The sage, seer, and poet brings a passion for formation to the Class of ’15. A passion he’s had for over 37 years.
Above: For 28 years, Tom Pruit had done just about done just about everything a teacher could to develop strong men at Cistercian. Then in the fall of 2007, he assumed the responsibilities of form master for the Class of 2015. (Pencil portrait by John Dudasko ’15. Click here for the complete image.)
⚫ I. Holiest Object
II. Dark and deep Hired in November 1979, Pruit experienced a difficult first year that made him think long and hard before agreeing to return in the fall of 1980.
III. Further up
Driving the school bus served Pruit much as the sleigh in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” served Robert Frost’s narrator.
At the end of Form IV, Pruit orchestrated a farewell event for those boys leaving the form. It included jokes and reflections by many of the boys as well as Pruit. Few were able to hold back the tears.
“Thanks Tom for being such a good form master to the faculty,” said Fr. Paul McCormick at the end of the Christmas party.
I. Holiest object
The call finally came in the spring of 2007. At age 57, after 29 years at Cistercian, four years after his conversion to Catholicism, Tom Pruit was asked to serve as the form master of the Class of 2015. “We were out of monks,” explained Pruit matter-of-factly, “so I knew I had to be someone they were considering.”
With the full support of wife Joan, Pruit was saying yes halfway through the request.
“It is such a unique position,” he added. “It is a real honor to be able to have a position like this, where you can get this involved with the boys, and between them and the parents.”
Very quickly, Pruit decided to take an unprecedented step. He planned to visit each boy and his family in their home before the start of school.
With the help of his form moms, Michelle Collins and Linda Leach, he scheduled meetings in the midst of his standard summer workload that included running Cistercian’s summer school plus a set of classes he was attending.
“I wanted to learn about each boy,” said Pruit, “to meet his parents, see his home, see where he would study. Did he have a TV in his room? A computer?
“I wanted to hear about the objects in his room, trophies, pictures, the things that described him.”
His very first “house call” to the residence of Drew Pluemer ’15 was arranged as a friendly test for this experiment.
“I visited Drew’s room,” Pruit explained. “We discussed his impressive mural, books, and Taekwondo medals everywhere — all the right stuff.”
But downstairs in the living room for the family interview section of the visit, Pruit had the chance to see another side of the boy.
“With mom and dad on the couch flanking him,” Pruit laughed, “Drew spent almost the entire time with his head buried in the cushions, his butt sticking straight up in the air.”
The adults largely ignored the elephant in the room, Hilary Pluemer smiling all the while, as details about school life and the form master system were discussed.
“It was a great sign,” commented Pluemer. “Dr. Pruit had immediately made all of us feel so comfortable. Drew wasn’t hiding or being rude, he was just fidgety like he always is. It proved to us that Dr. Pruit had already connected with Drew.”
The boy (and his butt) made an indelible impression on the form master.
So had Peter Leach, who performed a stand-up comedy routine as if he were the form master and Pruit his class. (Leach departed Cistercian after Form IV.)
And Joshua Maymir ‘15 who, after listening to an explanation of the form master system, began peppering the visitor with questions about the student handbook, school traditions, and other details that might trip him up.
Pruit’s warmth, interest, and humor seemed to suit every situation. He was bringing to the Class of 2015 his absorbing brand of human interaction, one that students and faculty at Cistercian had come to appreciate since his arrival in November 1978.
“Tom has an inimitable ability to listen,” insisted Jackie Greenfield, a longtime colleague in Cistercian’s English department. “When he turns his attention to you, he turns off everything else.”
“C.S. Lewis put it this way,” Pruit said. “‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.’”
Serving the boys and families of the Class of 2015 would be far more than just a job for Tom Pruit.
“Cradled en masse at Christmas time within the uneasy assurance of jagged stone,” Pruit wrote in “Stone by Stone,” a poem describing an encounter with Steve Wilder ‘95 his junior year in the newly constructed abbey church.
The teacher had seen the student’s program fall into the aisle, and so “gently kneaded a shoulder into recognition” (a Pruit trademark). That’s when he saw the “ashen stubble above the shoulder,”
Painfully caught in a pale effusive grin,
too delirious to be real.
The struggle with book and boy
and endless task exacts its terrifying price.
Above the shoulder looms the jagged stone,
doomed by its massive weight
To crush whatever falls within its path.
“The look in his face was one of misery and fatigue (i.e., the ‘look’ of finals),” recalled Pruit, who was teaching Wilder and the juniors that year. “It struck me that all around him and me and all of us were these giant stones.”
The subtleties of the abbey church — celebrating only its second Christmas since opening in May 1992 — were still working their magic on the community.
“The poem came from that — the grinding down, yet, and here is always the dangerous part, the building back up into something more ‘human,’ more genuine, and honest and virtuous than before—ready to become the flour that becomes bread for the world.
“A perilous adventure which doesn’t always ‘work.’”
O awesome cradled Glory for whom a stone
Was rolled away, help us never to forget the burden
We impose, making this rock-ribbed sanctuary a place
Of danger — powerful to change grist to living bread or, left
Waterless, to be scattered as useless powder
by prevailing winds.
“This poem and others,” he explained, “written long before I was even a remote possibility to serve as a form master — speak to some of my concerns, of a sense of the power, and the danger, of ‘formation.’”
In “Love and Regret,” Pruit mourned the departure of Jeff Gruber (’97, brother of Br. Francis Gruber ’00), who left Cistercian after his junior year.
Pruit had come to appreciate his “ever-bouyant, lively face, the eyes and voice that dance with irrepressible, rippling wit … But too restless for the metronome’s regulated beat.”
“He brought,” Pruit recalled, “something really valuable to class and school. The academic part wasn’t working. He didn’t spend a lot of time on it. He had so many things going on. You can’t blame the school.
“Still, it was hard for me. He rode my bus. How do you avoid that? What could we have done differently? How do you make that work?”
“The hoped-for adjustment in the spontaneous step,” Pruit concluded in “Love and Regret,” “the energy channeled into measured form, never reached sufficient mastery.”
“The process of formation” Pruit emphasized, “its perils and joys — is what we do here. What does it mean?
“The big thing is to understand its importance. It is interesting to consider that over at the abbey, young men are formed into priests in seven years.
“Forming boys into men has to be more than a platitude. It’s what drew me, the reason I’m here.”