Taking inspiration from medieval trade associations, Thomas More College in New Hampshire has established a series of medieval-style Catholic “guilds” to help its students gain skills and experience from master craftsmen in the arts of woodworking, music, baking and sacred art.
Each guild will meet weekly and will be taught by a master craftsman. Students’ progress will be measured by a series of benchmarks throughout the year.
“Catholic guilds flourished during medieval Europe, but by the nineteenth century they had all but disappeared,” Thomas More College president William Fahey explained. “The Catholic Church took medieval guilds under its tutelage and infused into them the vivifying spirit of Christian charity.”
Fahey said that students will learn skills they can use “throughout their lives.” Through the guilds, they will be able to bake bread for the homeless, create icons for local churches, bring music to nursing homes and hospitals, and create chairs and cribs for the needy.
The college expects its guilds to enhance religious life on campus. The music guild will perform sacred music for Mass, the woodworking guild will build a new altar for the college chapel and the sacred art guild will produce work to line the chapel walls, according to a press release.
Fahey added that the guilds will help students balance challenging curricula with “physical and hands-on” projects.
“We must never forget that even communities based on the intellectual and spiritual life must make visible signs of culture in this world. The ideals of the mind and the richest of the spiritual world can be visibly drawn down into our daily lives.”
Mark Schwerdt, the college’s director of admissions, suggested that the guilds will “show students how to live.” The work will bestow in them confidence that they can fix their own furniture or make music while enhancing their creativity.
“Thomas More College is preparing its students for a life of self-sufficiency,” explained Schwerdt, who will lead the St. Gregory music guild. He will teach liturgical chant as well as folk music to add to celebrations on campus.
Thomas More College’s artist-in-residence David Clayton will teach the St. Luke sacred art guild, in which students will learn the Catholic traditions in art and their underlying theological principles.
Master carpenter Frank Jenkins will lead the St. Joseph woodworking guild and teach about the properties of the major kinds of wood, the use and care of hand tools, the preparation of rough lumber, joinery, and project design.
Fahey expressed hope that students will advance in their skills so they can teach or “apprentice” new students.
“I would expect nothing less from our students, all of whom operate with an intense desire to learn and engage others with a spirit of charity and humility,” the college president remarked.