Making $en$e of Giving

Can you recall the first time you donated money to a cause? Do you remember why you did it? For most of us, this is like trying to recall what you learned in elementary school: you may not get many specifics but you do remember how you felt and perhaps who made you feel a particular way. I remember when I was in the 3rd grade and bringing home a Catholic Relief Service Rice Bowl to collect money for children in Africa. During the season of Lent, I remember giving part of my allowance each week toward this cause. What strikes me about this memory isn’t the cause or even the recipients. It was knowing I was making an impact and that it felt good to give what I could. Fast forward to 2020 where the technology in our world allows me to give across various platforms and know my (relatively small) donation is appreciated and put to good use; technology allows us to donate by clicking a button or simply sending a text. So if it’s not difficult, what prevents us from giving?

It’s been said that anyone can raise money. From children soliciting door to door with candy bars to the most polished philanthropic advisors, anyone is capable of managing a simple financial transaction. But what differentiates fundraising from philanthropy is the cultivation of relationships and emotions. To say you can increase your own dopamine (chemical associated with reward and motivations) and serotonin (chemical associated with mood regulation) production borders on being quite the salacious offer. But in many ways, there is a real truth in this idea that charitable giving is more biological than financial. Emotions leave a powerful imprint on our collective memory; songs, words, and symbols can all evoke them. While we may not always remember a name or date, we are usually able to remember how some person or some event made us feel. We can recall the joy from our experiences in college while refraining from recalling more unpleasant memories. Our selectivity is important to consider here. For many people reading this, being part of the SMM community or another Catholic grade school was a positive experience. Many of those who have this shared experience may have even decided to make a gift at some point as a way of saying “thanks,” “I appreciate the experience,” or “I want to provide for future students.”

Giving is about our organization, your taxable income, our initiatives, impressing your friends—alright, maybe we can include the last one—making YOU feel good about the impact YOU make. As parents, friends, and potential donors, you are our best resource and spokespeople for what is unique about SMM in 2020. Part of my responsibility is to thank you for your contributions and communicate to you the impact of what you do for our students and faculty. Making sense about giving means shedding light on the power of an educational program; or the financial ease that comes with receiving financial aid to help with tuition; or seeing a renovated playground and library ensure ample study space. It’s at best odd and at worst defeatist to say fundraising isn’t about money. To better understand giving means realizing it doesn’t make sense to donate your hard-earned income; it is not a purely rational act. It is an emotional endeavor where you are given far more in return by knowing that your gift has a tremendous impact on our ability to provide a premier Catholic educational programming, enhanced professional development, and state of the art technological accessibility. By giving to the SMM, you help continue the work started 67 years ago by the Bernardine Sisters and Fr. Henry Miller, our first pastor. Because of you and your generosity we continue to stand on the shoulders of giants—those who have gone before us—in a spirit of gratitude and humility for our beloved school.

Let’s celebrate Catholic Schools Week by remembering our rich history while investing in our future on January 28. Join us and be part of our storied legacy in Wilmington!

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Looking Back…Already

“The Ship of Theseus” is one of the oldest philosophical thought experiments (500-400 BCE) to explore the dilemma of what gives an object or person its identity. It proposes that a warship sailed by the Greek hero Theseus is eventually stored in a warehouse and, over the course of a century, has the various parts and wood structure replaced which begs the question, “Is it the same ship?” The motivation behind using this example is not to navigate the intellectual nuances of what gives an object its identity but to apply the paradox (or tension) to education. Is a school the same today in 2019 as it was back in 1950 or 1980? Has the profile of a student changed? Can a school be the same as it was when it was established and also constantly changing?

With any new administration, the standard metric of “the first hundred days” seeks to address how proposed goals and outcomes have played out: To what degree have you been successful? What short term goals need to be met? What evidence do you have for showing these benchmarks? As such, I felt it was important for my own growth and development, as well as a way to be transparent in our community, to reflect briefly on where I am in my role after one hundred days as Principal.

1) Personnel: Having met with every faculty member over the summer, I have a greater appreciation for the institutional memory at our school: the history, culture, and expectations from the community. Schools are all about relationship building and there is no greater resource than those who have served this great school for over 400 collective years of experience. As agents of change, it was also important to me to be present and supportive of teacher initiatives while encouraging space to explore new curricular ideas and innovative pedagogical approaches.

2) Resources: After numerous conversations with committee members and key stakeholders, we have a solid grasp of the physical plant needs of the school and parish bearing in mind numerous overlapping goals of enrollment, pedagogy, social-emotional learning, and financial stewardship. We have also secured funding to support quality research and evidence based professional development in Responsive Classroom techniques with teachers, Second Step middle school counseling curriculum, and new instruments for our expanding music program, among others. All of these improvements underscore our mission of educating the whole child while providing the necessary resources for students to flourish in secondary school and beyond.

3) Communication: Multiple channels call for more intimate and robust ways of communicating with parents and parishioners alike. Our transition to Google Classroom has served as a technological bridge between classroom face-to-face teaching and greater frequency of collaboration with classmates. This very blog serves as an example of efforts to reach more families, alumni/ae, and the greater school community. With almost 1,000 views in the first month alone, it appears some people are reading!

While it’s helpful to look back and take a mental and spiritual inventory check from time to time, it is paramount (and quite possibly more difficult) to embrace and engage in the present moment. The prayer “Patient Trust” by the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ is appropriate meditation on the seemingly chaotic and hurried nature of our lives at times:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

As I look back, I am mindful of what lies ahead for me. But in the present moment, as I type these words and reflect on the good work we have accomplished and what has yet to be done, I appreciate the grace that abounds and overcomes the minutiae of everyday life. I am grateful to be surrounded by colleagues whose care and concern goes beyond the classroom walls and for parents who desire the best for their child. I look back, if only for a moment, to remind myself that building the Kingdom is slow but incredibly rewarding work.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Preaching to Animals

Today marks the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi who once said, “Preach the Gospel and when necessary, use words.” It’s a powerful reminder about the power of actions and the limits of language. This became all the more apparent during our “Blessing of the Animals” prayer service today where children bring their pets to school running the gamut from stuffed animals and pictures to turtles and barking canines.

The beauty of this prayer service lies in its simplicity. Blessing and remembering animals reminds us of the unconditional love (“agape”) in our lives; in one way, it is the model prayer service par excellence. Other forms of love (physical “eros” and friendship “philia”), by definition, are conditional. They rely on a mutual exchange between individuals but are limited somewhat in their capacity to lose oneself in another. We can recall the words of St. Paul (also a reading from our wedding day), “Love is patient, love is kind…It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Animals are a window into this infinite rippling pool of relationships.

Since we “speak” with animals through behaviors, it makes sense that we are limited in how we communicate this love for them. The Latin phrase spectamur agendo translates as, “Let us be judged by our acts” and reminds us that our actions teach us more about loving others than words can. We are reminded of this in the way our world calls us into relationship through the abundance of life God has created: a beautiful day, a cool breeze, and the sights and sounds of creatures we live with. Let this feast day remind us about our relationship with the non-human world and how it should reflect the way we care for one another.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!