Strengthened By Our Roots

imagesIt’s now a few weeks after Christmas, and many households have taken down their Christmas decorations, including their Christmas trees. Ours is still standing in our family room, filled with ornaments from three generations of family. The eclectic ornament collection also includes those that my wife and I bought to commemorate family trips and travel, and our children’s hobbies and life events. We have so much history in the ornaments we have inherited, collected, or been given over the years, that we have had to resort to a second smaller tree in another room in the house just to accommodate all of the hand-made, counted-cross stitch ornaments my sister-in-law created every year for the last 25 years for each of my children. In thinking about our Christmas tree, each family’s tree, I am sure, tells a story about that family and potentially, its history. The tree for us has become a nostalgic reminder of our family journey over the last almost 30 years we have been married, and the stories of our parents, grandparents, and relatives that are woven into the tree, as well.

Unfortunately during the holiday season, we attended three funerals of family members. In one of the funeral Mass programs was a quote that said,

A limb has fallen from the family tree,
that says grieve not for me.
Remember the best times, the laughter, the song,
The good life I lived while I was strong.

The image of the family tree in that context reminded me of the words of Saint John in his Gospel, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (5:15) The branches of the tree are as strong as the roots that provide nourishment and support; and when a part of the tree separates from the roots, it cannot survive. “But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:21)

Coming home from each of the funerals only to look at the Christmas tree standing in the family room highlighted for me the importance of traditions and the family narrative. With all of the events and images of the holiday season in my mind, I begin the New Year with a renewed resolution to be grateful for the strong roots that have grown through our family experiences and that have been balanced with happy and sad occasions, successes and disappointments, and achievements and failures. My family’s evolution is much like what I have experienced personally within the Archmere community – a sense of tradition, rootedness, and support that encourages one to grow and explore with confidence and acceptance.

Each day, our students at Archmere are creating their own historical narrative, and we are at a point of an ending and a beginning, with first semester final examinations and the start of a second semester. The semester break signals, in some ways, a fresh start for students, a time for retiring one class schedule for a new one, or a one-semester course or two for new electives. The first semester is now history – the students’ histories – documented by transcripts, grades, and the work they have completed, as well as remembered by the friendships and experiences they have had. I hope that as the New Year unfolds, each student makes the most of his or her time at Archmere, experiencing the successes, the failures, and the learning that occurs each day, with the support of family, friends, and teachers.

A New Year and New Beginnings

I have always enjoyed working in a school environment because the academic calendar punctuates the seasons of the year with beginnings and endings. This rhythmic approach to the year seems so natural, like inhaling and exhaling. Those who do not keep an academic calendar still celebrate beginnings and endings at least once on January 1. Within two weeks of the start of the New Year, Archmere students take semester-end examinations, completing the first half of the school year, only to begin the second half a few days later. January is a time of accentuated endings and beginnings – in our educational world, in our faith tradition, and in nature.

…In Our Educational World.

As we begin 2014, we say farewell to two of our faculty members. Ms. Denise O’Meara, after taking a medical leave of absence, has decided not to return for the second semester. She planned to retire after her long teaching career, which included, most notably, the creation of a vibrant community service program. We are happy to report that she is doing well, and we are grateful for all of her contributions to Archmere Academy. We are also grateful for the work of Ms. Lauren Gerber, Mr. Michael Burdziak, Mr. Bill Gabriel, and Ms. Maria Calzado-Saavadra who taught Ms. O’Meara’s classes during the first semester. For the second semester, we welcome Ms. Mary Anne Matarese, who will assume the long-term substitution position.

Ms. Sarah Jamison, Spanish teacher, will not be returning for the second semester. Though she has been with us for a short time, she has supported a vibrant program of foreign language study, and we extend to her our best wishes. Ms. Maria Calzado-Saavadra and Mrs. Leah Lightcap will be leading Ms. Jamison’s classes for the second semester.

Mrs. Carolyn Doyle, College Counselor and Director of Guidance, has decided to retire at the end of the current school year. Mrs. Doyle has created and shaped the college counseling program, assumed responsibility for the Guidance Department, and has been involved in a number of leadership initiatives at the Academy over her 25 years of service. Her initiative, professionalism, and commitment to our kids have helped to create a counseling department that serves our families faithfully each year. Mrs. Doyle is well-respected within the professional circles of high school college counselors, most recently serving as President and immediate Past President of Potomac and Chesapeake Association for College Admissions Counseling. A national search process is underway to identify Mrs. Doyle’s successor.

…In Our Faith Tradition and In Nature.

We began a new liturgical year with the Advent Season on December 1, 2013, and after we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ and welcomed the arrival of the Three Kings, suddenly, the Church fast-forwards to celebrating the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan – the signature event that marks the beginning of his public ministry. In a short two months, we have three cycles of beginnings and endings – the anticipation of the birth of our Savior, the commemoration of His presence among us, and the proclamation of the Good News that tells us the reality we know is not the end – the promise of everlasting life. The Church calendar is rich with dates of commemoration, seasons, and related imagery to accentuate the “rhythm of life,” the natural beginnings and endings we all experience.


The Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church.

For example, as we approached the day with the shortest amount of daylight on December 21 – the winter solstice, we were lighting more Advent candles each week to celebrate the coming of the Savior who is the Light in our darkness. Now, as we approach the summer solstice on June 21, each day increasing the amount of daylight, we celebrate on February 2 the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple. According to Judaic law, Joseph and Mary presented their son, Jesus, at the Temple, 40 days after his birth. In his 1962 Code of Rubrics (officially titled Rubricarum instructum, published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis), Pope John XXIII identified this date as the official end of the Christmas season in the Catholic Church. Soon after this feast, the Church keeps the Lenten Season, this year beginnings on March 5 with Ash Wednesday, only to lead to the Vigil of the Resurrection of Jesus on April 19. All the while, the seasons incubate new life that takes form as longer sun-lit days approach the summer solstice on June 21. Our faith tradition reminds us daily of the ever-changing and creating Spirit that is in and among us!

While I am not one to create “New Year’s Resolutions,” I do pray and wish that all of our students, families, alumni, parents of alumni, grandparents, and benefactors may know the blessings of our God in the New Year, and also may know the gratitude and care of our Archmere community for all of the sacrifices, support, and prayers offered on behalf of the wonderful educational and formative work being accomplished every day.

Blessings in the New Year!