There was no way to prepare for this experience. Even now, being immersed in the exciting mess of community life, teaching two classes of “wise fools,” trying to fit a 11-hour academic and co-curricular schedule into a 7-hour day, all while figuring out what healthy “balance” looks like, I may not ever reach a point of feeling fully prepared. In Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the titular old man says of his experience fishing, “It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” This is a noble idea, one by which I have strived and continue to strive to live. But many times, I think I find myself skating by with luck and plenty of prayers.
My reasons to apply to Alum Service Corps (ASC) were manifold, but the ultimate decision was born of my desire to remain involved in and give back to the tradition of Jesuit education that had shaped me in innumerable ways for the last eight years. Since some of my earliest days as a student at Rockhurst High School (Kansas City, MO), I have looked to my teachers with admiration, discerning in many small instances whether I might envision myself standing in their shoes. Those musings seem a lifetime past, and while I never could have imagined myself writing as a new member of ASC, here I am, in great excitement and exhaustion.
I think back often to those models of pedagogy and passion who taught me over the years with new appreciation for their work. Not only do I admire their effective teaching strategies, but also I recall their disposition towards teaching, their love for it, their commitment to the Mission of the school, and their faith in the Good Work in which they were partaking. I think I may remember most-fondly Mr. Tom Norman, from Rockhurst’s great class of 1959. Underclassmen mythologized him; he was an institution at the school who was always there and had always been there. He was our “jedi master,” our Dumbledore, our Gandalf, and of course, he possessed all the powers of those heroic figures too, as far as we were concerned. Upperclassmen began to respect him in different ways, though. We began to see how he had a unique way of making you feel listened to and welcome, anywhere and at any time. We appreciated his sincerity: he never asked “How’re you?” without meaning it, expecting an answer. We admired his perseverance in having stayed active in the community for so many years. I think most memorable, though, was my deep gratitude to Mr. Norman for teaching me how to pray.
The prayer he taught was not a particular devotion, nor any one set of memorized words. I think the prayer he taught—the prayer he modeled—was one of the best examples of prayer integrated into every aspect of one’s life, truly the Ignatian “finding God in all things.” He was a slow moving man, not just from age, but because he wasn’t in a hurry. He knew that he would get “there” when he got “there,” and that he would have everything he needed to do exactly what he was supposed to do when he did. While he took his time, he was praying. When he taught classes, he was praying. When he talked with students in the hall or in the office, giving us that famous misty look over the tops of his spectacles, he was praying.
For years I have reminded myself of his example of patient trust in God, and I return to thinking about that more than ever now that I work at St. Louis University High (St. Louis, MO). To pray in that manner takes a lifetime of practice—at least, I hope it does because I’m far from mastering it, myself—but I find myself increasingly mindful of reaching out to God in the most quotidian ways. Connecting with students and meeting them where they are to engage their interest is a great practice that can be prayer. Moderating the high school’s Rec Room and watching freshman friendships grow and develop over the pool and ping-pong tables can be prayer. Facilitating the faith development of students in Campus Ministry is certainly prayer. And, as I said initially, luck and preparedness are great, but mindfulness and prayer have been the year’s saving graces so far.
Our new principal at SLUH, Fr. Ian Gibbons, S.J., spoke in his homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit—a celebration within Jesuit institutions that dates back centuries invoking the Holy Spirit to come and to bless all our works for the year—about one of his first years “on the job” in Jesuit secondary education. He shared a loaded realization with us that “You’re either Jesuit, or you’re not.” That challenge sticks with me as I launch into my first weekend of grading essays and planning for weeks to come. Either you strive to find God in all things, or you don’t. Either you give generously of yourself in each and every endeavor, or you don’t. Placing as my goal to be the best Jesuit educator I can will keep me focused. Prayer will keep me prepared. I’ll let God manage the rest.