Giving Thanks For Our Community

UnknownOne of the five core values we talk about is Community. It is a part of our mission statement, written on the walls of our classrooms, included in our website and in printed literature about Archmere. It is a word that so many institutions use to describe the family-like atmosphere that they believe they create for the people associated with a particular school, church, organization or cause. But at Archmere during the week of November 6, I experienced Community “in action,” and I could not help but share with you how I felt at each event.

On November 3, the Archmere Academy community learned of the passing of Jerry Ambrogi ’76, a much beloved coach and mentor at Archmere for over four decades. An estimated 600 people gathered at Archmere on Tuesday, November 8 for his funeral Mass in the Theatre, followed by a luncheon reception in the Patio. Hundreds more visited at the funeral home the evening before. After a two-year, brave and painful bout with cancer, Jerry is at peace. Over the years, he has been a significant benefactor to Archmere, quietly helping students with words of guidance, financial support, and a sincere mentorship that positively affected the lives of others. In talking with one mother who attended the funeral Mass, she said that Jerry was the only person that was able to talk to her son at a time when he needed support at Archmere, and she will never forget how that mentorship changed her son’s life. In gathering with family and friends, in celebrating the Mass, and in sharing our individual stories of Jerry, I felt the tremendous impact of the intersections of our lives, creating a powerful sense of Community.

A few days later, on Friday, November 11, we held an assembly for the students to observe Veterans Day. As part of that assembly, students from the War Heroes Club, working with Principal John Jordan ’80, researched the World War II career of one of our students, Richard Fox Grace, who left Archmere in his junior year in 1943 to join the Navy. In May 1945, his submarine was torpedoed in what was then the Bay of Siam, and all the crew perished. The submarine was discovered in 2006, and the location in the Bay of Thailand was designated a war grave by the U.S. Navy. Richard, who was a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, had a nephew, Richard Grace Armstrong ‘69, and his son, Richard Kyle Armstrong ’02 attend Archmere. They were present at the assembly to receive their uncle’s diploma posthumously from Archmere, which was dated June 9, 1944, the day he would have graduated with his class. After his nephews received the diploma, Richard ’69 read a letter he had composed to his uncle. At the conclusion of the letter, the students gave Richard a standing ovation. A color guard from the U.S. Navy joined us, and our own Mastersingers sang the National Anthem and the Navy Hymn. The assembly concluded with the scrolling of the names of those men and women who served or are serving in the armed forces. Needless to say, this special program was an emotional moment for the Archmere community, a moment that acknowledged officially Richard Fox Grace as a graduate of the Class of 1944, a war hero, and a role model who left the Archmere campus 73 years ago to defend our country and our freedoms.

The next evening, I was sitting in the same Theatre where Jerry’s funeral Mass took place and the Veterans Day ceremony occurred to watch the closing performance of “A Christmas Carol,” presented by our drama students. It was a wonderfully unique interpretation of the traditional story, in that all of the characters signed throughout the play. I learned that all of the student actors were taught sign language, which they incorporated beautifully into their acting. It added another dimension to the play, in that Ebenezer Scrooge was taught a “new language” as he transformed throughout the drama. The key words of this new language were: family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. Gradually, as each ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future presented themselves to Scrooge, he was able to sign the words and speak a new language.

What is Community at Archmere? It is those three actions: a funeral for a dearly loved and highly regarded alumnus and coach; a respectful student assembly that remembered one graduate who left Archmere 73 years ago, and in remembering one who served, honored all who served or are serving our country in the armed forces; and a fall play that presented a deeper understanding of “Christmas spirit,” that is a recipe of family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.

Often times we do not know why things happen. It is exactly in those times that we give thanks to God for being a Community of faith, one that recalls the words from the Book of Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We learn to accept those things we cannot change by gathering together, by relying on each other, and by knowing that someone is there to mourn with you, to remember with you, and to offer you kindness and compassion.

I told a group of students after the events of last week that if there is one thing they should remember, it is that, “We, the Archmere community, will never forget you. You are forever a part of Archmere, and Archmere is forever a part of you.” As we celebrate Thanksgiving and begin preparations for the Christmas holidays, I extend to you my thanks and gratitude for each of you, who are an important and vital part of the Archmere community. May we be grateful for God’s blessings!

Lessons In Remembrance

The Archmere Academy community ushered in November with a Mass on the first day of the month celebrating the Feast of All Saints. In recent years, to prepare for this month traditionally set aside in the Church as a time when we especially remember all those who have died, we have begun the tradition of asking members of our Archmere faith community to send us names of relatives and friends who have died, and for whom they would like included in our prayer intentions.

During this year’s Mass, we sang the Litany of the Saints, during which we remembered deceased members of Archmere families. In addition, a Book of Remembrance with a lighted candle was carried in procession to the altar along with bread and wine at the Preparation of the Gifts. The candle represented all alumni, and it was placed on the altar with six other candles, which represented the other constituencies of the school. The Book includes the names of all deceased alumni, faculty, and staff. It has been placed in a specially designed memorial in the newly-renovated Saint Norbert Oratory.

Mr. Bill Gabriel, Campus Minister, explained all of these actions to the assembly at Mass. As I watched and felt the reaction of the students, faculty, staff, and parents in attendance, I thought how much that hour of prayer and remembrance embodied the essence of Archmere’s strength, uniqueness, and ethos.

Remembering our heritage is something we do well, and it is important for our current students, faculty, and staff to know about our roots as a place of learning and growth. The month of November holds special significance in Archmere’s history.

SS Veendam

SS Veendam

On November 1, 1893, Father Bernard Pennings, Father Lambert Broens, and Brother Servatius Heesakkers left as missionaries on board the ship Veendam bound for the United States. From their home at Berne Abbey in Holland, these three men traveled to the Wisconsin frontier. They were asked by the Bishop of Green Bay to minister to the spiritual needs of the Dutch-speaking settlers in the remote, rural areas of Wisconsin by taking over small mission churches. This was a difficult assignment, since there was little, if any, infrastructure to support them in their ministry. Harsh weather conditions, miles of travel, minimal living conditions, and little financial support were all significant challenges they faced. Nevertheless, Abbot Pennings wrote with optimism on the morning of November 13, 1893, from Hoboken, New Jersey:

Thanks be to God, we are safe and sound on land again; over an hour ago, about 11 a.m., our feet touched dry land. All morning we have been admiring the beautiful shoreline …picturesque, with hills, and dales, villas and castles; all around us it was teeming with boats, large and small.

From that day forward, the Norbertine ministry in the United states grew under the guidance and vision of Father Pennings, who, with his confreres, wrote seven letters over the month of November – the first month of their great American adventure.

The three missionaries reached Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and in his sixth letter dated November 24, Abbot Pennings wrote about the adventurous trip through the wilderness:

Sometimes the road was so bumpy that we and the luggage were catapulted into the air, and Father Lamberts and I burst out laughing…”


In addition to it being the 120th anniversary of Nobertines in America, November 13 is an important day in our school history for two other reasons. First, it is the birthday of Saint Augustine, born in 354 AD. After his conversion, he became a great bishop, writer, and founder of a religious order. Saint Norbert adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine – a way of community life – when he founded the Norbertine Order.

Second, November 13 is celebrated as the feast day of All Saints of the Norbertine Order. One of those saints, St. Siard, was the fifth abbot of Mariëngaarde. He was a good administrator and leader in both spiritual and material matters, and the apostolic spirit of the order thrived at Mariëngaarde under his leadership.


Whenever Siard went on a journey, he took along a large basket full of bread and other food to distribute among the poor. Because of this he is usually depicted with a basket at his feat. He had the gift of appeasing hatred and reconciling enemies. Siard urged three things upon the confreres who had to leave the monastery: a joyous departure, a peaceful sojourn, and a happy return. We celebrate St. Siard’s particular feast day on the day of his death, November 14, 1230.

November 13 also takes on special meaning this year as Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania, celebrates its 50th anniversary. The histories of Daylesford Abbey and Archmere Academy became interwoven years before the Abbey was even established.

The Norbertine Fathers of Saint Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin, founded Archmere Academy in 1932. They staffed and administered the school – originally a boarding and day school for boys. In addition to the Archmere educational venture, Abbot Pennings signed a contract on July 12, 1934, in which the Archdiocese of Philadelphia agreed to provide priests to serve as faculty members of a new diocesan school, Southeast Catholic High School for boys located at Seventh and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. As both Archmere and Southeast Catholic grew, so did the local Delaware Valley community’s awareness of and affection for the Norbertine fathers.

Because of the Norbertine presence in the local community, there were a sufficient number of vocations to the Order by 1954. As a result, the Daylesford Priory was established in the former Cassatt Mansion on the Kelso Farms Estate in Easttown Township of Chester County, Pennsylvania. The estate was previously purchased by the Order in 1950, and it became the site of formation studies for novices – men joining the community to be ordained as priests. As numbers increased, the Norbertine community decided that Daylesford Priory should become an independent abbey. On November 13, 1963, new personnel were appointed and the official announcement of the membership of Daylesford Abbey was made – 70 years to the day after Abbot Pennings first stepped on American soil.

On behalf of the Archmere Academy community, I congratulate the members of Daylesford Abbey, their associates and friends, on such a joyous occasion. We are grateful for the years of administration and service given to Archmere by so many dedicated Norbertines.

Our history also includes John and Helena Raskob, who built the magnificent estate we now enjoy. In her Raskob-Green Record Book, Mrs. Raskob quotes an essayist:

When building, build forever – not for the present, but for such times as our descendants will thank us for. (p. 133)

The Raskobs had a vision for the future, not only evident in the architecture of their beautiful home, but also in their lasting philanthropic actions that have left a positive impact on the lives of future generations.

On November 11, we celebrate Veterans’ Day, a day of remembrance and prayer in honor of all those who served in the armed forces. This year, on saturday, November 9, we will dedicated the Armed Forces Tribute on campus, made possible by Mr. Larry Cylc ’73. The Tribute, along side the track and football field, is laid out in the shape of a five-pointed star with a flagpole at each point, flying the flags of the five branches of the armed forces. At the center of the star is the flagpole with the American flag. Our plan is to create a brick “Freedom Walk” leading up to the Tribute with the names of all alumni who have served or are serving in the armed forces. We know of many graduates who have served or are serving, but we would be grateful for our Archmere families to spread the word and be in touch with our staff to be sure we have a most comprehensive list of names.

On November 11, 1989, Father Justin Diny, O.Praem., fourth headmaster of Archmere Academy (1946-83), died. Since 1990, Father McLaughlin has celebrated a memorial Mass for Father Diny on the anniversary of his death. The 24th annual memorial Mass will be held in the newly-renovated Saint Norbert Oratory in Saint Norbert Hall at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, November 11. All are welcomed to attend.

In the Oratory, we have just finished the installation of nine stained glass windows that depict the life of Saint Norbert, the founder of the Norbertine Order and our inspiration today for living as a “Pentecost Community” – a community filled with the Holy Spirit, as were the apostles on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection. Saint Norbert’s zeal and passion for a vision of life gave him the resilience and faith to persevere and be “prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

As we look back and remember during this month of November, we also look to the future as we follow in the example of great people who have helped shaped the Archmere of today. And like the messages of the feast of All Saints and All Souls in the Church, we recognize all of those people who have contributed to a better life for all, yet who remain unknown to us but known to God as saints. We appreciate and honor them through the opportunities we have at Archmere to achieve a vision of the future with the same driving force that was behind their sacrifices and endurance.