On Sunday, March 8, 2015, members of the Archmere Academy community came together to celebrate the annual Memorial Mass, remembering all alumni, faculty, and staff who have died. A large group gathered in the Patio to listen to the hopeful words of the Scripture and sing songs that inspire and strengthen our faith. The experience of coming together as a community of faith provided a sense of comfort to those families most particularly dealing with recent loss. As the names of all those who have died were read, we could reflect on how much each of them left their imprint on the Archmere legacy, with which we are entrusted.
At the National Association of Independent Schools Conference at the end of February, NAIS President, John Chubb, moderated a panel of presidents and former presidents from prestigious colleges and universities to discuss the changes predicted for and value of the college experience. One area of concern and focus for higher education leadership is students’ sense of community, suggesting that many of today’s college bound students do not know how to live in community. Many young people struggle with feelings of empathy, managing group compromise, and developing a collaborative style of work and play. College and university leaders attribute students’ under-developed social skills important to fostering community as a result of excessive technology use that helps to create a cocoon around individuals and makes impersonal communication styles easily accessible. These school leaders commented that higher education institutions are reviewing and revising their residential life programs to incorporate more structured opportunities for students to get involved in developing a school community through service, activities, and other projects. School officials believe that it is important to focus on developing community among students to not only validate the expense of residential life programs, but to give college graduates all of the skills beyond academic knowledge they will need to be successful in their careers.
In Pope Francis’ message on August 7, 2013, he asks the question, “Do you give alms?” He goes on to say, “And when you give alms, do you look the person you are giving them to in the eye?” “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really notice.” “Then you have not really encountered him.” . . . What Jesus teaches us first of all is to meet each other, and in meeting to offer each other help. We must know how to meet each other. We must build, create and construct a culture of encounter.
Saint Norbert conceived of a community of men and women, ordained religious and lay, whose members would live, work, and pray together. He was responding to the need in his time in the 12th century to reform the Catholic Church and return to fundamental values based on the life of Christ and his apostles. That Norbertine tradition helped establish the foundations for Archmere. “Community” is articulated as one of our five core values that we talk about at Archmere. It is difficult to define comprehensively, but we know it when we experience it. Whether it is an all-school assembly or a meeting between a student and a counselor, we sense the presence of community, in an environment of respect and acceptance that sustains and deepens the roots of authentic relationships. We must “encounter” one another, as Pope Francis says, in such a way that we truly care about them, and in working together, know how to develop programs and activities that benefit others, as higher education leaders suggest. In this Lenten season, when we pause to evaluate how we are living our faith, let us think about how our actions help create community. Let us also be grateful for the communities of family and friends we are blessed to have in our lives, and, in particular, the Archmere community that is strengthened by the many individual talents, sacrifices, successes and trials of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, parents of alumni, and friends.