Address at the 3rd Annual Nelson Hume Society Dinner

New Milford, CT | May 16, 1986

So when I founded the Peace Corps, I was absolutely, unequivocally, committed to the idea that volunteers would live with the people, as one of them. They would live in their homes, not in some foreign ghetto. They would eat their food, and use their transportation. They would not have permission to use the U.S. post exchanges so they could go have "Wheaties" for breakfast.

It is a genuine honor for me to speak to the Nelson Hume Society tonight. I admired Nelson Hume during his life. I rejoice in the continued success and growth of his creation -- Canterbury School. I was fond of his wife and his sister, and I have been impressed by the activities, work and dedication of his children. Few men or women can look back upon a career which has benefited so many human beings; few can be sure that their work and ideals will be carried on after their death. I certainly commend those who originated the Nelson Hume Society. It was and is a great idea. I was one of the Charter Members (I believe), but tonight I'm nervous. I'm not sure at all that my dues are paid up. Before you stands, therefore, a man who probably should be in the last row, not the front. Yes, I am saying, please, Doctor Hume don't put me on bounds. I promise I won't do it again, and yes, I will translate 50 lines of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars for Mr. Brodie.

Those were the days: -- "Ping" Brodie; Eddie Mack; Joe Maloney; David Adair; Ed Lindeman, - et al. Four College Board exams each year. Lights out at 10:00 sharp; breakfast by 7:30 a.m. at the latest or "Put on bounds"; permission to go downtown only on Friday or Saturday afternoon, and then only for one hour, total. Morning and evening chapel every day -- no exceptions -- the Angelus every day, three times a day, as the Carillon called everyone to prayer. And though there was no priest on campus, Messrs. Brodie, Maloney and Mack were the equivalent of a rectory full of priests, and Nelson Hume surpassed most bishops in his administrative ability, his authoritarian inclinations, and his willingness to receive obeisance from his subjects! Canterbury was a "tight ship" - in those days...no fussing around, no grey areas...and with no girls in attendance, the boys learned that life was competitive, tough, and demanding. Can you believe that in my senior year there were only 68 students at Canterbury. But four of them went to Princeton, two to Harvard, two to Yale, one to MIT, several to Georgetown, one to Williams.. None failed to matriculate at a First Class University.

Canterbury stood then as it does now for excellence.

Such a place and such people nurtured me for four years and tonight I wish publicly to thank these men and Canterbury for helping in profound ways, to make me the person I have been and am. Canterbury (second only to my family – my mother and father and my wife) has made my life.

For example:

I never would have had the background, imagination, or confidence to start the Peace Corps without my Canterbury experience and opportunities.

It was back in 1934 that Nelson Hume told me I had to go to a meeting Sunday afternoon at Miss Porter's School in Farmington for a meeting of the Secondary School Society for International Cooperation. And I had to give a speech: That was the last thing I wanted to do Sunday afternoon in May. So I resisted and complained and got nowhere. Off I went, gave the speech and came back -- a wasted day.

Two weeks later Dr. Hume called me to his office.

He said, "Sargent, that speech you gave at the Secondary School Society for International Cooperation made a big impression on an older person in the audience. She has offered you a fully paid scholarship to travel abroad to Germany this summer -- three months -- with a new organization – The Experiment In International Living."

That was 1934 - deep in the Depression. A free trip to Europe was something no high school student would turn down, especially in those days. I responded "yes" with alacrity.

The Experiment taught me how to form the Peace Corps 30 years later: -- speak the language, wear the clothes, eat the food, accept the customs, waste no money – follow local customs -- study, study, study-- play, play -- learn, learn, learn. Come back to the USA wiser than you left.

So when I founded the Peace Corps, I was absolutely, unequivocally, committed to the idea that volunteers would live with the people, as one of them. They would live in their homes, not in some foreign ghetto. They would eat their food, and use their transportation. They would not have permission to use the U.S. post exchanges so they could go have "Wheaties" for breakfast. They would not be part of the expatriate community.

Another thing I found out was that foreigners had an impression that all Americans are rich, that all Americans have lots of cash, and that Americans think money can buy anything. So the worst thing to do was have Peace Corps Volunteers arrive overseas and start throwing a lot of money around. So we decided to pay the Volunteers practically nothing...less than a private in the Army...and in those days privates got very little indeed. That way Volunteers wouldn't be able to buy their way into someone's affection, or put up a wall between them and the people they were working with. All this I learned from those first experiences with the Experiment which never would have happened had it not been for Canterbury.

Canterbury unleashed me with "The Tabard". Canterbury allowed me and others to start the school's first Yearbook.

Canterbury taught me about the ancient Catholic traditions of England ... the Saints of Canterbury before the Protestant Revolution -- stained glass, carillons, and cathedrals. So much so that we Cantabs never had an inferiority complex about other schools, -- Kent, St. Paul's, St. Marks, Groton, etc.. They were all new schools when the original Canterbury School was old.

Canterbury taught me Catholic tradition and culture historically and contemporary.

Fr. Keller, The Christophers, Bishop Walsh, Maryknoll Missionaries, Michael Williams, The Commonweal, Gregorian Chant, Mediaeval Architcture, etc., etc., etc..

Canterbury teachers formed my mind, allowed us to experiment with The Tabard, with the Yearbook, with athletics. We were encouraged to think, to experiment, to try new ideas.

And we were taught to work.

These Canterbury lessons affected my whole life: --

  • The Yale Daily News
  • The Baseball Team
  • St. Thomas More Chapel.

The first lecture series ever at Yale where a Protestant Minister joined a Catholic priest and a Jewish Rabbi in an official Yale lecture series in a Yale building was l937!!!

Almost two-hundred and fifty years after Yale began, a Canterbury person put a Catholic priest before a Yale audience in a Yale lecture hall.

So far this talk of mine has been painfully personal. Please let me now draw some universal lessons from my account.

The Latin root word for education is educare: -- to lead forth or draw out. That's what Canterbury did and does.

It releases energy.

It develops self-confidence.

It encourages experimentation.

It develops knowledge of the Catholic faith.

It strengthens faith in God trust in human possibilities, and personal responsibility for one's conduct, one's work, one's thought, and one's destiny.

No education can do more for any man or woman.

Which leads me to my final point:

Canterbury cannot continue as the pre-eminent school it is without you extraordinary men and women of the Nelson Hume Society. Your generosity is legendary. Your presence here tonight demonstrates your commitment and your loyalty.

No place deserves your support more than Canterbury, -- and you seem to know that fact.

For Canterbury is producing men and women for the Church of the 21st Century - lay leaders with the knowledge, faith, and intelligence to reinvigorate Catholicism everywhere they go throughout their lives.

The spirit of Canterbury will live on because of you. And the spirit of Canterbury today is the same spirit which inspired the great saints, scholars and statesmen of Canterbury in England.

We are part of a learned and heroic tradition. May we always live up to the examples we have all seen and heard on these grounds and in that chapel –

The Nelson Humes,
The Brodies, Maloneys, and Macks,
The Gerard Smiths,
The Kernans, the Havemeyers,
The Carroons, the Krugs,
The Bradys -- all those Canterbury leaders of times past.

They built well. May we in our time do the same.