August 31, 2015

And we're back....

And just like that, summer vacation 2015 is over (as is the longest hiatus in the history of this blog!).  I hope you all had a blessed and restful vacation.  My wife, as you may know, gave birth to our fourth child at the end of the last academic year so she was home on maternity leave all summer with me and our other children which was a nice blessing.  But, it's also nice to be back to work as we all settle back into our routines.

The faculty and staff gathered together last Monday for the first time this year for our annual retreat.  We decided to focus our retreat this year on better understanding our students.  We tend to forget some of the struggles and anxieties some of them face as well as some of the tough home lives some have.  St. John Baptist de la Salle said that students are teacher's salvation.  If they are our salvation, we should know them well!  So we began our time together by watching the 2010 film "It's Kind of a Funny Story."  It's based on a book by the same name by an author who spent a brief period of time in a hospital psychiatric ward as a teenager.  In the film, a boy named Craig, facing a great deal of pressure in his competitive New York City high school, contemplates suicide.  But, he instead checks himself into the hospital where he learns to live life with passion and to follow his dreams.  It's not as sappy as it sounds, it's a very funny movie yet shows how much pressure many teenagers feel, pressure to get into a good college which translates into a good life which translates into money, etc, etc.

Following the film and a break, Mr. Maurier '72 of our science department gave a fascinating presentation on the teenage brain as well as how nonverbal communication can impact how a student feels about his or her academic potential.  We then moved to our chapel for our prayer service and commissioning.  Together we listened to the hymn "The Servant Song", prayed Psalm 139, listened to a reflection by St. John Baptist de la Salle, I offered a reflection, and then Mr. Mailloux '72 commissioned the faculty and staff.

As has become our custom, we then presented candles to our new teachers and to those celebrating a milestone anniversary.  The candles are inscribed with quotes by St. John Baptist de la Salle, namely "God has chosen you to do his work" (new teachers) and "Miracles happen by touching hearts" (anniversary teachers).

We have one new teacher this year but three new members who started last year after the start of the academic year:

Mrs. Brearley who joined our English department in March
Mr. Clossick, a new member of our theology department
Mrs. Dupont, our main office assistant who joined us last fall
Mr. Gray, our technology coordinator who joined us last fall

Our anniversary teachers and staff are:

Mr. Arnold of our math department - 5 years
Mr. Forkey of our social studies department - 5 years
Mrs. Krassowski of our art department - 5 years
Mr. Poisson of our facilities department - 5 years
Mrs. Twomey, our business manager - 5 years

Me - 10 years
Mr. Connell '90, our development director - 10 years

Mr. Gadecki, our assistant principal - 15 years

Mrs. O'Leary P'07 of our social studies department - 35 years

Mr. Mailloux '72, our principal - 40 years
Mr. Maurier '72 of our science department - 40 years

Below is my reflection from the prayer service.  Here's to year 46!

Last April, our fellow Pioneer Cardinal Gerald Lacroix received the Saint Anselm Medal at a Mass at Saint Anselm Abbey Church.  In his homily, Cardinal Lacroix spoke of the gospel story of the shepherd who would be willing to leave his 99 sheep to go find 1 that was lost.  In modern day Quebec, where Cardinal Lacroix is archbishop, he said about 5% of Catholics attend Mass regularly and he feels like he has to leave the 1 to find the 99.

It’s no secret that we are going through a period of intense change in the Catholic Church.  Our students who attend Mass or practice their faith are now the exception rather than the norm.  Two Catholic elementary schools in the diocese closed their doors for the final time this summer and not a single priest was ordained for the diocese this year.  Two weeks ago, I was at a birthday party for a family of five and there must have been 25-30 kids there, every single one of them from devoutly and passionately Catholic families (so much so that the host had a priest come and celebrate Mass in the living room).  However, of those 25-30 Catholic kids, only five attend Catholic school - my two older children and three children from another family.  My children attend the same school as the other three  - St. Louis School in Lowell - and when the school opens next week, it will open with fewer students than last year as many left to attend charter schools.  The school is down to one class per grade and had to cut their art program.      

But although times are changing in the Church, Jesus has not.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and He has promised to be with us “until the end of the age.”  It’s up to use, His ambassadors, to carry out His mission and to try our best to reach a generation that is more and more skeptical and reluctant to follow Him.  It’s a good challenge and I think we have a lot going on this year that will help in our efforts.  Three things stand out right away to me:

  • Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States as well as his recent encyclical on the environment are amazing opportunities for us to evangelize our students
  • Next month we will be visited by three members of the Christian Brother’s District of Eastern North America for the first stage of our potential re-association with the Christian Brothers
  • Our theology department is implementing experiential opportunities for our students can not only learn theology but also put what they learn into practice 
Today let us we recommit ourselves to our vocation as Catholic school teachers and staff and to our students entrusted to our care.  In the words of Blessed Mother Teresa  Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”



July 8, 2015

May his soul...

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Mr. Keith Landry, the father of Ian '14 and Nora '17.  Mr. Landry passed away last Friday and you can read his obituary here.  There will be a gathering on Thursday from 4pm-7pm at the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester in his memory.

May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

June 26, 2015

Last full day

Alas, today was our last full day in Philadelphia.  The day began as normal with an early wake-up call and Mass in the chapel above St. Francis Inn at 8:30am.  The celebrant was Fr. Bill DeBiase, OFM, one of the seven friars who live and work here.  Following Mass, we all went downstairs to prepare for lunch.  The inn only serves lunch on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to give them some time off.  Therefore, all of the work and prep has to be done before 11:30am.  Some of us helped get lunch ready (chili and rice), others bagged cookies, and others went out on pick-ups.  Today was a slow day (299 meals) and didn't feel as ragged as dinner times do.  We were all cleaned up by 1:30pm  or so and we took off for the afternoon.

Usually we spend Friday afternoon seeing some of the touristy places in Philadelphia - the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc.  But this year one of the girls suggested we go to the Philadelphia Zoo which sounded like a fine idea.  After grabbing lunch at another Philadelphia landmark - Wawa - we headed to the zoo.  The Philadelphia Zoo is apparently the oldest zoo in the country and was quite lovely.  The girls broke off into groups Mrs. Trachim and I meandered our way through.  The zoo has tons of big animals like hippos, a rino, tigers, lions, and bears, zebras, giraffes, etc.  They also have these see through mesh "tunnels" throughout the park that the tigers and monkeys can go through and wander above everyone, it was quite neat.  Although we didn't see the big cats in the tunnels we did see some of the monkeys in them (you can see what I mean by watching a video here).

We then made our way to dinner at Dave and Buster's, a sort of Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.  This is our custom on the last night and the kids have a blast after working hard all week.  We got back to the house around 9pm and cleaned up and packed.  We will work again tomorrow and be on the road by 2pm and hopefully back in Manchester by 9pm.

Please pray for safe travels.  See you soon.

June 25, 2015

Waiting in line

Mrs. Trachim P'08 '10 took some pictures (see below) of the guests tonight lining up for dinner from the chapel window.  The picture of the little boy breaks my heart.  As the father of four, it kills me to see the number of children who come in for meals each day.  I served a family of 7 last night (two tables) with 5 kids and I couldn't help but just look at them as they were eating.  They were so sweet and certainly clueless that they were in a soup kitchen eating their dinner.  I wonder if they (and the others) will ever have a chance and make it out of Kensington.  We can only hope and pray they do.

I also included a picture of Fr. Bill DeBiase, OFM, helping serve dinner.  Fr. Bill lives here at the friary but his full-time job is as a hospital chaplain.  Fr. Bill is an amazing friar and priest who has devoted his life to serving the poorest of the poor, including working for almost 30 years in Japan and then ministering to lepers.  He has come to Trinity a couple of times, most recently in 2012 when Bishop Libasci made a surprise visit.  Fr. Bill and Bishop Libasci are from the same parish in Queens and Bishop Libasci was actually one of the altar servers at Fr. Bill's first Mass as a priest!

Barbara Salapek

I often tell the students who come here to St. Francis Inn that we could very easily do this sort of work in Manchester (and we do).  We come down here every summer to indeed work and serve the poor but I also hope that they come away inspired to continue to do this sort of work back home and to see a different side of the Catholic Church.  I tell them that the reason I love coming down here is the people who work here, the friars, the religious sisters, the lay men and women, and the volunteers.  I am so envious of the people who live and work here as they lead such amazing lives.  They don't have much material wealth but they are rich in so many ways (sorry for the cliche!).

One of the women who works here is Barbara Salapek.  Barbara came here 25 years at the age of 40 to spend 1-2 years as a volunteer.  She quit her job and moved to Kensington for what she thought would be a short term experience.  She's still here.  After her term as a volunteer was up, she stayed on as a permanent staff member and for the past 20 plus years has dedicated her life to this place and its people.  She lives in a house with two other women who also work here.  They get paid very little (they actually didn't get paid at all until recently) and have little to no benefits other than health insurance.  They are amazing witnesses and for them to give up EVERYTHING to serve here is nothing more than extraordinary and faith filled.

Barbara is retiring this fall and will be moving in with her sister in a different part of the state.  She was supposed to return this spring but she stayed on a little longer.  I was so happy to hear that she was still here when I arrive yesterday as I didn't think we would get to see her one last time.  Last fall, the Philadelphia City Council honored Barbara for her service at one of their meetings.  She had no idea why she was asked to go to the meeting and when they began speaking about her, she figured it out!  You can see the presentation at the video below beginning at the 6:30 mark:

Breakfast at the Inn

Breakfast is served here at St. Francis Inn on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The guests do not come inside, rather they are served through a dutch door and they are able to mingle and eat in the yard.  Tim Quinn, a staff member here at St. Francis Inn, posted a video about breakfast at the inn and it gives you some sense of what the people are like here.  Check it out:

Bread of life

Before the staff and volunteers of St. Francis Inn serve food to the hungry, they themselves are fed with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.  Mass is celebrated each day here at 8:30am in a beautiful chapel above St. Francis Inn.  The chapel was constructed in 2000 and prior to that, Mass was celebrated in the friary living room.  Thus, when the made the chapel they intentionally made it almost feel like a living room.  There are chairs and couches, the altar is designed like a coffee table, and the area rug is similar to the one that was in the friary.  

There are three priests here in the community - Frs. Bill DeBiase, Michael Duffy, and Patrick Sieber.  Of these, only Fr. Michael works at St. Francis Inn, Frs. Bill and Patrick are hospital chaplains but live with the friars (there are four brothers in the community too).  The three priests take turns celebrating Mass and today it was Fr. Patrick's turn.  He spoke of the mural of St. Francis that is on one the walls outside the inn and how St. Francis always wanted to preach, not always with words though.  It was through the way he lived his life, Fr. Patrick said, that Francis preached.  We should live the same way, our lives should be our sermon he said.  

The Masses at St. Francis Inn are unique in that everyone remains seated throughout the Mass except during the sign of peace when everyone gets up to greet one another.  One person on the staff takes a turn each day coordinating the music and proclaiming the reading.  Oftentimes you will find the guests of the inn at Mass, some who are there just to be indoors but others who truly wish to worship the Lord.  There was one woman there today who didn't seem homeless but is certainly a frequent guest of the inn.  When Barbara Salapek, a staff member here, came in for Mass she put her hand on the woman's shoulder and said hello.  The smile on the woman's face could have lit up Philadelphia.  You could tell how much it meant to her to be acknowledged.  It reminded me of a quote from Mother Teresa that hangs here in our home:

"The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."