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We Are All in the Same Boat: A Reflection on Trust by Aaron Reller (4/30/2015)

on Saturday, 02 May 2015.

Friends,

Spring has finally arrived here in South Bend, and as the semester winds down and the sun comes out, everyone here is eagerly looking forward to the summer. As we prepare for the summer, I need to ask you all to take a few moments to complete your summer housing application. This summer, we will reside in Duncan Hall, but in order for you to be assigned to a residence hall room, the Office of Housing requires that all students complete a housing application by logging in to https://homeunderthedome.nd.edu with your netID and password. 

Once everyone has completed the application, we will then be able to assign you to the rooms for the summer. Please complete this process by no later than Friday, May 8th.

Continuing in our news from last week, we proud to share some exciting news about all of you and some of our Remick graduates:

  • Vanessa Diller was recently appointed principal at her school, St. Louis Academy for the upcoming school year.
  • Lillian Dickson was named the Lasallian Educator of the Year.
  • Stephen Guerrero (RLP 11) was named the Diocese of Dallas' Teacher of the Year.  
  • RLP 5 Alum Michael Motyl will receive an honorary doctorate from Boston College for the work he has done as President at Guadalupe Regional Middle School in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Congratulations to Vanessa, Lillian, Stephen, and Michael for all of your hard work and dedication in leading your students and schools!

Lastly, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you our newest cohort of Remick Leaders, RLP 14. The cohort is comprised of 28 individuals from 21 dioceses around the country. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the new class, and join me in welcoming them to the Remick community.

Take care,

Greg


Spiritual Reflection

by Aaron Reller

Matthew 14:25-33

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Now that we know who Jesus is, it’s nearly impossible to read Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on water and not think about how foolish Peter was. In this story, he let a little wind frighten him and immediately cried out for Jesus to save him. Doesn’t everyone know that Jesus wasn’t going to let him fall? Perhaps we can all relate to crying out to Jesus in our most insecure or unstable moments.

Peter was a rough and reckless fisherman from Galilee. He wasn’t the beloved disciple, John, not even close. He denied Jesus. And yet, Jesus chose Peter to be the rock from which to build a foundation for the Church. Such an ordinary man as Peter was asked to be a fisher of men. Peter, a sinful man, was used to God’s perfection. This normal and imperfect being helped change the history of the world forever. 

Being a Catholic school leader or teacher is much like being in that boat. When the weather is nice and the wind isn’t tossing you around, it is quite pleasant. There are also the days when the weather conditions are not as kind. Most importantly, being in this boat requires us to work with others who are also rowing. When we all row the same way, we can make it to our destination faster. There are; however, moments that we cannot control. Sometimes a disgruntled faculty member will steer the wrong way, causing the entire boat to stop. There are also plenty of concerned parents or diocesan decisions that, like the weather, we have no control over. There are times we want to stop rowing because we often feel like we’re not worthy or capable of resolving issues at our schools. We may feel like the waves appear too big or mighty, and that we will surely fall out. For all the boat experts there are in the world, there isn’t one who can walk on water. Much like there is no one who can replace Jesus. In the story of Jesus walking on the water, Peter is called to do something that seems impossible. He is asked to step out from the comfort of his boat and to walk on the water. Like any rational human being, Peter loses faith when faced with trusting Jesus. How many of us can say that we would have handled the situation differently? Like Peter, we are human and because we know Peter, we also have a better understanding of God. Whenever I get overwhelmed with my load, I look to Peter.

As a Catholic community, we are all in the same boat. We propel one another to increase speed and to reach our destination faster than we can individually. Unless we have the same belief that God will pick us up when we fall, then we as a communion of saints are not doing our due diligence to what is at the root of our faith. The weather conditions that drive the boat may seem impossible to overcome at times but we are reminded by Jesus that nothing is impossible with trust in the Lord. 

Imperfect as we are, we are instruments in God’s plan and have the ability to be used in beautiful and amazing ways. If a common man like Peter can be given the keys to the kingdom, what does God have in store for us?

Greg and Dan Take Orlando! (4/22/2015)

on Wednesday, 22 April 2015.

Friends,

Dan and I had a great time at NCEA two weeks ago. It was wonderful to see a few friendly faces representing your cohorts, including Corey, Keith, and Anita from RLP 13, and Craig and Bobby from RLP 12. There were also a number of recent Remick graduates presenting the research projects they completed at their schools during year two of the program. I have to say it was nice to see them there sharing their work professionally with other Catholic educators, but also that their community bonds of friendship have lasted beyond just their time in the program.

While it was great to reconnect with everyone, our primary reason for attending the conference was to present on "Re-imagining the Catholic School Leadership: Building a Pipeline for Systemic Transformation." Our presentation was well received, and hopefully it will help increase the focus dioceses place on strengthening and developing the leadership talent within their communities, and ultimately lead to more transformational leaders such as yourselves! Dan even gave a shout out to a theoretical "Aslan Program" in the "Diocese of Narnia" that I think you all might know a little something about...

Speaking of RLP, last week we hosted the entire Remick faculty here on campus to discuss and plan for your courses for this upcoming summer. It was a very productive day, and I left completely energized and excited to welcome you all back to campus this summer. We appreciate all of the feedback you have given us, and know that it has been very helpful as we continue to improve the program each year. Most importantly we've tried to be intentional about not scheduling any evening sessions this summer, to dedicate that time for you all to focus on class assignments and fostering your community and spiritual lives.

We are also proud to celebrate new life and share some new beginnings for many of you:  

  • Matt Moloney and his wife Julie welcomed their daughter into the world Monday morning. 
  • Gabe Moreno will take over as interim principal of Bishop Dunne High School, where he is currently Director of Financial Aid.
  • Bobby Yevich will replace his mentor and principal Sister Florence Ann Marino, IHM, at Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg as she prepares to "Transition with Zeal" and retire at the end of the year.  
  • Kari Buchinger will continue in her role as interim principal at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School in Memphis.

Please join me in congratulating Matt, Gabe, Bobby, and Kari! As always, please let us know if you have any updates to share with the Remick community.

God bless,

Greg

P.S. - I know many of you have been asking about the new cohort - we've been busy confirming the last few candidates, and are excited to introduce you to RLP 14 next week!  


Spiritual Reflection

by Carleen Raymond

Obstacles to God’s Love

“In an age like our own, marked in part by the quest for instant relief from suffering, it takes special courage to stand on Calvary. Uniting our suffering with that of Jesus, we receive strength and courage, a new lease on life, and undaunted hope for the future.”

 – Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

No matter how much we like to plan our futures, life tends to throw us curve balls. Despite our best efforts, we can’t avoid experiencing loss, pain, and sadness at some point in our lives. When we are faced with this kind of suffering, it’s easy to question God and distance ourselves from our creator. It’s easy to let the darkness seep in, to let the sadness consume us and to look for ways to find “instant relief”. But it is in these times of trial that we need God the most and in leaning into our faith, our relationship with God can be strengthened and he can lead us through the trials of our lives to find peace and hope on the other side. 

When I was 25, in my last year of law school, my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In a split second, my whole world changed. I went from a being an incredibly driven, type-A law student to not caring about school, or my future career plans, or even my friends. All I wanted to do was spend time with my mom and my family. Honestly, the only reason I finished law school and passed the bar was because of my mom's encouragement. She refused to let her diagnosis derail my plans for the future. I had 16 months with my mom from the day she was diagnosed to the day she passed away. During this time, I got to talk to my mom about anything you could possibly imagine. I used to lay in bed with her after her chemo treatments and read to her. In some ways, this special time with my mom makes up some of my favorite memories and I was privileged to experience her immense and unconditional love. But this was also the darkest time of my life. Watching my mom becoming increasingly frail, uncomfortable, and eventually, wrought with pain as she neared the end of her life on earth, was the most heart-wrenching experience. 

During that 16 months, I went from trying to pretend that nothing was happening, in this hopeful, naive way of "she's not really going to die," to plummeting into a really dark place where I began to question God’s love for me and for my family. Why would God take my mom away from me? Why her? There are so many horrible people in this world; why not take one of them? Why take someone who was kind and loving, an amazing mother, wife and teacher? In that dark place, I got to a point where I was trying to do everything myself: be the strong one for my dad and brother, carry the weight of the situation all by myself and never let anyone see my pain.

The more that my life felt completely beyond my control, the more I watched my mom become at peace with her future. In the midst of his own battle with cancer, Cardinal Bernardin wrote, “While I know that humanly speaking I will have to deal with difficult moments, and there will be tears, I can say in all sincerity, that I am at peace. I consider this as God’s special gift to me at this particular moment in my life.” I saw this same kind of peace in my mom. Witnessing her tremendous faith in God at the end of her life helped me realize that the only way I was going to survive this ordeal was to lean into my own faith. The more I prayed and read scripture, the more peaceful I felt. Ultimately, I turned to God and trusted in his love enough to share with him my sadness and suffering and loss. And my faith helped me understand that my life (and my mom’s life) was part of bigger a plan.

Having faith is being able to be at peace without necessarily knowing or understanding God’s plan, but trusting that there is a purpose to our lives. The death of my mom was not something I could be type-A or rational or logical about. And so it is with faith. There’s nothing rational about the immensity of God’s love: God’s willingness to become human, and enter into the mess of human life, to the point of Christ’s suffering and death. The amazing part is that God is always there for us through the highs and lows of life having experienced them himself. I had to just give up and give my suffering over to God. I had to stand with Christ on Calvary. And I’m so glad I did, because in leaning into my faith, I was strengthened and my hope in the future was renewed. 

Kristen Gets Confirmed! Alleluia! (4/7/2015)

on Tuesday, 07 April 2015.

Friends,

Easter blessings to you all! Dan and I just landed here in Orlando for the annual NCEA conference, and are eager to see many of your friendly faces this week! If you are in town, please stop by our booth at the conference and join us for the ACE reception this evening, in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency at 5pm. Also, here is a helpful list of all ACE team members and graduates presenting this week.

More importantly, I'd like to ask you all to join me in celebrating with RLP 12 member Kristin McNeal who joined the Church this past weekend. Kristin was kind enough to write a reflection about her conversion experience, that we'd like to share with you all below.

We are all an Easter people,

Greg

Deuteronomy 2:7
"For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing."

My journey to the Easter Vigil has been a slow, but steady stroll.  Throughout my 13 years teaching in a Catholic school, the path has been on that invisible incline – you know the kind – it looks like the sidewalk is flat and straight, but once you reach the top and look back towards where you began, you realize you climbed a hill.  I knew I would convert to Catholicism within a few years of my start at Cathedral High School, but I had no sense of urgency.  Then I reached the top of the hill – last May.   Within a two week time period, I learned that my pastor of 10 years was retiring suddenly and I had been asked in two job interviews about being Catholic – it was then I noticed the hill I had been climbing and having reached the top, my decision was made and I could begin my enjoyable saunter back down.

Outside of my husband and immediate family, the first people I shared with were my Notre Dame family members.  I truly felt like I had won the lottery – everyone was excited and happy.  I also attended my first Mass at the basilica after having shared the news – and I could not keep the tears from streaming after receiving my blessing in the communion line.  There was a sense of completeness and contentment.  

When Fall began, so did my RCIA course.  The group consisted of one convert (me), one person getting baptized and having the entire experience, 4 or 5 others wanting to make first communions, and a group who simply wanted to learn more about their Catholic faith.  We met weekly and talked, asked questions, and shared where we were on our faith journeys.  I looked forward to my time with these people each week and was surprised at how quickly Holy Week arrived.

Palm Sunday was a lovely Mass I shared with my daughter.  We talked about the Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant and we talked about Jesus entering Jerusalem.  Tuesday was a much more challenging experience for me – the first incline in my journey since my decision was made – it was the penance service – my first confession.  It truly is a much difference experience to verbalize your faults and flaws to another person, rather than simply acknowledging them in your mind.  It was a beautiful service and it was nerve-wracking to wait in line, but sharing those thoughts with the priest brought tears – not of sadness, but of relief and completion.  It was challenging and wonderful all together.   It reminded me of my family at Notre Dame, and the feeling of community that surrounds me there.  The Maundy Thursday service was another beautiful and touching experience as I was able to participate in the washing of the feet.  I was honored, simply by being invited to participate, but the actual experience of sitting in the chair as the Gospel was read and having my feet washed by my priest was otherworldly.  Once again, I was enveloped by feelings of completeness and joy.  I truly felt special.

The Easter Vigil was a beautiful experience that will forever be etched in my heart. It was wonderful to participate in the candle lighting surrounded by my family, the Christian Brothers from my school, and my sponsor, Ashley, who brought with her the presence of my RLP 12 cohort.  She sat with me and walked up to the altar by my side as I made my first communion – and I was again filled with joy, zeal, and a complete sense of community.  It was an awe-inspiring moment to receive the sacraments of the church, but it is even more moving to be surrounded by those people and communities who are central to my life. 

I know that this journey has truly only begun as I will continue to grow in my faith and I will walk these same steps with my children in coming years.  I have truly enjoyed my path thus far, and I look forward to each new experience as a member of this Catholic family.

- Kristin

"Ancora Imparo" and Thunder Clubs: A Reflection on Culture (3/26/2015)

on Thursday, 26 March 2015.

Friends,

This week I'd like to share a short 'ancora imparo' story about school culture and the value of constantly polishing it.

Last week, the teachers at St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Tucson, Arizona were worried about their school culture. They had worked hard on it, and as the school grew from 130 students to nearly 350 over four years, they managed to maintain a strong, positive, intentional culture through persistence, vigilance, grit, and zeal. So when they started seeing a pattern of inappropriate language in the middle school, they grew concerned and raised the issue at their faculty meeting. The principal, Keiran Roche, wanted to maintain the strong school culture he and his team have worked so hard to build by jumping on this problem right away and encouraged them to address the issue in their "Thunder Club" mentoring groups. So he sent an email out to his faculty that read, in part:  

Thunder Clubs: This week when you meet a big topic of concern has been inappropriate language with the middle school. Please have a word in the ear with students about appropriate language especially if you have 6th grade students. Talk to them about what is appropriate and what is not and how to respond if someone brings up inappropriate conversations.

Rodney Pierre-Antoine, director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies, is included on the faculty listserv at St. John, and when he saw Keiran's email he saw an immediate opportunity for the principal to use this moment to polish up the school culture. He called the principal right away and reminded him, "You know, when I read your email, I immediately thought about one of the root beliefs you have posted throughout the school - that at St. John, we are 'doers of the Word.' Have you thought about how you could talk about the kids' language use in relation to that root belief?" 

That simple question was all it took. The principal replied immediately, "I didn't even think of that. Great idea. Thanks for the reminders to keep school culture front-of-mind - and please keep 'em coming." 

The principal was right to worry about the culture in the face of even a seemingly small pattern of infractions, because like a lot of us, he buys into the broken windows theory of school culture, that "the little things can become the big things." But in his haste to deal with the problem, he missed a key element of culture building. 

Being intentional about school culture is, in part, about addressing issues when they come up; it's about interventions. But it's also about HOW you intervene, and it's about WHY you intervene the way you do. And the strength of a school culture - I think - is related to the distance between the root belief that drives that intervention and the intervention itself. 

In his next email to his team, the principal reduced the distance between the root belief and the intervention - and he inserted a few more root beliefs while he was at it:

Important reminder that Thunder Clubs start at 2:35pm tomorrow. Here at St. John the Evangelist one of our root beliefs is "Every Minute Counts." Please display the root belief "Every Minute Counts" by picking up your students at 2:35 pm from the classrooms.

Our root beliefs are truly driving all that we do. Please note again the purpose of the Thunder Clubs is the little conversations you are to have as the adult mentor. Both our root belief "Doers of the Word" and "Nothing Short of Excellence" should be mentioned tomorrow as you talk to students about appropriate or inappropriate language in the middle school.

Thank you for making Thunder Clubs an exciting addition to our school culture.

Strong school culture isn't just about fixing broken windows - or correcting inappropriate language. At St. John, for example, it's about helping kids understand what it means to be Doers of the Word and not abusers of words. What root beliefs drive the interventions that are happening at your school? How tightly aligned are the beliefs and the interventions? Are the beliefs explicitly communicated consistently and energetically? 

One last note - the thing I love about this example is that it shows how principals who are awesome at this kind of work need reminders too. Keiran Roche thinks more about his school culture than any principal I know. St. John is an exceptional example of strong school culture. But nobody does it 100% right 100% of the time, and I love that Keiran's response to Rodney was not to be defensive or backtrack but instead he expressed gratitude for the ideas and asked Rodney to "keep 'em coming." 

- Christian 

PS For an example of Keiran's capacity to communicate his school's beliefs and values consistently and energetically, take a look at this recent article about the school in the Archdiocese of Portland's paper. This is one seriously on-message school leader.

A St. Patrick's Day Message — From Ireland (3/19/2015)

on Thursday, 19 March 2015.

Happy belated St. Patrick's Day! 

I had an amazing opportunity to spend last week working with about 20 teachers and school leaders in Dublin from four Catholic schools serving low-income communities. We visited the schools, met with teachers, and spent hours talking through root beliefs and shared purposes. In the end, we wound up telling lots of stories. As I've mentioned before, I think strong school leaders need to be excellent storytellers, because it is through our stories that we most effectively communicate the beliefs and values that we seek to transmit when we educate the mind and the heart. And the Irish are uncommonly good storytellers. 

ShamrockOne story I heard struck me in particular. It was kind of an origin story. Le Cheile Secondary School is the first new Catholic high school in Ireland in over 30 years. Its principal, Aine Moran, told us that the governing body of the school took the unusual step of deciding to not grant preferential enrollment privileges to students based on religious identification. Catholic schools are publicly funded in Ireland, and the relationship between the government and the Church and the schools gets incredibly complicated, but schools are permitted to discriminate when enrolling students based on religion. In other words, if a school is nearly full, the school can give Catholic kids preferential admissions treatment.

Le Cheile's leaders, however, decided not to do this. The school, which is governed by a trust comprised of 19 different religious communities, serves the lowest income communities of outer Dublin, which includes both 2nd and 3rd generation unemployed, nominally Catholic, white Irish families living in government housing projects alongside newly arrived immigrant families from around the world, including Muslims, Hindus, and other non-Catholics, non-whites, and non-Irish. I asked Aine why they chose not to focus on the Catholic population of the community, and she replied, "Because we believe 'catholic' means 'universal' too - and as soon as we start becoming exclusive, and as soon as we start keeping people out instead of welcoming them in, then we will just spend all of our time explaining ourselves. And I believe that once we start having to explain, we lose. Besides, I don't think Christ went around excluding people now did he?" 

Aine and her leadership team are participating in our school culture workshops because they are grappling with a difficult question: in a newly pluralistic Ireland, what does it mean for us to be a Catholic school? The classrooms in Aine's school had as many girls in head scarves as it had freckle-faced redheaded Irish kids. So it was beautiful to hear her commitment to a belief rooted in the Gospel, modeled on Christ's example of exclusion, of reaching out to the marginalized, and of building bridges between communities. 

So on this St Patrick's Day week, I want to thank all of you for the many ways that you are carrying forward the legacy of the 200+ years of service of these heroic women to Catholic schools!

Go Irish!

Christian

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