Thursday, December 31, 2009



Postings on a damp cold winter day from the archives:

"At that haunted hour of late day, the entire earth seemed itself to be waiting, every needle and seed inclined to contemplation. The air had been full of sun, stunning in its stillness, the sort of afternoon in which the whole world appears finally to have gotten itself to rights. Indeed, anyone would have been hard-pressed to have (paused) on these slopes and escaped a little circumstantial peace with God." John Landretti, "Bear Butte Diary"

[I should have a picture of Bear Butte! If anyone has one, please send it!]

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa and his elves arrive in the Prep Dining Hall to entertain the scores of children, offspring of faculty and staff. It looks like one of our elves is wearing a Prep color long-sleeved tee. Where would he have gotten that?

These particular elves were busy at the Prep while others were out in the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. Check out the Prep students who assisted Santa with the delivery of gifts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our Christmas break began on Friday, December 18. Father Richard Curry, S.J. celebrated our Christmas Mass at the opening bell. Rick attended the Prep for two years before finishing his high school as a student with the Christian Brothers in Maryland. Then he joined the Jesuits as a Jesuit Brother. See this fascinating Inquirer article about him published on Christmas eve.

Saturday all day the snow fell, time for us Jesuits to hang out at home. Sunday the Prep plow arrived early and helped us dig out our cars.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT: MASS WITH THE CHILDREN OF STAFF AND FACULTYWelcome to this pre-Christmas liturgy. We tend to rush into the season of Christmas, the season of the Lord’s birth with readings that fill us with joy and promise on this Advent Sunday, even now two weeks before Christmas. Today, of course, surrounded by these children we have before us an image of the Lord Jesus as a child. We most often picture him as a tiny baby or as the mature Lord on the cross. But he was a rug rat, too; maybe a hyper-active one, curious about light and fire, about color and sound, about earth and its creatures, about the wind and the water. Today in the presence of our own rug rats, it is this Lord Jesus, the child, whom we wish to honor. He came to us from a heavenly kingdom to secure our dignity.

Today let us consider Christmas as the season, not when we get the present that we really want but as the season when we give away our most treasured possession. I ask each of you here to consider your most treasured possession. It may be a thing; it may be a talent or a way of being. Do a little thought experiment. Am I willing to give it away?

For our children here there is some object, some toy, some game, some favorite piece of clothing that you like to wear. ASK KIDS.

But would you give it away during this Christmas season? Jesus gave away the comfort of his heavenly home with his Father to be with us in this real world of cold and discomfort, of pain and anxiety. Can we think of ourselves in imitation of him willing to give away something that we treasure?

I brought this little model truck with me. It is a model of the pickup truck which the Jesuit saint Alberto Hurtado used to take food to the hungry and the poor in his home town of Santiago, Chile. But I bring it today for a different reason because it represents for me one of my prized possessions when I was a rug rat. One Christmas under the tree was a silver metal pickup truck model about twice the size of this model. But like it. I got attached to it. I did not know exactly why but now I understand. For me it represented all the excitement that I wanted in my future: speed, exploration, making things run, freedom. It was mine. If Jesus himself came to my house to play with me, he would not be allowed to touch my silver metal truck!

I ask the young ones here. ASK AGAIN. What is it that you really like among your toys or in your clothes closet? You might be like me and unwilling to give it away. Or you might be already generous and willing to give it away.

I still had my silver metal truck when I was a teenager. But the wheels had rusted and I moved on to other possessions. Today the wonder of the miracle of Jesus, our God, becoming one with us continues to challenge us to give up our doubts or anxieties or pride. May we enter into his presence in this Mass this morning; he gave up everything for us. May we be with him and allow him to encourage us.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pictured with Coach Cockenberg are most of the senior members of the Cross Country Team:

(l to r): James Murphy, Bernie Gray, Chris Dougherty, Matt Chung, Rob Cermignano, Chris O'Sullivan, Jon Sharp and Dennis Walsh (Nine of the Twelve Seniors on the Cross Country Team are members of the National Honor Society and carry a +3.5 GPA on our 4.0 scale.)

The Cross Country all-Catholic runners: Brian Wolf, Chris O'Sullivan, Owen Glatts, Paul Gennaro, Fran Kelly, Matt Chung and Patrick Murphy

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prep basketball begins with a 44-29 vistory over William Penn Charter

Pictures include Joe Nardi going for the layup and Coach Speedy Morris plotting their next move. The team opened the game with two or three well-executed plays though it took some more minutes for the ball to actually get through the basket.

Before the game we blessed the new floor on the court. Some of it had been damaged by water and had to be replaced; all of it was refinished, recoated and repainted.


With this mike in my hand and a silent gym, I feel like giving a sermon on the transcendent, God-like, heavenly quality of all human PLAY, basketball included. Nothing gives us more joy than a leisurely timeless afternoon when we can act like gym rats or be with our posse on a playground. This joy is a sign that God has great things in store for us not only in this life but in the next. In the next I look forward to playing soccer with the Spanish founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola…. on his team, of course. Maybe William Penn will play on the opposing team.

But I have the mike to bless our newly refinished floor here in the Kelly Fieldhouse. Damaged by water this past year, the floor is now refinished beautifully. We bless it this time with holy water. We thank the artists and craftmen who made it beautiful in our sight and in the eyes of God.

So we bow our heads: God and gracious God, we thank you for all the opportunities you give us for the exercise of our talents, physical, mental and spiritual. We thank you especially for this fieldhouse and its floor. We welcome you to all of our activities here. And especially today we count on your presence to guide these team members from St. Joseph’s Prep and William Penn Charter to do their best, to keep them free from injury and to help them appreciate above all the love and guidance of their parents, teachers and coaches, especially head coaches, Speedy Morris and Jim Phillips.

Thank you Lord, bless this floor (WATER) to your glory in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some of the present and former students at SJP, rugby players all.
For the love of the game and of their recently deceased colleague, Josias Sterling, they gathered in Fairmount Park on a blustery Thanksgiving Friday. The gathering honored Josias and is raising money in his memory to provide swimming lessons for kids and to provide help for any Prep rugby player who attends Temple University
The event was organized by Bill and Angela Gregory who coached and mentored Josias. (Bill is kneeling near the center of the front row, in the dark shirt.)
My Prayer
We gather today in a spirit of thanksgiving for God’s glory shown in our brother Josias Sterling during his brief life, a happy life, a life in which a young man fulfilled the hopes and promises suited to his age. We thank God that Josias was a grace for his parents and siblings, for his relatives and friends. We are grateful that God saw fit for Josias to attend St. Joseph’s Prep and Temple University. The emptiness in our hearts caused be his absence reveals to us how eagerly we made a space for him, and tells us how prominent a place he took in his family , among his classmates, on the rugby team, and in the hearts of all who got to know him. His relationship with us is God’s work, letting us know in Josias more about the richness of creation.

So we pray. Dear God, let the memory of this happy young man lift from us the gloom we experience in his physical absence. Help us know that his cheerful, resolute spirit continues to enliven us whenever we who know him gather together. May his spirit help us build on the heroic desires of his own life, help us be men and women for others just as Josias became more each day a man for others.

Yes, Good God, Increase our faith in the saving power of the Lord Jesus who welcomes those who have died into a new heaven and a new earth. When our day comes, give us a place in the new creation so that we may be with our brother Josias in your kingdom. But today on this field, dear God, help us to know that Josias joins us and commits his spirit to bring joy and enthusiasm to our company and our competition.

We ask these things through Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The renovated spaces in Jesuit Hall include the room that was once the house library for the Jesuit Community. Now the space, The Quinn Room, is used for small receptions and some meetings. It is also a room with some archival material.

Since the room is off the beaten track and not at all youth oriented, it did not occur to us that some of our students would gravitate there after school to hang out and do their homework. We do have a regular student library with computers and other activity. But leave it to the Prep boys to find a comfortable spot and make it their own. The late Henry Quinn must be happy to look down on this room and see our young men working together between intervals of goofing off.

I remember the same atmosphere when I was a Prep student but without the comfortable setting. In the long-gone 17th St. building, we gathered at the base of a stairwell and leaned against corridor walls! And we didn't know what we were missing.

From my office I can see our Prep boys carrying two of the 250 Thanksgiving food baskets that they prepared for the less fortunate, some in our neighborhood. Others, mostly seniors from a group called SOWN (Supportive Older Women's Network, "because no woman should have to age alone") came and picked up their baskets.

Our students fanned out through the neighborhood and delivered many of the baskets and turkeys. Some of our students live within walking distance but most do not know our neighborhood. This gesture is a way of learning from others whose struggles are very different from their own.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A few of the cast members of "Sweeney Todd," the fall production of Prep's "Cape and Sword."



Those first men and women who had an experience of Jesus Christ risen from the dead believed ardently that he would soon return to usher in the kingdom of God. While Jesus had told them that they could not know the day nor the hour, they imagined that there would be little or no delay. Why would the Lord tolerate the persecution of his friends over a long period of time? The early Christians slowly organized as if for a future but no Christians in that era needed to prepare so much for a long future as for the imminent return of their Lord and Savior.

The return of the Lord, of course, would mean damnation for those not among the elect and physical destruction, too, of anything alien to the kingdom. God had promised never to use the flood again to destroy the earth but, as you know from the chorus of Sweeney, it was to be fire the next time. And the early Christians lived with some expectation and fear.
And still we do. And better not to be complacent. Who knows? The world might end even before I come to the final syllable of this sen....tence.

There are times when I have prayed that the Lord Jesus would come quickly. Why would he not? Why would the Lord not join us in our desire to save children who suffer from hunger and lack of love? Why would the Lord not come to save us from our own failures? I do not know the answer that has led to this two millennia delay. This only: I believe that God loves a good story; some say, and not cavalierly, that God creates us in this world with the same hope as authors who let their characters write the authors’ stories. In our lives, it is said, people write the story about themselves. And there have been some splendid stories written in the lives of our fellow human beings in these two millennia.

The life stories of so many just since my own birth support the notion that maybe, just maybe, despite the genocides and the tsunamis and the random brutality and the plagues of illness, we human beings are working out a redemption of some consequence in tandem with the Lord Jesus. We have reason to be astounded at so many of the redemptive stories of our brothers and sisters in recent decades. The stories of the stars of the civil rights movement in our own country, for example! So many stars but I have a favorite: Rosa Parks. No one could deny that this dignified woman, a dedicated teacher of the young in her church, deserved to sit on a bus wherever she wanted to sit. If the Lord Jesus had come to end the world before Rosa was born, God even in the divine person would have felt a void in the divine heart where she belonged.

Make a list of like persons of the past century: Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Mahatma Gandhi. And on and on. God surely has some purpose in raising up men and women like them. They would not have lived their heroic lives if the world had ended in 1900. God could put an end to this world and to our suffering but the cost may be too great, too great for God who doesn’t want a good book to end.

We may be reluctant to put aside a desire for the end of the world and its suffering. We must, however, surrender ourselves to God’s mysterious plan. Right here in front of me I see a good reason, too, for hope in an immediate future. You who are involved in the Cape and Sword know about stories. You study and recreate stories. You learn to love not only the technique of music and motion, but also the beneficial power of a story to move hearts and free them for what is good. Surely the God who loves you wants you, with good reason, to finish writing the best of your stories, the masterpieces of your own lives. Give us time, Good Lord, to finish our work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This gathering and cake were a surprise since my birthday year is nothing special at all. A cake with the Prep seal on it was above and beyond.
I told those gathered that I wonder now why it took me a few months to decide to apply for this job. Working with those pictured encourages me day after day.
And I retold the story of Andrew encouraging this old man (see entry of October 24).

Sunday, November 01, 2009

(photos to follow)

Speech at Open House November 1, 2009

The saints in heaven are on my mind today because today we celebrate in our Catholic tradition All Saints Day. Recently Mitch Album who wrote the popular book “Five People You Meet in Heaven” gave a talk here at St. Joseph’s Prep. In his book a dead man meets people in heaven, people he does not necessarily expect to meet, who so engage him as to give him an understanding of his life. The point of the book, of course, encourages us to search for the meaning of our lives right now. Why wait until we get to heaven?

Why postpone understanding ourselves until we meet some relative or friend or some famous saint in heaven when today there is such a wealth of understanding available in our living experience? The 400 plus Jesuit high schools around the world just like St. Joseph’s Prep embrace the mission of so interacting with students as to open their hearts and minds to self-understanding. We know that only with such understanding can any of us make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Here at SJP every day I observe such interactions. Indeed I myself was a subject in such interactions fifty years ago when I was a student. I had to study, of course: Latin, History, Trig etc. In my mind’s eye, though, no particular chalk board lesson or lecture or sports event remains so strongly in my memory. But certain interactions with teachers and mentors and coaches remain as if they happened yesterday. In a particular class -- I still cringe when I remember it-- I disrespected one of my lay teachers. I cooled my embarrassed heels in jug for three days. In another class I made a flip answer to his question and Father Convery launched into a fifteen-minute lecture warning us about the arrogance and cynicism that he perceived in my classmates and me. There were happy more affirming moments, too, as when a teacher called me to the front of the room after class and asked me quietly why I was having a bad day or when with others in the class I joined in collecting some funds and buying an end-of-the-year present and giving this class present to our esteemed math teacher, Earl Hart. All these interactions helped me understand who I am. As a footnote to the last, it meant a lot to me when in this church in the summer of 2008 I celebrated Mr. Hart’s funeral Mass as one of my first duties as president.

I know for a fact that not a day goes by without countless such memorable interactions taking place in Jesuit high schools everywhere in the world. They are the essence of what we mean when we talk about the personal care of the student. It is my privilege to observe such interactions here at the Prep and to know that each one offers a memorable vision of hope and understanding to our students.

So I say to you young men here. Thanks be to God. The saints are an encouragement to us. Study them. Look forward to meeting them in heaven. But you don’t need to wait until heaven to meet the five people who will help you find the meaning of your life. You can find at the Prep among the adults and also among your classmates those five and more.

God bless you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

For my Sunday exercise, I took the subway to 5th and Market and then walked back and forth across the Ben Franklin Bridge. A beautiful day for it! But who knows what happens on the bridge? I would not have noticed it except that my foot kicked the little prescription bottle on the walkway somewhere near the top of the span. The medication filled for Raymar Washington on October 22 was a strong antidepressant. The seal was still secure. I pray that Raymar simply lost the bottle. But I can't shake the notion that he left it behind as part of his choice not to walk off the bridge!

There was more intrigue at the 5th and Market subway stop. I picture above the small yellow signs at the opposite ends of the platform. It is certainly important to open the passenger doors on the proper side of the train and this depends on the direction in which the train is traveling! But who would have guessed that the train engineers needed these signs to remind them? Could they not see the platform as they came to a stop?
My sister and I, who are often confused, realize the importance of these reminders: “right” and “left.” But it's startling to think that without them the engineer might open the doors so that passengers would step out and fall onto the parallel set of tracks!

My father also knew the necessity of these signs as an extra precaution and made it the subject of one of his limericks:

“There once was a lady named Dexter
Directions always had vexed her.
When she came to a light
She knew what was right
It was left that always perplexed her.”

Sunday, October 25, 2009


A generous Prep grad, Ed McKeon, visited me at the Prep recently and when I greeted him at the entrance, I noticed a freshman, Tyler, nearby and I invited Tyler also to greet our visitor. After I congratulated Tyler for recent success on the forensics team, Ed noticed the heavy bookbag that Tyler was carrying and asked him about his homework. “I have tests and a quiz tomorrow,” Tyler said. And then he asked, “Don’t you have a classroom named for you in Jesuit Hall?” Ed said, “Yes.” And Tyler announced that he has history in that classroom and gave Ed some credit for helping him get an A in history. Then Tyler looked at me, “And I have math in the Bur Room.” “What’s your math mark?” I asked. And Tyler replied, “I don’t want to say!”

Maybe we should put Ed’s name on the math room, too! Meetings like this illustrate the multiple relationships with teachers, staff, alumni and parents that support our students!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pat McKenzie at DePaul Catholic School in Germantown. Pat is a graduate of St. Joseph's Prep and of Scranton University. He is the chaplain and service director at DePaul, a school for 350 children sponsored by the Vincentians. Few of the children at DePaul have the advantages that the Prep boys have. The Prep has a weekly service program devoted to the needs of DePaul and its children.
In the top photo, Prep boys intersperse themselves with the DePaul children to play a circle game during a day of service and fun.

Andrew and Brianna show off their straw-blown art creation.
I had the opportunity of accompanying some freshmen on the service segment of their October 23rd retreat day. The service took place at DePaul Catholic School in Germantown. Pictured here is a Prep freshman giving encouragement and sharing a project with Brianna, one of the younger children at Depaul.
This freshman, Andrew, came to my attention in another context. He was subjected to one of my random conversations around the school some weeks ago and this is the record of our talk:
Being a long-in-the-tooth cleric makes it easy for me to approach any of our students to find out what makes them tick. The freshmen readily answer my questions: Are you up to the challenge of the Prep? What‘s your favorite subject? Which is the most difficult? I sized up a freshman, who introduced himself as Andrew, not many weeks ago. At the end of our short conversation, I thought to encourage him by saying: “I hope I’m still around when it comes time to give you your diploma.” And he eyed me with a puzzled look and turned the tables on me. “Father,” he said, “it’s only three and a half years!” Our students often encourage us! As in these pictures!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My '59 Prep classmate, Jim Murray, has been coaching soccer at SJP for a long time. Each year he comes close to a championship season but never quite gets there. His team looks like they are hanging their heads during this half time instruction from the coach. The game against Ryan ended in a tie.
Mitch Albom signs his book "Have a Little Faith" after lecture at St. Joseph's Prep

Albom's evening lecture drew a crowd of over 700 people, many of whom had never been inside our building. He is an energetic speaker and told stories from his "Faith" book about his relationships with his family rabbi and with an African American pastor who pulled himself up out of hard times. The stories were compelling and revealed a talented man on a search for God.
He also spoke in the afternoon at Gesu School. The teachers there prepared the students and they had some good questions for him.
The relationships had their own richness but were poorly connected to the faith issues through thousands of years of Judaism and in the American experience of the black church. These connections, I take it, will need to wait for another book.

Alejandro and Jorge present the Chilean National Anthem complete with verbal percussion!
On the very weekend when the Maryland Province of Jesuits celebrated fifty years of connection with the Chilean Jesuits, Bruce Maivelett, Michael Magree and I invited two
Chilean guests to our home. The two guests, Alejandro and Jorge, are rising seniors at San Ignacio en Bosque, a Jesuit high school in Santiago, Chile. They are spending five months studying at our Prep school in Philadelphia, each of them living with a host family with a son at the Prep.
Jorge stays with Andrew Dierkes, a family with eight children, two of whom are off to college. Their happy faces are in the middle photo above. Alejandro stays with Kevin McCusker, his brother, Pat, and their parents. Both sets of parents have been generous and open to their guests.
We sang together "Si Vas Para Chile," the second Chilean national anthem sung by the exiles during the days of dictatorship. "If you travel to Chile, greet the one that I love." We sang with passion but neither of our Chilenos shed a tear, proof that they are enjoying their visit.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Michael Gomez, Melissa McGrath, Eileen Kennedy, son Brendan Kennedy with speaker and guest at Saint Joseph's Prep: Rich Guidotti.

September 28, 2009

"An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them,“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”

Jesus’ disciples are ambitious for themselves. They imagine that Jesus will inaugurate at some point a kingdom where they will have the principal positions of leadership. So little is their understanding of his mission.

The language that Jesus uses to indicate how to be the greatest is quite paradoxical. “The one who is least among you is the one who is the greatest.” This can be a suitable guide for someone who is ambitious. Every politician knows that the route to office is through the service of constituents. Let me be your servant so that I can get your vote.

But the action that Jesus takes to illustrate the paradox tells the truth in a way that we can understand it. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me.” The constituency of discipleship consists of those who are unable to cast a vote for the disciple: the children. Here, of course, Jesus emphasizes the role of the mentor and the adult in passing on the love of God to the next generation. But we can with confidence include the weak, the elderly, the sick, the poor and the powerless among those to whom Jesus refers when he chooses the child as the prime example.

Yesterday at the Mother-Son Communion Luncheon our guest was Richard Guidotti from the class of 1975. In his first life as a photographer, he worked for the most elegant fashion designers, models and magazines. He got tired listening to others telling him about the nature of human physical beauty. He reinvented himself with a counter-cultural definition of such beauty. His work now is with children, young adults and others whose outward physical conditions do not conform to the beauty of fashion magazines. His photographs of children and young people with physical disorders like albinism redefine visions of beauty. His work is now not in service of what the world might call the greatest beauties but in service of those the world calls least in this regard. (Look up his web page at Positive Exposure!)

A great lesson for our young men to hear from an extraordinary graduate. And a humbling one for all of us who engage in this work of education with the hope that God will continue to call forth men like Rich Guidotti. All of his photographs announce: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

William E. Schaffner, S.J.

Father Schaffner felt a strong attraction to beauty. He loved listening to classical music and loved the luminous quality of mosaics. Without Willie’s interest, most of his friends would know nothing about the Mausoleum in Ravenna, Italy, named for an Empress-Mother of the Western Roman Empire, Galla Placidia. This small mausoleum was decorated in the early fifth century with extraordinary mosaics. Because of the interest that Father Schaffner later showed in these mosaics, his visit there to view, admire and photograph them was certainly one of the high points of his life.

There was a way in which the desire perfectly to hear and to see beauty overwhelmed him. To reproduce its features engaged him. He struggled to get just the best reproduction of sound and sight. This struggle was without doubt part of a spiritual search for God; he struggled to find God in this beauty. It was a part of his prayer.

And now the struggle for this perfection of sound and sight has come to an end. Jesus now opens Willie’s eyes just as he opened the eyes of the blind. Jesus now opens Willie’s ears just as he opened the ears of the deaf. Willie sees and hears a reality in the kingdom of God which the old earthly sounds and scenes could only suggest.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

These two guys have the duty of setting the spirits of the student body at Saint Joseph's Prep on fire, win or lose. On the left is the student body president, Frank Rizzo. And on the right is Andreas Keeler. In a lively competition, Andreas won the coveted role of representing the school as its mascot, a Hawk. The football team won its first two games with persevering come-from-behind efforts. In the third game of the season, such an effort failed against highly-ranked North Penn, a large eastern Pennsylvania high school with a football powerhouse.
Pictured here is Jesuit Father Neil Ver'Schneider with some of his fans from Gesu School. The school celebrated with him on the feast of Saint Peter Claver in early September because this is the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of his work with the children of Gesu and the people of our neighborhood of North Philadelphia.

Father Neil supervises the time-out room at Gesu and is a trusted advisor to Sister Ellen Convey, the principal, and Christine Beck, the president.

For twenty years, too, he has celebrated Mass and preached in our North Philadelphia parishes. He also invites groups of men and women together for prayer and scripture study. Usually gatherings take place about twice a week. In addition he has made himself available to counsel especially neighborhood men of all ages.

When he first arrived at Gesu School in the summer of 1989, he realized at once one of my frustrations as the pastor of the parish of the Church of the Gesu. Fortunately by this time, Saint Joseph's Prep had assumed the maintenance of the grand Church. But there was still the school building that required daily attention and eventually millions of dollars in renovations. Attention to building maintenance and improvements is not my strength. But Neil graciously stepped forward, took on this duty and to this day remains intimate with all the needs of the Gesu School building.

In addition to this he is the first in the Jesuit house to make the coffee in the morning, to take out the trash on trash day and to empty the dish washer and put everything in its place. He brought a lot of gifts for us when he arrived in 1989 and he is still giving.
Pictured are the members of the Jesuit Volunteer Community in Philadelphia for the year 2009-2010. One is missing: Theresa who grew up in Media, Pa.

Clockwise from the left: Andrea from near Seattle and attended Gonzaga University; Sarah from the Scranton area and attended Holy Cross College; Christian from Minnesota and attended Notre Dame University; Eimi (sp?) from Singapore and attended Gettysburg College; Katie; Rachel from near Los Angeles and attended Loyola Marymount University.

Friday, September 04, 2009

These new freshmen at Saint Joseph's Prep arrived for orientation on September 2. Greeting them with high fives were upperclassmen who showed them around the "campus." One thing we all noticed this year: most of the freshmen look well-fed!
A word for their parents (from the Mass that opened the parent orientation, Sept 1, 2009)

Patience, humility. This is what we parents and educators need. Some days it takes every ounce of patience for parents to keep from overreacting to the behavior of their sons and daughters. For parents to consider, when a child fails to meet their expectations, that God is somehow taking care of their child is so difficult. When the child, for example, is a late bloomer or a silent non-performer or appears inconsiderate, it is tough to believe that God is leading the child along some positive path. Even worse when a child seems to defy the best judgments of a parent or teacher!

Many, many times Prep boys make mistakes or fail to measure up to their best. Sometimes the jug room fills. Sometimes it turns out even that the Prep is not the school for a certain boy.
Always in these situations it is well for us to pray for a measure of patience and humility in the face of the mystery of the human person. All of us, even our sons, even during their uncertain years, (I might say especially during their uncertain years), have the same kind of mysterious human nature that Jesus has, a nature with the potential of coming into close friendship with God and the divine purposes. Indeed we must often call our sons to task but this call comes out of our conviction that God has a path for them. This call must continue to challenge them to discover this path and to find the words to describe it.

I spent some time yesterday with a South American couple who have raised five children, four sons and a daughter. I asked them what advice they have for the parents of the freshmen boys at the Prep. They quoted a Spanish proverb (and I regret that I did not catch the Spanish) to wit:
“Spend more time talking with God about your children than talking with your children about God.” Perhaps this is overstated but it illustrates a principle. God is taking care of our boys. We can tell our boys about God. But let us spend more time praying for them and for an understanding of God’s plan for them.
Jesuit education as promoted by one of our first teachers: "institutio puerorum, reformatio mundi." Loosely translated: "Get the kids into a Jesuit school and change the world!"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The new teachers at Saint Joseph's Prep gathered in the chapel for Mass today, the first of their three workshop days. Back row: the three alumni service corps teachers and graduates from the class of 2005, Colin McKenna, Mark Cice and Matthew Rafferty and to their left Courtney Pinto, a new college counselor. Front row: Mrs Yuan (Joann) Chen (Mandarin Chinese), Amy Romm (college counselor), Abbey Miles (athletic trainer) and Brian Reinhart (campus ministry/Religion).

Homily at Mass for our New Teachers

Today is the 21st Tuesday in Ordinary Time and there is no reason to expect that the readings assigned for this particular day have anything to do with teaching. But there is an element of serendipity in the daily readings for the Mass. Often some phrase or story calls out to the reader as exactly what we need to hear. So I focus on today’s text from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Paul, the consummate Christian teacher, taught in the Greek town of Thessalonia, now the beautiful port city known as Salonika, for at least many months and made converts there. Not long after he leaves he sends his converts a memorial letter. He writes this to his former students: “We were as gentle with you as a nurse caring fondly for her children….we chose to impart to you not only the gospel of God but our very selves, so dear had you become to us.”

Paul concerns himself first with content, the gospel of God, second with his own relationship to the content (he means that as he preaches the gospel, he tells something about his very self) and third with his attitude toward the student, “so dear had you become to us.” Content, his own self and his attitude toward his audience.

These three aspects, at least, in Paul’s teaching accounted for its success. The Spirit of Jesus convinced Paul of the truth in the gift to humanity in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul came to a crucial realization that his own life depended on faith in what this Jesus had accomplished for him. In his ambition and his love for his students he wants them to know this Jesus and to know that this Jesus, as it says elsewhere in Thessalonians, will “deliver us from the wrath to come.”

We all wish to be great teachers. As teachers the content of our message is some essential truth about the world. But there must also be a sense in which that truth is very important to us. It is objective truth, to be sure, but we must make it subjective as well. It may give us joy. It may integrate our lives. It may help us to understand ourselves. It is an essential truth that we wish to impart to our students because we believe that it will prepare them for their futures.

My best teachers were the ones who were in some ways moved by the subject matter. I remember a Greek teacher with tears in his eyes as he read from Homer’s Iliad about Priam pleading with Achilles for the body of his son Hector so that he can give his son a proper burial. (This story came back to me recently when our graduate, Josias, drowned in Ocean City and his parents in their anguish asked the police to keep looking for his body until finally it washed ashore.) And a math teacher who wrote out the fundamental theorem of calculus and then pounded the blackboard excited to tell us that all of calculus was represented right there. These teachers grasped the integrity of what they were teaching, something about truth and beauty in itself. They opened one to a whole new world. Their enthusiasm was infectious and for us students it spilled over into other areas of life.

Paul had his faults; his ambition for the gospel and his love of his converts often led him to jealousy and suspicion. But he longed for his students to grasp his crucial message as key to their futures and he tried as best he could to love them into understanding and possessing that message.

So consider these things as teachers: you have a truth that is crucial to you. Your teaching demeanor must show this. You must find a way to care for your students, as Paul says, like a nurse…tough love when they can take it but tender love when necessary.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Prep Headcoach Gil Brooks instructs his defensive squad during football camp. The signs of the end of summer are evident. It's a hot afternoon in August but the camp experience is preparing the team for victories of all kinds.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Site under construction: small stones from our beach in Maine

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My nearly daily walks in the Prep neighborhood sometimes include passing 864 North 25th Street, less than a mile away, where my mother grew up with her brother and sister and where her father died in the 1940's. Many a time in my first years of life, I visited my grandparents there. On our visits we would take walks to nearby Fairmount Park and around the Art Museum grounds. And I remember being in the second floor back room of the house with its bay window. There it was that I recall my last meeting with my grandfather who was sick and close to death. I can still picture him sitting in that room with the afternoon sun coming in the bay window.

I did not return to that room until one Sunday about fifty years later. My sister and I happened to be driving on the block and noticed a real estate sign on the house: Open House, Sunday 1 to 4 PM. We took advantage of the real estate agent who was kind enough to let us walk through the house. And what did we find in the back bedroom under the bay window in place of the bed and chair where my grandfather had died? A Jacuzzi! What would my Irish grandfather born in 1859 think of that?

Fast forward to just a month ago: I walked by the house and saw the owner tending to her flower box. I told her how I knew the house and asked about the Jacuzzi. “I knew about that but it didn’t belong there,” she said. And when she bought the house, it was already gone.

There is something fundamentally lovely about those rows of houses and the closeness of one’s neighbors. Parking a car is a headache but then the bus ride to City Hall is only ten minutes. And kids can walk to good schools. Even the young professionals realize that there is no need for a Jacuzzi..

Monday, July 20, 2009

Steve Oldham, Prep teacher, and I accompanied seven rising seniors from Saint Joseph's Prep on a service trip to Camden. The students were willing and generous and spent the week visiting with the homeless, the disabled, the elderly and people with HIV. They learned a lot about the poverty and lack of opportunity that are a plague in Camden.

Below is my recent reflection on discipleship when preaching on the sixth chapter of Mark where Jesus encourages his disciples to take some time in prayer and reflection away from the crowds of people that seem always to impose themselves:

"My last year of work with a variety of young men of high school age, many of them talented and privileged, underlined what has been my general experience in the past. Young people want to show off their goodness. But many have been sheltered and need to be shepherded in other directions, especially into relationships with those in need. They will respond to these relationships with more compassion than cynicism. They will respond to these relationships with more love than indifference.

In the last century we did much that calls for repentance. But we had celebrated leaders that told us the truth in their preaching and in their lives. The list of great saints, in civil and in church society, often in both, is a litany that leads me to look on the last century as a time of great prophetic work. But we need to ask the question about their heritage in the present century and about their disciples: where are the disciples of Dr. King and Dorothy Day today? Where are the disciples of Mother Theresa and John the XXIII today? Where are the disciples of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi today?

I think that they are everywhere; whether their work is ecumenical or environmental, whether their work is peacemaking or social economics, we pray that they will hear an invitation from the Lord to take a break and to learn from him about compassion for people and trust in the Father."

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Here I am with my Prep classmate, Ed Trainer, and his wife, Marilyn. Ed went on to Saint Joseph's University and, after graduation, took part in the leadership of alumni organizations for many years. He received the Hogan Award from the Alumni Association at SJU in the presence of many admirers including his four children and his grandchildren. Ed spoke about Father Hogan, the orator, who used to preach the Seven Last Words of Good Friday at the Church of the Gesu. It was SRO with speakers in the street.

Ed also said that he learned from his parents to always say "Yes, Father" whenever a Jesuit asks for help. I told him that the present generation of Prep boys has a variation on this: "No problem, Father."
Day by day in downtown Philadelphia it is difficult to pay any attention to the sky. But while on retreat in Wernersville I do not tire of the sunrises and sunsets, some of them spectacular. This month of June,2009, Venus was the brilliant morning star with Mars as a steady sidekick.

While going through the retreat I read some of Karl Rahner's anthropology. He speaks of human nature as essentially open to the mystery of God. This openness allows God to assume human nature and perfect it in the life of the Lord Jesus. We humans all have such natures and the possibility of allowing something similar to happen to us, of giving ourselves in love; the beatific vision is our final state.

Our mission at the Prep is surely not chiefly academic and social. We must first find the strategies to help our young men understand the meaning and the end of their human natures.
Jeanne and Ed Watko celebrated their 60th anniversary this June. Their daughter Jeanne Marie (Patrick) arranged for me to have Mass in her home for the whole family, five children with their spouses and the grandchildren. The family filled the occasion with joy.

Michael Gomez, Stubbs and I enjoy a Citizens' Bank gift, a private suite to watch the Phillies play the Toronto Jays. We had the pleasant duty of being there with some of the Prep baseball players. Unfortunately neither of our star pitchers was eligible to help out on the field and the Phils lost.

I saw a blunder that I never saw before. Toronto player gets a walk and realizes that noone is paying attention to him...he steals second without any difficulty!

Monday, June 15, 2009

More later about Dr. Byron McCook and the party on the main deck of the Moshulu to celebrate his doctorate in educational leadership.