On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, we held our traditional Installation Ceremony for the newly elected Student Council officers. The entire student body, faculty, and administration participated in a prayer service during the morning assembly period. The first reading was taken from the writings of a Norbertine priest, Father Alphonsus van den Huck, O. Praem., about the virtues of Saint Norbert. The second reading was taken from Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus tells his followers that the “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” (22:24-27)
In preparing my remarks for the ceremony, two thoughts came to mind. First, I considered Saint Norbert’s conversion experience, described as a very dramatic moment when he was on his horse on the way to Freden, Germany. He was caught in a bad storm, and a bolt of lightening frightened his horse, throwing him to the ground unconscious. As he awoke, he heard a voice saying, “Turn away from evil and do good.” He decided to spend time in private prayer in a nearby abbey, and for three years after, became an itinerant preacher, giving up his possessions and his nobility status. It was only after three years of discernment that Norbert founded a new community of religious and laymen and women in a forest clearing in Premontre, France. In 1120, the Premonstratentian Order was born.
I commented to the students that Norbert was a leader before and after his conversion experience, but I suggested that the kinds of leadership he demonstrated in each of these periods of his life were different. As he grew up as part of the nobility of the time, he was given opportunities to be educated and have a position in the Catholic Church of the day. Because of his family’s noble status, his talents, and personal gifts, he served in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor and was a leader in developing liturgical traditions and celebrations. He had positional power in the Emperor’s Court. However, it was only after his conversion experience that Norbert’s leadership deepened and became even more effective, for he not only had the education, skills, and talents, including persuasive oration, that he developed in his youth, but he also was passionate about his life’s work – a vision of reforming the Church by creating a new community that would be inclusive and true to the Gospel – a Gospel that preaches love of God and service to others, especially the poor. Norbert recognized that the servant-leader model, demonstrated by Christ himself, was more powerful than any positional or man-made authority could give.
I challenged our students to consider two things: first, to be servant-leaders, and to understand that it involves using their talents to build community with each other, and being passionate about what they are learning and doing. Second, to be effective leaders, carefully choose what they say and do. Jesus, before or after he preached or performed acts of healing, often went off to pray alone. Norbert, after he experienced a moment of enlightenment and conversion, spent time in an abbey in prayer, and continued to discern his purpose in life for three years, while he preached from town to town. In our highly technical world, it is so easy for us to send a quick electronic message or photo without thinking or as a reaction to a strong emotion. A truly effective servant-leader pauses, thinks, and prays about the appropriateness of that message or photo, and how it might affect others, including their relationship to others.
We have an impressive group of young people at Archmere Academy. I am excited to begin another school year with them as we lead and learn together, ever shaping our school to be a creative, welcoming, and inclusive community in the spirit of Saint Norbert.