Old and New Traditions

Being an eighty-six-year-old school, Archmere certainly has developed a number of traditions – customs and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. Schools like Archmere develop unique cultures based on these beliefs that are manifested in practices each day and events that punctuate the school year.

On Friday, September 14, the opening school Mass took place, which, in recent years, has been held on this date to commemorate the first day of school in the Academy’s inaugural year, 1932. At the end of the Mass, the student body, along with special guests, moved outside to the entrance of the theatre, which was transformed over the summer to a special place on campus to remember especially three individuals: Jerry Ambrogi ’76, Mark Dombroski ’17, and Anthony Penna ’19.

The Ambrogi Gates and Garden” were created over the last several months to remember and honor alumnus, coach, parent, and friend, Jerry Ambrogi ’76. The plaque on the gates explains:

Originally installed to the southeast of this spot during the construction of the Patio in 1916-1918, these IRON GATES were removed from their former location to widen the exit lane. They have been restored here to symbolically welcome new students into the Archmere Academy community and to bid farewell to newly graduated alumni following Commencement each academic year.

 Our LABYRINTH is modeled after one installed in the early decades of the 13thcentury on the floor of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres in Chartres, France. St. Norbert of Xanten established his monastery at Prémontré 100 years earlier in 1120 some 115 miles south-west of Chartres. Walking a labyrinth facilitates prayer and meditation and can represent the medieval practice of undertaking a religious pilgrimage.

Water gardens have been installed and tended to by various cultures around the world for millennia and a water feature is traditionally a part of the cloister in Norbertine abbeys around the world. The KOI POND in this garden is to be a place of gathering for quiet reflection, meditation, and prayer and provides the opportunity to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation.

And so, a new tradition was born with the Class of 2022 and transfer students who walked through the gates to the theatre on their first day at Archmere. The next time they will walk through the gates is on their graduation day. In the meantime, the Class of 2019 will begin the graduation tradition this coming June.

Father McLaughlin blessed the gates and garden area, as well as two benches, one each in memory of Mark Dombroski ’17 and Anthony Penna ’19. Among the guests were Mark’s parents, Anthony’s parents, Mrs. Kristy Ambrogi, Jerry’s wife, and other friends and family. The blessing ceremony, which we have often celebrated on campus for a number of memorials and remembrances, is another Catholic Christian tradition that offers meaning and the assurance that those who have left us will be remembered and honored by the Archmere community.

Last Spring, our alumni, parents, and then freshmen, sophomores, and juniors responded to surveys that are helping us gather information to develop the Academy’s next strategic planning cycle. The responses were consistent and overall very favorable about the Archmere experience. The long-standing tradition of “academic excellence” was clearly valued, with “curriculum,” “academic challenge,” and “reputation,” garnering scores of 4.5 to 4.7 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, from 343 students (100%) and 154 parent responses (42.8%).  While these responses certainly underscore the strong academic program of the Academy, we also heard from some students and parents that “school-life balance” could be improved.

Students can feel overwhelmed by their academic schedules, combined with their sports and extra-curricular schedules, let alone their outside-of-school commitments and family obligations. Our students want to be academically challenged, such that they take multiple honors-level or advanced placement courses at the same time. The amount of homework generated from these course loads is a persistent issue for some students and an intermittent issue for others. One possible explanation for the variety of experiences might be due to the fact that we customize students’ schedules to match their learning and development in core disciplines. While this can be an advantage, it also creates multiple schedules for students, who are often grouped together in a variety of ways, making it a challenge for a coordinated pacing of academic content across disciplines.

I have begun a new tradition – a monthly “Coffee and Conversation with the Headmaster” program. Open to all students, for the first meeting in September, approximately 15 students spent about 45-minutes in an open-ended discussion on a variety of topics of interest to them. I also asked them, based on the student survey responses, about their feelings around workload and their school-life balance. Most acknowledged that the academic program is challenging and that they have to manage a rigorous workload. They said that the secret to success at Archmere is time management and organization. They also inferred that students need to be strategic about what they choose to do and schedule. One student offered the perspective that the academic schedule is fine, but when adding to it sports and extracurriculars, it can become overwhelming at times, and that is why time management, organization, and making choices are crucial skills.

I am confident that these constructive conversations around curriculum will be helpful in developing strategic initiatives that will enhance an already strong program offering. Dialog between students, parents, teachers, and administrators will insure that our alumni will continue to report how well-prepared they were for college and what an exceptional experience they had at Archmere, embracing revered traditions and helping to create new ones.

Traditions Change But The Story Stays The Same

Three_Crosses_on_Kreuzberg_Mountain_Bavaria_Germany_1152x864

Last evening, I met with our Pastor to review the plans for the liturgies of Holy Week in our parish. This marks my 21st year planning Holy Week services at my current parish, and my 41st year participating as a liturgical musician. I reflected on that stretch of more than 40 years and though about what things had changed and what had remained the same.

For the most part, the order of the services has remained the same. While there have been adjustments to the language of the prayers and responses, as well as interpretation of some of the rituals that alter the environment slightly, for the most part, the services of Holy Week continue to tell the fantastic story of Jesus’ triumphal arrival in Jerusalem, His Last Supper with His closest followers and friends (the apostles), His betrayal, passion, death, and finally resurrection. The drama of these events captured so beautifully in recited prayers and music remains as profound and richly meaningful as ever. In fact, perhaps with age (my age!) the story becomes even more meaningful.

What has changed is the number of people attending these services from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. I have noticed in the 21 years that I have been at my parish that the number of people who attend Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services is getting smaller and smaller. It seems that other obligations are crowding out Holy Week. Many institutions, for example, do no close for Good Friday, as once was the custom for most. And spring vacation plans seem to be on the rise for many families, who use time off from school or work to travel as a family – a very important time to be together and take a break from the fast-paced daily routines that often do not give family members a lot of time together.

easter_bread

If you were raised in a household with strong ethnic traditions, as I was, Lent, Holy Week and Easter seasons were punctuated with signature foods and dishes that had special meaning – from the fish served on the Fridays of Lent and the special delicacies made for Saint Joseph’s Day, which often falls during Lent, to the Easter breads, pies, and dishes of fresh greens and meats to celebrate the holiday. Food preparation rituals during Holy Week had a specific timetable, so that dishes could be prepared in various stages in between Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday services, and the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil. I can remember my mother baking the last loaves of Easter bread in the oven in silence from noon to 3 p.m. on Good Friday before leaving for Church.

For me, growing up in this Church and home environment during these holy seasons was special. It seemed as though time slowed down. The daily routines were interrupted and replaced with sensory rituals that engaged your emotions.

Will these experiences be lost to more and more people over the years? And if so, will they be replaced with anything as meaningful and powerful?

Or am I too presumptuous to think that everyone finds the Church’s celebrations and, in particular, my family traditions to be so meaningful?

I recognize that people of different faiths and personal beliefs have various ways to be in touch with the spiritual and the divine. And I am sure that Holy Week is not the only time one can be hyper-focused on his or her faith and beliefs. It just happens to be a very special time of year for me. So perhaps I should be less concerned about the size of the congregation at religious services, and more focused on the words found in the Gospel of Matthew:

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
(Matt. 18:20)

Wishing you and your families a Blessed and Happy Easter!