August 19, 2011

Back to work

Today, Trinity's teachers and staff reported back to work.  While it's sad to see the summer gone, I think we are all energized and excited to get back to school.

We began our day with a prayer service in the Saint Basil Chapel.  The focus was our vocation as Catholic school educators.  I offered a reflection during the prayer service which you can read below:

In 1964, Mary Perkins Ryan of Goffstown published a book titled “Are Catholic Schools the Answer?”  Ryan was a prominent leader in the liturgical movement and in carrying out the vision of the Second Vatican Council.  Ryan published her book at the time when Catholic school enrollment was plummeting and religious men and women were leaving their orders, and thus their teaching positions, in the thousands.  Perkins’ main point was that Catholic schools cost a disproportionate amount of money to operate considering less than half of Catholic children attended the schools.  The focus, she said, should be on adult education at the parish level. 

Her book, you can imagine, did not go over well with some.  One person said the book “landed like a stink bomb in the old schoolhouse” while another called it “naïve and foolish.”  However, despite its controversy, it helped school leaders get into gear and come up with ways to bolster and sustain Catholic education. 

Either way, the question in her title is very much relevant today and something upon which we should reflect – are Catholic schools the answer? 

How many of us have personal stories that begin something like this: “When I came to Trinity, I said I would stay there for a few years, get some experience, and then move on to a public school.”   I certainly do.  When I decided to become a teacher in 2006, I had no intention of teaching at a Catholic school…especially at one in New Hampshire!  Now I attended Catholic schools my whole life – Kindergarten-college – but there was no way I was going to teach at one.  But in the end, no one else offered me a job and I learned the age old lesson that beggars can’t be choosers! 

Why teach at a Catholic school for low pay, little to no benefits, and an uncertain future?  Any one in this room could leave here and go off to a public school and right away get a major pay raise, incredible benefits, and retire with a nice pension.  But yet, here we all are, together again.  Here is Stan Gorski back for round 50.  Betty Kudrick is getting ready for her 39th rodeo.  Denis’ 37thand Mo Maurier’s 36th.  Caroline Trachim her 34th.  Mari-Grace O’Gorski’s 31st.  And for some - Joe, Josh, Anne, Matt, Judy – it is just beginning. 

We are all here, I think, because we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We know that we are a part of something amazing – the carrying on of the work began over 2,000 years ago by Jesus Christ.  One of Jesus’ final words to His followers was to “go and make disciples of all nations.”   
And that gets to the heart of why we are here.  We could just as easily teach Math, Science, Art, English, World Languages, Social Studies at a public school.  We have the best of both worlds – we get to do that AND make disciples of our students.  Just the other night, Denis, Terri, Elizabeth and I got together with five students who took part in a service trip this summer.  The joy and happiness they exuded as they recounted their experiences was so amazing and uplifting that I can hardly describe it. But just listening and being with them helped us adults realize why it is we teach at Trinity High School.  Denis pinpointed it when he told the students he thinks they had such a transformative experience because they were able to discover the goodness inside them while serving others.  How powerful it is that we have the opportunity to help our students discover their inner goodness and holiness? 

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the late Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, told a gathering of the NCEA: 
Michelangelo, the author of the Pietá, is considered one of the greatest artists in the world. I don’t believe it! The greatest artists are the educators — are you — because you try to sculpt the best of yourselves, of who you are and what you know, not in a piece of marble, but in living, breathing human beings, who are the glory of God. 

That statement sums up our vocation as Catholic school teachers.  And it is why we come here, and stay here.  In my short time at Trinity, I can only recall 3 people leaving here to go work at a public school – Kelly Trepany, Emma Carole, and John Larsen.  And if you talked to Larsen, you knew how incredibly hard it was for him to have to leave here. From what I understand, he was in tears the last day.  And John’s not even Catholic! 

But think about of many of us have come here from public schools – Ron, Theressa, Gail, Jay, Phil, Miranda, Ivy, Gary, Amber, Judy, Doc Heifetz, Dan, Terri – sorry if I left anyone out.  There is something special about this place and it ain’t the pay or the luxury accommodations.   To work here is not a job…it’s a vocation.  We have been called by God to work in this corner of His vineyard building up His kingdom here on Earth.  We have been called to make disciples of our students…and each other.  How blessed are we.   

During this year, I want Campus Ministry to be a resource for all of us as we continue to discern and reflect upon our vocation as a Catholic school teacher.  The University of Notre Dame recently published a document on the future of Catholic schools in the United States.  They graciously sent me copies for everyone and I hope you take the time to read it and reflect upon what it means for us.  Perhaps in the future we can get together informally to talk more about it.  I also have complied a list of books and websites about Catholic schools that you may find helpful.  This is by no means an exhaustive list but rather books and websites that I have found helpful.  Again, I think it would be amazing if, perhaps, once or twice this year we get read one of these books collectively or look at some of the websites and gather to discuss them.   

Last month, Elizabeth and I took 5 students to LaSalle University in Philadelphia to take part in something called the Lasallian Youth Assembly.  It is an annual gathering of students from Lasallian Christian Brothers’ high schools from across the East Coast.  During the week, we performed service, prayed, learned about Lasallian spirituality, and got to meet and know one another.  Trinity, as you know, is a former Lasallian Christian Brothers school but they graciously allowed us to take part.   
On the last night, we gathered in the chapel for a final prayer service and the kids had the opportunity to share their thoughts about the week.  One girl from a high school in Philadelphia got up and said that after her experience of the week, she no longer wanted to pursue a career as a doctor as she was planning.  Rather, she wanted to spend her life serving others and “change the world.”  That is why we do what we do.  We are here to inspire our students, to develop their relationship with God, and to help them discern their talents and vocation.  If this girl was transformed in that short amount of time, think of the ways in which we can transform our students over the course of their four years here? What an amazing gift and opportunity.    

As part of our 40th anniversary last year, you may recall that we had an assembly to honor the brothers for their work here in Manchester.  From that sprung some conversations about Trinity perhaps reconnecting in some ways with the Christian Brothers.  While at the Lasallian Youth Assembly, it wasn’t lost on us that the other schools were all part of a global network and all had common roots and spirituality.  Our students picked up on it right away and told me and Elizabeth that they would love to be a part of that.  It’s something for us to chew on and discern over the course of this year.   
The patron saint of teachers, believe it or not, is Saint John Baptist de la Salle, the founder of the Lasallian Christian Brothers.  I am placing my vocation as a teacher under his patronage and pray that he will continue to intercede for you and me. 

I have a ton of ideas for Campus Ministry this year and I really hope and pray that ALL of you will be a part of it.  In speaking with many of you and many students, I know we are all hungry for Campus Ministry to once again play a major role in the life of our school.  That is, to be its heartbeat.  At a senior leadership meeting this summer, some of our incoming seniors said how they desperately want the school to have more community and more of a sense of togetherness.  They – and we – want more and I pledge to you that I will give it my all.  But I ask for your help.  If we are going to accomplish what I know we all want to accomplish, I can’t do it alone.  I beg for your help and I beg for your time and talents.   

This is an amazing time to be a part of Trinity High School – we just celebrated our 40th anniversary, we reconnected with Archbishop Gerald Lacroix and the Christian Brothers, we have been reaccredited by NEASC, we are launching a very progressive technology initiative, our hockey team is the defending state champs, our Robotics team is second to none, etc, etc, etc.  We also have an amazing opportunity, through Denis, to play an active role in the future of Catholic education in Manchester.  By virtue of Denis being the principal of Saint Joe’s, we are now responsible for 6 of the 13 academic grade levels in the Catholic schools system in Greater Manchester.  Think of what that could mean for our school and our school’s future!  As luck would have it, this year also marks three milestone anniversaries: the 125th anniversary of the founding of Saint Joseph’s High School for Boys, the 60th anniversary of the founding of Bishop Bradley High School, and the 50th year of Stan Gorski teaching at Bradley/Trinity.  These milestones give us, I think, a great opportunity to reflect upon our past as we look to our future as THE premier Catholic school in New Hampshire. 

As we look forward to this year, I think it would be fitting that we recommitted ourselves before God and each other to our vocation as Catholic school teachers.  Denis…

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