The music of the Notre Dame Folk Choir has been an important source of inspiration and joy for me since I first heard it over a decade ago as an undergraduate student at Our Lady’s University. Given that personal significance, and the fact that the tour reached the four corners of the continental United States, it is really no surprise that one of the ensemble’s songs, Bless the Corners, came to mind as I reflected on my experience with the Fighting for Our Children’s Future National Bus Tour. Based on a traditional Irish prayer that begins as a house blessing, the text expands to ask a blessing on the wider world and ultimately speaks of our common bonds as Children of God.
The first verse contains the text:
“Bless the door that opens wide, welcome warm to guest and kin,
Bless each shining window, Lord; let the light of gladness in!”
The first line of this phrase captures the generous hospitality we received in every community. Each school threw open their doors (or fence gates as appropriate when arriving in a 35-foot bus) and enthusiastically welcomed us; some even greeted us with a rendition of the Notre Dame Victory March or Notre Dame, Our Mother. Although our visits were brief in the context of a school year, we were nevertheless graciously invited to enter into the life of every institution and encounter the students and teachers, staff and administrators, parents and supporters in a meaningful way. We joined together to celebrate the positive impact Catholic schools have on children, families, and communities.
The “light of gladness” was evident at each school we visited, too. The joy in these communities was palpable in assemblies that began or ended with the entire school singing or dancing. Students offered reflections about their educational experiences that exuded school pride and gratitude. Bus visits were often an opportunity for the school to revel in the academic, artistic, and athletic achievements of its children. In many places, our visits were also an occasion to celebrate the school’s rich cultural diversity through presentations showcasing the students’ ethnic heritage or performances rooted in the community’s folk traditions, such as Mariachi and Folklórico ensembles.
As the traditional Irish prayer continues, the focus shifts from the home to the broader world in the second verse and calls for this blessing:
“Bless the dreams that lift our hands! Dreams to set our children free.”
The hopes and dreams of parents to put their children on a path to academic and personal success are clearly visible in each Catholic school. After my journey with the ACE Bus, I’m convinced now more than ever that Catholic education is a truly sacred endeavor. These schools seek not only to instill in their students a greater knowledge of the facts of history, the formulas of math and science, and the facets of the arts, but also bring them to a greater understanding of themselves as Children of God and aid them in their pursuit of holiness. In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton wrote, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.” What greater gift can be given to a child than not only educating her mind, but also helping her to better know herself and in doing so fortifying her relationship with the Creator?
The final verse of Bless the Corners declares:
“Heaven's doors are open wide! Guest and stranger, bound by love.
Every nation, come inside! Held in hope by God above.”
Even though my work at ACE started only a few months ago, I was blessed to participate in tour stops in 14 cities. Seeing as I recently joined the organization and did not come to it through one of its professional programs, I occasionally felt like a bit of a stranger as the new kid on the team with a lot to learn. However, traveling with the bus was a marvelous experience, and I began to feel more at home. With each school I visited, I gained a better appreciation for the profound bond ACE shares with a diverse range of school communities across the country because of their common mission to equip every student with the tools to achieve college and heaven. The mission springs from the love of God and neighbor, as well as the identity we all share as Children of God.
Excerpts from Bless the Corners, text adapt. by Steven C. Warner, copyright © 2009, World Library Publications, wlpmusic.com. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.