is an attorney.
He attributes his love of reading and understanding the world to growing up in a home with no television—literally. His mother exposed him early to challenging books.
“For bedtime stories she’d read the ‘Screwtape Letters.’ C.S. Lewis is fairly central to her life,” he said. “I love reading and I think that is really because I didn’t have TV or video games or an easy sources of entertainment. So I had to love reading.”
With his questioning mind, Jim grappled with his Catholic beliefs as an adolescent and through high school. While he completed the confirmation program at Church of the Good Shepherd, in Cumming, he held off on receiving the sacrament.
“I went to a very, very devout Catholic school and was rebelling in my thought process. That was my biggest struggle in high school, finding myself in the context of the Catholic faith,” he said. “I felt I wanted to be true to myself. When all my classmates were being confirmed, I didn’t get confirmed. I didn’t want to make a sacramental commitment and be withholding a single part of myself.”
He read books by G.K. Chesterton, Lewis and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was also inspired by his teacher, Alex Sullivan, a recent Georgia Tech graduate.
Sullivan, who taught Catholic apologetics, said Jim is “hungry” for learning.
“He doesn’t settle for going through the motions just to get by academically,” Sullivan said. “He is interested in truth: finding it and proclaiming it.”
“His growth as a Catholic is in the same vein as the Thomases, the Apostle and Aquinas: wrestling with doubts and using his faculty of reason to work through them,” Sullivan said.
A passion for rowing
His mother said Jim is “very charming,” makes friends easily and has “intense focus, determination and ambition.”
“He is strongly pro-life and was voted ‘most likely to argue before the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade’ as his senior superlative,” she said in an email. “He challenges any friends who look at pornography and walks around wearing ‘Porn Kills Love’ T-shirts, hoping to provoke a reaction and a conversation. During his valedictorian speech at graduation, instead of talking about his own accomplishments and how hard he had worked, he focused on each of his classmates and highlighted what made each of them special.”
With strong convictions, he also despises teen drinking and is happy that some friends who once drank heavily have stopped.
“It is the source of mediocrity, the greatest plague of my generation, complacency and apathy. Teen drinking is the fastest way to lose my respect and friendship,” Jim said.
His passions run the gamut from classical guitar to rowing, musical theater to rock climbing. He participated in the debate team until his junior year when he joined the Atlanta Junior Rowing Association. They recently competed in Youth Nationals on Mercer Lake in New Jersey where his Lightweight 4+ team received a bronze medal—the first medal in club history—and plenty of support from the St. John Bosco community.
“I love a good challenge, and it is the most physically demanding, emotionally draining and mentally tiring thing I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing,” he said.
He has a sense of coming home to Notre Dame.
“Being an Irish Catholic boy, Notre Dame is always in the back of your mind, the archetype of what you want to be. But it wasn’t where I thought I wanted to go,” he said. “I got accepted, and we visited. It was an amazing school. The people were awesome. The campus was beautiful. The teachers were brilliant. It was an incredible experience, and I said, I need to go here.”