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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Teach As Jesus Did

In the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel account, Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover approach Philip, one of Jesus’ apostles, and request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

I think this is the oftentimes unspoken request of every student within our Catholic schools. “Sir, or ma’am, we would like to see Jesus.”

In fact, this concept of searching is found in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, too. Jesus Himself asks two of John the Baptist’s disciples: “What are you looking for?”

They respond, “Master, where are you staying?”

Jesus commands, “Come and see.”

As Catholic educators we must respond to this request of our students to see Jesus with the words of Lord and Savior, “Come and see.”

Our Catholic schools must be distinctly different. All to whom we minister must know that we are Catholic by our love. This love must be palpable. It must be immediately apparent. It is in our Catholic schools that students must meet Jesus and come to know Him, love Him and serve Him. It’s up to teachers to create this environment.

In 1988, the Congregation for Catholic Education, in a work entitled The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, wrote:
Prime responsibility for creating this unique Christian school climate rests with the teachers, as individuals and as a community...If it is not present, then there is little left which can make the school Catholic (#26).
In a 1997 document, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the 3rd Millennium, the Congregation continues:
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 personal relations between the teacher and the students, therefore, assume an enormous importance and are not limited simply to giving and taking. Moreover, we must remember that teachers and educators fulfill a specific Christian vocation and share an equally specific participation in the mission of the Church, to the extent that "it depends chiefly on them whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose" (#19). 
If our students are to see Jesus, it is up to our teachers.

As adults we sometimes lose the ability to detect when someone is being inauthentic. Kids, though, have a heightened sense of authenticity. They notice the hypocrisy of when we as adults say one thing and do another, when we fail to practice what we preach.

Therefore, the lives of our teachers must be living testimonies of what it means to follow Jesus in the Catholic faith. Our teachers must embody a synthesis of culture, faith and life and make Jesus incarnate to our students.

No program, no curriculum, no lesson can do this. Disciples make disciples.

As Catholic school teachers, we must be the prototype for our students to follow. As disciples of their teachers, students should see Jesus in their teachers and students should be able to follow everything that their teacher does as a pathway to achieving our goals - to and through college and into heaven.

Think about that. What if your students were to follow everything that you did - everything - where would it get them? Would it get them to greatness? Would it get them to holiness? Would it get them to sainthood?

All of it matters and every moment is Incarnational. The adults within our Catholic schools are the people that will make Jesus incarnate for our students to see, to come to know, to begin to love and to ultimately serve.

It’s up to the teachers whether or not the Catholic school achieves its purpose.

I was fortunate to have had many outstanding teachers who helped to form and inspire me. I’m sure that you did, too. And I think you’d agree that the most impactful ones, the teachers who really made a difference in our lives weren’t just the ones that got to know us or held us to high expectations. They were the ones who met us where we were in order to get us to where they knew that we could go. They were the ones who, in the words of St. John Bosco, loved what we loved so that we would love what they love. They made learning relevant but at the same time taught with such power and conviction that we paid attention to every word, every action, every moment. They were great storytellers. They were humble. They were experts in their field. They were passionate. They were playful. They were merciful. They loved us.

In short, they taught as Jesus did.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Keys to the Kingdom

In the movie, The Sandlot, the main character, Smalls, makes a pretty big mistake. Unknowingly, he uses a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth so that he and his friends can continue to play their games of sandlot baseball. It’s not that he doesn’t know that someone signed it, he just doesn’t realize that Babe Ruth is the Sultan of Swat, the King of Crash, the Colossus of Clout, the Great Bambino. 

And, in what ends up triggering the rising action of the movie, Smalls actually hits a homerun with this autographed ball, sending it into the yard of Mr. Mertle and the clutches of his dog, the Beast. The rest of the movie centers around the gang scheming ways to get this ball back and out of one of the greatest pickles ever.

Sometimes we can go about our work within Catholic education like Smalls did with this autographed ball: we fail to recognize the magnitude of what’s in our hands. 

As Catholic school educators, we know that our goals are twofold: get our students to and through college and, more importantly, into heaven. We do all that we can to make our students not only smarter but also better. We work tirelessly to ensure that we simultaneously train students’ intellects and spirits so that they can take their knowledge and their conviction out into the world to make it a better place. 

But, the work is hard. Demands are many. We get worn out. The zeal we have on day one becomes a grind at some point in the fall or winter, maybe the spring. We can get so lost in the weeds of our days that we can lose sight of the fact that we have a Babe Ruth autographed baseball in our hands. Our patience wears thin. Prayer might take a back seat. We begrudge parents, colleagues, students or administrators that demand and deserve our best. We casually play with the ball and it can get lost in the clutches of the beast. 

In a 1988 Church document written by the Congregation for Catholic Education, entitled The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School:
From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, having its own unique environment permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom. In a Catholic school, everyone should be aware of the living presence of Jesus the “Master” who, today as always, is with us in our journey through life as the one genuine “Teacher”, the perfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection (#25).
Friends, it’s not just that every minute matters, every moment is Incarnational. Every moment is an opportunity to heal, to transform, to mend, to lift up, to direct, to form. Every interaction, every discussion, every email, every duty, every game, every lesson - every moment - is the moment that could forever change a life. Every moment within our ministry is an opportunity to make God incarnate - to make Him known, loved, and served. 

Every moment is a moment that could change the world. 

Fr. Pedro Ribadeneira, a Jesuit priest, said, “All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world” rests on the work of Catholic school teachers. 

As a ministry within the Catholic Church, you’ve been given the keys to the Kingdom. There is a direct line emanating from you and linking you all the way back to Peter and in turn Jesus Christ Himself. 

And all of it matters. This isn’t a message to turn your schools into full-time catechesis programs. Our Church recognizes that those things that make us more distinctly human, those things that make us more like the perfect human - Jesus Christ - are the things that makes us become who God created us to be. Fr. Michael Himes, another Jesuit priest, says, “Whatever humanizes, divinizes.” Therefore, our work in science or math or English or music - whatever makes us advance in human endeavors - can bring us closer to God. 

Pretty amazing, huh? 

Catholic schools play an important role in the mission of the Church; the Church baptizes academic content as well as extra-curricular activities.

All of it matters. Everything is an entry-point into the divine. 

I had been working at the University of Notre Dame for about a month and I was walking with colleagues from the ACE building to a meeting across campus. At one point I lagged a bit behind the group so that I could get a glimpse of Mary on the Dome. When it seemed as if I was headed in the wrong direction I had to confess - I was making sure that I was aware of the amazing opportunity I have to work under the watchful protection of Our Heavenly Mother Mary at her University. 

It was my way of reminding myself that I’m honored and humbled to be working on something more valuable and important than a baseball autographed by a baseball legend. 

Catholic educators, that you, too, have something more valuable than sports memorabilia at your fingertips. You’ve been given the keys to the Kingdom. 

You’re world-changers.

You’re saint-makers.

You’re Catholic school educators. 

Don’t forget it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

He was a Joy

David Zelenka was a joy.

My Uncle Dave had my mother sew a series of chef hats that he wore at his most recent place of employment. On one of them - and there was a vast assortment of patterns and colors - he had my mom embroider “I am a joy”. This was in response to a job review that he received and, rightly so, in which he took immense pride.

On anyone else, it would seem boastful or just out of place. Maybe even annoying. But, for Uncle Dave it fit. Simply, because he truly was a joy.

I’m sure that everyone in this room experienced it in some way, shape or form. Whether it was his contagious and incessant and often ill-timed laugh (Abbot Gary mentioned yesterday that Uncle Dave always got a good laugh out of witnessing someone falling, or getting mildly hurt - even if he was the cause of this pain like he was when he dropped a 45 pound weight on my foot), his playfulness especially around kids or dogs (my kids wore socks with frogs on them yesterday - on their own - as a way to honor their silly Uncle Frog), or his love for cooking and sharing food, each one of us could tell a story - many stories - of how Uncle Dave brought joy into our lives.

He was a joy.

He was the type of person that made you feel better after being with him. You always left an encounter with Uncle Dave feeling full.


To extend the Beatitudes, read during the Gospel from the funeral Mass:
Blessed are we who knew David Zelenka, for we were filled with joy.
Perhaps Uncle Dave’s greatest expression of joy came through food. He was a rare person who did what he loved – which was cook – and loved what he did. His passion was cooking and he used this ability as a mechanism to fill the bellies and hearts of others. Again, I’m sure that everyone in this room shared a meal with my Uncle Dave. Whether it was a 4th of July cookout that he and my Aunt Cheryl hosted, a trip into their home to Curly’s Diner or meeting at a local restaurant you walked away from one of those meals stuffed – not only with food but also with love.

You always left an encounter with Uncle Dave feeling full.

He was a joy.

And even though today we mourn our loss but celebrate his life, I think we’re supposed to walk away from even this encounter with Uncle Dave full.


Because what made a meal with Uncle Dave so special wasn’t necessarily the food - although the food was always good and it was always filling - it was his spirit. It was his ability to make conversation, to initiate and sustain laughter, to engage you – through food – with his love that filled you up.

As a community that believes in the hope of the resurrection and promise of eternal life, we, along with Uncle Dave, just gathered around a table – the Eucharistic table – through the celebration of this Mass. We just feasted on heavenly food – our daily bread – the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – and that should leave us – like an encounter with Uncle Dave – full. Joyful.

Jesus, during His Last Supper with His closest friends, told them to take and eat and drink and to do these things in memory of Him. I think every meal that I ever shared with Uncle Dave contained a similar invitation. Take and eat and drink and when you do those things remember that I love you. The Responsorial Psalm at Mass echoed this sentiment:
 All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.
Uncle Dave was a joy and let it be our joy that David Zelenka now sits at the heavenly banquet table of our Lord, where I’m sure that he is taking and eating the juiciest meats and drinking the choicest wines - On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines (Isaiah 25:6) - and spreading good conversation, belly aching laughter and an eternal supply of joy.

-In loving memory of David Zelenka (February 23, 1954 - January 27, 2018)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Keep Moving. Be Strong. Focus on What's Ahead.

“With eyes of faith consider the greatness of your mission and the wonderful amount of good which you can accomplish.” 

-Bl. Basil Moreau, Christian Education

My daughter Elizabeth has been trying to ride a bike, with pedals and without training wheels, for about the past year. On a steady program of balance bikes since she was about 3, we spent copious amounts of time outside throughout the spring, summer and fall of this past year on a pedal bike trying to help her master the steering, balance, movement and stopping required to ride without the steady hand of myself or my wife.

There were moments. She would get a few pedal revolutions and a bit of coasting before she would either push off with a grounded foot or stop altogether.

My main advice throughout this process was simple: moving forward helps you to stay balanced, be strong with your arms, and keep your head up so that your eyes focus just a bit out in front of you.

Keep moving, be strong, keep your head up, and look at where you’re going.

Movement will help you stay balanced. While the other pieces of advice made sense, this one is counterintuitive. It seems that going slowly would provide more safety. However, this actually makes riding that much harder, if not impossible. As part of a faculty retreat, I had teachers try to ride a bike as slowly as possible the length of our basketball court without putting down a foot. No one was able to do it. Going slowly inhibited their ability to move forward.

Vision is the movement which can help us stay balanced and continuing to move forward. It can help propel us into the future by focusing not on what something currently is, but rather by unleashing the hope of what something can become.

You can’t ride a bike by just sitting on it. You have to start moving. You have to begin and believe that you will keep moving. You must have vision. You must have faith. You must have hope.

Hope has immense power. Imagine trying to learn how to ride a bike without the hope that one day you will be able to ride it? Without the vision and hope of actually being able to ride, you wouldn’t even try. Howard Hendricks, a long-time professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary, stated, “Discouragement is the anesthetic the devil uses on a person before he reaches in and carves out his heart.”

Hope, on the other hand, sustains and fuels the vision of what something, or someone can become. It is the power of “yet” in growth mindset theory. It is the belief that students can improve and learn anything through deliberate practice. It is the trust that formative discipline can create disciples. It is the conviction that there is no progress without struggle; death must proceed the Resurrection.

As a principal I had the blessing of working closely with a student who struggled both academically and behaviorally. In severe danger of either failing as an 8th grader and/or facing expulsion before the end of the year, I began working with this student on a daily basis. At one point, after about two weeks of making progress toward academic proficiency and behavioral stability, the student looked at me and with a seriousness I hadn’t witnessed before and asked, “Do you really think this will work? Do you really think I can do this?”

To which I responded, “Of course I do. You just need to keep moving forward. Be strong and keep focusing on what you can become.”

Hope is the fuel that propels vision.

It is the necessary ingredient to passing 8th grade.

It is the way that we can, on Christmas morning after months of wobbles and falls, successfully ride a bike.

It is the movement that can enable us to accomplish the God-sized dreams He has planted inside of our hearts.

Keep hoping.

Keep dreaming.

Keep moving and be strong, with your head up and eyes focused on what lies ahead.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

We Are in a Fight

We are in a fight.

There’s a powerful moment in the first book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo meets Aragorn (at this point known as Strider) for the first time. This is after Frodo puts the One Ring on for the first time, vanishes, and draws the attention of the Ringwraiths. Strider grabs Frodo and takes him into closed quarters.

Strider asks Frodo, “Are you frightened?”

Frodo responds, “Yes.”

Strider continues, “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”

Up until this point in the story, Frodo doesn’t quite understand the magnitude of the Ring or the danger involved in carrying it. While he definitely senses his task to take the Ring to Rivendell is important, this is the first moment that his journey changes. His quest takes on new urgency, his travels become more treacherous. Carrying the Ring will be a battle.

We are in a fight.

Up until the early 1900s, Notre Dame’s athletic teams were known as the Catholics, Rovers or Ramblers.

The origin behind Notre Dame’s current nickname, the Fighting Irish, is debatable. Some claim that it came from irate opposing fans, others that it was part of a player’s halftime pep talk, while a few credit a newspaper reporter with coining the title.

Regardless of the exact origin, the association between being Catholic and Irish was laden with negative stereotypes, bigotry and oppression. Fr. Charles Carey, a Holy Cross priest, eloquently spoke about the history of our University’s mascot in a religious bulletin on the eve of St. Patrick’s day in 1953, writing:
“Fighting Irish! It’s more than a name; more than a people. It is the Faith! In narrow, little New England, it began as a slur -- a term of opprobrium. But we took it up and made of it a badge of honor -- a symbol of fidelity and courage to everyone who suffers from discrimination; to everyone who has an uphill fight for the elemental decencies, and the basic Christian principles woven into the texture of our nation. Preserving this tradition, and this meaning of Irish at Notre Dame does honor to everyone of us.”
Fr. Carey, C.S.C. continues,
“Tomorrow you can take this one lesson from the Irish: they were never so poor in all their wanderings and sufferings that they bartered their Faith for the comforts of this life. They had little to take with them wherever they went; but the Faith was always the most precious of their paltry possessions. Their spirit has made it easier for you to practice your Faith here in America today. May the Fighting Irish always be with us!”
Even our University’s current mascot, the Leprechaun, was modeled after racist cartoons that depicted Irish and Catholics as apes.

Like the Holy Cross of Jesus, the nickname of Our Lady’s University and the iteration of its mascot are transformed symbols of pride, unity and hope. What were intended to be messages of inferiority and oppression now at the University of Notre Dame stand for an unwavering spirit - a fight - to make God known, loved and served.  
Our University gained respect and national notoriety through the athletic efforts of the Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne and Moose Krause, but also academically through the work of Frs. Zahm and Newland, and the legendary progress achieved by the late former President of the University, Fr. Ted Hesburgh. Infused with the spirit of Fr. Edward Sorin, the University of Notre Dame truly is a force for good in our world today.

We are the Fighting Irish and we are in a fight.

As Catholic educators, those holy men and women that came before us and built the foundation for Catholic education in our world faced bitter hatred, violence, unjust laws and oppression all aimed at removing Catholic schools from our country. The pioneers in Catholic education in America had to fight to preserve our faith and maintain the existence of Catholic schools. Catholic immigrants in America wanted to ensure that the education offered by common or public schools upheld Church teaching and when it didn’t bishops, priests, religious sisters and parents fought for the right to establish schools that would pass on the Catholic faith to their children.

As such, Bishops mandated that all Churches have Catholic schools and that all Catholic families send their children there. The Church vehemently encouraged heroic support from parents and parishioners as schools were built, curriculum was designed, and the tenets of Catholic education were developed.

Some battles have lingered into our current times almost two centuries later. Others were fought for and won, allowing us to enjoy some rights and freedoms as Catholic educators that our forerunners did not.

Make no mistake: our ancestors in Catholic education were in a fight and this fight continues today.

May we, the Fighting Irish, embody the zeal of our University’s founder and may this spirit - this fight - enliven our hearts and elevate our minds for the work set out before us.

We are fighting to make God known, loved and served.

We are fighting to educate children and young people through the inspiration of our Catholic faith.

We are fighting to get our students to and through college.

We are fighting to get our students into heaven.  

We are fighting to change the world.

We are the Fighting Irish.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

From Humble Beginnings...

In the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. “It is the smallest of all the seeds,” Jesus teaches, “yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches’” (Matthew 13:31-32).

A mustard seed, something small, can take root and grow and bloom into something much, much larger.

From humble beginnings...

The Log Chapel at the University of Notre Dame is a recreation of the first building planted here at Our Lady’s University. 175 years ago, Fr. Sorin and a group of his companions had the zeal, vision and hunger to turn their work - this University - into
“one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.”
The University started as a trade school. Its first students were orphans who were trained as apprentices to help assist manual laborers in the area.

Fr. Sorin and other members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross endured a fair amount of hardship. Cruel winters. Impossible deadlines. Fires that decimated their work. A scarcity of workers and support.

Yet, Fr. Sorin was able to see the large bush in the small seed. He possessed absolute faith in his work, utter dependence on the Eucharist, and unwavering trust in the protection of Mary. During a particularly discouraging period of the first winter here, Fr. Sorin found hope in the light of the sanctuary lamp. He even states, “They tell us we won’t be able to afford to keep it burning. But we have a little olive oil and it will burn while it lasts...We can see it through the woods and it lights the humble home where our Master dwells. We tell each other that we are not alone, that Jesus Christ lives among us. It gives us courage.”

From humble beginnings…

As educators within Catholic Schools, our story, too, has humble beginnings. Countless men and women, priests and nuns, parents and students dedicated their entire lives - like Fr. Sorin - to the establishment and building up of Catholic schools within our country. And yet, despite hardship, despite oppression, despite financial challenges, despite humble beginnings, our Catholic schools continue to be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country and in our world.

In 1977 the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, in a document titled, The Catholic School, affirms the importance of Catholic schools:
It is when the Catholic school adds its weight, consciously and overtly, to the liberating power of grace, that it becomes the Christian leaven in the world (#84).
Leaven, like a mustard seed, is small. Like a mustard seed that grows into something much bigger, leaven - or yeast - is the quickening agent, the animating ingredient in bread that makes it rise.

I hope this metaphor offers you encouragement and inspiration to know that your work within Catholic education is the leaven that is causing hope to rise up in our world.

I hope that you understand that your work within Catholic education is building up the Kingdom of God. I hope that you understand your work within Catholic education is erasing ignorance, reversing poverty, and inspiring the hearts and minds of others.

I hope you know you are affecting eternity.  

I hope you know that you are literally changing the world.

And while you’re too humble to believe that this is true, be humble enough to believe that with the liberating power of grace something amazing can come from humble beginnings.