Autumn Prayer

It has been summer-like weather for quite a few days this autumn, until recently, when the chill in the air and the wind scattering the fallen leaves have signaled that the seasons are changing. Summer is giving way to a time when nature sheds many of its blooms, only to return with the longer, warmer days of Spring. This life cycle is a hopeful reminder to us about renewal and new life, as our school community mourns the loss of Anthony Penna ’19 and gratefully welcomes the return to school of Gabrielle ’20, his sister. Never has Archmere felt more united as a community of faith as we did in the hours, days, and weeks after the tragic accident that occurred on the morning of September 29th. Administrators, students, and parents of many other area schools were in contact with us at Archmere and with the Penna Family, offering messages of support and prayers, cards and flowers. We are truly grateful to all who have supported the Penna Family and our students and members of our school community.

We continue to have faith in God and the promise of everlasting life made real by the resurrection of Jesus. We pray in the weeks, months, and years ahead for the wisdom and strength to manage our many challenges that may be a part of our journey.

At a recent meeting that I attended, we prayed the following “Autumn Prayer” by Peter Jarret, C.S.C. I share in the same spirit of community that continues to unify and shape us.

God of all creation, you give us the gift of seasons to mark our journey through time.

The season of autumn, with its changes of colors and falling leaves reminds us that sometimes things must die and fall away for new life to arise.

Such is the message of the cross –

That through death to self we find life in all its richness.

In those moments when we experience setbacks or failures,

Help us to remember that you are with us always,

And that there is no failure or sin your love cannot heal.

Help us to trust in you and in your promise of new life.

 Amen.

Personal Innovation

One of the books on my summer reading list was The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. The authors analyzed multiple organizations in an effort to study why innovations succeeded or failed. I thought this would be timely reading material in light of the Academy beginning a new strategic planning cycle, and with it, potentially new and innovative ideas that might be developed. However, the more I read, the more I realized that the successful processes of innovation the authors described could be applied to students’ learning, as well. I shared the following thoughts with the faculty and staff during our professional days in August.

Govindarajan and Trimble developed the simple formulas: Innovation = Ideas + Process; and Process = Leader + Team + Plan. They also devoted many pages of their book to the role of a dedicated team of people who need to be assigned to innovative, non-routine tasks. This team is most effective when its members work collaboratively and in coordination with others who continue to perform the routine tasks of the organization. The authors explain that this necessary partnership creates sustainable innovation through a single organizational plan. Hence, innovation requires adequate resources, and also needs to somehow coordinate with the status quo – the day-to-day business at hand.

Adapting this model to an individuals’ sense of balance between innovation and the daily routine, one must be able to set aside time and other personal resources to innovate, while at the same time, continue with daily responsibilities, tasks, and demands. Harry Kraemer, in his TedTalk on leadership comments that daily self-reflection is critical to understanding the difference between our activity and our productivity. He poses the question, “We can be busy multi-tasking all day, but has all the activity produced the results that matter and that we value?” So, it might be that the first step to personal innovation is to assess the value of all the activities in which we are currently engaged to determine if we can eliminate any or be more efficient about them so that we have time to be innovative.

Govindarajan and Trimble suggest running a disciplined experiment to determine the success of our innovation or an enhanced productivity. They suggest documenting a single, clear hypothesis, then determine what can be learned from the outcomes. For example, if the end results are low outcomes, are they a result of poor execution or too high predictions indicating potentially poor assumptions? In other words, accountability in some measurable way is an essential and valuable piece of the innovation process that is made up of three components: Results = Did you deliver? Actions = Did you execute? and Learning = Did you follow a rigorous learning process?

If there was a time for an innovative spirit to take hold to rebuild communities and individuals’ lives, it is now. In the last few weeks, the natural disasters around the globe and particularly in the Caribbean, Texas, and Florida seem overwhelming. Along with the stories of devastation are stories of hope, compassion, and heroism. It seems that at the darkest moments, the human spirit triumphs. In the last few days, students, parents, and other members of the Archmere community have been organizing responses to help those affected by these tragic events. While we sometimes feel helpless and inadequate in responding to victims’ immediate needs, we, as a faith community, can immediately offer our prayers. And organized prayer can be very powerful. I ask you to commit to daily prayer particularly for the people affected by the hurricanes.

As we begin a new school year, perhaps preoccupied with nature’s catastrophic events, may we all use our time together to be innovative, and in doing so become better persons who are more self-aware of our place in the world, enjoying the work we are called to do in response to the needs of those around us.

Responding to the Message of Peace

When I was in grade school, I looked forward to May, not because it was the end of the school year – though that was exciting – but because it was the month of the Blessed Mother (and my birthday!) Every May, I would set up a “May Altar” in my bedroom. I really don’t know if that concept even relates to this generation of young people. I just recall that devotions to the Blessed Mother were very special in my family and in my school community as I was growing up. I attended Saint Helena Parish School staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. And each week in the spring, we would practice the hymns and format for the May Procession that took place in the parish church. It was simply magnificent! As students, we would process around the block and into church as we sang hymns to Mary. There was the crowning of the Blessed Mother statue in the church, followed by Benediction.

On May 13, 2017, the Vatican canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three children who saw the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary six times between May 13, 1917, and Oct. 13, 1917 at Fatima. They died in the influenza epidemic during 1918-1919. Lucia Santos, who was their cousin and whose beatification process began in 2008, died in 2005 at the age of 97. The vision told the children three “secrets,” and according to the Vatican website, they are described as: “The first and second parts of the ‘secret’ . . . refer especially to the frightening vision of hell, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Second World War, and finally the prediction of the immense damage that Russia would do to humanity by abandoning the Christian faith and embracing Communist totalitarianism. . . The third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: ‘If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.’. “

Saint Norbert, when he established his first community of Norbertines at Premontre, France, incorporated a special devotion to Mary, and since that time, all of the churches or communities of the Norbertine Order around the world are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Archmere is dedicated to the patronage of Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

So why are there many different titles for Mary? Wasn’t she just one person? It is true that Mary was singularly the Mother of Jesus, but she has been given a variety of titles over the centuries that are dogmatic, poetic, or allegorical in nature. Additionally, more titles of Mary are found in religious art. All of these are reflections of the ways in which Mary has revealed herself to us, delivering messages of peace, love, and devotion to her Son, Jesus.

The Blessed Mother is the quintessential figure of motherhood in the Catholic Church and in other Christian faiths. A life of sacrifice completely dedicated to God’s will and to her Son’s ministry, she said, “Yes,” to a plan that included her holding the lifeless body of her son after he was crucified. She also had to “let go” of her Son so that he could fulfill his life’s plan, and potentially hear words that may have been difficult to understand or emotionally accept:

“Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” But Jesus replied, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers.…” (Matthew 12:48)

The Blessed Mother is a powerful role model for parents. At this time of year, we contemplate our seniors graduating and leaving “the home nest” to go on to college. Being with family pretty much every day, students will become more independent, finding their way in new academic communities and creating new social circles. Just as Mary, with her husband, Joseph, provided guidance and support for Jesus through his formative years so that he would be ready to take on his public ministry later in life, parents have created the foundations for their sons and daughters to take the next steps in their lives.

As we graduate the members of the Class of 2017, let us pray for them through the intercession of Mary, our Blessed Mother. May they be inspired to challenge themselves academically, enrich themselves with new friendships, and strengthen themselves through prayer. Our graduates have the capacity to make change in the world, and to respond to the messages of peace delivered by Mary under her many titles.