Hearts and Ashes…

It was Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday on the same date this year – February 14. As the day began, I saw students walking in with colorful cards and gift bags, and French Club members delivering roses sent from students to other students and teachers. The red and pink colors changed to purple vestments as Ash Wednesday Mass was celebrated at 9:30 AM. Our foreheads were signed with ashes, and a meatless lunch was served, while we saved our chocolate hearts and candies for another day.

On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to buy flowers for my wife. I was not surprised to see the prices for roses increased substantially – about double the usual price. As I was struggling to pick up a $36 bouquet of roses, I thought about what my mother used to say about gifts she thought were unnecessary: “Can you eat it?” So, I proceeded to the fresh vegetable section and picked up some asparagus and cauliflower, landed at the meat counter and secured a fresh eye roast, and darted back to the fruit section for some blueberries. On the way to the register I picked up a $4.99 bouquet of miniature pink carnations. Total bill: $27, and I had flowers and the makings of a “gourmet dinner” that I planned to prepare for my wife over the weekend. On the one hand, I felt good about my decisions, but then for a moment I thought my wife would think otherwise. But knowing her now for nearly 35 years, I knew she would appreciate the sentiment. And she did.

Being a parish organist, I was to play for the 7 PM Mass, and on the way to church, we discussed the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schooin Parkland, Florida, and lamented about why these terrible things happen to innocent people. I thought, as I was about to attend a second Ash Wednesday Mass, having observed the fast and abstinence of the day, “Why am I doing this? How does keeping this ritual make a difference or change things?”

After Mass, we met with a number of friends of ours in the parish, many of whom have lost family members and have experienced life’s struggles. In a unique way, our coming together that evening to pray and to share gave us comfort and the energy to move forward. The following morning, as I watched the news reports and listened to interviews of students and others impacted by the Florida school shooting, a consistent theme was one of a community coming together to support its members and working through the spectrum of emotions in order to move forward.

As we settled down at home after Mass to our Ash Wednesday meal of broiled fish, I realized that the rituals of my faith that I share with others have created a community of support that is with me every day, and when it is my turn to lean on the shoulders of others, they will be there, as I would be for them. I am grateful for our Archmere community, which in families’ darkest times, has been a light – an important support. As a school community that is trying to understand the tragedy of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community, we want you to know that we are here for you, to reconfirm our commitment to a safe and secure environment, and to offer help to foster conversations that help us to process all that has happened and how we might be feeling.

The American School Counselor Association offers a few points that may be helpful in working with young people in the aftermath of a tragic event:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school
  • Limit exposure to television and the news
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things
  • Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships

May this Lent, which means “Spring,” be a time when we recognize in ourselves our ability to make a difference in the lives of others through the simple things that we do and the rituals that we keep each day.


A New Year and New Beginnings

I have always enjoyed working in a school environment because the academic calendar punctuates the seasons of the year with beginnings and endings. This rhythmic approach to the year seems so natural, like inhaling and exhaling. Those who do not keep an academic calendar still celebrate beginnings and endings at least once on January 1. Within two weeks of the start of the New Year, Archmere students take semester-end examinations, completing the first half of the school year, only to begin the second half a few days later. January is a time of accentuated endings and beginnings – in our educational world, in our faith tradition, and in nature.

…In Our Educational World.

As we begin 2014, we say farewell to two of our faculty members. Ms. Denise O’Meara, after taking a medical leave of absence, has decided not to return for the second semester. She planned to retire after her long teaching career, which included, most notably, the creation of a vibrant community service program. We are happy to report that she is doing well, and we are grateful for all of her contributions to Archmere Academy. We are also grateful for the work of Ms. Lauren Gerber, Mr. Michael Burdziak, Mr. Bill Gabriel, and Ms. Maria Calzado-Saavadra who taught Ms. O’Meara’s classes during the first semester. For the second semester, we welcome Ms. Mary Anne Matarese, who will assume the long-term substitution position.

Ms. Sarah Jamison, Spanish teacher, will not be returning for the second semester. Though she has been with us for a short time, she has supported a vibrant program of foreign language study, and we extend to her our best wishes. Ms. Maria Calzado-Saavadra and Mrs. Leah Lightcap will be leading Ms. Jamison’s classes for the second semester.

Mrs. Carolyn Doyle, College Counselor and Director of Guidance, has decided to retire at the end of the current school year. Mrs. Doyle has created and shaped the college counseling program, assumed responsibility for the Guidance Department, and has been involved in a number of leadership initiatives at the Academy over her 25 years of service. Her initiative, professionalism, and commitment to our kids have helped to create a counseling department that serves our families faithfully each year. Mrs. Doyle is well-respected within the professional circles of high school college counselors, most recently serving as President and immediate Past President of Potomac and Chesapeake Association for College Admissions Counseling. A national search process is underway to identify Mrs. Doyle’s successor.

…In Our Faith Tradition and In Nature.

We began a new liturgical year with the Advent Season on December 1, 2013, and after we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ and welcomed the arrival of the Three Kings, suddenly, the Church fast-forwards to celebrating the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan – the signature event that marks the beginning of his public ministry. In a short two months, we have three cycles of beginnings and endings – the anticipation of the birth of our Savior, the commemoration of His presence among us, and the proclamation of the Good News that tells us the reality we know is not the end – the promise of everlasting life. The Church calendar is rich with dates of commemoration, seasons, and related imagery to accentuate the “rhythm of life,” the natural beginnings and endings we all experience.


The Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church.

For example, as we approached the day with the shortest amount of daylight on December 21 – the winter solstice, we were lighting more Advent candles each week to celebrate the coming of the Savior who is the Light in our darkness. Now, as we approach the summer solstice on June 21, each day increasing the amount of daylight, we celebrate on February 2 the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple. According to Judaic law, Joseph and Mary presented their son, Jesus, at the Temple, 40 days after his birth. In his 1962 Code of Rubrics (officially titled Rubricarum instructum, published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis), Pope John XXIII identified this date as the official end of the Christmas season in the Catholic Church. Soon after this feast, the Church keeps the Lenten Season, this year beginnings on March 5 with Ash Wednesday, only to lead to the Vigil of the Resurrection of Jesus on April 19. All the while, the seasons incubate new life that takes form as longer sun-lit days approach the summer solstice on June 21. Our faith tradition reminds us daily of the ever-changing and creating Spirit that is in and among us!

While I am not one to create “New Year’s Resolutions,” I do pray and wish that all of our students, families, alumni, parents of alumni, grandparents, and benefactors may know the blessings of our God in the New Year, and also may know the gratitude and care of our Archmere community for all of the sacrifices, support, and prayers offered on behalf of the wonderful educational and formative work being accomplished every day.

Blessings in the New Year!