Coming Home

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The Class of 2016 unveils their class gift, “The Great Auk”

Although the weather was rainy for Homecoming Day festivities, the crowds were enthusiastic and significant in size to celebrate well the Archmere spirit. One of my favorite roles as Headmaster is to serve and host and act as a tour guide to guests visiting the campus. It is particularly exciting to lead a tour with fellow alumni who have not been to the campus in a number of years. One can usually tell who they are. For example, last year, I watched an alumnus in his car negotiate the pedestrian walkway in front of the Science Center, looking bewildered because there was no parking lot in the center of campus – only a grassy quad! This year, graduates were impressed by the renovations to Saint Norbert Hall. Although they could no longer visit “their locker,” they had fun remembering classes in a very similar classroom footprint. The added student lounges, study rooms, and renovated library and learning commons generated good discussion around how the style of learning has evolved over the years.

Even though alumni noted with pride and approval the many changes on campus, I believe that the sense of community and belonging that they remembered still exists, and our current students are having a similar experience. After Homecoming weekend, I invited the members of the Student Council to meet with me over lunch to discuss their views about the school. Their comments were positive, hopeful, and inspiring. One student asked how the senior class might help with the current fund raising effort to underwrite the renovations to Saint Norbert Hall. Another student talked about strategies that help measure the school spirit of the students by the number of extra-curricular events they attend. Our students want to be engaged and partner with teachers and administrators in making the Academy the best it can be.

Most of us have had positive experiences in our childhood homes, and returning home, whether to the physical place or to be with the ones who love us and know us best, is usually a heartwarming experience. Archmere is like home to many people on many levels – from alumni who used to board at the Academy in the days when there was a boarding program, to the members of the Class of 2016 who gathered excitedly to unveil the bronze statue of The Great Auk, a project they underwrote with their five-year class pledge. The fact that Archmere was founded in the home originally built by John and Helena Raskbob for their 13 children also contributes to the special feeling that is Archmere. As Mrs. Raskob wrote in the conclusion of her Raskob-Green Record Book, “And so ‘Archmere’ now is a beautiful dream come true. But the greatest charm, aside from the voices of the children, is the homelike spirit that has been fostered within its walls. I value the delicious home feeling as one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow.” I hope that Archmere may always be a place for students, alumni and their families to feel “at home.”

Sincerely,

Michael A. Marinelli, Ed.D. ‘76
Headmaster

Give of Your Hands to Serve

200202_32_servantOn 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.

WWND – What Would Norbert Do?

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I am sure that most of us have heard the phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” and have seen it in a variety of forms on bracelets and other wearable items. Intended to be a reminder when we are faced with a decision, these four words pose a simple question for us that often has more complex decision-making that goes along with it. What if we consider altering the question a bit and ask, “What Would Norbert Do?” As we consider our charism as a school community founded in the Catholic Norbertine tradition, it is important to consider this question as it relates to the decisions we make as leaders, adults, and role models in an educational institution.

Saint Norbert was born in the town of Cleve near Xanten, now present day Germany, to royalty in the year 1080, during the High Middle Ages. We know that Xanten was a flourishing trading city, and that Norbert, as the third son, was destined to have a life in the Church, having a place among the canons (or priests) of Saint Victor Church in Xanten. Apparently very intelligent and eloquent, Norbert was educated at the prestigious school in Laon, France, and was later given a position in the court of Henry V. Interestingly, today we do not have any writings of Saint Norbert, so all that we know of him comes from what has been written by his followers after he founded the religious order of Norbertines in Premontre, France, in 1120. However, we may be able to discern from his actions and from his travels what Saint Norbert considered to be most important: to live a religious life and a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

We know that while he was a part of the court of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor had a disagreement with the Pope about who was allowed to invest priests. Henry V wanted the power to do so from the Pope; however, the Pope believed that it was the Church and his role to invest priests. The disagreement was settled when Henry V’s army encircled the Vatican, forcing the Pope to confer the right of investiture on Henry. Norbert was disillusioned with Henry and he left the court. Not knowing what to do, he began preaching, and, due to his persuasiveness and eloquence, he attracted people to him, but he still did not know exactly what his life’s work should be.

It is told that on the road to Freden, he was caught in a storm, and, when a bolt of lightening struck nearby, he was thrown from his horse. As he regained consciousness, he heard the words of Psalm 33, “Turn from evil; do good: seek and strive after peace.” These words inspired retreat to the Abbey to pray and reflect on what he was to do with his life. He had been preaching about reform in the Church, believing that religious life needed to be simpler and detached from the world, a life devoted to poverty, chastity, and obedience. He was disillusioned with the opulence many of the communities of canons (priests) associated with Churches that he visited during his three years of preaching. Finally, while he was staying with his cousin, Bartholomew, who was Bishop of Laon, the city where he had studied in his youth, he was shown a small hermit’s chapel, tucked away in the woods near Laon. There, Norbert prayed through the night, and decided that he needed to establish his own religious community that would follow the Rule of Saint Augustine, and live both a communal life, where all things would be shared in common, but also a ministerial life of service to the community around them. In fact, Norbert’s vision included religious men and women working together with laymen and women, an innovative idea for the early 12th century.

Nearly one thousand years later, we know the impact of that one decision from one man. Thousands of religious men and women became members of hundreds of abbeys over the centuries in Europe and around the world. These Norbertine priests, brothers, and sisters touched the lives of thousands of others. Because of Norbert’s bold decision to begin a new religious community at the age of 40 – a fairly advanced age for a man in those days when the average life expectancy was 42 – we have been influenced by his charism through his followers.

So what qualities can we consider in Norbert that we might use in our decision-making?

We know that by his preaching, while he was critical of the status quo and advocated for reform and change, he was a reconciler and peacemaker. He advocated for change not by force, but through dialog, shared understanding, and compromise. He had RESPECT for individuals and points of view.

We know that Norbert believed that living in community, where all possessions were shared according to each person’s need, was a reflection of the way Jesus and his apostles lived. Individuals, as a family, cared for one another and shared talents and resources with each other, creating a COMMUNITY that was stronger than the sum of its parts.

Norbert’s travels suggest he was passionate about his beliefs. He did not settle down in one place, but spent his life moving from one town to another, searching for his life’s work. Even after he founded the Norbertine Community in Premontre, France, he was called upon to become Bishop of Magdeburg in Germany in 1126, a position that he dutifully accepted until his death in 1134. Through his travels and his lasting impact on various communities, we can imagine that Norbert had tremendous ZEAL for his work.

From the time he served in the court of Henry V, we know that Norbert loved the liturgy of the Church. He advocated for daily Mass, something that was not common in the Church at that time. He also advocated for inspiring liturgical environments – beautiful fabrics and pristine linens and altar cloths. When he established the Norbertine Community, the liturgy and daily Mass were important to the life of the community. Norbert instilled a sense of REVERENCE in his followers.

Finally, we know that Norbert had gifts of intelligence, eloquence, and affability. He studied at prestigious schools and had opportunities at court and abroad to preach and teach. Even though he was an intellectual, he had cultivated a deep spirituality, as well. Reconciling the two, he searched for meaning and purpose in his life that allowed him to be critical of the Church he served and loved, only to recreate within it a renewed vision based on the apostolic vision of community advanced by Jesus himself. Norbert went directly to the heart of the Church, and from there, using the WISDOM of those who preceded him and who influenced him as his teachers and contemporaries, built a new vision for the Church.

So when we are faced with an issue that requires a decision, what is a well-crafted answer to the question, “What Would Norbert Do?” Perhaps if we consider Norbert’s character as defined by the five words – RESPECT, COMMUNITY, ZEAL, REVERENCE, and WISDOM – and associate questions with each as it relates to our issue, we will arrive at a pretty good answer.

We at Archmere have embraced these five words in recent years as a way to talk about and share our common experience. The ongoing dialog of how to define and interpret each of these words is important to the evolution and growth of the school community. In doing so, we learn more about one another and gain insight into the founder and visionary of the Premonstratensians Fathers – Saint Norbert.

During this month of all saints and all souls, we especially pray, “Saint Norbert, pray for us!”