Having just returned from a week-long immersion into the Nobertine Midwest culture of Saint Norbert Abbey and College in De Pere, Wisconsin, many ideas and images are circulating in my head. A short stop in Chicago on the return trip to engage Archmere alumni living in the area in an informal reunion added to the experience. It leads me to the question, “What is it about ‘Archmere’ that attracts so many to support the ‘idea’ in so many ways?”
Traveling from the airport to the city center of Chicago, my wife and I noticed so many steeples of churches, closely knit together in neighborhoods, each one so different in architectural style. Similarly, on a tour of Saint Norbert’s campus with Vice President for Academics Dr. Jeff Frick we saw two former Catholic churches. One was being transformed into a Womens’ Studies center, while the other church, completely renovated, was a concert hall. Formerly Catholic churches for specific ethnic immigrant groups, these beautiful buildings were repurposed with great care to provide new services to the 21st century community of Saint Norbert College.
As I thought about these images, I saw a tangible effect of our contemporary cultural transition from a church-centered, other-worldy, higher-order-thinking culture to a popular culture of immediate gratification. Along the ride into and out of Chicago, there were a number of homes that were being refurbished. I could not help but think of the HGTV show that highlights “miraculous” makeovers for couples and families moving into or remodeling existing homes. It always strikes me when newly married couples are looking for homes with granite counter-top kitchens, stainless steel appliances, and real hardwood floors. The kitchen and the home, in some ways, has become the “church of today,” with a focus on family life as the secret to happiness.
But what about the experience my wife and I had walking the Magnificent Mile? At practically every street corner, we encountered someone, usually a woman and her children, who was begging for help – money for a meal or a place to stay for the night. Walking in and out of the high-end stores with price tags we only laughed about, we wondered, “How do you spend $1,395 for a pair of shoes and simply walk by a beggar who is sitting on the sidewalk?”
I am not sure of the answer; I am sure that many people who shop in these high-end locales are also generous to philanthropic causes. At the same time, are we not asked the question, “And so what do you do in proportion to your own means?”
I often think of the comment that Jesus made to Judas when Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Jesus with perfumed oils:
For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. (John 12:8)
Judas comments that the funds for the oils could have been used for the poor, but Jesus responds that what Mary had done was an act of faith and devotion.
I suppose we all struggle with this fine line of what is practical and what is over-the-top. Maybe the lesson learned is to not be so judgmental form the perspective that only we see. At the very least, we take from Jesus’ teaching that, as we express ourselves and our questions, we should do so in a manner that is non-accusatory and authentic. In this way, we may engage in good conversation that may transform a process, policy, or approach that previously had been considered the “best” method. We do not intend to put down another, rather build upon each other’s ideas and thoughts. My impression of Jesus in his dealings with the people around him is that he tried very hard to get various factions to communicate on common terms – the same thing that effective leaders are trying to accomplish today.
The Saint Norbert Leadership Corps program at Saint Norbert College was developed collaboratively between Archmere Academy and the College with the purpose of infusing our students with the leadership skills, rooted in the spiritual context of Norbertine Charism, to be successful in school and career. The program involved 39 students – rising Sophomores, Juniors and one Senior – and eight teacher chaperones. Students were presented with servant-leadership models that provided contexts for ethics and faith-based discussion. The goal was not for the students to leave the week-long experience with all the answers, but instead equipped with the tools to become mindful Catholic Christian leaders of the new century.
Personally, I was overwhelmed by the whole experience. My wife Diane and I stayed at Saint Norbert Abbey, while the students and chaperones lived in a residence hall on the College’s campus. Diane and I immersed ourselves in the daily rhythm of the Abbey with morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. and evening prayer at 5 p.m. We were fortunate to be able to attend the viewing of Father Gilbert, O.Praem., who taught at Archmere from 1955 to 1965. It was a most impressive event, and family and community were warmly welcomed at the Abbey.
On the heels of the recent sudden loss of Father Thomas Hagendorf, O.Praem., my Freshman religion teacher at Archmere, the experience reminded me how much like a family experience my Archmere years felt – both those as a student from 1972 to 1976 and as a staff member from 1984 to 1996. I said in my opening letter to the school community when I returned as Headmaster that Archmere is a “place that never leaves you.” I believe that even more after this past week. It is as if we have been tattooed on the heart with the Archmere charism. Once you have it, it is there until you intentionally burn it away.