“Pray Hard”

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.

raskob estate hagley museum

John J. Raskob Estate, 1927
Dallin Aerial Survey Company

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.

Finding Common Ground

I hope that all of our Archmere families enjoyed time together over the Christmas holidays. It is a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends that we do not see as often as we would like.

My wife and I enjoy gathering the family together in our home to make sure that we stay in touch. But with a large Italian family, we need to limit gatherings to our brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews, and first cousins, and we need to break the group into different gatherings over the holidays to be able to enjoy visiting with everyone.

At each gathering, conversation always seems to include our “family tree,” and relatives who have passed away. Whether it is sparked by a question from a niece or nephew about someone they know who claims to be a relative, or a request from a cousin for my mother’s Christmas/wedding/anniversary or other special occasion cookie recipes, or a comment about how much a great niece or nephew shares family resemblances with older relatives, a part of our conversation always seems to be about finding “common ground” that links us and holds us together.

This has become more apparent since my wife and I began these get-togethers, as our parents and the relatives of their generation have passed away (with the exception of one lovely aunt, who, approaching 88, is delightful company, but cannot remember today’s visit tomorrow.) In addition, our conversations this year included reports and updates on some serious health challenges of relatives in my generation.

In these instances, it seems that we find hope and strength in talking about how our parents and their generation managed through these difficulties with determination, grace, and a strong faith. Their lives, complete with failings and triumphs, continue to be role models for us, and it seems that those of us who are parents or grandparents only wish that our children and grandchildren live with the same values and perspective. But I heard a thread of anxiety in my cousins’ conversations about being sure that their grandchildren “find their way” in a world that is changing at a fast pace and that seems less and less to embrace common values and morals.

Over the Christmas break, I read, “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development,” by Dr. Richard Weissbourd. Dr. Weissbourd was one of the faculty members at the Independent Schools Institute that I attended at Harvard last October.
finding common ground
His book is based on his research in the field of child and adolescent development. As a psychologist and a parent, he draws on his research and personal experiences to frame moral and values-based issues as described by young people today.

He states in Chapter 6, entitled, “The Real Moral Power of Schools,” that:

“The American public schools were conceived not solely as an engine of academic success. They were intended chiefly to cultivate in children a certain ideal of character. . . . Today the expectation that schools will cultivate character is again widespread and deep. The American public, deeply concerned about the failure of children to absorb key values from their parents, sees schools as the next best hope. Polls show that about 70 percent of public school parents want schools to teach ‘strict standards of right and wrong,’ and 85 percent want schools to teach values.” (p. 116)

As I read Dr. Weissbourd’s book, I realized how fortunate I am to have had the support and guidance of a large, close-knit family, still felt today when we gather, even if only once a year. I am doubly fortunate because that same sense of connectedness was present at Archmere when I attended as a student, and is still, I believe, very present today. I believe that our school community supports the values that we, as parents, want for our children.

The most recently adopted strategic plan is shaped around a revised, carefully crafted mission statement, that captures the rich Catholic, Norbertine traditions of community and prayer, combined with the ambitious demand for high academic standards.

We use words like “community,” “respect,” “zeal,” “reverence,” and “wisdom” to describe ourselves. But it is not the words that teach. As Weissbound concludes, it is the actions of mentors –parents, teachers, coaches – which animate the words that shape the minds of our students and the next generation of adults.

Weissbourd, in his concluding remarks about developing moral communities, believes that our American culture needs to address three challenges: expect more of America’s fathers, create stronger ties among parents, and give each other (as parents) feedback.

Of course, just like my own family, our school community is diverse in thought – some being more conservative and some more liberal. There is always room for conversation, evaluation, and learning from one another. The important point is to continue to arrive at “common ground” and to present cohesive and consistent models of action for our children.

Easier said than done.

Even Weissbourd discusses how he teaches one concept in class with his students and then “falls into the trap” of making opposite, usually emotionally charged decisions with his own children. As a parent, I know that I am constantly “replaying the tapes of the day” of the interactions with my children, and discussing them with my wife.

As we begin this New Year, my hope and prayer is that each day we work together to provide a positive formative experience for our students. While there will be challenges and setbacks for all of us at times, together, we can learn from them and celebrate our successes.

May you and your family be blessed in this New Year with the things that matter – good health and the support and collective wisdom of family and friends.