On Wednesday, March 6, there was a flurry of media coverage around the Dow Jones Industrial Average breaking an all-time high – and, as I write this, the average sits at 14,338.81, up 0.3% from the opening bell.
This news of economic upswing (even if slight,) provides a contrast to the early days of the school, when Father McKeough and the other Norbertines who became the first faculty of Archmere exhausted all of their resources to generate funds for the Academy.
I recently finished reading “Passages and Transitions: A Reflection on the First Eighty Years of Daylesford Abbey” by Father Francis Cortese, O. Praem. In his researched work, Father devotes a section to the foundation of Archmere Academy, in which he includes some of the correspondence between the first headmaster of Archmere, Father Michael McKeough and Abbot Pennings, head of the Norbertine Community in America at Saint Norbert Abbey in DePere, Wisconsin.
Much of this correspondence deals with the Norbertines’ struggle to keep the school afloat.
In a November 30, 1932 letter to the Abbot, Father McKeough wrote:
“Father Hurley has a thousand dollars coming on an insurance policy which he offered today to collect. We both have our government ‘bonus’ of which we can collect fifty percent of the face value, which in our case would amount to about eight hundred dollars. Even these will not carry us far.”
Not two full months later, on January 28, 1933 he wrote:
“My bank balance is below fifty dollars. I don’t know where I can get the money to pay the salaries due the end of this week. Debts, debts, appeals, demands, every day. Something must be done soon. We must either get some money or quit.”
In the middle of the Depression, Archmere leadership struggled with keeping the school open. On June 19, 1933 in response to Fr. McKeough’s letters, Abbot Pennnings wrote:
“The enclosed 2 items will help you some to tide over the hard times of beginning a new institution. Let us hope and keep hoping that we may pull through the lean years. The one item as you can see is from Fr. Kirkfleet, who cancelled his life insurance and collected what was due him. The other item $700 I have borrowed.”
Apparently, the assistance of the Abbot, though appreciated, was not sufficient to meet all of the obligations. Again, Fr. McKeough writes on July 20, 1933:
“I have been waiting as patiently as I can for some financial help but it is hard to be patient when creditors are calling up and writing letters day after day and asking for their money, which is due them. I have made excuses and promises until I don’t know what to say any more. Our own income since school left out has been insufficient even for salaries. As a result I haven’ t paid the food bills for June and some of them not even for May.”
In another letter, Father McKeough concludes:
“The depression is really getting worse . . . Some people are withdrawing their boys at the 2nd semester. They cannot even meet a reduced rate, and they are honest people, others leave them here with perhaps no intention to pay all their dues. . . I cannot help to feel discouraged at times. Let us pray hard.”
These words – “pray hard” – at a time of seemingly insurmountable obstacles reveal the deep faith and mettle of these founding Norbertines who sacrificed much for generations of students and families they would never know. They were not even sure that their efforts would be lasting and that Archmere would survive the early years, and yet they continued to persevere.
As I read these accounts, I thought about the lessons learned and particularly reflected on during this Lenten season – the meaning of sacrifice; belief in a divine plan that is not your plan; obedience to God’s will (which is not always joyful but sometimes stressful and difficult); and the understanding that riches are not always measured by the Dow, but by the experience of community created by shared work and sacrifice.
In the coming weeks, we have a number of Archmere community events beginning with the Memorial Mass sponsored by the Alumni Association on Sunday, March 10, followed by a celebration of Archmere spirit on Thursday evening, March 14, at the Springfield Country Club.
On March 17, the Green Concert Series presents an afternoon of Irish music and dance in the Patio. The following weekend, the Mothers’ Guild Garage Sale takes place on Saturday, March 23, followed by the Fine Arts Festival on the same day starting at 4:30 PM.
We are so fortunate to be able to share many gifts and talents to present these events for the benefit of preserving and growing the Archmere experience. We follow in the footsteps of our first founders who sacrificed much and stayed the course.
May this Lent be a time for you to reflect on all that you do and all that you willingly sacrifice as a response to God’s will and presence in your life. And may your Easter be a time of joy and celebration for you and your family.