Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a moveable feast, like many others in the life of the Church. It falls at the end of the octave for Corpus Christi – which falls the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. This means that the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus falls 19 days after Pentecost. Glad it is a day that is easy to figure out when it is.
This day, while not on the calendar in The Episcopal Church is a day that is very near to my heart. After all, I did graduate from a Junior/Senior high school run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. While I am always thankful and proud to be a Mountie, today I give particular thanks for that community, the faculty, and the Brothers. The people without whom, I would not be the person I am today.
Lately there has been a lot going on at the Mount. Enrollment is down, and that is causing serious financial difficulty for the school. This difficultly has lead to cut backs of staff. I was recently struck by the outpouring of love and support for our former choir teacher who was let go due to, as far as I understand, the current financial reality. It was heartbreaking to see that future generations of Mounties will not get to have this amazing man in class, but also inspiring the way former students and colleagues rallied on Facebook to offer prayers, support, and leads on new opportunities of employment.
In the midst of all of this several Alumni have posted reflections on their experience so I on this the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I thought I would do the same.
I am incredibly blessed, that my parents were able to afford a private school education for 7th-12th grade. The foundation I received at Mount changed my life. I was given an amazing and solid academic formation that went above and beyond the basics of college preparation. I was cared for and tutored by faculty who care more for their students that any other educators I have ever met. The faculty, lay and religious, embody what it means to live out ones vocation. I cannot even begin to count the number of times my teachers stayed after school or arrived early to give me the extra help I need in my studies or to be a kind and loving support in navigating difficult teenage years. If it were not for the education I received at Mount, I would not be preparing to head off to Yale to begin a Masters program – that’s how good these people are. (Note: I received an amazing education from Rhode Island College from outstanding professors for whom I also owe a great deal of gratitude. But that story is one for another blog post).
More importantly than my academic education, I learned how to be a better person and a better Christian.
The very first vows we take in life, at least for Christians, are in our Baptism. In The Episcopal Church these vows are lived out and expressed in the Baptismal Covenant. My six years at Mount St. Charles taught me more about living into this covenanted relationship with God than any Sunday School, Confirmation class, or Baptism workshop I have ever attended.
The Baptismal Covenant begins by asking the people about basics of their life of faith, “Do you believe in God the Father? . . . Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? . . . Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” Six years at Mount means six years of religion classes, six years of all school Masses, six years of retreat days – six years of exploring what it means to believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. While I did not always agree with what was taught – and wasn’t always the most gracious about it, but seriously what high school student is always gracious and kind – my time at Mount gave me a focused to explore what it is that I believe. Looking back it was a great gift that I did not agree with everything I was taught, because I had to learn to express why I did not agree and support my own beliefs. I remember lengthy conversations with in the Campus Ministry office and with various religion teachers about the nature of faith, about differences in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, about vocation and what it means to listen to God working in my life. I was cared for enough in this place to be able to ask questions and explore my faith and vocation. I was encouraged to figure out what exactly it is that I believe. I was never forced to accept something as truth that I did not believe, with a few minor exceptions; I was always respected and honored for my beliefs even when they did not match the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.
As the Baptismal Covenant continues the celebrant asks the people a series of questions. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” Continuing in the apostles’ teaching goes along with the experiences outline above. In addition to all school Masses, and class communion breakfasts, Mass was celebrated every Friday morning in Sacred Heart Chapel. While I could not receive Communion, I was always welcomed to join in that liturgy and begin my day with prayer and thanksgiving. Each and everyday at Mount began with prayer – the first this that would happen during morning announcements. Many teachers also began their classes with prayer. Thanks to Brother Cliff, I can say the Gloria Patri in Spanish. In all that we did, community was kept at the center. There were numerous occasions through out the year where we would gather for fellowship and break bread together. On a few occasions, I remember be invited into the Brother’s residence to share a meal with the Brothers and other students. The Mount continues in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayer.
“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” I will never forget standing outside of Chapel Hall my Senior year while leading a retreat day for some underclassman before their class community breakfast. There was Mr. Edwin Burke, then Vice Principal and current Principal, saying, “It smells like burning sins.” Everyone of these retreat days ended with confession. Brother Nelson, then Chaplain, and other local clergy would invite students to think about their sin and the ways they have fallen short. One by one we would go up to one of the clergy share with them our thoughts, they would offer council, support, and prayer. At the end of the time with each student the clergyman would take the paper burn it and put it into a designated container. There was a very distinct smell that filled Chapel Hall, anyone walking by knew what was going on. In the words of Mr. Burke, we were burning sins. We were taking stock of the ways we had sinned and fallen short and finding way to heal from those situations and be sent forth to try again. The Mount perseveres in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” Each and every faculty and staff member at Mount lived – and continues to live – this out. In particular they proclaimed by their example what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They cared for students, the shared in the pray life of the academy, they went out of their way to model for us the values of faithful people. Many, at least with me, were not afraid to talk about their faith, to share what it means for them to be a follower of Jesus. They used their gifts and talents – beyond academics – to support their students. I still have the cross that Mr. Marc Blanchette made for me as encouragement for my vocation to the priesthood and support for a really challenging situations I was going through.
One of my favorite classes that I took at Mount was the Liturgy class – an option for junior and senior year religion requirement. In this two-year program, Brother Nelson and Mr. Greg Cooney helped us think about what it means to bring our lives to the liturgy and the liturgy to our lives. To come before the presence of the Holy, to receive the Word and Sacrament, to be strengthened, healed, and renewed by God’s grace. In return we were to take ourselves, our souls, our bodies and go out and change the world. We were to take our gifts and talents and use them to strengthen, heal, and renew the broken and hurting world around us. As part of my application for Postulancy I had to write a series of essays, I wrote one of them on the importance for this experience in my life. The experiences in the liturgy program have forever changed and shaped my ministry. In all that I do, I am reminded that I bring my life to the liturgy, and the liturgy to my life. Without this class, and the faculty at large, my ministry would not be what it is today. It was at Mount that I developed the very foundation of which my incredible ministry stands upon today. The Mount proclaims by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” At Mount I learned about abundant generosity in caring for those in need. Every year at Christmas (actually during Advent) we would adopt a couple hundred families from a local social service organization and provide food and gifts for the family. It was an unbelievable and amazing undertaking. This ministry is what I have modeled the St. Nicholas Drive at St. Peter’s on. TCs (Mount’s version of Homeroom) would adopt a few families each and put together gift baskets and get today for the kids. It was truly a holy moment to see Chapel Hall filled with these gifts and baskets, to see the impact we were able to make on our community. Delivering the gifts was a breath taking experience.
Every Lent we would have a Lenten Mission Drive. During my time at Mount this was to raise funds to send to Africa to help the Brothers build a school for orphaned children. We would have competitions to help us meet our goals, to see which TC could reach their goal, which TC raised the most. Mount teachers have a great way of giving of themselves to motivate and encourage students, while having a good time. My senior year TC – Mrs. Carol Smith – was a bit competitive. She wanted to be sure that her TC raised fund above and beyond our goal. So she made a bet with us. She would dye her hair blue if we raised more money than any other TC, or a certain percent over 100% of our goal, or something like that. You have to understand, dear reader, that Mrs. Smith is a bit of a fashionista – so for her to dye her hair blue was a big deal. Long story short we made the goal and she dyed her hair blue. At Mount I learned that sacrificial generosity is important, that it is our Christian duty. I also learned that there can be, and should be, great joy in making sacrifices for others.
I also learned the importance of hands on service. During my junior and senior years I went to St. Anne’s Mission (run by the Brothers of the Sacred Hear) in Klagetoh, Arizona for February vacation. These two weeks were amazing, experiences I think I am still processing. Students who never hung out at school traveled together to share in intense service work, exploring God’s creation, and spend time in community and fellowship with the Navajo people who are part of the mission and local community. I built a wheelchair ramp, made and delivered meals for meals on wheels, went and taught a pre-school class, unloaded and stored 300 barrels of hay, and put on family nights for the community. One year, we got to share in leading the Ash Wednesday liturgy. It was a beautiful combination of Navajo tradition and Roman Catholic practice. I got to experience what so many experience when they go on these types of trips – I thought I was going to help them, but really they were the ones to help me. Mount seeks and serves Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Throughout my time at Mount I was taught to use my voice to stand up for those who have no voice. Now, I know some of what I advocate for goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but I still had my first experiences of using my prophetic voice at Mount. We were constantly reminded that we have been abundantly blessed and it is our responsibility to care for the voiceless and use our blessings in service of others. In liturgy class, during our senior year, we went to the nursing home behind the school to hold a monthly mass for the residents. Some of these people were left alone and forgotten, but they all needed someone to value them, to listen to their stories, and honor their personhood. Mount actually had an excellent relationship with the nursing home, and students in the liturgy class, in the CAP (Christian Action Program) class, and in the community service club went next door to be present with these individuals at the end of their lives. I learned more about respecting human dignity in those encounters than any other experience I have had sense. Mount strives for justice and peace among all people, and respects the dignity of every human being.
Today I give great thanks for being a Mountie. It is because of this experience that I plan on getting a school chaplaincy certificate as part of my Master of Divinity training at Yale. For better or worse, Mount Saint Charles Academy gave me the foundations to be the person I am today. Were it not for them I do not know where I would be, but I am fairly certain that I would not be a postulant for Holy Orders and be about to head to Yale Divinity School. From the very core of my being I offer my thanks to the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and each and every faculty and staff member at Mount. I’m not even going to try to name everyone hear, because I do not want to miss anyone.