I draft this blog thousands of feet in the air traveling from Cleveland back to Tampa. Last night, Sunday March 6, my aforementioned brother, Joe (the one who is tattooed for Jesus) was inducted into the Cleveland Benedictine High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Arriving in Cleveland late Saturday night, that night and Sunday night were the first nights spent away from my daughter Elizabeth and the first nights spent away from my wife Emily since the birth of our child.
To say that I wasn't excited about the prospect of sleeping uninterrupted through the night would be a lie. Equally false would be if I said that I actually got such sweet slumber. In her four short months of life, Elizabeth has changed my sleeping patterns-- I was up every two or three hours anyways. On top of my inability to sleep through the night, I missed both Emily and Elizabeth fiercely.
But, this ceremony honoring my brother and a handful of other Benedictine alums, despite the personal and financial sacrifice, was not an event I was willing to miss.
Because to the Zelenkas, family matters.
In fact, in his acceptance speech, Joe linked the importance and connection between the Benedictine family and that of our own. First, my brother thanked our Mom and Dad; Mary, our sister; his wife and kids, Rebekah, Ben and Grace; our Uncle Dave (our Father's brother); and me. Citing the love and support offered to him throughout his life by these close family members, Joe recognized the important role his family has played in his many successes.
Second, Joe highlighted the fact that five Zelenka men have walked the hallways of Benedictine. Our father, Robert; his older brother, Joe; and his younger brother, Dave, all attended Benedictine prior to our 2nd generation attendance in '94 (Joe) and '97 (me). In addition to our attendance as students, our Uncle Dave worked for many years in the school and the adjoining St. Andrew Abbey as its Cafeteria Manager and Caterer.
Our family's many layered connection to Benedictine is not an exception to this historic school. Many students bear the legacies of their fathers, grandfathers, and I'm sure even great- or great-great- grandfathers. Multiple Men of Benedictine return to their Alma Mater to teach, coach and work in Administration at the place they called home for the years of their high school careers. The Benedictine Monks of St. Andrew Abbey bridge many of these generational gaps and offer an institutional history and stability akin to the familial pillars provided by our forefathers and mothers. My father and I had at least one teacher in common. I know that my he and my brother shared a few more. Again, to be connected to Benedictine in multiple ways is the norm, not the exception.
Because to the Men of Benedictine, family matters.
But, this atmosphere of family is possible because of more than just Benedictine High School's age. There is a spirit, an aura, a palpable soul at Benedictine made manifest by the charism of St. Benedict, the founder of the order: Ora et Labora, translated as Prayer and Work.
Every day, every class, every lunch period and even every practice begins with a prayer. Mass is celebrated as a school and by teams before every sporting event. The Rosary is prayed on the bus to away games. Players visit the campus's grotto before and after games and practices.
This reliance on prayer is coupled with an emphasis on hard work. Whether it be studies, extra-curriculars, or spiritual growth, a strong work ethic is modeled, encouraged and honored.
This coupling leads to the cultivation of a community. Our prayer is by nature communal. Our work is more fruitful when done in communion with others. Praying with others before beginning the work in which we will all partake is the leavening agent needed to rise from a school to a community and from a community into the heights of a family.
Any Catholic School worth its salt will have combined ingredients in a similar way so as to create its own unique, family atmosphere. Combining its traditions with prayer and hard work focuses the efforts of the whole in a unified direction. The school community then begins to love and support each other (students, teachers, parents-- everyone) in the same way that a family does.
It is said that a family that prays together stays together. I'd venture to add to this cliche and put it in terms of Catholic Education: the school community that prays together can become a family and the school family that prays for each other can come to realize that what truly matters is each other.