The Power of Family Life

Saint Joseph and the child Jesus

We celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph as the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary this month on March 19. From the Scriptures, we know very little about him. What was written can be pieced together to give some sense of who he was and what he might have been like.

He was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and a member of the working class poor. We know this, since when Jesus was circumcised in the Temple he offered two turtledoves as a sacrifice, which was acceptable in those days for those who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb (Luke 2:24). He did, however, descend from royalty, the “House of David,” who was King of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).

Yet Joseph was humble and compassionate. He protected Mary from being accused of adultery and stoned to death, because she was pregnant and unmarried. Instead of revealing her pregnancy, he planned to send her away, but then he listened to the angel in a dream who told him of God’s plan that Jesus should be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-25). Knowing this, he married Mary and became a father to Jesus.

Throughout his life, Joseph protected and cared for his family. When an angel told Joseph that Jesus was in danger of the King, he left everything he had, including family and friends, and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, until it was safe to return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23). He, along with Mary, looked for Jesus for three days, until they found him in the Temple (Luke 2:48). And to all who knew the Holy Family, Joseph treated Jesus as his own son, for Jesus is referred to in the Scriptures many times by the people, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22)

We know that Joseph was not at Jesus’ crucifixion. Many historians and theologians believe that Joseph died before Jesus began his public ministry, and the apocryphal gospels place the dates for Joseph’s birth and death as 90 BC in Bethlehem and AD 18 in Nazareth.

Though we have to piece together phrases and scenes from the gospels to create in our minds the person of Joseph, we know that he represents important qualities that support family – qualities that we all hope are emulated in all of our families today: humility, compassion, protection, respect, care, sacrifice, and love.

Archmere’s community is built on the strength of individual families over the years, as well as the charism of Saint Norbert. In a way, Norbert wanted to emulate the Holy Family as he conceived living a spiritual life in community in the 12th century. He gathered ordained, religious men and women, as well as lay men and women to live in community in Premontre, France in the late Middle Ages. His concept of one community of the faithful would not survive the ecclesiastical structure of the Church, which separately acknowledged the community of priests and brothers from the religious community of Norbertine nuns. Yet, in spirit and in charism, they were founded as one community, building on each other’s strengths and gifts, reflecting the dynamic of a biological family. Over the years, many Norbertine communities would flourish around the world, each a reflection of the people and culture that created it.

I have heard Archmere referred to as a “family” and, particularly, the Patio, as “a home,” originally built for the Raskob family of 13 children. I believe that a more accurate and enriching description of Archmere is a community of families, each contributing its own unique histories, talents, and contributions to strengthen the Archmere genealogical tree.

Figures from the 2002 U.S. Census indicate that only 7% of the population in the United States is part of “traditional” families, where the father works outside the home, and the mother runs the household with children living at home. Another 16% of the population is dual income parents with children, and 13% is dual income couples with no children. The remaining 64% of the population is in single parent households or other family configurations. Since 2002, I would imagine these figures have become even more pronounced in non-traditional family composition.

On Thursday, February 2, 2017, Archmere hosted a visit by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, along with Rev. Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. These men were appointed by Pope Francis on August 15, 2016, to, in the words of Pope Francis, “help families live out their vocation and mission in the Church and in today’s world.” Their work would be accomplished with study, research, and teaching in dialog with “scientific institutes and academic institutions, including relationships where there is an ecumenical or interreligious element, whether Christian or pertaining to other cultural or religious traditions. To bend down over the wounds of humanity in order to understand them, to care for them, and to heal them is the task of the Church that trusts in the light and the power of the risen Christ, that is able to deal with tension and conflict, as does a ‘field hospital,’ a Church that lives, preaches, and carries out its mission of salvation…”

We, at Archmere, are fortunate to have a faith tradition that holds up for us the Holy Family as an example of family life that represent important values for us to admire and adopt into our own life experiences. And we are blessed to have Pope Francis address the challenges of family life and provide for us an inviting and welcoming opportunity to talk about the challenges and opportunities in sustaining the nurturing and life-giving power of family life.

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.