Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Affecting and Upsetting

“(Evangelization) is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, (human)kind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of Salvation.”

-Pope St. Paul VI, 1975 in Evangelii Nuntiandi

My daughter Elizabeth's piggy bank shattered unexpectedly and suddenly in the fall of 2017. In an attempt to help ease her emotions following the drop, I told her I would collect the pieces and that I would work on putting it back together for her. The shattered pig sat in a box on the top of a shelf in our house, though, for the better part of a year. The task just seemed to be too big and Elizabeth did not mention its repair. "Best Dad Ever" I am not.

An unexpected Christmas wish - I want Santa to bring me my piggy bank put back together - roused and inspired me to make good on my initial promise. 

The work was slow and difficult. The bigger pieces were the easy ones. Their placement was immediately evident and their adhesion seamless. These early victories fueled much needed momentum. 

However, as the pieces shrunk, the difficulty of this task grew. Their placement was more puzzling, their adhesion more likely to result in my fingers getting cut and/or superglued to the shard or to another finger. Gaps resulted and the once smooth exterior of the pig was now rough and jagged. 

On Christmas morning, Elizabeth showed genuine surprise and appreciation. While not the version of her restored pig that she had envisioned, she was grateful to have her piggy bank back. 

To me, this long, slow, difficult, and sometimes painful work of repairing a broken ceramic is much like the work we are called to do repair the various ways in which our society is shattered. 


Equality and equity. 




As a white, middle-aged, middle class, straight, Christian, married with children, non-disabled, cisgender man, there is not an area of my life that is not in a dominant category (at least in America, which is another way that my life is incredibly privileged). 

My parents are white. They, too, fit all of the above categories. As such, my upbringing was as privileged as it could have been. We lived in a suburb of Cleveland that was predominantly white. We had access to a strong education, where the teachers in my school looked like me. The curriculum favored my life experiences. I had a plethora of extra-curricular activities from which to choose and I had the recreational time to pursue them all the way through college. I had easy and ready access to healthcare and medical services. 

My high school, a private, all-boys, Catholic high school - another example of my privilege - was one of only two aspects of my life that bucked against my white privilege. The school was not located in a white neighborhood. The student population was almost an even split between black and white. I had teachers, coaches and a principal who were black. 

The other aspect of my life that embodied this type of diversity was the school where I served as principal for seven years. Its surrounding neighborhood is richly diverse and its student population enjoyed a similar composition. 

In both instances, I experienced coded language as people talked about my schools. Do you feel safe going to school there? That's just a football school, right? The school population sure has changed since you became principal. We are leaving because we feel the education will be stronger where there are more families like us. Is there a quota on the number of students on scholarship that the school can accept? 

But, no matter how much these questions irritated and annoyed me, and despite the fact that they hardened my pride to be a part of either school, I still got to go home to my white privilege. While I believe that my life has been enhanced by these experiences, my circumstances were not improved as a result of them. Any success I've had is due in large part because the intersection of my race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, marital status and nationality has been the corner of Easy Street and the Yellow Brick Road. My life is the result of my privilege. 

Therefore, this is why it is so important that I leverage all of this privilege and do the long, slow, hard yet vital work of cultural responsiveness. This is why I must push past any own white fragility and critically self-reflect on the many ways I maintain my dominant position, the many implicit biases I hold, and the many ways that I must fight and change in order to make our world more just, equitable, fair and right. 

This is why I can't just bring in the Responsiveness Team to do this work for me. This is why I can't just ask the Diversity Expert to do the work that I must do. This is why, given my privilege and my current position, I must affect and upset others to put their own fragility aside and partner in critically looking at our intersections and working against the systemic racism that is rampant in America. 

As Pamela Nolan Young, the University of Notre Dame's Director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, stated in a recent presentation on inclusive excellence, the work is difficult. Young remarked:
I was not feeling passionate about the work I was doing on diversity, inclusion and equity. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." I'm not feeling that hopeful either; however, I do have faith. And as first Hebrews teaches us, "Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see."...So when all seems lost, I return to my faith to restore my hope. Working for diversity, inclusion, and equity is difficult, but I have faith in God and trust in His promise for the Kingdom.
The work of responsiveness is hard, but we can do hard things.

The work of diversity, inclusion and equity is long, but that does not make it any less urgent.

The work of building the Kingdom of God here on earth will require "affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, (human)kind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of Salvation” (Pope St. Paul VI).

This work is uncomfortable, but we were not made for comfort. We were born for greatness, made for holiness and destined for sainthood.

This work is ours.

Let us begin.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Mission

Over the course of the past week, I found myself drawn into the whirlwind that was the students from Covington Catholic and their interaction with both participants in the Indigenous Peoples March and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites. 

I was caught up in how forcefully divided we are as a country. Some quickly chastised the students. Others came to their defense and propped them up as models of behavior and restraint. As is the case with so many events in our country, vehement polarization ensued. 

This situation was a powderkeg. From racism to abortion to immigration to the Catholic Church to women’s rights to all of the many associations with MAGA hats, there were so many emotionally charged aspects of this event.

As I emerged from the vortex still trying to figure out what really happened, I was overwhelmed by the great and urgent need throughout the world for healing, justice, peace, reconciliation, and love. 

If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need Him now. 

We believe that Jesus Christ conquered sin and death through the Resurrection. As His disciples, we are charged with carrying on His salvific mission: the salvation of souls and the total formation of all humans.

As such and in light of our world’s dire need, “There must be nothing little about us, we must have hearts of apostles” (St. Julie Billiart). We must embrace the apostolic boldness that is the Spirit of God within us. We must harness the zeal that has animated countless holy women and men throughout history. We must then “cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism” (Divini Illius Magistri, #94).   

Pope Pius XI states that Catholic education should result in the formation of super-humans. “Hence the true Christian,” Pius XI writes, “product of Christian education, is the supernatural [person] who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished [person] of character” (Divini Illius Magistri, #96). 

People of character. 


Supernatural people.


Christ Himself in those of us regenerated by Baptism. 

As Remick Leaders, we hold fast to our beliefs and we use them to inspire, inform, and enliven our respective ministries. We believe that God is in all things. We believe that we are made for each other in the image and likeness of God. We believe that we are disciples with hope to bring. We believe that excellence happens on purpose. We believe that school leaders drive student success. 

We believe our work makes God known, loved, and served. 

Therefore, we must believe that the Remick Leadership Program has a part to play in bringing healing, justice, peace, reconciliation, and love to our world. 

We must believe that our work is bringing people closer to Christ and bringing Christ to the world. We must believe that when we do it right and well - and we must - that we can create the type of people the world so desperately needs. 

In the 1982 document, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education writes: 
The vocation of every Catholic educator includes the work of ongoing social development: to form men and women who will be ready to take their place in society, preparing them in such a way that they will make the kind of social commitment which will enable them to work for the improvement of social structures, making these structures more conformed to the principles of the Gospel. Thus, they will form human beings who will make human society more peaceful, fraternal, and communitarian. (#19)

Our world needs these types of humans - humans supercharged with zeal, relentless curiosity, hunger, purpose, vision, courage, humility.

Our world needs people of character. 

Our world needs saints. 

Our world needs heroes.

Our world needs Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism. 

Our world needs love.

Our Catholic schools can form these types of super-humans. Our Remick Leaders can ensure that our Catholic schools do this. 

Our world needs Catholic schools.

And our Catholic schools need Remick Leaders. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Up From the Ashes

The Golden Dome of the Main Building serves as an iconic representation of the University of Notre Dame. Whether reflecting golden rays of sunshine or outlined against a blue-gray sky, Mother Mary standing atop the dome tells “everyone who comes this whom we owe whatever great future this place has” (Fr. Edward Sorin, CSC). 

But, even if the Dome burnt to the ground, as it did in April of 1879, the spirit of Notre Dame would remain. The spirit of Notre Dame, of the Fighting Irish, would continue to permeate throughout campus. It would continue to animate its students, faculty, alumni, and family to be forces for good in our country and across our world. Fr. Sorin embodied this spirit, and his zeal was so infectious that the University of Notre Dame at 37 years old was marked by this trait. Fr. Corby, President of the University at the time of the fire in 1879, rallied students and faculty a few moments after the fire had been tamed and boldly proclaimed that the University would rebuild and that they would resume classes in September as usual. Writers of the Scholastic, the student newspaper at the time, wrote:
Yes, Notre Dame will be herself again in a few months, with God’s help, the untiring toil of her children, and the aid of her generous friends who have never failed her in her hour of need...Notre Dame has so grown into the life of the country that it cannot but live and flourish, notwithstanding the fire. Like a vigorous tree which has been burned to the ground, the life is still strong in the great heart beneath, and it will spring from its ashes more glorious and beautiful than ever...This building will be ready before the first of September. (
Reports detail that students rushed into the burning buildings to save books, furniture, pianos, and scientific equipment. Fr. Sorin, upon returning to campus and surveying the damage of his life’s work, declared: 
If it were all gone, I should not give up. The fire was my fault. I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me that I dreamed too small a dream. (
The spirit of Notre Dame, despite the destruction in 1879, endured. Classes did resume on schedule that next fall. The spirit of Notre Dame survived and continues to thrive because the spirit of Notre Dame is not a building, statue, athletic accomplishment, mosaic or painting. The spirit of Notre Dame lives in the charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross and their apostolic zeal to make God known, loved and served. Fr. Sorin, like Bl. Moreau, possessed a burning desire to save souls. This spirit, this Holy Spirit, this zeal, lives across campus in the hearts of all those blessed enough to call Notre Dame home. 

This is the spirit of Notre Dame: zeal, a fire to make God known, loved and served. 

Similarly, as we continue to fight through the current crisis within our Church we must remember that the spirit of the Church, the Holy Spirit, the zeal to save souls, is not tied to a human institution. The Holy Spirit is not in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel or any other earthly dwelling that could be consumed and destroyed by a fire. The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of the faithful. The Holy Spirit calls on, stirs up, and urges forward the true disciples of Christ and will provide the gifts and fruits to build back the Church better than it was before, springing “back from these ashes more glorious and beautiful than ever.” 

As transformational Catholic school leaders, know that this Holy Spirit dwells inside of you. Unleash it. Act with apostolic zeal. Proclaim the Gospel in deed and word. Preach it to yourself if you have to. Be undignified for Christ. Lean in to the problems of your school, of our Church, and of the world, and lead. When your life’s work gets burned down, metaphorically if not literally, accept it. Trust in Providence that the Holy Spirit is leading you to something better, purifying you so that nothing but your zeal for Christ remains. Bl. Moreau assures us:
I am convinced that Providence, which has in the past done everything necessary for the development and perfection of its work, will continue to bestow on us the most abundant blessings. To insure this, we must be constantly animated by the spirit of zeal and generosity which so holy an undertaking requires. We must place all our confidence in the Lord. (Giallanza, 2014, p. xviii)
No matter the fire. No matter the damage. No matter the scandal, the wreckage, the despair. 

No matter what.  

Place all your confidence in the Lord.

And, with zeal, begin again.

Citation: Giallanza, J. (2010). Praying from the Heart of Holy Cross Spirituality. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ring the Bell

"Often what is perhaps fundamentally lacking among Catholics who work in a school is a clear realisation of the identity of a Catholic school and the courage to follow all the consequences of its uniqueness" (#66).

We are in a fight.

If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need Him now. The Catholic Church is under attack. I guess it always has been. The forces of evil, having been defeated by the Resurrection of Jesus, have set their sights on turning Christ's Triumph into a Pyrrhic victory. If they're going down, they may as well go down swinging. 

Well, the forces of evil are swinging. And even though as believers we have every reason to trust in God's Providence, we must acknowledge the fight and start swinging back. Bl. Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, states:
I am convinced that Providence, which has in the past done everything necessary for the development and perfection of its work, will continue to bestow on us the most abundant blessings. To insure this, we must be constantly animated by the spirit of zeal and generosity which so holy an undertaking requires. We must place all our confidence in the Lord (Giallanza, p. xviii).
"We must be constantly animated by the spirit of zeal..." Zeal? Great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective? 

"...and generosity which so holy an undertaking requires." Generosity? The quality of showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected?

Most of us have tended toward selfish complacency. We justify our excess and delude ourselves into thinking that we are immune to the effects of immorality and impurity. 

I certainly do. Sadly, much like the rich young man who departs from Jesus sad because he has too many possessions from which he does not want to part, I hold on to things of this world: possessions, pleasure, prestige. I live a blessed life but do little to recognize that blessing and spread it to others. I work for the Church. This gives me some semblance of righteousness; it basically makes me a Pharisee.

As a Catholic school principal, I would try to align all aspects of our school to both our mission and our Church. Something as seemingly unimportant, though, as food served in the cafeteria betrayed my efforts to do what's best for children. Chips? Fries? Sports drinks? Ice cream?

And that's just one example.

What if we woke up? The current state of our Church should encourage us to see the need for us to do so.

What if we stood up? Our world is in need of zealous and generous holy women and men who can point us toward the True, the Good, the Beautiful. Instead of leaving, in the words of Fr. Mike Schmitz, the current crisis beckons us to lead!

What if we started - and/or continued with even greater vigor - fighting back? In leading we must lean in to the teachings of the Church, harken back to a reliance upon scripture, and participate with greater regularity in prayer, fasting and the sacraments.

The Church is broken. It always has been and will be precisely because it is human. But, Christ sanctified our humanity and He came so that we might know the way.

Now more than ever, we must follow and imitate Christ with courage and conviction. We must invoke the power of the Holy Spirit in stepping up and out in faith against the forces of evil. And as we do, let us also, as William Saroyan writes, "Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed."

There is good left in our world - good people, good priests - and it's worth fighting for.

In a time when our faith in the Church is shaken, may our Catholic schools shine as beacons of light and hope. In our schools we hold the promise of a future Church that can learn from the sins of its fathers and learn instead how to stand and fight. In our children we find hope. In the words of St. John Paul II:
I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope! (
Our Catholic schools are uniquely positioned to impart true education - an education that encompasses both the intellect and morality - at a time when the rest of the world relies on relativity and you doing "you" instead of what's right.

Teachers, we need you to be imitators of Christ. Be the prototype for your students to follow all the way to Christ Himself. Believe that you write on the very souls of your students. "Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth and is one of man's most excellent and creative activities, for the teacher does not write on inanimate material, but on the very spirits of human beings."
(The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, #19) Every moment matters. Every moment is incarnational, a chance to be Christ to others.

Principals, we need you to position your schools in such a way that you would have "the courage to follow all the consequences of its [your Catholic school's] uniqueness" (The Catholic School, #66). Put Christ and your students in the center of everything that you do within your school. Fight for your students. Demand the best from everyone that works for our children. Support those within your schools to be better teachers and better Christians. Make your schools more unabashedly Catholic: celebrate the Eucharist more and with greater reverence; make the Sacrament of Reconciliation available; institute Adoration; pray the Rosary; learn about any or all of the things that make us Catholic. 

Parents and families, the battle is on your doorstep, if not already in your homes, too. Put down your devices, put aside the pursuit of more money, and things, and luxuries. Stop binging on Netflix and playing Fantasy football, quit following the feeds of Facebook, and put your family first. 

Students, you have a voice. And you, more than adults in most cases, know good from bad and are willing to act on it. Help push us adults to holiness. You are worth it and worthy of our best. Inspire the holy women and men in your lives to act boldly in support of our Lord and in opposition of the enemy. Trust in Providence if not people. To reiterate the words of Bl. Moreau, trust in "Providence, which has in the past done everything necessary for the development and perfection of its work, will continue to bestow on us the most abundant blessings."

Catholics, our Church and our world is under attack. Let's pray for the victims of abuse and all those impacted by the effects of this evil. Let's pray for our priests and religious that with greater strength and fidelity they may live their vocation and lead our Church. Let's fast. Jesus tells His disciples that the toughest demons require both prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). Let's harden our resolve and not our hearts. Let us invoke Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit that they may lead, guide and protect us so that we may lead, guide and protect our children, our weak and vulnerable, our world.

Let's wake up.

Let's stand up.

Let's fight.

Ring the bell.

Giallanza, J. (2010). Praying from the Heart of Holy Cross Spirituality. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Universality of Catholic Education

 PIE Spiritual Reflection: Church Documents from ACEatND on Vimeo.

Just over 175 years ago, Fr. Edward Sorin, at the age of 28, looked at 524 snow-covered acres after walking 250 miles and declared that he would turn a log cabin into “one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country.” Thanks to the perspective of time, history and tradition, we can see the effects of the incredible vision and determination that the founder of Our Lady’s University embodied. Because of Fr. Sorin’s zeal and determination we, the Fighting Irish, can boldly proclaim today that the University of Notre Dame truly is a force for good in our world.

One of my favorite stories about Fr. Sorin showcases his visionary spirit and heroic determination. The University was founded in 1842, and by 1865 there was a white dome on the Main Building with a plaster statue of Mary on top. Then, in April 1879, fire broke out and within six hours, only a few outer walls of the Main Building remained. The dome had collapsed and the entire structure was in ruins. This fire destroyed everything that carried the educational endeavor at Notre Dame.

At the time of the fire, Father Sorin was in Canada on his way to Europe. Upon hearing of this tragedy, he returned to campus and surveyed the damage.

People expected him to bend under the sight of his life’s work in ruins. Instead, he grew more determined.

Fr. Sorin boldly proclaimed, “If it were ALL gone, I should not give up. The fire was my fault. I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me that I dreamed too small a dream. Tomorrow we will begin again and build it bigger, and when it is built, we will put a gold dome on top with a golden statue of the Mother of God so that everyone who comes this way will know to whom we owe whatever great future this place has.”

In this moment of tragedy, loss, heartache, discouragement, Fr. Sorin notes that it was Our Mother Mary’s way of telling him that he had dreamed too small a dream. With renewed commitment and galvanized resolve, Fr. Sorin and a fleet of volunteers got to work rebuilding the University of Notre Dame, reopening five months later for the start of fall classes.

I love this story because to me, it speaks of the transformative power of God-sized dreams coupled with heroic determination. When we allow the Holy Spirit to both inspire and guide our actions, we, too, can become a powerful force for good in our world.

I’m sure that at times, your work with inclusive education can feel as insurmountable as rebuilding something from scratch. I’m sure that sometimes your progress with a student or instituting a program or policy in your school to promote inclusive education can be interrupted or stifled, causing your efforts to spiral backwards.

\You have a God-sized dream of offering outstanding inclusive Catholic education to as many students and possible, and the work, at times, requires heroic effort.

The Catholic Church understands this. Our Catholic schools should be places open to all. A document from the Second Vatican Council entitled, Gravissimum Educationis, also known as the Declaration on Christian Education, declared, “All men of every race, condition and age, since they enjoy the dignity of a human being, have an inalienable right to an education that is in keeping with their ultimate goal” (#1). Another Church document called Lay Catholics in Schools, affirms this right: “Every person,” the document argues, “has a right to an integral education, an education which responds to all of the needs of the human person” (#3). This integral, complete education, according to 1977’s The Catholic School, “necessarily includes a religious dimension” (#19). In 1972, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a document on Catholic education entitled, To Teach As Jesus Did. Written almost 50 years ago, the Catholic Church explicitly recognized the right of students with exceptionalities to receive religious education that is adapted to their specific needs. But, almost in the same breath, this document acknowledges that meeting the needs of students with exceptionalities “challenges the ingenuity and commitment of the Catholic community” (#99). In short, the bishops recognized the importance of fighting for inclusive education in our Catholic schools and that this fight will require heroic determination.

The bishops said that we must meet the needs of all students within our Catholic schools. Admittedly, though, doing so will be hard.

But, we can do hard things.

This challenge is not one from which we should shrink. This challenge is not one that should cause us to bend, waiver, or crumble. We are made for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood. In the spirit of Fr. Sorin, we must boldly dream dreams within inclusive education that are worthy of Our Mother and set out to build systems and programs within our Catholic schools that meet the needs of all children. We must couple our God-sized dreams about inclusive education with heroic determination so that we can offer Catholic education to all children.

This is our call as Catholic educators. This is our mission. This is our opportunity to transform the world and this opportunity must be, according to the 1982 document Lay Catholics in Schools, “confronted with a healthy optimism, and with the forceful courage that Christian hope and a sharing in the mystery of the Cross demand of all believers” (#28).

So, today let us be confronted with a healthy optimism.

Let us act with the forceful courage that Christian hope and the mystery of the Cross demands of us as believers.

Let us, with God-sized dreams and Holy Spirit infused determination, galvanize our resolve to boldly provide high quality, unabashedly Catholic education to all children.

Let us be a force for good.

Our Golden Dome is waiting.

Let us get to work.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Welcome to Central Command

Welcome to Central Command.

As a former Catholic school leader, my office served as my space to retreat, refocus, recharge and recreate. It was my space to invite others in for a meeting or shut the door and grind out some intense work. It was a place for privacy, a place for planning, a place for practicing, a place for preparing.

It was a place, most importantly, for prayer.

As a school leader, your office will take on many of these same characteristics and maybe a few more. Everything from interrogation space, to war room, to a place to cry or laugh or shout or breathe deeply, your office will become an incredibly personal and important space in your role as a Catholic school leader.

Hopefully you won’t spend much time in your office. Spending time in classrooms, at lunch and recess, or at carline or after school events, hopefully your office will be a place that isn’t often utilized.

But, whatever you lack in quantity of time you will undoubtedly make up for in quality. You’ll log many hours before anyone arrives and long after the rest of your school community has already gone home. It will be the place where you’ll do final preparations before a big meeting or presentation. It’s where courageous conversations will occur. It’s where some of your biggest, toughest, most important decisions will be made.

In a sense, your office will be the birthplace of your leadership. Everything from ideas to policies to programs to your own unique style will be forged here, so that you can go out into your school to transform it and our world.

As Catholic school leaders, the work before us is heroic. You must be both visionary and managerial. You must be both an administrator and a motivator. You must be an employer and a shepherd. You must balance professionalism with pastoral care. You must be versed at instruction and inspiration. You will need to know everything that’s going on in your school while still being able to delegate and empower others to share in your mission. Your school will require that you are all of these things and so much more.

But, most importantly, your role as a Catholic school leader will demand that you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

For, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in To Teach As Jesus Did in 1972:
Thus one crucial measure of the success or failure of the educational ministry is how well it enables men to hear the message of hope contained in the Gospel, to base their love and service of God upon this message, to achieve a vital personal relationship with Christ, and to share the Gospel’s realistic view of the human condition which recognizes the fact of evil and personal sin while affirming hope. (#8)
As a Catholic school leader you must ensure that students are both smarter and better once they leave our schools so that they can take a dynamic faith life out into the world and with competence, compassion and conviction transform it.

To Teach As Jesus Did ends with the following rallying cry:

The Christian community has every reason for hope in confronting the challenge of educational ministry today. To all our efforts we join prayer for God’s help, and for the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We face problems; so did those who came before us, and so will those who follow. But as Christians we are confident of ultimate success, trusting not in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ, who is at once the inspiration, the content, the goal of Christian education: ‘the way, the truth and the life.’

The work of Catholic education is heroic. It has divine origins, earthly ramifications, and eternal consequences, and “The Christian community has every reason for hope in confronting the challenge of educational ministry today” because of transformational Catholic school leaders like you.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Keep Your Eyes Open, Part II

As a parent, my wife and I try to give our three children roots and wings. We want them to understand the importance of family, tradition and history while simultaneously giving them the skills, tools, and courage to go out into the world to change it for the better.

We want them to feel the safety of our home while also encouraging them to take risks to become the people that God created them to be.

We hope to pass on to them the gift of faith, that they may come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and be so grounded in it, so rooted in their faith that they would be willing and able to follow Jesus on whatever journey He leads them to.

Roots and wings.

In so many ways, this is so much easier said than done. Parenting brings with it millions of decisions that must be made without forethought but potentially with much consequence. Think of the myriad of decisions teachers make throughout the course of a class. Decisions on everything from classroom management to formative assessment to spiritual formation must be made by teachers. Throughout the course of a class period and/or school day there are hundreds if not thousands of decisions made by teachers. Teachers, though, get to say goodbye to their students. A class period is finite. A school day comes to an end.

There is no bell, however, in parenting.

Parents constantly oscillate between micromanagement and giving their kids complete freedom. This balancing act is tricky, much like the balance that I would assume is required of tightrope walkers. There is constant attention and adjustment. There is constant focus and flexibility.

There really should be an instructional manual.

Luckily for us as Catholic educators, the Church in Her infinite wisdom has given us the model of the Holy Family and centuries of Church teaching and tradition on the important role that must be played by parents.

Consider the Holy Family. Bl. Basil Moreau, founder of the C.S.C. spoke of the unity enjoyed between and among Mary, Joseph and Jesus:

Bl. Moreau writes:
Our association is also a visible imitation of the Holy Family, wherein Jesus, Mary and Joseph, notwithstanding their difference in dignity, were one at heart by their unity of thought and uniformity of conduct (Moreau, p. 384).
Blessed Moreau saw the beauty of the Holy Family - being unified in thought and uniform in conduct - and actually used it as a model for the Congregation of the Holy Cross - consecrating the priests to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the brothers to the Heart of St. Joseph and the sisters to the Heart of Mary pierced with the sword of sorrow. The Blessed Virgin, as we know at the University of Notre Dame, plays a special role in helping to inspire, lead, guide and protect the order. St. Joseph is also a prominent figure within the C.S.C. This lake is named after St. Joseph and the order observes the feast of St. Joseph in a special way.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims the importance of parents in the lives of their children:
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom...Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. (#2223)
Church documents on Catholic education also speak of the importance of parents.

In Gravissimum Educationis, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education writes:
Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. (11)
The documents encourage parents to zealously advocate for Catholic education. Furthermore, Church documents recognize the power that can be wielded by Catholic educators when there is a strong and united partnership between a student’s home and his/her school.

Parents and teachers being on the same page is a recipe for student success. Do a quick thought experiment: your most successful students probably have parents who are appropriately involved. Helicopter or absentee parents typically foster a student who struggles. Parents who can navigate the tightrope of roots and wings, of being involved but allowing autonomy, of shepherding and guiding while also empowering most often have children who find success.

This isn’t an attack on parents, and it certainly isn’t meant to criticize those parents who face extreme hardships and difficulties. Even in the best of circumstances, being a parent, like being a teacher, is hard. Couple this with the very real spiritual attack on families and it’s easy to see that parents could use a bit more help, support, and love. In 2014 Pope Francis said this about the battle being waged on the family:

Families are the domestic Church, where Jesus grows; he grows in the love of spouses, he grows in the lives of children. That is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it, to make sure that there is no love there. Married couples are sinners, like us all, but they want to go forward in faith, in fruitfulness, in their children and their children’s faith. May the Lord bless families and strengthen them in this time of crisis when the devil is seeking to destroy them.

As Catholic educators and leaders, we are charged with helping to form and support parents in addition to their students.

Finally, leadership guru Simon Sinek, in a talk about organizational culture, challenges leaders to stop saying that their companies – or in our cases Catholic schools – are like families. Sinek says, “They aren’t like families, they are families. And we need to start acting like it.”

Let’s stop referring to our Catholic schools as being like families – Catholic schools are families and it’s time we start acting like it.

We need to strive for unity in thought and conduct in our schools and help to support parents in recognizing and seizing their role as the primary educators of their children. We need to give parents and families the skills and tools to be domestic churches, the natural training ground “where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.”

We need to give the families that come to our Catholic schools the roots of knowing that they are truly members of our school family - and that we will love them and support them and fight with and for them. And we need to give the families at our schools the wings to be the parents that God created them to be - united in thought and conduct to each other and to the Heart of Jesus.

Roots and wings.

*Did you notice that the title says, "Part II"? For Part I of "Keep Your Eyes Open" visit this link: 

-Moreau, B. (2014). Basil Moreau Essential Writings: An introduction to the life and thought of the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Garwych, A., & Grove, K. (Eds.). Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.