Season of Renewal

We are entering Holy Week in the Catholic Church beginning with Palm Sunday on March 25. This year, Easter is arriving earlier in the calendar, and the recent series of cold, wet, and snowy weather events make it a challenge to “think Spring,” with all its promise of new life.

As a school community, we have also been faced with a greater challenge, learning about the disappearance and eventually the untimely death of Mark Dombroski, a recent Class of 2017 graduate, who died while on a trip with the Saint Joseph’s University rugby team to Bermuda. Missing for more than day, students and staff prayed after school on Monday in the Oratory for Mark’s safe return. Shortly after, those prayers were changed to ones of acceptance and of strengthening our faith as the student body, faculty, and staff celebrated a Memorial Mass for Mark on Tuesday morning. We continue to pray for Mark and his family.

These sad events of the last week test our faith just before we celebrate the events that are the very core of our belief – the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the life of Christ, where would we be? While it is hard to accept the passing away of those we love and cherish, there is some comfort in the belief that they are now sharing in the promise of the resurrection; and, in our human understanding, we know and believe that they continue to live in spirit, free from the hardships and difficulties of this world. Nevertheless, the challenge for us is to understand why a young person with such promise and goodness would be taken from us so tragically. And perhaps there is no reasonable explanation, other than to rely on our faith and on each other to work through our grief and pain, so that one day we can find comfort and acceptance.

Just a few months ago, we experienced the untimely passing of Anthony Penna ’19, another young man who had a whole life before him. We continue to pray for his family and for those whom he touched in this life, especially those whose lives were changed by receiving his organs. We know that we will never forget Anthony or Mark, but, as time passes, perhaps we will see the small miracles that come from these tragic events.

Next week is the Triduum – a celebration that moves from a close gathering of friends for a meal, through the suffering and death of one who is dearly loved, to a reunion beyond imagination. Our faith tells us that someday we will also be on that journey, similar to the one that Mark and Anthony have experienced, and now will celebrate an Easter like they have never celebrated before. Through all of these challenging moments of the year, the Archmere community has become stronger in faith, more grateful for the love and concern we have for one another, and more compassionate for those in need of our presence and prayers.

May you know the hope and joy of the resurrection this Easter and throughout the year, especially during the most challenging times.

Creating Community…

On Sunday, March 8, 2015, members of the Archmere Academy community came together to celebrate the annual Memorial Mass, remembering all alumni, faculty, and staff who have died. A large group gathered in the Patio to listen to the hopeful words of the Scripture and sing songs that inspire and strengthen our faith. The experience of coming together as a community of faith provided a sense of comfort to those families most particularly dealing with recent loss. As the names of all those who have died were read, we could reflect on how much each of them left their imprint on the Archmere legacy, with which we are entrusted.

At the National Association of Independent Schools Conference at the end of February, NAIS President, John Chubb, moderated a panel of presidents and former presidents from prestigious colleges and universities to discuss the changes predicted for and value of the college experience. One area of concern and focus for higher education leadership is students’ sense of community, suggesting that many of today’s college bound students do not know how to live in community. Many young people struggle with feelings of empathy, managing group compromise, and developing a collaborative style of work and play. College and university leaders attribute students’ under-developed social skills important to fostering community as a result of excessive technology use that helps to create a cocoon around individuals and makes impersonal communication styles easily accessible. These school leaders commented that higher education institutions are reviewing and revising their residential life programs to incorporate more structured opportunities for students to get involved in developing a school community through service, activities, and other projects. School officials believe that it is important to focus on developing community among students to not only validate the expense of residential life programs, but to give college graduates all of the skills beyond academic knowledge they will need to be successful in their careers.

In Pope Francis’ message on August 7, 2013, he asks the question, “Do you give alms?”  He goes on to say, “And when you give alms, do you look the person you are giving them to in the eye?” “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really notice.” “Then you have not really encountered him.” . . . What Jesus teaches us first of all is to meet each other, and in meeting to offer each other help. We must know how to meet each other. We must build, create and construct a culture of encounter.

Saint Norbert conceived of a community of men and women, ordained religious and lay, whose members would live, work, and pray together. He was responding to the need in his time in the 12th century to reform the Catholic Church and return to fundamental values based on the life of Christ and his apostles. That Norbertine tradition helped establish the foundations for Archmere. “Community” is articulated as one of our five core values that we talk about at Archmere. It is difficult to define comprehensively, but we know it when we experience it. Whether it is an all-school assembly or a meeting between a student and a counselor, we sense the presence of community, in an environment of respect and acceptance that sustains and deepens the roots of authentic relationships. We must “encounter” one another, as Pope Francis says, in such a way that we truly care about them, and in working together, know how to develop programs and activities that benefit others, as higher education leaders suggest. In this Lenten season, when we pause to evaluate how we are living our faith, let us think about how our actions help create community. Let us also be grateful for the communities of family and friends we are blessed to have in our lives, and, in particular, the Archmere community that is strengthened by the many individual talents, sacrifices, successes and trials of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, parents of alumni, and friends.