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Last Words

At last I sit down to write my last “Man of Steele.” As we step back from “school stuff” and settle into our summer routines, I find myself asking, “Is anyone even reading this?”

It was a gratifying exercise for me to reflect upon the “Top Nine” things I have to be grateful for as I prepare to leave a job that has blessed me so abundantly. But as is often the case when one makes a list, it can be hard to stop. In the days since I settled on my “Top Nine” list, I kept thinking of more things I could have added to the list. So I simply want to add a few more blessings to my original nine.

  • When I returned to Denver in 2006, my mom was 85. Her father lived to 98—but would she? I’m so grateful I was able to live so close to her during her last seven years. I also reconnected with my siblings in a deeper way than I had ever felt.
  • The years when Fr. Chris Pinné was here were full of blessings for the school and for me. We had worked together on the provincial’s staff; but the love we shared for Regis Jesuit brought us much closer. The amazing faith and spirit he showed through a painful cycle of surgeries, rehabilitation, and finally paralysis was an inspiration to me and to everyone who had the privilege of knowing him while he was here. (And I was able to help him celebrate his birthday in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago; he continues to fight through pain with the same positive spirit as always.)
  • There have been some very challenging moments during these years. When I think back on them what I remember most is the friendships that sustained me through the rough times. Most especially, I am grateful to the Trustees, many of whom took great care not only of our school, but of me. Their friendship has been a profound gift.
  • This isn’t glamorous, but little by little over the years we have been able to bring faculty salaries much closer to parity with the public schools. This has allowed us to attract and retain some amazing teachers—some of whom are able to imagine a long career at Regis Jesuit, even with a growing family. Our teachers are, and will continue to be, our most important resource. I’m grateful to them, and to our families and alumni for their willingness to step up their support of our faculty and staff.
  • My friends sometimes joke with me about how ironic it is that Regis Jesuit has enjoyed such amazing athletic success under my watch. Everyone knows I’m an artist, not an athlete. But I really do have a deep appreciation for the importance of a strong and vibrant athletic program. Having more in-house coaches certainly makes a difference. But who could top Missy Franklin ’13 for sheer inspiration and elation? As she shone the world spotlight on our school from the outside, from within, I believe she helped do more to bring the two Divisions together than anyone or anything else—except perhaps the new building.
  • The idealism and generosity of our students has touched me deeply. Whether it is listening to life-changing stories of the girls returning from service trips to Belize, or seeing some of our young men enter the seminary or the Jesuit novitiate, I am moved and inspired. I am proud of the fact that so many of our graduates choose Jesuit colleges—and many more seriously consider them. There is no recipe, but I think to myself, “We must be doing something right!”

Now, lest you think I’ve been wearing rose-colored glasses and believe that everything is perfect at Regis Jesuit, I want to mention a few goals I didn’t meet, some things I’ve left undone, some things I wish I would have done better.

  • One of the reasons I felt comfortable returning to Regis Jesuit as President is precisely because it is home. As an alumnus, I hoped I would be able to help make some dramatic progress in motivating our alumni to engage with the Regis Jesuit of today. The school moved south 25 years ago; the Girls Division is 12 years old: it’s time to move on. We’ve made some nice progress with many alums—and in fact most of the largest gifts to the recent campaign were made by alums. But there are still way too many alums who have never visited the “new” campus, never met a current Raider, never given a dime to the school that gave them so much.
  • We have come a long way toward embracing our identity as one school with two Divisions. But when each spring I ask my Boys Capstone group whether it made any difference in their experience of high school that the Girls Division exists a hundred yards away, too many of them still say, in effect, “No.” In my mind we are falling far short of our potential to make a real difference in how young men and young women view and treat each other. If I were staying longer, I would be tempted to add one more graduation requirement: no one receives a diploma unless he or she has made at least one good friend in the other Division.
  • In the area of unfinished business, economic sustainability is huge. Tuition is rising too fast; the endowment needs to grow substantially; I fear that families whose kids need to be at Regis Jesuit are looking the other way—either because we are unable to give them enough help to handle the burden or they are unwilling to make the sacrifice needed to make it work. This dilemma is not new, nor is it unique to our school, nor is there any easy solution. Fr. Sheridan, the Board and the school administration will be addressing this intensely in the months and years ahead.
  • There are a few physical projects that, regretfully, I leave unfinished. Much work has been done in developing a plan to do some renovation to the Blessed Rupert Mayer Chapel. Some exciting drawings have been developed for recasting our libraries to become the “Library of the Future.” The sculpture of John Francis Regis, which will be magnificent, is months behind schedule. And the “Jesuit Wall” in the Student Commons is just beginning. But as long as Rick Sullivan, Vice President “of Stuff,” hangs around, I am confident that these little dreams will become reality.

I will end my blog and my wonderful time at Regis Jesuit with a slightly altered version of my favorite blessing, from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3:20-21.

Glory be to God, whose power working in us
Has done infinitely more than we could have asked or imagined.
Glory be to God, from generation to generation
In the Church, in Regis Jesuit, in our families
And in Christ Jesus forever and ever.


And Thank You once again and always!

Our Highest Awards 2015

The John Francis Regis Outstanding Service Award, bestowed annually at graduation, is the highest honor the school bestows. It is named for our patron, St. John Francis Regis, who was a 17th century French Jesuit noted for his compassion and his tireless pastoral work among the people of France. If there is one characteristic that unites the recipients of this award, it is tireless work on behalf of Regis Jesuit.

This first award was presented at both graduations:

John ’76 and Susan Sheridan, parents of Kristen ’09 and Ryan ’12, were early and generous proponents of the project to establish the Girls Division. Their gifts of vision and resources have helped propel our Learning Services Program to its present distinguished level. They served on the Campaign Committee of the FFE Campaign. John has truly poured his heart and soul into his alma mater. As a Trustee since 2009 and as Chair of the Board for the past three years, he has given endless hours at countless meetings with unmatched passion and graciousness.

This year the following awards were made at the Boys Division graduation:

Steve and Marnie Bell, parents of Lauren ’09, Andrew ’11, Michael ’13 and Peter ’15, have served behind the scenes to support countless activities and projects. They have hosted Gift Gathering Parties and have for many years served as energetic volunteers for LARK. They were members of a group that interviewed each of the finalists during the search for the Principal of the Boys Division, representing their fellow parents with wisdom and insight. Their love and respect for their peers was shown time and again in their service as parent volunteers in the PACE and Parent Partnership campaigns. They also served on the Executive Committee of the FFE Campaign.

Bob and Elizabeth Lazzeri, parents of Michael ’11, Drew ’13 and Jack ’15, served behind the scenes to support countless activities and projects, including their children’s athletic and artistic efforts. Elizabeth’s contributions have ranged from hidden prayerful support as a member of Moms on a Spiritual Journey to coordination of a record-breaking, though snowy, Mom Prom. They have generously supported the Fall Classic, and have been key backers of LARK each year, personally and through hosting Gift Gathering Parties. Their support of the arts, especially through the FOUNDATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE Campaign, helped make the Performing Arts Center & Student Commons a reality.

The following three awards were made at the Girls Division graduation:

Brian and Julie Bunsness, parents of Matt ’09, Jeffrey ’10, Emma ’12 and Maggie ’15, have shared their personal resources with the school, especially in the FOUNDATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE Campaign. But their biggest impact has been made through the Schmitz Family Foundation, begun by Julie’s late father Vince, a proud Regis Jesuit alumnus. The Foundation has maintained Vince’s philanthropic, educational and spiritual vision by supporting hundreds of students, targeting especially those from middle-class families struggling to keep their children in Catholic schools. Julie served with generous distinction on the Board of Trustees for six years and was a charter member and chair of the Education and Student Life Committee.

Jeff ’80 and Heather Nemechek, parents of Erica ’12, Alex ’14 and Meghan ’15, have helped us grow in our identity as one school. Jeff has long shown remarkable has served on the Audit and Finance Committee for two decades. With the utmost integrity and dedication he has managed the school’s investments and served as an expert resource to the CFO and the Investment Committee. He served for nine years on the Board of Trustees. Meanwhile Heather made her own lasting mark on Regis Jesuit, especially as president of the Boys Division Parent Club. She and the Girls Division president worked hard to form a unified Parent Community Association, whose activities generate thousands of dollars each year for student academics, athletics and activities.  

David and Karen Miller, parents of Nick ’13 and Aly ’15, have been key supporters of LARK, both through hosting Gift Gathering Parties and through Karen’s careful work coordinating reservations. She was a charter member of the School Advisory Council, which has given parents a formal voice in addressing important school issues and decisions. As a member of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Education and Student Life Committee and the Excellence subcommittee of the Strategic Planning Process, Karen’s quiet strength and wisdom have shaped many important discussions. David and Karen have encouraged the development of our faculty, especially through generous contributions in the name of Karen’s mother to the endowment for faculty in the FOUNDATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE Campaign.

One of my greatest privileges as President has been to present those awards, which are powerful reminders of what a remarkable community of parents, faculty and staff we have. I am truly humbled by the passion and generosity that fuel this amazing institution. Thank you!

Letter from the President to the RJ Community

Dear RJ Parents, Students, Faculty, Staff, Trustees, Regents and Friends,

Archbishop Aquila has asked me to address an issue that is of great concern to him in his role as chief shepherd and teacher in the Archdiocese of Denver. It centers on the manner and content of what we teach our young people about human sexuality.

Very often our culture separates the body and sexual activity from morality and spirituality. One only has to Google or search YouTube on “Spring Break” to get an idea of what we are up against. It is a real challenge in this environment to teach our kids in a compelling way about the sacredness of marriage and the Church’s mandate to confine all sexual activity to the sacrament of marriage.

Equally challenging is how to help our kids understand from a Catholic perspective the range of sexual identity issues that seem to be present everywhere in our media. Indeed, some of our own sons and daughters, our students, are struggling to deal with their own or their friends’ sexual identity issues. In a Jesuit school, cura personalis, care of the individual, is a key value. We find ourselves wanting to create a safe environment for our kids and to find ways to support them in whatever struggles and challenges they face. In recent years we have done much to try to eliminate all traces of bullying at Regis Jesuit, especially through the Side by Side program. With the Safe to Tell program, we have also tried to foster a culture in which our students pay attention to each other, and do not hesitate to inform adults when they are worried about one of their peers.

The tricky part is how to both support our young people in their human struggles and at the same time to teach them how to understand those struggles from a Catholic perspective. The Church draws upon a rich philosophical and theological tradition in regard to the human person, right living and the meaning of life. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which developed from a series of Wednesday audiences, has been a particularly powerful contemporary expression of the Church’s teachings in these matters.

I write this letter now in response to some concern and confusion that has arisen as a result of a formation session with faculty earlier this semester in which a presentation was made and materials distributed that were at odds with a Catholic view of human sexuality. The session was scheduled as a way to educate our faculty about secular gender issues faced by many of our youth. Unfortunately, the message was communicated to some that Regis Jesuit High School is supportive of, or at least neutral on, the vision of human sexuality set forth in the presentation. This is not true. As Catholic educators, we are committed to assisting our students to understand God, themselves, and the world around them in relation to the truths of divine revelation communicated to us by God through Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition.

To correct any false impressions given by the first presentation, another session was scheduled for all faculty and staff to address errors and help us better understand how to approach issues of sexuality and sexual morality from a more deeply Christian perspective going forward.

I assure you that we take our identity as a Jesuit, Catholic school very seriously. It has been our heritage for 138 years, and will continue to be, we pray, far into the future. It has never been easy to teach Gospel values; but the culture and communications of today present challenges never before experienced. St. Ignatius used to speak about “saving souls.” I assure you, that desire is alive and burning in the minds, hearts and spirits of our faculty, staff and administration—for the greater glory of God.

As we prepare to celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost, let us pray for an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our community—especially our students and their families. May God keep us all safe over the summer and growing in faith, hope and love.

With prayers and great affection,

Rev. Philip G. Steele, SJ ‘66

The Top Nine Things I Treasure As I Look Back on the Past Nine Years (Part III)

Here follows the third and final installment of The Top Nine Things I Treasure As I Look Back on the Past Nine Years.

3.    Co-Divisional Cooperation
My arrival at Regis Jesuit coincided with the beginning of the fourth year of the Girls Division, its third on campus. The two Divisions had completely different daily schedules. The lunch periods did not overlap a bit, so there was no “mingling,” unless the seniors chose to use their off-campus lunch privilege for that. The schedule precluded any faculty teaching in both Divisions, and, of course, a co-enrolled class was unthinkable. Girls were actually afraid to enter the Boys building; often they would be greeted by comments from the boys or confrontation by adults wondering what they were doing there. Boys were not comfortable in the Girls building either. The two Moms Clubs had chosen the same evening in December for their Christmas Mass and dessert; my suggestion that we might do that together was met by disbelief, to put it mildly. There was a persistent lurking suspicion on the part of some that my real agenda was to move the school toward becoming co-ed. No matter how vigorously I denied it and spoke passionately in support of our co-divisional model, that mistrust would not go away. The “slippery slope” image lasted almost as long as it took us to cover up our “slope” with our new building! Though we surely still have room to grow, I’m proud and grateful for how far we have come in respect and appreciation for each other, and in our ability to more fully make use of the resources that we have, divisionally and together. The simple passage of time has certainly played a part, as has the reality that there has been an ever-increasing number of families with students in both Divisions. I’ve had moments of discouragement, but I have never tired of promoting a vision of cooperation and collaboration; and I have felt thoroughly supported in this by the Board of Trustees. And I know the best is yet to come!

2.    Performing Arts Center & Student Commons
The need for a theatre was clear from the moment the school moved south 25 years ago; and as the music program continued to grow, the lack of proper facilities became even more clear. Plans for expansion were just beginning to unfold when the question of a Girls Division gained momentum. The rest is history! When I accepted the job as President, I did so with the hope that I could play a part in finally making a theatre a reality for Regis Jesuit. Though I didn’t have a theatre or a music background, my family’s roots in the visual arts engendered in me a passion for the aesthetic dimension of life and education; I hoped that passion would help “sell” the project when the time came. The Planning and Major Projects Committee are the unsung heroes in this endeavor, along with architect Bruce Larson, who gave many hours of pro bono service. Together they developed a Campus Master Plan and suggested that the first priority for additional construction should be a performing arts facility. A conceptual model was floated, but it was deemed by the community to be too expensive and too exclusively arts-oriented. Usually downsizing a dream results in disappointment. But in this case it was an unexpected blessing. It was only when we realized the need to expand our vision of the building that we arrived at what we have today. Not only do we have a theatre and music facility second-to-none (but not excessive!); we have a Student Commons with several programmatic and social features that have transformed the school. The building is the physical bridge between the two Divisions. It is the heart and center of the campus. I can’t think of anything I would change. I couldn’t be more proud of it.

1.    The Community of Regis Jesuit
It was hard not to make the PAC my number one point of gratitude. But as amazing as the building is, people are certainly more important than buildings. My brother Mark spent many hours in the PAC working on his mural and tiles. He overheard lots of interchange between students. Several times he remarked to me that he had never seen anything like this in a school. He said, “Kids are constantly saying to each other, ‘I love you!’” And indeed that is the bottom line. Of course things are far from perfect, and each of us fails in countless ways. But in large measure this is a happy place, a loving place. I walk across the campus and hear laughter. I see boys jostling and teasing each other. I see girls doing whatever they do with each other’s hair, or consoling a hurting friend. As I walk the halls I hear snippets of lectures, conversations, projects and questions that almost make me want to go back to school. (I said almost!) On 18 Kairos retreats, I have heard amazing stories from adults and students alike, and have seen God’s grace poured out in a most lavish way. I have seen whole teams appear in uniform at the funeral of the parent of a teammate. I have said Mass for a gym full of kids gathered voluntarily to mourn the death of a fellow student. When my mom died, I experienced what many other RJ families have experienced: an incredible outpouring of love, sympathy and support. Again I felt the power of love and prayer when I had my “heart incident.” I could fill up many pages with similar experiences—and I hope you could too. I’m so grateful for the gift of being able to serve this community, and to have played some small part in nurturing it in a positive direction. I know it’s a cliché, but I have received so much more than I have given. I am full of gratitude, love and prayers for each of you.

That sounds a lot like “The End,” I know. But in the process of reflecting on the “top nine list,” many other people and things emerged for which I want to express gratitude. So I will be back with a few more shout-outs. And lest it appear that I am blind to all that I’ve left undone, I want to highlight a few places where I fell short of my goals—some shortcomings and some unfinished business. Stay tuned!

The Top Nine Things I Treasure As I Look Back on the Past Nine Years (Part II)

Last week I started my countdown of The Top Nine Things I Treasure As I Look Back on the Past Nine Years. This is Part II. (I hadn’t thought before about the fact that I am on about the same “retirement” timetable as David Letterman, so famous for his nightly Top Ten list.)

6. Leadership at Regis Jesuit
When I began my service as President, I convened a weekly meeting with the Maintenance and Facilities crew; I took notes myself and distributed them afterwards. I was also in charge of technology. Human Resources (the purpose of which I didn’t even understand) reported to me. We had no real security plan, but that was an area also under my wing. One of the best decisions I made was to ask Rick Sullivan to serve as Vice President of Operations. He took over all those functions mentioned above, and more. Suddenly things were getting done! Rick’s broad experience, amazing energy, unrelenting persistence and unwavering dedication to Regis Jesuit time and again have made me look good. My appreciation for his service reached its peak during the construction of the Performing Arts Center & Student Commons. As our internal project manager, Rick assured that all the details of design and construction fell together in a way that resulted in the incredible building we have today. As for the academic side of leadership, I wish I could take credit for Gretchen Kessler; but Fr. Wally Sidney was responsible for bringing her from Buffalo 12 years ago. She has provided strong, loving and wise leadership of the Girls Division since its infancy. I can and will take credit for hiring Alan Carruthers as Principal of the Boys Division—although it took me awhile. He was worth waiting for, and in three short years has proven to be just the sort of strong, passionate and visionary leader that we need. One of the reasons I can step down with such peace of mind is my conviction that the school is in very good hands!

5.  Men’s Club
I debated with myself about whether to broaden the scope of this treasure to include all of the parent organizations. Certainly each is a treasure in its own right—and I am especially proud of the Parent Club for its willingness to transform itself from two separate entities to one wonderfully effective and generous Parent Community Association. But I have special affection and appreciation for the RJ Men’s Club. I don’t know if any time between 1877 and 2009 there was ever a Men’s Club; but there certainly was not when I got here. As I thought about it, I couldn’t believe it. I put out a feeler, and a group of eight dads and myself came together in the spring and summer of 2009 to give shape to this new entity. From the beginning they envisioned a group committed to four goals: social, spiritual, service and educational. While they have yet to figure out the educational piece, they have been wonderfully effective in the other three areas. Their Burgers 'n' Brats (and “Beverage”) gathering before the first home football game has been wildly successful from the beginning. They have hosted events of prayer and fun for dads and sons, dads and daughters, and families. They have adopted the Fall and Spring Spruce-Ups and the Freshman Retreat Breakfast, and have reached out to families in need. I have no doubt that this group has made a huge positive difference in the life of the school, and in each other’s lives. But what I wasn’t expecting was the amount of personal support and joy I would experience as a result of working with these men. I feel that I have made many friends among them, and the sort of “male bonding” that was always a part of the vision of the club has meant so much to me. We may not be as efficient as the Moms Clubs, but we sure laugh a lot!

4. Freshman Retreat
Most people know that I was part of the first group to bring the Kairos Retreat to Regis Jesuit back in 1994. (I always credit then-Principal Rick Sullivan as the driving force behind that move.) Even back then I was aware of the very successful retreat for freshmen that Creighton Prep in Omaha had pioneered. I knew enough about it to know that it was a huge amount of work, and at the time I didn’t feel that I had the time or energy needed to start another high-intensity retreat. Then I spent the 2005-06 school year at Rockhurst High in Kansas City. By that time they had committed to the Freshman Retreat, and I became a member of the “Core Team” that planned and led the experience that year. I was blown away by what a great experience it was for the freshmen, as well as for the many sophomores, juniors and seniors involved in leading the retreat. When later that year I learned that I would become the next President of Regis Jesuit, I resolved to bring the Freshman Retreat west. While the key to the success of this retreat (as with almost all of our retreats) is peer leadership, I knew that this endeavor would only work with strong adult leadership. I asked my good friend Adam Dawkins ‘98, whom I had known as my “pastoral work grant kid” back in the 90s, and John Ferraro ‘82, the hard-working and deeply spiritual Pastoral Director of the Boys Division, to assemble a small group of junior leaders and travel to Kansas City to be part of Rockhurst’s Freshman Retreat. After experiencing what I had, they enthusiastically started the retreat in the Boys Division the following winter. Girls Division Pastoral Director Patty McCulloch (a master at adapting boy-focused experiences to the needs of girls) observed the boys’ retreat that year, and brought it to the girls the following year. I’ve always had a special hope that this retreat, halfway through freshman year, would have a particular impact on any kids who did not yet feel at home at Regis Jesuit. It always saddens me when a lonely freshman decides to transfer out before giving the Freshman Retreat a chance. I am proud and grateful that the Freshman Retreat has become a key component in laying the foundation for our students’ commitment to each other and to the school.

Next week: Part III, the exciting conclusion!

The Top Nine Things I Treasure As I Look Back on the Past Nine Years (Part I)

As I begin my final full month as President of Regis Jesuit High School, I’ve been thinking about what to write about in my last few blogs. I’m feeling the need to make lists—but what sort of lists? I began my time as president of my beloved alma mater with certain hopes and dreams; what about a list of hopes fulfilled and dreams come true? The problem with that is that the reality of these years has far exceeded my puny hopes and dreams! What about a list of accomplishments? That sounds prideful, knowing full well that whatever accomplishments I’ve been a part of have been very much group efforts. What about “Things I want to remember”? That doesn’t seem quite right; that list could easily get out of hand!

So here it is: The Top Nine Things I Treasure As I Look Back on the Past Nine Years (Part I). I started doing a Top Ten list, but I liked the symmetry of nine treasures for nine years; and it divides nicely into three parts. (Not many people know that I once team-taught a course in Geometry and Design. Our CFOs are particularly incredulous!)

9.     The Quality of our Communication
Both as an artist and as someone who likes to write, it is important to me how we communicate and how that communication looks. I could probably be accused of micro-management, but I have tried to review most of what goes out under the name “Regis Jesuit.” I believe that in general parents feel better informed than they did nine years ago. Rapidly evolving technology has fed some of that progress. But much of it is due to the hard and persistent work of Charisse Broderick King and her communications team. I am very happy with the way the adults and students work together in our new Communications Center. I have become increasingly proud of the quality of materials both our students and adults produce: invitations, brochures, publications, yearbooks, web pages, videos, broadcasts, etc. And it’s only going to get better!

8.    Our Commitment to the Magis
It is a Jesuit hallmark to be constantly seeking ways to do things better. I know this is dangerous to write about, especially because I will single out some areas of remarkable growth and neglect many others; but remember, I am not writing an admissions brochure—this is a list of what I personally happen to treasure in a particular way at this moment. But speaking of admissions, that is an area in which we have come so far—and the quality of the students that Patricia Long and Paul Muller consistently invite to join this community says it all. Three wonderful musical experiences in the past 24 hours confirm for me how extraordinary is the quality of music at Regis Jesuit—from our liturgical choirs—including First Fridays!—to our amazing instrumental and vocal musicians, I have truly enjoyed seeing music at RJ blossom so beautifully. The last and newest area of growth I will mention is our College Counseling Center. Although still in its infancy, I know this initiative is going to impact our students’ futures in extraordinary ways.

7.    Art and Environment.
It’s a mixed blessing to have a desk where the buck stops. But one of the things I have most enjoyed about being in charge has been the ability to make decisions about the art and other visual features of our campus. When I arrived in 2006, the walls in the new Boys building were mostly empty, except for the wonderful stairwell full of works that Tim Newton had wrestled from some of our best artists over the years. It was exciting to work with Bill Starke on The Climbers at Regis Jesuit, which animate a huge wall while depicting some valuable truths about the RJ experience. Matt Dehaemers, a Rockhurst High alumnus, visually exploded our school crest and reassembled it into a brilliantly colorful depiction of our history and heritage in the Boys Tradition Hall. Heather Delzell’s portrait of Gretchen Kessler’s mother is an evocative and reflective presence in the Girls library. And two pieces that have immense personal meaning to me are my dad’s Last Supper in the St. John Francis Regis Chapel and, of course, my brother Mark’s unbelievable mural in the PAC. I think when word of that gets out into the Jesuit world you will see people visit our campus just to see “the mural.” And it will be matched in a few months by Pablo Eduardo’s monumental sculpture of our patron, St. John Francis Regis. It will stand as a powerful and inspirational landmark right in the heart of our campus.

Next week: Treasures 6, 5 and 4. Have a wonderful weekend!

Coincidence? I think not!

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein—although given the famous physicist’s absence of belief in a personal God, that attribution is doubtful. But it makes sense to me. I have been thinking a lot about coincidence—or more accurately, providence, a lot since this time last week.

As I was working on my blog last week I was having a hard time finding a good ending—ironic, since the subject was “Ending Well”! Suddenly I thought of looking for an appropriate Mary Oliver poem. I knew that the one I found was the right one when two days later I received a breathless email from a mom who told me that that poem had helped lift her out of a months-long dark hole. It was exactly what she needed to hear at this moment in her life. Was my choice of that poem coincidence? I don’t think so.

One of the hardest parts of this job has been accepting the fact that I simply get to know very few students. I am pulled in many directions, and my opportunities to get to know students are rare. Each year at this time I sign up to serve on a few Capstone panels. Three faculty or staff members evaluate the seniors as they present the projects that are supposed to capture something important about their four years at Regis Jesuit High School.

Was it a coincidence that my assistant signed me up for a Capstone evaluation after school on Monday—one of only two Boys Division slots I had available? Was it a coincidence that out of all the 210 senior boys, Nicholas Tyng was assigned to that exact time and place to present his Capstone? He read a beautiful “Letter to Self.” The first story he told was of coming to the Regis Jesuit campus with his family one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2011, just after receiving his letter of acceptance. He just wanted to visit and share with his family the place he was so excited to be spending his next four years. They were hoping to be able to get inside the Girls building, since Nick’s little sister was along. A man inside wearing jeans, a long shirt and sandals let them in, welcomed them and introduced himself. That was me! I don’t remember what I was doing alone in the school on a Sunday afternoon; but I believe that it was God who arranged for me to meet Nick and his family that day. He wanted us to have that gift of friendship for these four years.

Many times in my life I have found myself in the right place at the right time, or finding just the words that exactly match what someone needs to hear. How was it that I found this job, or this house, or this best friend, or this spouse?  We may not recognize God’s hand at the time; but upon reflection it seems impossible that it is all coincidence.

As anyone who has heard me deliver a funeral homily knows, I have a hard time believing in a God who directs bad things to happen to us: cancer, accidents, the death of a child. “God must have a reason.” I don’t buy it. On the other hand, I do believe that even though he doesn’t often work a miracle contrary to nature, God is working overtime to try to make good things happen to and for us. At the very end of the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius invites us to consider this active, loving, providential God:

I will consider how God labors and works for me in all the creatures on the face of the earth; that is, he acts in the manner of one who is laboring. For example, he is working in the heavens, elements, plants, fruits, cattle, and all the rest—giving them their existence, conserving them, concurring with their vegetative and sensitive activities. Then I will reflect on myself.

That is what providence means to me. That is what the Easter season means to me.

Our final all-school liturgy of the school year will take place next Thursday, April 30 at 10:00 am in the Guy Gibbs '47 Gymnasium in the Boys Division. In addition to offering thanks for all the incredible blessings we have received this year, the students will honor those faculty and staff who will be moving on at the end of the year. As always, parents and grandparents are most welcome at this liturgy.

Lessons from the Snow: Ending Well

On this surprisingly snowy morning in late April, my thoughts are scattered—not unlike the rabbits scurrying about outside my window. I become more aware each week how quickly time is passing. And yet this snow is a reminder that winter has some unfinished business, and if we try to anticipate the future prematurely (like planting anything outside!), we will be sadly disappointed.

All of us are facing an ending—some more definitive than others. One of my favorite reflections is about how we approach the end of things.

We take such care with our beginnings. Think about how much attention goes into every detail of a wedding—only the first day of what two people plan to be a lifetime together. Teachers spend endless hours in meetings and preparation before the first day of class. I have spent embarrassing amounts of time planning a meal I am going to cook—researching recipes, finding ingredients, readying the kitchen.

All too often, after all we have invested in the beginning, we let the ending just happen. We get impatient or discouraged; we spend all our energy anticipating what is next and let what is still “now” slip away. I remember more than one poker game where a good player would play solid poker all night, patiently and slowly building up his stack of chips; then he would get tired, or drink a little too much, decide he is going to bed, and shove all his chips into the middle at exactly the wrong time. Talk about a bad ending!

Here are my petitions: some good endings I hope and pray for.

  • That those facing the end of a chapter in their lives will trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help them discern what God desires for them next…
  • That our seniors still finishing their Capstones and other projects will have the energy and commitment needed to produce the quality of work they will be proud of…
  • That our seniors, and others moving on from the RJ community, will take the time to cherish and thank their parents, teachers and friends—all who have made this experience such a powerful blessing…
  • That all the hard work of so many spring athletes and coaches will bear fruit, and that the coming games and meets will call forth the very best in all of them…
  • That the performers, singers, dancers, writers, artists and crew preparing for end-of-year performances, exhibits and concerts (especially those involved in The Radiance this weekend, which, if God will forgive a shameless plug in the midst of a prayer, is well worth seeing) may bring joy, beauty and wonder to all around them…
  • That parents of seniors will be given the twin graces of loving and letting go…
  • That those parents and grandparents who are facing the end of their lives may face their illnesses with courage, faith and hope; and that their families will have the strength to be fully present to them on their journeys to God…
  • That I may find the words to adequately express my gratitude to all those who have made the past nine years such an incredible grace in my life...

As usual, my old pal Mary Oliver has a thing or two to say. Here is her wonderful poem The Journey.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

My Next Assignment

Earlier this week our Provincial, Fr. Ron Mercier, SJ, made his official annual visit to Regis Jesuit High School. Although he is ultimately responsible for validating the Jesuit mission of the school, his first priority is the Jesuit Community. On Monday he saw each of us individually, and then led us in the Eucharist and a community meeting. He spent Tuesday in the school, meeting with key school leaders and the Board of Trustees. For St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, these annual conversations were the key to the sort of governance he envisioned; assignments are made, ideally, based on the Superior’s intimate knowledge of the mind, heart and soul of the individual Jesuit, as well as his sense of the needs of the Church and those of the different works of the Jesuits.

All this is a rather long-winded windup to the pitch. I have officially received my next assignment. I will become the Superior of the Jesuit community at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama; I will also work in the college, most likely in campus ministry. I have told some of you that this was a strong possibility; but now it is official!

This does indeed feel like starting over. I will move from my hometown and from a situation in which I have made wonderful friends too numerous to count to a place where I have only met one or two of the eleven Jesuits in the community, and no one else! And yet, though I will miss many things and many more people when I leave Colorado, I am not anxious; every assignment I have had as a Jesuit these 49 years has turned out to be a grace—and I have made great friends in each place. (In the coming weeks I will reflect more on these past nine years and the particular graces and blessings I have experienced.)

Many people have never heard of Spring Hill College, and I myself have never visited Mobile. But it is the third oldest of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. (after Georgetown and Saint Louis University). It is a small (1450 students) liberal arts college with a beautiful campus, including an 18-hole golf course. So I move to a college smaller than our high school; and I trade Raiders for Badgers! What can I say?

It’s frightening how quickly this year has gone; and although I will be here until the end of July, the weeks continue to fly by. I have told many of you that I have been given a three-month mini-sabbatical, and I plan to make the most of it. I have lined up three European cruises on which I will serve as chaplain. Sometime in October I will make a retreat in California and perhaps have a little neon therapy in Las Vegas. After all that I expect to feel ready to begin my new life in Mobile on November 1. Later on I will share my new contact information—and more of my gratitude to you!

The Gift of Passion

Last night I experienced one of the absolute highlights of the year at Regis Jesuit. It was the Canta Belles’ Easter Vigil, directed by Bernie Sauer '97. It is a short tapestry of readings and songs based on the Passion according to St. John. It was stunning—beautiful, moving and prayerful. (I knew it would be great, so I should have written this last week; it might have encouraged a few more people to attend who might not have been aware of what a special treat this is.)

Every year I overhear someone walking out of the Blessed Rupert Mayer Chapel after that vigil saying, “That was my Easter!” With that in mind, I decided that the best Easter reflection I could offer you might be the introduction to the concert that I was privileged to give last night.

Passion means suffering.
Passion means feeling.
Passion means love.
Passion means death.
Passion also means life.

Have you ever thought about the fact that some of the most beautiful music and art the world has ever known has been created in response to one of the darkest moments in human history: the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Perhaps the reason beauty and suffering can live together so intimately is that for us Christians it is impossible to talk about Jesus’ passion and death without talking about his resurrection. His death was a life-giving death. It was not a wall but a doorway.

Tonight we gather in God’s presence to receive a glimpse through that doorway. May the beautiful words and music we hear take us inside the very heart of Christ—a heart that loved us unto death and loves us into life.

I pray that during the Holy Week ahead you too have an experience that speaks to you of God’s life-giving love—a love that has a way of seeping into even the darkest and most hidden recesses of our hearts. It might be a service at your own church. It might be an early flower in the yard or a stunning vista in the mountains. It might be your family gathered around the Easter table.

Have an enjoyable and safe spring break, and a most Blessed Easter!

Hearts and Showers

Early in Lent, understandably, my reflections focused on my own heart. I seemed like every day the Scripture readings were full of images of cardiac symptoms (try “hardness of heart”; and “stiff-necked”!) The message was not lost on me!

Now as I have tried to find a “new normal” (salt-free popcorn (eew) and some regular exercise in cardiac rehab), I have found my Lenten reflections turning more outward—partly inspired by our Diversity Day and partly triggered by items in the news. Last week I wrote about standing up to instances of racism, sexism or other forms of exclusion and cruelty. This week I find myself thinking about the homeless—from whom we are pretty thoroughly protected here at Parker and Arapahoe, but whom we encounter on nearly every street downtown and many intersections throughout the metro area.

I came across a news account of a story out of San Francisco. It recently came to light that a sprinkling system had been installed two years ago around St. Mary’s Cathedral. From thirty feet high, four sprinklers would automatically activate for more than a minute every thirty or sixty minutes. The system was designed to disperse the homeless gathered below. You can imagine the outcry that accompanied this story; the system has since been dismantled.

I thought of four contrasting approaches:

  • Recently Pope Francis saw to the installation of three showers and a barber’s booth for the homeless under the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square.
  • At the same time I heard about the cathedral sprinkler system, I learned of a different San Francisco church’s ministry to the homeless. The Gubbio Project (named for an Italian town where, according to legend, St. Francis of Assisi negotiated a peace agreement between frightened townsfolk and a hungry wolf), which, for nine hours a day during the week, provides a clean and spacious place to rest, meals and other support services for the poor and homeless.
  • Closer to home, Fr. Woody’s Haven of Hope recently announced a campaign to expand their building so that they can serve more indigent and homeless men and women in Denver.
  • Yet even closer to home, we had a very powerful and successful Homeless Plunge in the fall; and all year long our Arrupe Club regularly serves meals in the Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen, which is located in the St. Francis Center Day Shelter.

The homeless are but one example of groups all too easy to shun or avoid, usually out of fear. Let us continue to pray for hearts open to embrace without fear what is different in ourselves, our families, our school community and the world beyond the walls of Regis Jesuit.

Oklahoma: The Challenge of Right Choices

By now most of us have seen the deeply disturbing video of alcohol-fueled Oklahoma University frat boys dressed in tuxes chanting blatantly racist lyrics on a bus. Many have noted the irony in the fact that this occurred on the same day President Obama was delivering a speech in Selma marking the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Three days later the young man leading the singing was identified as a recent graduate of Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas—another bit of irony in the fact that that was the day Regis Jesuit was holding our tenth annual Diversity Day.

I was going to say that the world of Jesuit education was shocked by the revelation that one of our “men for others” could be found in such a situation. “Stunned” would probably be more accurate. Could we imagine a Regis Jesuit grad making a similar choice? Sadly, I would have to say “Yes.”

We are well aware of the perilous culture of college life—some of which seeps down into high school life. The heavy use of alcohol and drugs in a sexually and emotionally charged environment facilitates poor and sometimes evil decisions on the part of kids who in a more sober and spiritual context would profess solid moral values. We are also well aware (or should be) of the racism and sexism that lie just below the surface in (I believe) most of us.

As parents and educators, it is with a mixture of pride and fear that we send our sons and daughters across the graduation stage and out onto college campuses from coast to coast. We realize at that moment that we have done all we can do to prepare them for the challenges of life beyond the relatively safe world of home and high school. We hope and pray that they have acquired the values they will need to know what is right and the strength they will need to choose accordingly.

Until then we need to do all in our power to give our kids the tools we know they will need. Incidents like Oklahoma provide us perfect opportunities for lively discussions in the classroom and around the dinner table. Can you imagine yourself or any of your friends in that situation? What do you think you would have done if you had been on that bus? How do you think a Jesuit school would have handled those kids? What do you think of the response of the students involved, their parents, the school officials?

I hope that such efforts as our Side by Side anti-bullying program and our Diversity Day help our students to reflect upon and analyze a variety of moral situations that require personal decisions. In situations of bullying, harassment or assault, we are either perpetrators, victims, bystanders or upstanders. Let us pray that we and our children will always have the grace, courage and strength to be upstanders. That is what it means to be with and for others.

Pearls from Phoenix: Leadership Part II

A few weeks ago I offered some reflections on leadership gleaned from my meeting in Phoenix with my fellow presidents of Jesuit schools, and I promised to follow up with a few more thoughts. In a panel on leadership one of the presidents recommended a lecture delivered by William Deresiewicz to the plebe class at West Point in October, 2009. It is entitled Solitude and Leadership, and I highly recommend it to you. Not knowing whether the speaker’s idea of solitude is the same as mine, I was nonetheless intrigued by the very title, because I know the importance solitude has played in my own attempt to lead Regis Jesuit High School during these years. Preparing homilies, reflections, remarks, talks; writing this blog; preparing for important meetings: all of them demand solitude, concentration, reflection. This essay says to me that this kind of solitude is not just some Jesuit or priestly necessity; it is essential to leadership.

The West Point plebes to whom the original lecture was delivered were not that different from our own students. They were bright, idealistic, aspiring to leadership, willing to endure a fairly rigorous regimen in order to reach their goals. What Deresiewicz does very powerfully is to challenge some common definitions and truisms.

Success: too often in a system like ours conformity is rewarded. Following rules and directions is often rewarded more robustly than independent thinking. It is this quality that is too often missing in leadership today:

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

Multitasking: the old assumption that multitasking is a skill that comes naturally to young people is proving to be false. We’ve been assuming that the movers and shakers, those with the best leadership skills, are those who can keep many balls in the air at once. But what we have been thinking of as multitasking is more accurately simply distraction: moving from one thing to the next in short bursts.

The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

As an antidote to both conformity and multitasking, Deresiewicz proposes the values of concentration and solitude as the path to true leadership:

[Concentration] means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?

One final element that Deresiewicz adds to this mix is counter-intuitive to such concepts as concentration and solitude, but it is something we at Regis Jesuit know well and value greatly in our efforts to develop leadership. It is friendship.

Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying.

This provocative article ends with a thought that could well have come from a Regis Jesuit retreat talk:

Solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

The Gift of Kairos, Part II

Back in October, on the occasion of the 100th Kairos retreat in the Boys Division, I wrote some reflections on the Gift of Kairos. I just want to add a footnote to those thoughts.

As I write this, I am finishing Kairos 103. I have been thinking a lot about the fact that this is my last RJ Kairos. (I think you know I have been trying to avoid thinking about “the last this” and “the last that”; but eventually it gets to be unavoidable!

I wish I had kept better records, but I believe I have been on upwards of 30 Kairos’s—the early ones as director, the more recent ones as a member of the adult team. We have been blessed with the ability to send a priest as a team member on almost every single Kairos. That may have to change in the future, but we hope not.

Back in October, I spoke about what a gift Kairos has been to our school, and to the thousands of students and families who have been impacted by it. I can also add what a gift it has been to me personally. I have told many people that if it hadn’t been for Kairos, I’m not sure I would have stuck with secondary education all these years.

I encountered Kairos at a time in my life when I was beginning to get restless. I had taught art for more than a decade, and the classroom was never where I felt most at home. I had moderated the Student Council, which can lead to early burn-out. (I have a suggestion for anyone for whom life is flying by too fast: chaperone a high school dance and time will stand still!) I had been Pastoral Director, planning liturgies and retreats—all positive, but nothing that was so targeted to the real needs of adolescent kids as Kairos. To be able to witness first-hand their enthusiasm, gratitude and love blossom before my eyes; to see the amazing gifts of leadership, wisdom and care emerge in the senior leaders; to be able to spend four days with four or five amazing and dedicated colleagues, laughing, eating and praying together—all of these are gifts which have been lavished upon me, and which I will certainly dearly miss.

One final, though simple, thought that has been haunting me this week: What amazing students we have! Kairos provides the arena in which that becomes so clear. Each individual young man and young woman is an awesome work of art. Parents take the Kairos opportunity to stop and look at their son or daughter with the same eyes with which they first gazed upon their infant child. Classmates listen to each other’s stories, and suddenly realize they are surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of incredible friends. Students themselves, some for the first time, are able to see and cherish their God-given beauty within and without.

All of this adds up to an amazing school filled with amazing kids. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the parents who have entrusted those kids to us and to their classmates. I pray that we can continue to cooperate with God and with each other in nurturing those precious young lives.

The Heart of the Matter—One Week Later

As I write this I think back to where I was exactly a week ago: in my bed in Room 475 of the Cardiac Tower at the Medical Center of Aurora awaiting my early-afternoon cardiac catheterization. I can now reveal my location; I deliberately kept that a “secret” last week, wanting to avoid a room full of flowers, balloons and stuffed animals. I know the kind of outpouring of which this community is capable! Instead I received an outpouring of very powerful thoughts, prayers and love. I simply want to thank you from the bottom of my newly unclogged heart for all the prayerful support. I really did feel it, and I know it was a huge part of my successful and quick recovery. Over the years I have heard many members of the RJ community remark about the incredible level of help and concern they felt at a time when they needed it. Now I know from the inside what they were talking about. Thank you again so very much!

Many were surprised to see me preside at our Ash Wednesday liturgy earlier in the week. If you care to glance at my homily you will get a sense of how profoundly my spirit was touched this past week—not just my physical heart!

In addition to the homily, I offer you the following links to other resources for anyone looking for Lenten reflection material:

During this season of “the Church on Retreat,” let us make an even greater effort than usual to pray for one another.

Man of Steele Not So Strong

I’m waking up this morning to a beautiful, bright sunrise—but in a very unexpected place: the hospital! When I left for a doctor's appointment yesterday morning I never expected to be spending the rest of the day—and night and maybe tonight—here.

I have been experiencing some chest discomfort and shortness of breath for the past several days. After an EKG the doctor sent me right across the street to the hospital for more tests. After all this I’m told I had a mild heart attack. There was (and is) no pain.

I’m awaiting a cardiac catheterization this morning, which will help the doctors assess the situation and decide on the most effective treatment. I promise to follow whatever the doctors’ orders are, and I expect to be back in circulation very soon. Meanwhile, I know that I can count on your thoughts and prayers, which are extremely powerful.


I’d like to bring two other invitations to prayer to your attention:

  • This coming Wednesday we will celebrate our annual all-school Ash Wednesday liturgy at 10:00 am in the Guy Gibbs '47 Gymnasium in the Boys Division. Parents, grandparents and friends are most welcome.
  • On Sunday, February 15 Fr. Kevin Dyer, SJ will enter into his experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He will be in silence until March 18. Fr. Dyer describes it this way: “A person is led through the Exercises by an experienced director. Each day, the two of you meet, talk about what has been happening in prayer, and plan for the next day. Usually, you will make four or five one-hour prayer periods in a day. The rest of the day is spent in a more relaxed silence, allowing what has happened in prayer to sink more deeply into the heart. Along the way, the person receiving the Exercises is asking for special graces from God. That's where you all come in. I need all the help I can get in order for God's grace to sink into this hard heart. So if you have the time, send a prayer or two my way. I promise to do the same for the RJ.”

I know that Fr. Dyer will feel the impact of your prayers, as do I!

Dressing and Dying with Dignity

As you can imagine, it is nearly impossible for me to go anywhere without running into someone from the Regis Jesuit community. A few years ago I was walking through the casino at the Bellagio in Las Vegas at 6:00 am and ran into a former Trustee. I told him I was on my way to the poker room to take advantage of the drunks who had been up all night; we still laugh about that. But I am constantly reminded of the need to be on my best behavior at all times! I am also reminded that most “chance encounters” are often more than “chance”; sometimes they lead to significant graces. I had an example of that last weekend.

Occasionally I enjoy going to Sunday Mass as a “civilian”—to experience what it is like from the pew. When I do that I always wonder who is going to spot me, and whether they will be scandalized by the fact that I am not dressed like a priest and not up on the altar. Last Saturday I was meeting some friends for dinner at 6:30 in the Tech Center, so decided to attend the 5:30 Mass at Risen Christ. As I approached the church entrance I wondered who I might meet this time. At that moment who should come out the door but Bishop Conley! He was in town for the Lighthouse Women’s Center Gala, and had presided at the 4:00 pm Mass.

A couple of days later the Archdiocese sent out a call to prayer and action in response to the introduction of the “Death with Dignity” bill in the Colorado State legislature. In that message they quoted Bishop Conley’s homily. If I had not met him leaving the church, I might not have paid much attention to that email. But because my antennae were up, his words struck me as powerful and to the point:

Assisted suicide is yet another lie of the culture of death. The culture of death believes that life is only meaningful when life is productive, and pleasurable, and painless. Pope St. John Paul II said that in such a culture, “death…becomes a ‘rightful liberation’ once life is held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering.”

Real dignity is the consequence of being made in the image of God. Dignity is part of the gift of God’s divine love. Dying with dignity means knowing the meaning of life, even in the face of death—realizing that we’re made to know, love, and serve God, and to love and serve one another. Dying with dignity means knowing that our suffering has meaning. Dying with dignity means dying in the company of those for whom we pray, and those who pray for us.

“Death with Dignity” is a veiled effort to exclude vulnerable people from the family, and the community. The false compassion of assisted suicide threatens the ill, the elderly, and the disabled, by proclaiming their very lives to be “undignified.”

Today the assisted suicide bill has been introduced into committee. In order to highlight the issue and engage the RJ community in prayer for the conversion of hearts to a commitment to respect for life from its beginning to end, special prayer was planned throughout the day. Fr. Bob Sullivan. SJ '54 highlighted the issue at the First Friday Mass this morning, including one of the petitions; a Rosary was held during lunch time; and following morning prayer was used in both Divisions:

Jesus, Divine Healer, pour your grace upon all those afflicted with illness or disease.

Protect from all harm those who are vulnerable due to sickness, suffering, poverty or age.

Grant those who are called to serve as health care providers renewed conviction in their ministry, and increased wisdom to treat the whole person, and not merely the illness.

Give us strength to be bold and joyful witnesses to the truth that every human life is sacred.

We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen

Let us make that prayer our own as we face the many threats in our culture to Jesus’ way of reverence for every form and every moment of human life.

The Power of Peer Leadership

Last night I walked from home back to school for the opening ceremonies of the freshman retreat. As I approached the Girls Division I heard wild screaming coming from the gym. I knew what was going on, and that I had missed the beginning dramatic moment, so I proceeded to the Guy Gibbs '47 gym (BD). The freshmen were seated in rows of folding chairs in the center of the gym floor. As Alan Carruthers launched into what the freshmen were told would be an extensive reading of retreat rules, suddenly the lights dimmed, the music blared, and a low-tech version of the Avalanche taking the ice occurred. Dozens of sophomore, junior and senior retreat leaders burst into the gym, waving flashlights and running in circles around the freshmen, screaming wildly as the freshmen looked on in amused bewilderment.

It’s a fun moment that I try to witness every year at this time. It always reminds me of what a gift we have in our own students. So many of them eagerly embrace the invitation to lead their peers and their younger brothers and sisters. Except for some of our senior offerings, all of our retreats are led in large part by students. Junior and senior LINK leaders receive extensive training in the summer in order to welcome and guide the new freshmen; many of them are back leading the freshmen through their retreat now. Kairos senior leaders spend countless hours getting ready to lead the juniors in that special retreat—and they are truly amazing. Ambassadors lead tours and spend shadow days with prospective students. Daily in classrooms, gyms and fields students rise up to take on the mantle of leadership, often without being elected or appointed in any formal way.

We all know the power of peer pressure to influence teen attitudes and behavior, often in negative ways. Peer leadership, or peer ministry, is the equally powerful antidote to negative peer pressure. Even for kids who have a positive relationship with their parents and other adults, the influence of their peers is huge. All the more so for kids who are alienated from their folks and struggling to survive adolescence; or for kids whose parents are too often absent or disengaged.

We work hard to build a community in which every individual feels accepted and at home. We could not begin to do this without the leadership of older students. Unlike situations where hazing is tolerated, or where the younger members have to wait to “earn” full membership, we try to create an environment in which new members feel fully accepted even before they arrive here. Of course, we are not free from bullying or from kids isolating other kids; but we try to address instances of that as soon as we become aware of them. Nothing is more disheartening to us than to have a student leave school because he or she has not found a place here, especially if we have never been made aware that there was a problem.

So I write today out of a huge sense of gratitude for our many students who do so much to help their younger brothers and sisters become part of the community and begin to learn the meaning of Men and Women with and for Others. And I write also to encourage any parents whose son or daughter is struggling to be sure to let us know.

Pearls from Phoenix: Leadership Part I

I spent the Martin Luther King weekend in Phoenix. (I know: “Tough Duty—Phoenix in January!”) Every two years the Presidents and Board Chairs of Jesuit high schools and middle schools in the U.S. and Canada meet for reflection, conversation and the sharing of best practices. It’s a gathering that represents great wisdom, passion and experience.

It was a bittersweet experience for me, realizing that this was the last time I would be part of that group—realizing also that the group has changed considerably in these past nine years. There are more lay Presidents all the time; there are more “Cristo Rey Model” (work-study) schools, like our own Arrupe Jesuit High; and included for the first time were the Jesuit middle schools (most of which are patterned after the “NativityMiguel Model”). There are now 80 schools in this network, 30 of which are serving the underprivileged.

For me the best part of these meetings is the opportunity to share “war stories” and best practices with my fellow Presidents. One session that I found particularly interesting was a panel presentation by four Presidents—Jesuit and lay, veteran and rookie—about what they had learned in their role as school leaders. It got me thinking that it would be a good exercise for me to compose my own list, which I intend to do sometime before I finish. Meanwhile, I share a few of the learnings of my fellow Presidents—especially the ones I thought may apply to all of us with leadership responsibilities, whether to corporations or families.

  • In making decisions, sometimes you have to be patient; at other times it’s better to rip the bandage off.
  • Let other people do their jobs.
  • You might not always be able to tell the whole truth, but never tell a lie.
  • Take time off.
  • It’s OK to say “I don’t know,” and to admit when you’re wrong.
  • You can never communicate too much.
  • Time spent “hanging around” is never wasted.
  • The interruptions are the job.
  • If you are really doing your job, you will at some point encounter opposition, even hatred.

In a future blog I will share a bit more of what I took away from these meetings.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Reflections on a Newish Year: the Mystery of it All

This has been a week that has reminded me of how complex life is. Just when you think you might have it figured out, something happens to remind you that you don’t. I used to get so mad when the grade school nuns would answer our little metaphysical questions with “It’s a mystery.” But they were right.

  • Last Saturday morning the family of one of our senior girls found her younger sister dead in her bed, a victim of the epilepsy she had fought so hard all her short life. Suddenly a brilliant Colorado morning became the darkest day in a family’s life. Why?
  • Yesterday I was told that one of our teachers is pregnant with twins. She and her husband had been trying hard to get pregnant—and suddenly a double answer to their prayers! Why?
  • A few days ago a friend told me through tears that his wife “had decided that she doesn’t want to be married to me anymore.” Why?
  • Last night at dinner someone asked a couple how they had met. They went on to tell an elaborate story of cat-and-mouse that no one listening to would ever imagine could end in marriage. How did two people so different find each other and decide to make a life together?

In his contemplation on the incarnation in the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius imagines the three Divine Persons of the Trinity looking down on humanity. They see “those on the face of the earth, in such great diversity in dress and in manner of acting. Some are white, some black; some at peace, and some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world and some dying.” Ignatius later imagines the Divine Person consciously deciding to work the salvation of humanity by sending one of Themselves to earth. The scene then zeroes in on Mary’s room in Nazareth: her “Yes” to the invitation of the angel to be the one to bear God in her womb.

For Christians, God is not some cruel puppet master, pulling strings from afar in arbitrary ways for his amusement. For Christians, God has become one of us. God has “pitched his tent” among us, has embraced the mystery that we know is human life, has made himself subject to that mystery—and finally subject to death, the most mysterious experience of all. But his rising points the way to a blessed ending to even the saddest story.

It’s probably just past the time when the words “Happy New Year” sound appropriate. But it is never too late to pray for faith, hope and strength for all of us as we encounter the mysteries of life—sweet and bitter— in the year ahead.

Strategic Planning Update

As we enter into a new year and a new semester, I want to take this opportunity to update you on the status of our Strategic Planning Process.

The week of November 17, our consultant, John Littleford, led 19 focus-group conversations which included more than 250 people, soliciting opinions on Regis Jesuit’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges as we look to the next five to ten years. The groups, chosen at random as much as possible, were each comprised of an important RJ constituency: parents, alumni, students, faculty, staff, Trustees, major donors, feeder schools, competitor schools, etc.

On Saturday, November 22 John Littleford conducted a half-day workshop for the Trustees, Management Team and Admissions Directors in which he presented a list of 48 strategic concerns and initiatives that he distilled from the focus group conversations. He then led the workshop participants through a process of identifying the top nine concerns:

  1. Increase Endowment
  2. Retain Middle Class Families
  3. Update and Complete Master Plan
  4. Diversity: Faculty / Staff / Students of Color
  5. Catholic Faith / Mission
  6. Size of School
  7. Financial Model
  8. Focus on Academic Rigor
  9. Marketing the School

The leaders were then broken into four smaller groups and instructed to work toward agreement on the top five issues or concerns. A spokesperson for each group then made a presentation to try to sell to the entire group that small group’s approach. There was one more vote on the top five issues and approaches, after which Board Chair John Sheridan '76, Strategic Planning Chair Tony Naes '80 and I were instructed to distill the work of the morning into a strategic plan model.

Our strategic plan model embraces the following components:

  1. A comprehensive financial strategy, including a greatly increased endowment
  2. Infrastructure / Campus Master Plan
  3. Diversity (faculty, staff, student) / Accessibility
  4. Excellence (academic, athletic, activities)
  5. Marketing / Communication / Branding

Over all these focus areas is the umbrella of Mission and Identity, which for us includes the following three essential characteristics: Catholic, Jesuit, Co-Divisional.

The workshop participants, along with the remaining members of the Strategic Planning Committee, are now broken into five sub-committees, each of which will tackle one component. Our intention is to come up with a limited number of action steps and key performance indicators for each component. We hope the final plan will be visionary, realistic and measurable and that it will convey the richness of the ideas that have surfaced throughout the process, and the depth of passion and commitment to Regis Jesuit High School that we all share. The final strategic plan will be completed before the beginning of our next school year in August 2015.

My Very Short Christmas Blog

Nobody wants to read a lengthy blog from me now that Christmas Break has begun. Perhaps more to the point, I don’t want to write a lengthy blog! So let me share just one reflection and a link.

It is hard to deny that in our culture consumerism too often defines the Christmas experience. And advertising is the fuel that feeds consumerism. So I never expected to be moved to tears by a piece of advertising.

This is a new commercial by Sainsbury’s, a large supermarket chain in the United Kingdom. It has gone viral worldwide over the past week or so. Perhaps you have seen it already and I am simply the last one to the party. But I found it very moving. In just a couple of short minutes it captures the meaning of Christmas better than a thousand homilies.

The link was sent to me by a good friend and Regis Jesuit classmate. The ad is set on Christmas Eve of 1914, the first Christmas of World War I. It is inspired by real events from 100 years ago.

I hope that you find joy and inspiration here, and in a thousand other places and faces during the Christmas season. Merry Christmas!

In Praise of Music

Our Communications Coordinator, Amanda Shepherd, could tell you that I am perennially late with my blog. Often I awake on Friday morning with my churning ideas finally ready to bubble over. I spring to the keyboard before these thoughts leave me, and a couple hours later the week’s offering is ready.

But for the first time I completely spaced out this commitment today. I was enjoying a leisurely lunch on an unseasonably beautiful day when my friend made some comment about writing. “Panic” is a bit too strong, but an anxious realization swept over me of what I hadn’t done. There have been times in the past when I have been tempted to write something like, “I have no ideas today. Have a nice weekend.” But I have always resisted that temptation, and it is now a point of pride with me that I have never missed a Red and White deadline (however extended to accommodate me!). So I feel compelled to write something, but I promise to keep it simple.

My simple thought is, “Thank you, God, for the gift of music.”

This time of year feels like a kind of musical Golden Corral, with offerings so abundant they leave you uncomfortably full. At a point when most classes are winding down and “phoning it in,” our music classes are eagerly preparing to show off that they have been working so hard on since August. Of course it doesn’t hurt that we have our beautiful new building, and it is exciting for the students to be among the first to perform in it.

And so on Tuesday evening all the instrumental groups except the Jazz Band performed in The Z Theatre, where they impressed us with their hard work and skill. The Jazz Band had had its own gig, but also played during lunchtime on Thursday in the Student Commons. (It was hard to tell if the several parents there were paparazzi or groupies, but they were definitely fans!) Last night the vocal groups kept dazzling, one after another, a standing-room-only crowd in The Z. The singers must have been wired, because some of the same boys were back before school on Friday, singing carols in Tradition Hall as cans for the Food Drive were brought in.

I have listed only the events I personally experienced; I know there were others. But all I can do is to thank God for this abundance of gifts. Intermediate thanks must go to Bernie Sauer '97, Karen Wuertz and Tim Sauer '06, who have done amazing things with our young musicians and singers. They have built what has to be one of the finest high school music programs in the state.

Finally I feel a constant debt of gratitude to all those who have, in modest or large ways, supported the FOUNDATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE Campaign. As we had hoped, the new Performing Arts Center is inspiring kids to take their music and acting to the next level—and inspiring audiences to new levels of holy appreciation and gratitude.

Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lute and harp!
Praise God with timbrel and dance; praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with sounding cymbals; praise God with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Psalm 150: 3-6)

Bringing a Flashlight to Vegas

It’s a little like bringing a flashlight to Las Vegas.

Those who have been around Regis Jesuit for awhile know that Advent is my favorite liturgical season. Over nine Decembers I have tried, with some very limited success, to encourage us to resist the instant and complete flipping of a switch from Thanksgiving to Christmas that characterizes our culture.

It’s not that lights and gifts and Christmas music are wrong. But I have the strong sense that if we do not make room for Advent we are missing something important and beautiful.

  • If we haven’t felt the darkness, can we really appreciate the light?
  • If we haven’t experienced purple and dark blue and black, can we fully appreciate red and green and yellow?
  • If we haven’t known the silence, can we really appreciate the music? (I wonder what it would be like to arrive at Christmas without being totally sick of Christmas music!)
  • If we don’t experience waiting, can we really appreciate the meaning and value of the gift?
  • If we don’t experience longing, can we truly understand what God’s embrace of our human life means for us?

Counting down the days can be an important part of reflective preparation. Remember when each edition of the newspaper depicted the number of shopping days ‘til Christmas? The total never included Sundays (let alone Thanksgiving night!), which is why we needed a tally separate from a calendar. The simple rhythm of opening a little cardboard window each day on an Advent calendar can remind us to allow the mystery to unfold and reveal itself gradually. The lighting of the candles on a wreath one by one can help us to mark the days and weeks gradually, reflectively as the light increases little by little.

And I haven’t even mentioned the beauty of the daily liturgical readings during this season. They remind us, powerfully and poetically, of what a momentous thing it is that God has chosen to be with us. It reverses everything we took for granted: the lion lies down with the lamb; the rough places are made smooth; the mighty are struck down.

At times I allow myself to get frustrated at the seemingly impossible quest to break down the resistance to Advent—which in itself is a violation of the invitation to patience inherent in the spirit of this season. Although it drives me crazy to see poinsettias instead of Advent wreaths, I realize that I need to appreciate the small victories. At least the trees that spring up in the Girls Division right after Thanksgiving get decorated with mittens and hats that will be given away to needy kids. At least the thoroughly cheesy inflatable snow globe in the Boys Division serves as a giant reminder of the drive to collect food for the poor.

One of the things that makes it so hard to win this battle is the power of nostalgia. We want Christmas to be what it was when we were children, and too many of us have grown up without experiencing the kind of Advent I am suggesting. I feel blessed that in my life I have known a simpler way to do this—and that’s where my nostalgia takes me!

Our Jesuit Martyrs, Part 2: A Special Homily

As we approach the great feast of Thanksgiving, I want to assure all of you that I pray daily in gratitude for you. I hope that your family is drawn closer together by your celebration, your extra time together and your prayers. Let us not allow the ever-encroaching Black Friday culture to ruin one of the best days of the year. Happy Thanksgiving!

¤ ¤ ¤

When we think of Thanksgiving, the image of the Table is what usually first comes to mind. This past Tuesday the student body, faculty and staff gathered around the Eucharistic Table to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of our Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. We joined Jesuit schools and parishes everywhere in marking this anniversary; but not many were able to encounter someone who knew the martyrs personally. Having Fr. Tim McMahon, SJ as our presider was a special gift. He has agreed to share his powerful words with us.

After my ordination, I was sent by the Provincial to El Salvador to work with refugees from the civil war and to complete a master’s in theology at the Jesuit University of El Salvador (UCA). In the summer of 1989 I was sent to DeSmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis to teach. On the morning of November 16th I received a phone call telling me that six of the Jesuits with whom I had lived and worked for the past two years had been murdered, along with the woman who had been our cook and her daughter.

That evening, something happened I never would have thought would happen. As I listened to Nightline, a popular late night news show at the time, Ted Koppel covered the death of my friends and companions. And I will always remember what he said: “It is a sad fact of this world that some people’s lives are worth more than other people’s lives.”

What Mr. Koppel meant was this. The civil war had been going on in El Salvador for more than ten years. Over 80,000 men, women and children had been killed. Entire villages had been slaughtered, thousands of poor campesinos, teachers, catechists, labor unionists, priests and nuns had been killed, and the world had looked the other way. But when the military high command of the Salvadoran army ordered the murder of six Jesuits at our university, the world finally paid attention.

The world had paid little attention to a small country where ten percent of the population owned 90 percent of the land and wealth of the country; where most people lived in desperate poverty and ignorance under a brutal and oppressive oligarchy and military dictatorship that made teaching campesinos to read—or even worse, teaching them to read the Gospel—a crime punishable by death. This was the real cause of the war: brutal selfishness, greed and oppression. Of course none of the ruling elite would admit that they really believed they were more important than everyone else, that they could build their excesses on the bodies of the poor. So they called it something else. They called it “defending national security” or “fighting communism”; but that was not what it was. And the church and the Jesuits knew it and said it out loud for all to hear.

The six Jesuits who were martyred that day would have been appalled and horrified to know that anyone would think that their lives were more important than that of the poorest campesino. These men used their brains, and their wonderful educations, all of their energy and talents, to fight that lie. They used the university, their knowledge of philosophy and sociology and theology to combat the lie. They ran a printing press and published the truth about the economics and politics of the country and the war. They ran schools for the children of the poor. They published the names of the dead and disappeared, and denounced human rights abuses on both sides of the war. Their crime was to speak the truth—the truth of the gospel that every human life is sacred, that every human being has the right to have access to work or land to feed a family. And because they spoke the truth, those who benefited from the lie wanted them dead. And so they sent their trained killers to the Jesuit residence in the middle of the night and shot them in the head so they could not speak the truth.

Along with my Jesuit companions another friend of mine and her daughter were murdered that night. Elba was our cook. She came from desperate poverty and the Jesuits gave her work and paid her a just wage and she wanted to care for her family. With the money she saved she bought an oven—a rarity in the poor barrio where she lived—and she learned to bake cakes and hoped one day to run a baking business. But that dream died that November morning. Because, you see, she was evidence that the lie wasn’t true, and so she too had to be “disappeared.”

Ignacio, Segundo, Amando, Juan Ramon, Elba and the others are dead, and in part because of their deaths peace came to El Salvador. But real justice still has not come, and the lie that some peoples’ lives are more important than others still rules our world.

Of course no one who benefits from the lie will speak it out loud. They will call it something else, try to disguise it as something good and noble, when in fact they want the opposite of that good. So the lie will take many forms, it might be called “defending liberty” or “the right to choose”; it might disguise itself as “upholding the free market” or “protecting our national interest”; at times it tries to mask itself as a false and jingoistic patriotism. And once the lie perverts one of these good and noble ideas for its own ends, it robs it of its nobility and perverts it into something lifeless, a false god, an idol of selfishness.

And the thing about false gods, idols, is that they are not alive. In order to continue to exist they need sacrifice, they demand victims, they devour human flesh and blood. The only way to fight the lie that not all lives are important and to fight the false gods the lie creates is to speak the truth—the truth that every human life is sacred, that no human life can be sacrificed to an ideology, that each life from its beginning until its end is valuable and precious. We cannot sacrifice the unborn to the right to choose, or the desperate refugee to selfish national interests.

We must remember that the only true God never demands human sacrifice; the true God sacrifices his own flesh and blood so that all human beings can have life and have it to the full. That is the goal of a Jesuit education, a Regis Jesuit education: to be able to see the Truth, to see through false gods to the one true God of Life.

That day in November my life changed. I had never before lived with martyrs—and you know I never thought they were saints when I lived with them. They were human beings like you and me; they had their many faults. Ellacuria could be arrogant and dismissive. Juan Moreno was the most boring teacher I ever had! Yet God called them to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters. And I realized that God could use me, that I too could be holy. I was never more proud to be a Jesuit, and I wanted to continue their work and witness to their sacrifice on behalf of the Truth. And I knew then that whatever happened in my life, I would always be a Jesuit. I was bound to them, not out of guilt, but out of pride and loyalty. Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!

“Our Martyrs”: the 25th Anniversary

Sunday, November 16 marks the 25th anniversary of the murders in El Salvador of the six Jesuits and their two companions. In a beautiful reflection, William Bole describes the event succinctly:

It was one of the most glaring and brazen human-rights crimes of the late 20th century. In the predawn hours of November 16, 1989, an elite battalion of El Salvador’s military forced its way into the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America, or UCA. The university, led by its president, Father Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ, had become a stronghold of opposition to human rights abuses committed by the U.S.-backed military.

On that night, soldiers dragged five priests out of their beds and into a courtyard, made them lay facedown on the grass, and fired bullets into their heads. They went back inside and killed another Jesuit. Then, searching the residence further, they found a housekeeper and her teenage daughter crouching in the corner of a bedroom, holding each other. The gunmen shot them too.
Twenty-five years later, many are still waiting for justice in the case of the murdered Jesuits and women. None of the top military commanders who issued the orders to kill was ever prosecuted for the crimes.

Having occurred long before any of our students was born, this event may seem distant, both in geography and time. But for us Jesuits it was an event similar to the assassination of President Kennedy or 9-11—one of those crisis points in our history that changes us forever. The lives and ministries of countless Jesuits have been inspired by “our martyrs”; and in turn our students, colleagues, parishioners and families have been impacted in powerful and lasting ways.

For decades there has been a special bond between what was the Missouri Province of the Jesuits and the Central American Province. Honduras and Belize were “missions” of the Missouri Province, and numerous Jesuits from the Midwest made those places home. Two of our formal Provincials, Frs. Tim McMahon, SJ and Doug Marcouiller, SJ studied at the University of Central America and knew personally the martyrs. (Fr. McMahon will bring as a gift to Regis Jesuit that personal history when he presides at our special all-school liturgy in honor of the martyrs on Tuesday, November 18 at 10:00 am in the Guy Gibbs '47 Gymnasium in the Boys Division. As always, parents are most welcome to attend.)

This morning a delegation of students and faculty members from Regis Jesuit left to join nearly 1400 others from Jesuit high schools, universities and parishes, as well as representatives from other Church groups, for the seventeenth annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C. The scope of this gathering has grown far beyond its roots in annual protests at the School of the Americas in Georgia. The commitment of thousands of young people to pray and work for justice has been inspired by the reflection, learning and fellowship that characterize the gathering year after year. The ancient saying has proven true once again: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

For those wishing to learn more about martyrs of El Salvador and reflect upon the meaning of their deaths for our country and our Church, Xavier University has assembled a webpage that is a treasure trove of reflections and resources.

November: a Season for Remembrance and Gratitude

When I think of November, I think “brown.” I think that the leaves have fallen, the vibrant colors of fall have faded, the earth is coated with frost each morning. Nature’s death is all around, and it seems like such a natural time to remember the loved ones who have gone before us.

But this year it hasn’t felt like November yet. As I write this the night’s low is predicted to be 45°. Day after day the warm bright sun belies the season. The grass is still green. No wonder we’re having such a hard time doing something about global warming!

Sooner or later winter will come. Likewise sooner or later death will come to each of us. It’s good to reflect on this from time to time—not in a morbid way, but in a way that puts the gift of life into perspective.

Nature constantly reminds us of the cycle of which all creation is a part: birth, youth, growth, maturity, diminishment and finally death. Our own bodies echo this rhythm as we move through life. And, of course, we think the death part should come after about 95 years of vigorous health. But what happens when life doesn’t go according to the script? What happens when the “natural cycle” is interrupted: a baby dies; a child gets cancer; a young mother dies before her parents do? Our first reaction, understandably, is “How can this happen?” “This isn’t fair!” “Where is our supposedly good God in this?” Even Jesus himself prayed that God would take the cup of suffering and death away. On the cross he asked God why he had abandoned him. In the end it was only grace that allowed his prayer to become, “Not my will but yours be done.”

I know that my November thoughts are colored by the past several months, in which it seems we have lost an unusually large number of parents of current students and recent graduates—and I know several others who are currently fighting valiant battles with cancer. In today’s world 55 or 63 is young—let alone a baby or young child or teenager. Is there any way of making sense of all this?

More and more I find myself turning to a reflection that St. Ignatius placed at the very beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. He called it the First Principle and Foundation. It is his bedrock statement of what life and God are all about.

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God's life
to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God's deepening his life in me.

This prayer sounds great until we get to the part about not fixing our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. Really? How is it even possible not to prefer health, wealth, success or a long life to their opposites?

I guess that’s why we need saints—those who recognize that every moment, every breath (our own and that of those we love) is pure gift, and we’ve done nothing to deserve any of it. And saints realize that God labors constantly to find a way into the cracks of our lives—even the darkest and hardest place. “Everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.”

May our loved ones rest in peace. May God give us grateful hearts. May we strengthen and support one another, especially in our most difficult moments.

Musings with Parents on how Time (and LARK) Fly

I have been planning for a while to write a bit about LARK this week. For those new to the RJ community, LARK is our springtime dinner-auction. It is our biggest single fundraiser and the most memorable party of the year.

But after attending last night’s Gift Gathering Party for senior parents I find myself thinking about much more than LARK—or perhaps I should say that I find myself thinking more about the meaning of LARK than about the details of the event itself.

The party was held at Hodsons in Southglenn—just a few blocks from the house where my mom died a year and a half ago, so just driving in that neighborhood brings back a wave of feelings and memories. Then the first two sets of parents I met were reminiscing about their Regis Jesuit journey, which began in 1998 when their first kids were freshmen and will end in May when their last kids graduate. Facing my own impending “graduation,” that conversation had me musing over the fact that these parents’ first kids were in eighth grade in 1997 when I left an all-boys Regis Jesuit for an assignment as assistant to our provincial in St. Louis. When I returned in 2006 the Girls Division was three years old, those “kids” had graduated from college, and now they are 30!

The conversations all seemed to touch upon the scary reality of how quickly time passes. Parents facing an empty nest were wondering what life will be like next August when all the kids are gone. (Mike and Vicky Winterscheidt have found one answer to the empty nest syndrome: four years after their youngest son’s graduation from Regis Jesuit, they have stepped up as the chairs of this year’s LARK—what an amazing gift to Regis Jesuit!) Other senior parents, especially those preparing to see their eldest child graduate from high school, spoke about how unprepared they are to see their first child leave home; or how difficult it is to watch their daughter as her senior year is punctuated by several knee surgeries; or how hard it is to see their son wrestle with such anxiety over all the various factors involved in making a college choice. Others had the opposite problem—a senior who seems to want to avoid anything resembling a choice for as long as possible.

My most touching conversation was with a parent who told me why they are not usually on the “party circuit.” Their first priority is making room for family—being there for the kids, eating meals together as a family, spending time together. They realize the incredible changes their kids go through in these four adolescent years—and how fast they grow up; they want to be present to as much of this precious period of life as possible. And in the process they want to build a family that will continue to grow as a family as each new stage of life unfolds.

Driving home it struck me that LARK—whether it means volunteering, attending a Gift Gathering Party or attending the event itself—provides many rich opportunities for getting to know our fellow travelers along this special journey that we share. We know our kids make friends for life at Regis Jesuit; their parents do too! We parents and educators have much more than a job; it is truly a vocation, a calling from God. To feel a sense of understanding and support in this mission is a wonderful gift. In this context, LARK becomes not just a financial event that makes our budget work. It is a celebration of all that we do together to provide this life-directing experience for our children; and it is a fun and relatively painless way to generate the resources needed to make this community happen.

So at this point let me simply suggest that you won’t regret locking in Saturday, April 25 on your calendar. It’s the date of the 42nd Running of LARK—A Kentucky Derby Experience. In its third year off campus, LARK will be held in the Plaza of the Denver Mart. For those who have only seen the Mart from the outside, or who have not been inside since the building’s old days as the Merchandise Mart, you are in for a pleasant surprise. The Plaza is a renovated, multi-tiered space that I believe will provide a very pleasant atmosphere for our event. K-M, which has been catering LARK for many years, has recently contracted with the facility to run events there. That was one of the reasons we felt comfortable moving over there; we know we will get a great meal! The other big reason was that the old arena at the National Western Complex was not available on the last Saturday in April, which until recently had been our preferred LARK date, and to which we wanted to return.

I invite you to visit the LARK webpage for lots more information, especially about all the many ways of getting involved—including Saturday evening’s Gift Gathering Party in the PAC for freshman and sophomore parents. As some of them begin the journey that some of the senior parents are ending, this will be a great opportunity to pick up a few fellow-travelers for the road ahead!

From Homecoming to Homelessness

Three weeks ago as we celebrated Homecoming, I ended my blog by commenting on the irony of calling Regis Jesuit “home.” “It is a place whose very mission is to prepare young men and women to leave it, not to stay; to venture out, not to dig in; to prepare to “go and set the world on fire.” How beautiful, though, that part of what our students learn here is how to make the world their home: to make new brothers and sisters out of strangers; to form community in unfamiliar places; to sink roots in places they never imagined.”

I wasn’t thinking of it at the time, but that was a fitting description of the Homelessness Plunge that nearly 60 of our students, faculty and staff experienced earlier this week. This year for the first time 24 girls joined 19 boys downtown—serving lunch at St. Elizabeth’s, experiencing the people and work of those who daily assist the homeless at St. Francis Center and other drop-in centers; meeting and talking with “real live” homeless people on the 16th Street Mall. When they returned to campus, each group of five was given $5.00 to spend at King Soopers on supper and breakfast for their group. Separated by gender, they slept outside under the stars—exhausted, but enlivened by the people, stories, insights, reflection, prayer and adventure that had filled their day.

The next morning I joined many other faculty and staff for the closing prayer service on the patio outside the PAC. As I observed those 43 kid huddled in the cool of the morning and learned a bit about what they had experienced, I was filled with pride—in them, for taking the risk to do something truly outside their comfort zone; in Regis Jesuit, for providing an experience of not only learning about homelessness but learning from people who are homeless and those who know them; and in the faculty and staff who stood behind and beside the students, for their own openness and generosity in ensuring this would be a safe and worthwhile experience for our kids. Regis Jesuit gives students opportunities to do “dangerous” things safely!

On Thursday various follow-up activities were designed to allow the students to share their experience with their classmates. As the boys gathered for an assembly in the gym, Jonah Cohen ’16, Alec Jotte ’15 and Kris Bauer ’15 each shared something of what touched them most deeply.

  • Kris, who has participated in the Plunge all four of his years at Regis Jesuit, was struck this time by the overwhelming sacrifice and generosity of the lone psychiatric social worker at the St. Francis Center. The RJ group spent a couple of hours there, but she shows up every day, day after day, month after month.
  • Jonah learned that one of the hardest things about homelessness is the experience of being “invisible”—ignored, bypassed, treated as if they didn’t exist. He wondered aloud if our obsessive focus on our phones and other devices puts us at risk of making each other invisible.
  • Alec learned from a conversation with a homeless man that the reason many homeless people do not take full advantage of homeless shelters is that they feel lonely and isolated in the shelters. He marveled at a truth that binds us together as humans: “We would rather be at the very bottom of the social caste, surrounded by shame and embarrassment but with those with whom we connect than to be alone with greater earthy wealth.”

I know that this will not be the last encounter with homelessness some of these kids will have. Some will join the Arrupe Club and return to help serve meals on a regular basis. Others will choose a service site that will take them back downtown this winter. All of them will look differently on the “invisible” people in the shadows along the 16th Street Mall. They will not be afraid to speak with them, even if only a “Hi, how’s it goin’?”. Maybe this experience will shed light on how they choose their college—or even their career.

Here I am reminded again of the unofficial motto of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps: “Ruined for Life.” It is experiences like the Homeless Plunge that bring our own motto to life. True compassion starts with a simple willingness to be with others. Only then can we be for others.

Reflections Toward our Next President

Last Sunday evening 40 leaders from Jesuit high schools in Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa and Belize City descended upon Regis Jesuit. These Presidents, Principals, Board Chairs and Jesuit Community superiors meet once or twice a year, and take turns hosting each other. This was RJ’s turn, and we were eager to show off our new Performing Arts Center & Student Commons.

The clouds and rain of Sunday afternoon had us wringing our hands, wondering if our guests would be denied the views to the mountains of which we are so proud. But Monday dawned clear and bright, unveiling snow-capped peaks in the distance and a carpet of flaming fall foliage stretching out to the west. The reactions of our visitors to our campus, our facilities, our students and faculty confirm what we know but too often take for granted: we are blessed beyond measure!

After a wonderful social and dinner in the Commons, we put our Communications Center to the test. We had arranged to bring a consultant to our meeting electronically. Our IT director, Kenny Ramos, had worked through all the bugs, and the connection was nearly flawless. We could see and hear the consultant clearly, and he us.

Four of the 11 schools present are currently engaged in searches for new Presidents. The meeting planners wanted the group to hear about the experience of these schools and to reflect on the necessary elements for a successful search. Our consultant had done considerable work putting together a template for such searches and shared with us his findings and opinions.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the sessions we had with our consultant and each other. But I will share with you some of the reflections our meetings triggered in me.

How will the RJ community deal with its first lay President? This may come next year, or some years in the future; but the likelihood is high that it will come. Not that long ago it was not uncommon to hear people say that you could not have a Jesuit school without a Jesuit Principal. We know from our own experience how untrue that is. But what about the President? Our consultant told us that every school he studied began their search strongly preferring a Jesuit President. This is certainly understandable; but clearly there are not enough qualified Jesuits to serve as Presidents of our nearly 60 high schools. An ever-increasing number of Jesuit schools—universities as well as high schools—have chosen strong, dedicated, inspiring and spiritual lay leaders. I also know of schools that have chosen a Jesuit who turned out to be unqualified or a bad fit—quickly proving that commitment to “a Jesuit at all costs” is misguided.

I worry about the pressure that will await the first non-Jesuit President of a school like Regis Jesuit. I wonder what it would be like to be greeted with the message, “We all know you’re second-best, but welcome (sort of).” Our consultant emphasized the importance of giving our leader the resources needed to do the job well (support, clarity of roles, accountability, goal-setting, evaluation—perhaps even mentoring), as well as the time needed to grow into the job. This is true whether the leader is a lay person or a Jesuit. I know I valued the huge binder of RJ information that was prepared for me; my early honest conversations with administrators, faculty and staff; and especially the long summer weeks with my predecessor, Fr. Wally Sidney, who shared his friends and wisdom with me so generously.

I offer these reflections simply because they are fresh in my mind. There is no “hidden message” or hint of what is to come. We are very much in the midst of our presidential search process, and I am confident that John Sheridan '76 and Fr. Tim McMahon, SJ are guiding the search committee to approach their very important work with openness, thoroughness and prayerfulness, and that when the time is right they will present to the Board an outstanding person—whether Jesuit or lay—to serve Regis Jesuit High School. I ask you to add your prayers to those of the committee for the success of their discerning work and for God’s blessings on our candidates.

The Gift of Kairos

This evening marks the close of the Boys Division Kairos #100. Having been part of Kairos #1 20 years ago, I feel compelled to simply stop and reflect a bit on the impact this special retreat has had on Regis Jesuit High School over the years. (Two of the other adult leaders of Kairos #1 are still at Regis Jesuit: Jackie Maxfield and Rick Sullivan; the fourth, Fr. Gary Menard, SJ, is across town at Arrupe Jesuit High School.)


In the spring of 1994, then-Principal Rick Sullivan asked me to serve as Pastoral Director the following year, making clear that part of my job description would be to bring the Kairos retreat to Regis Jesuit. (He had experienced it in his previous work at St. John's Jesuit in Toledo, Ohio, and was convinced that it was something we had to do here too.) Holy Family High School had pioneered the retreat in the Denver area, and they were gracious enough to welcome me and seven RJ juniors to their spring Kairos. We were there not as leaders but as participants—an unusually humbling position for a Jesuit and seven somewhat arrogant RJ boys. It was a co-ed retreat, and I have often marveled at the irony of being taught by girls long before there was even a glimmer of a notion of a Girls Division at Regis Jesuit. (And I marvel at the fact that we now have added 37 Girls Division Kairos retreats to the Boys’ 100!)

Kairos has its origins in a retreat called Cursillo, which started in Spain in the 1940s. Some of the characteristics of Cursillo will be recognized by those familiar with Kairos:

  • It was led mostly by lay people, peers to those making the retreat. Each leader gave a testimonial talk in which they shared their faith journey, their struggles, their life lessons. A priest was present, but he was no longer the main leader of the retreat.
  • The sharing in small groups that followed the talks often resulted in deep bonds of appreciation and friendship.
  • The sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation were available, often experienced in a new and more powerful way.

The transformative power of Kairos on the school culture of Regis Jesuit was clear to us from the moment Kairos 1 ended. It is the true spiritual foundation of “the brotherhood” (and sisterhood) that so many of our students experience. We decided every student should have this opportunity. Other schools told us that it had to be a senior retreat; juniors are not mature enough for it. Other schools told us you could not require it of students: those who went into it with a negative attitude would ruin it for everyone else. But before long Kairos became a requirement in junior year. It simply worked— and we have never looked back.

Of course we are all flawed, sinful human beings, and no retreat reverses that reality. But I know from these 20 years that Kairos has had a palpable impact on the way our students treat each other. It has fostered a level of leadership in the school that often amazes and inspires me. It has helped many family relationships to strengthen and heal. It has helped many kids find a relationship with God they can call their own.

Kairos is not magic; it is not a cult; it’s just a retreat—but one that happens to work extremely well with adolescents and young adults. The secrecy that surrounds it is simply an effort to ensure that kids come to it fresh and open, with as few preconceived notions as possible. The mantra of all our retreats is “Don’t anticipate, participate.”

In these 20 years, thousands of Regis Jesuit students have accepted that invitation. For many it is one of the highlights of their high school experience. For all of us, Kairos is an incredible gift for which we can only bow in humble gratitude to God, the giver of all good gifts.

Homecoming Reflections

There is not universal agreement on the origin of Homecoming; but “Jeopardy!” traces it to a football game between the University of Missouri and arch-rival University of Kansas in 1911. After a number of years playing the game in a neutral site (Kansas City), Mizzou brought the game “home” to Columbia and invited their alumni to return for the game and its accompanying festivities: “Come Home, Tigers!”

Tonight we do the same, although admittedly on a more modest scale than that of most universities. We are challenged by the fact that the majority of Regis Jesuit alumni do not consider our current campus “home.” Most of us remember the Pink Palace as our home—shabby though it was. A smaller number in the 70s and 80s studied in some newer quarters, but still in the shadow of the Pink Palace. But whenever a Regis Jesuit alumnus reveals that he has not seen all or part of our present campus, I invite him to come out for a visit when school is in session. I suggest he pull some students aside and ask them any questions he wants. I have no doubt that when they speak he will hear echoes of his own experience, and begin to think that perhaps this isn’t such foreign territory after all. When we alumni arrive at the realization that it’s not about us anymore, we may even begin to embrace our Aurora campus as our home too!

I wish some of our alumni could have heard some of the boys talk about their experience of Regis Jesuit as “home” yesterday at their Homecoming Prayer Service. They made the point that “home” is not a building; that is a “house.” Home is where you feel loved, accepted, comfortable. It is where you go to get recharged. It is where you can be yourself. We were reminded that many students spend more of their waking hours at school than with their families. Most of our students see the RJ community as another family, one where they have dozens of brothers and sisters.

It is this spirit that draws so many of us alumni back to teach and work at Regis Jesuit. Currently there are 28 RJ graduates working here! That is pretty amazing when you think about it. We are drawn back here by something even more powerful than the almost irresistible cultural imperative to find a career that pays big money. At the prayer service yesterday, one of our best, Eric Ptolemy ’07, described the path that led him back here.

I left Regis Jesuit with the tools to make any place I ventured to home. Since I left Regis I have found homes in so many different places and been supported and loved by people just as I had been here. I am a proud Zag, a former teacher in central Phoenix and Spokane, WA, which makes me a proud St. Matthew’s Angel and a proud Gonzaga Prep Bullpup, but it is because of Regis Jesuit that I can call so many places home. 

I return home inspired by the continued mission carried on by an incredible student body and a remarkable faculty and staff. Within these first six weeks as a teacher here I have been reminded daily of why this place is home. My former teachers and now co-workers are the most loving and dedicated people you can find. My former math teacher, Mr. Cavnar, inspires me with his incredible dedication to this school and his unconditional love for his students. My former golf coach, Mr. Rogers, sent me and continues to send students into the world with a curiosity to engage life’s deeper questions.

As you all move through your years at Regis Jesuit and venture outside these walls to college and beyond, you will forever have your roots in this community and family. A place you will forever call home.

Eric’s words remind me how ironic it is that this “home” is a place whose very mission is to prepare young men and women to leave it, not to stay; to venture out, not to dig in; to prepare to “go and set the world on fire.” How beautiful, though, that part of what our students learn here is how to make the world their home: to make new brothers and sisters out of strangers; to form community in unfamiliar places; to sink roots in places they never imagined.

Welcome home, Eric! Welcome home, fellow alumni! Welcome home, Regis Jesuit community!

Pope Francis Prays with and for the Jesuits

A few weeks ago I wrote about the fact that 2014 marks the 200th Anniversary of the Restoration (or Reconstitution) of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). This followed a period of more than 40 years in which the Jesuits were not allowed to operate in all but a very few places in the world. Jesuits regard it as a very dark period in our history; and yet it has continued to give us a healthy sense of humility—a lived knowledge that our very existence is something never to be taken for granted.

To me it is marvelously ironic yet appropriate that the upcoming liturgical celebration of this anniversary will be presided over by our remarkable Jesuit Pope Francis. This Thanksgiving Liturgy will be a vespers service, not a Mass. It will take place in the Church of the Gesù in Rome on Saturday, September 27 at 4:50 pm (Roman time). It will be broadcast live, and can be viewed here on YouTube at 8:50 am MDT. The link should also be accessible for a couple of months afterwards. The program for the liturgy can be downloaded here—although it is mostly in Italian.

It would be so much fun to be present for this historic celebration. In the early 70s when I was studying art, I lived for a year in the Jesuit community right behind the Church of the Gesù—so I can easily picture the celebration. (Maybe you can too, if you’ve seen the image of the Gesù right in the center of our new PAC mural!) But what I never expected to experience was what it feels like to be a Jesuit under a Jesuit pope!

Pope Francis continues to inspire people throughout the world with his genuine, passionate, yet simple spiritual message. A couple of months ago his “top ten secrets for happiness” were published as part of an interview in an Argentine magazine. Here they are in a nutshell; the more complete article can be found here.

  1. Live and let live (or, as they say in Rome, "Move forward and let others do the same.")
  2. Be giving of yourself to others.
  3. Proceed calmly in life.
  4. Develop a healthy sense of leisure.
  5. Sundays should be holidays.
  6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people.
  7. Respect and take care of nature.
  8. Stop being negative.
  9. Don't proselytize; respect others' beliefs.
  10. Work for peace.

Please join Jesuits throughout the world this weekend in praying in gratitude for our ministry and for all those who collaborate with us in it. Pray too that we may be worthy of the trust that the Holy Father—and you—put in us.

The Student Directory: Finding Parenting Power in its Pages

Each year when the School Directory makes its appearance I find myself thinking about the role parents have in the challenging period of their children’s adolescence.

What do I know about being a parent? Even though I am known as “Father” around here, in fact I do not have any children (at least as our parents count them—by another count I have 1,641 of them!) I realize that any advice I might give about parenting is subject to a certain skepticism. But there are a couple of simple parenting principles that make a lot of sense to me. Here they are:

Eating dinner as a family is the single most powerful thing a family can do together.

That has been a common-sense bromide forever, it seems. But lately there is an increasing body of scientific evidence that family dinner is even more important than we thought. A website called The Family Dinner Project states the following:

Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?

This sounds like it makes prayer almost obsolete! (Well, we know that isn’t true, but sometimes the simplest approaches are the best.)

Parenting is a group effort, and parents need to know their children’s friends' parents.

The publication of the School Directory always reminds me of this principle. Other parents have a powerful impact on our own kids. Sometimes a young person can speak more easily and honestly to a friend’s mom or dad than to his or her own; and sometimes the same advice coming from a friend’s parent is easier to swallow than what gets voiced at home. On the other hand, parents who, for example, allow the consumption of alcohol or marijuana by underage kids in their home can have an incredibly negative impact on our kids and upon our parenting efforts.

It is important to know the principles by which our kids’ parents operate. We want to be assured that when our kids have a sleepover at a friend’s house, the parents have the same perspective as we do on what is acceptable and healthy and what is not. That is where the Directory comes in. In my mind, the biggest single reason for making our families’ contact information available to each other is so that parents can better cooperate in the guidance of their children. I truly hope that the Directory will be used first and foremost in this way.

A practical note: As is noted elsewhere in this edition of the Red & White, the Directories are ready to be picked up in either of the Main Offices. Unlike in past years, we have not printed a copy for every family. (We found too many of them in trash cans or the bottom of lockers at the end of the year!) So we are making them available to families who want and will use them. Parents may stop by the Main Office, or ask one of their kids to do so. For now we ask that each family take only one; if there are extras in a couple of weeks we will make them available.

Where does all that money go?

For those of us who have been around the RJ community for a while, it is easy to forgot how much there is to learn when you are new to the scene. There is an overwhelming cascade of information that begins with New Raider night, continues with the summer mailing, and then never seems to stop. Of course, the answers to most questions can be found somewhere on the school website—but who has time to dig?

Recently a veteran parent realized she didn’t know where the profits from the Raider Shop go. And there has been no sign at the concession stands indicating who runs them or where the profits go. And what about the grocery cards? All these are efforts coordinated by the Parent Community Association (PCA).

According to their mission statement, the PCA “is a volunteer organization (no dues) whose mission is to promote cooperation, understanding and mutual support among Regis Jesuit High School faculty, students and parents; and to fundraise for the capital needs of the school and allocate funds for those needs as determined by the association and the school, twice yearly in fall and spring.”

I suspect that when most people read “the capital needs of the school,” they imagine all this money finding its way into a black (or red and white) hole. However, I think parents would be delighted to learn the sorts of projects that the PCA has funded recently.

Twice a year proposals are solicited from teachers, administrators and coaches for things that would enhance their classes, sports or clubs. The PCA meets to decide which projects they will fund. Their first priority is to support things that will directly impact the students. Two years ago the PCA provided major funding for the iPad pilot program. Last year they paid for room-darkening blinds for the south side of the Girls building and contributed substantially to the new Prayer Garden. A few of the other items just last year included:

  • The Side-by-Side anti-bullying speaker
  • Digital microscope for science
  • Apple TVs and whiteboard for math
  • Lecture podiums for social studies
  • Wall maps for classrooms and Classics Club
  • Bible timelines and Bible study materials for theology
  • Baseball batting cage
  • Rugby practice and match jerseys and flags
  • Touchpads and electronic harness for swim meets

I know from attending the allocation meetings that the PCA members strive to balance requests from both Divisions, as well as academic and athletic requests. Over the years all the hard work involved in generating these funds has had a tremendous effect on the quality of the experience we are able to provide our students, and I am deeply grateful. When you see the volunteers helping Cindy McNamara in the Raider Shop, or the parents sweating behind the grill or counter at the concessions stand at a packed home football game, please thank them and know that their work and your support will have a definite impact on our students, teachers, coaches and moderators as the year goes on.

Be mindful, too, of two other easy and relatively painless ways to add to the funds the PCA will have to distribute. King Soopers or Safeway grocery cards can be purchased in the Business Office in the Girls Division or in the Boys Main Office, and then reloaded at the store as needed. And those who have a Target REDcard can register the card online to assure a rebate to Regis Jesuit from every purchase.

Of course, the PCA does a lot more than raise money. I invite you to visit their webpage to learn more. New members are always welcome!

Signed and Sealed by the Spirit

This morning for the first time this school year the entire school community of Regis Jesuit came together in one place. After a year in which McNicholas Green was blocked off due to construction, we were looking forward to returning there for our Mass of the Holy Spirit. However, the overnight rain necessitated moving the celebration. But the spirits of the nearly 2000 gathered in the stadium refused to be dampened. In fact, the sun shone through cool air the whole time—perfect!

For 137 years, Regis Jesuit High School has been sponsored by the Jesuits of the Missouri Province. This summer the Missouri and New Orleans Provinces merged to form a new province: the U.S. Central and Southern Province. Fr. Ron Mercier, SJ is the first Provincial of this new province, and we were very privileged to be one of the first schools he has visited. He was our presider and homilist. His message was perfect in a week in which we launched the “Year of the Arts” and prepared for the “RJ Day for Others”:

What if, like the disciples who encountered Jesus and were empowered with his Spirit, we really pay attention to the wounds of our society, the places that need healing and hope? We don’t just want to feel bad or lament. Rather the call as we begin another year of study is to honesty, an honesty that asks us—Regis Jesuit and all the communities and ministries of this new province—to recognize both the challenge and the extraordinary gifts we have as part of a broader community. Yes, gifts—for Paul in our second reading reminds us that individually and as communities we are gifted by God’s Spirit.

Think of the gifts we have. Gifts of presence and compassion that allow us to listen not just to “the usual voices” but to all people. Gifts of intellect and understanding that allow us to see not only symptoms but long-standing roots. Gifts of patience and a willingness to endure that allow us to engage in the work that may take generations. Gifts of hunger and thirst for justice for all people that challenge us to settle for nothing less than real life for all God’s people. Most of all, gifts of imagination and creativity to reject the passivity that proclaims “you can’t change human nature” and that seeks something more for all those who need jobs, dignity, shelter, nourishment of body, mind and spirit, and most of all home.

We’ve lived too long with Dracula-like fear, that what we’ve buried will come back to bite. Maybe we need to believe instead in the call of the Gospel that proclaims peace and empowers forgiveness, and believe it not only in word but in the ways we engage our lives, our gifts, our communities, our futures. Perhaps, just perhaps, we too might find where the wounds are so real, as in Jesus’ life, a creative and renewing Spirit that bids us open eyes and hearts to all our sisters and brothers.

After communion, I introduced our 13 concelebrants and then explained what our special signing ceremony was all about.

In an effort to ensure that Regis Jesuit will grow and thrive as a Catholic, Jesuit school for another 137 years and beyond, there is now a regular process of assessment—self-reflection not unlike the Examen that we do each day, when we consider the lights and shadows of our lives, seeking to understand where we are alive in the Spirit and where God is calling us to change and grow.

After we completed our own Examen, last spring several Ignatian educators visited our school. We asked them to look at our self-study and tell us whether they agreed with our own self-assessment. While urging us toward ever-greater communication and collaboration across the divisions, the committee commended us for our strong Jesuit mission, our creativity and hard work, and especially for the happiness, spirit and success of our students.

Today we celebrate and seal the special relationship between Regis Jesuit High School and the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. There is a formal agreement on the altar which will now be signed by Mr. John Sheridan, the chair of our Board of Trustees; Fr. Jeff Harrison, SJ, the superior of our Jesuit community here at Regis Jesuit; and Fr. Ron Mercier, SJ, the provincial of the U.S. Central and Southern Province of the Jesuits.

As the document that seals our identity as a Jesuit school was being signed, I looked about at some of the faces that give the RJ community such spirit and character. I thanked God for the day, for Regis Jesuit, and for the privilege of being where I am. We are indeed truly and deeply blessed by the Holy Spirit.

A New Year, a New Community: Let Us Pray!

Each year at this time I find myself writing about prayer. What triggers this theme for me is a renewed awareness of the community of Regis Jesuit. On Compass Day the campus suddenly awakens from its summer slumber. Four hundred-fifty freshmen and many of their parents descend upon the school, and it all begins. The sheer wonder of the fact that hundreds of new parents have joined so many “veterans” in entrusting their sons and daughters to us fills me with gratitude and anticipation—and some worry, to be honest. What adventures lie ahead for these boys and girls on the journey to becoming young men and women with and for others? What discoveries and triumphs will thrill them? What failures and disappointments will challenge them? What sickness, loss or brokenness are families dealing with now? What hard things will be asked of them in the coming weeks, months and years?

All of this sends me to my knees, and beckons me to McNicholas Green, where next Friday, September 5, the community of Regis Jesuit High School will celebrate the MASS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. With the mountains and the city spread out before us, we will be reminded of how blessed we are and how good God is. Here we will gather in red and white to thank God for allowing us to be here and for surrounding us with such amazing friends and colleagues. We will pray for one another—for the Spirit’s blessing on all that we are and all that we will become during this school year.

As always, parents, grandparents and friends are invited. The Mass is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. There will be limited covered seating, and sunscreen is advised. As I have mentioned before, Fr. Ron Mercier, SJ, the Provincial of the newly established Central and Southern Province of the Jesuits, will preside and preach. I have invited other area Jesuits and priest-alumni to join us, and a number of them will.

There are several other special all-school liturgies during the course of the year, and parents are always invited. There are other opportunities, some specifically for parents.

  • SPECIAL LITURGIES for parents, grandparents and students include Mother-Son Mass & Breakfast (October 12); Grandparents Day Mass & Brunch (November 23); Moms Christmas Mass & Dessert (December 10); Father-Son Prayer Ping Pong Poker Palooza (January 11); Father-Daughter Mass & Fun (March 1); and Spring Spruce-Up, Family Mass & BBQ (April 19).
  • FIRST FRIDAY LITURGY: Beginning Friday, October 3, on the First Friday of most months, a Mass is held in the Blessed Rupert Mayer Chapel at 7:00 am. An amazing choir composed of alumni, parents, past parents and staff members helps us forget the early hour. It has become a tradition for the entire football team to attend. Refreshments are served immediately following the Mass.
  • DAILY MASS: Each day the Eucharist is offered on campus. Monday (beginning of lunch), Wednesday (beginning of lunch) and Friday (7:15 am) the Mass is held in the St. John Francis Regis Chapel in the Boys Division; Tuesday (beginning of lunch) and Thursday (7:15 am) it is held in the Blessed Rupert Mayer Chapel in the Girls Division. Parents and visitors are always welcome.
  • MOMS IN PRAYER meets every Friday at 8:00 am in the St. John Francis Regis Chapel in the Boys Division. This non-denominational group prays for the needs of the Regis Jesuit community, the family of each person present, and for intentions received from RJ parents, staff and administration.
  • PRAYER WARRIORS (ask a football mom)

Let us resolve now to make prayer for one another part of what we do each day.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend! As we rest from our labors, we pray in gratitude in a special way for all who labor to care for our campus day after day.

Wows for Vows

Not many have had the privilege of witnessing a young person making the outlandish promise to God to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience in religious life. And to witness a graduate of Regis Jesuit High School do so is a kind of double rarity—at least it has been so in the last 50 years. I pronounced my first vows in the Jesuits in 1968. Dan Daly ’77 did so in 1983. Ronny O’Dwyer ’01 made the move in 2007. Now we have been blessed with two in a row: Brian Strassburger ’02 last August; and Sean Ferguson ’12 last week!

My trip to Grand Coteau, Louisiana a week ago for Sean’s vows was the last trip of the summer and my first visit to our novitiate. True to the warnings I had received, Grand Coteau is pretty much in the middle of nowhere—two and a half hours from New Orleans and an hour from Baton Rouge. But part of me felt at home: my own novitiate was in Florissant, Missouri—not that far from St. Louis, although it felt that way to us. I also felt that slobbering blast of humidity that I first felt in St. Louis. This boy from Denver had never before experienced the back of my shirt sticking to every chair! (Air conditioning was almost non-existent there.)

As I witnessed Sean’s vows, I thought about how different this was from my own vow day 46 years earlier. At that time it was a Jesuits-only event. This time Sean’s mother and sister were there, as well as a healthy group from Regis Jesuit: several 2012 classmates (Wes Hackemer, Matt Alley, Joe Mullins, Sam Miller and Ben Schmachtenberger), two teachers (Jackie Maxfield and Nick Fagnant '02) and two other RJ Jesuits besides myself (Kevin Dyer, SJ and Sean Powers, SJ). It was a powerful statement of the fact that a religious vocation is unthinkable without the support of family, friends, mentors and guides. It was also a statement that this was an event truly worthy of celebrating not just by the Jesuits, but by the whole Church community.

One of the things that has stayed the same over the years is the “vow formula”—the words spoken by the young man before God. Last Saturday Sean said these words:

Almighty and eternal God, I, Sean Buckley Ferguson, understand how unworthy I am in your divine sight. Yet I am strengthened by your infinite compassion and mercy, and I am moved by the desire to serve you. I vow to your divine Majesty, before the most holy Virgin Mary and the entire heavenly court, perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience in the Society of Jesus. I promise that I will enter this same Society to spend my life in it forever. I understand all these things according to the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Therefore, by your boundless goodness and mercy, and through the blood of Jesus Christ, I humbly ask that you judge this total commitment of myself acceptable. And as you have freely given me the desire to make this offering, so also may you give me the abundant grace to fulfill it. At the Church of St. Charles Borromeo, on the 16th day of August, in the year 2014.

To hear a 21 year-old young man make this promise in the face of a world that is in relentless pursuit of wealth, pleasure and license, is truly inspiring.

To add to the amazement, two more RJ graduates had entered the novitiate the day before, and we were privileged to help welcome them and their parents to Jesuit life. (And every apprehensive parent of a baby Jesuit soon discovers that they have not so much lost a son as gained a houseful of sons!) Our newest novices are Christopher McCoy '13 and Matt Hearley ’14.

Please continue to pray for all of us Jesuits, young and old alike. And pray that many more young men and women will be moved to make a similar offering of their lives to God.

Summer Projects on Campus: An Update

As we approach the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, this seems to be a good time to update you on the state of our facilities, and to give you an idea of all that has gone on over the summer.

We have certainly been blessed with more abundant rainfall than in recent years—and the campus shows it. It looks downright lush—a word we don’t often use in this semi-arid region! Nature has done its part; but a huge amount of work has also been done outside by head groundskeeper Dave Beasley and his crew. (Having climbed onto Fr. Dave’s tractor to mow the Jesuit lawn a few times this summer, I have a much deeper appreciation for the challenge it is just to keep the grass mowed—not to mention all the trimming and weeding, which I have thoroughly neglected!)

In addition to the daily care of our 64 acres, a few of the special outdoor projects include:

  •  The completion of the Prayer Garden at the top of the hill to the southwest of the Girls building. Under the direction of Rick Sullivan, Vice President of Operations, this garden was designed substantially by a group of students interested in architecture. It was installed with the help of landscaper Jared Carlon ’98. This is the first of what I hope are several outdoor spaces on campus for prayer, reflection and relaxation that might be developed in the future.
  • McNicholas Green has been re-seeded and landscaped. It remains a playable soccer field for our younger teams, and it’s great to have our best outdoor space back in service after more than a year of construction. It will be blessed again by the gathering of the entire RJ community for the Mass of the Holy Spirit on September 5.
  • The Varsity Baseball Field, which has perennially experienced drainage issues, has undergone significant repair and re-sodding, with the hope of solving most of the problems.
  • Significant work has been done to the turf on the northern ball fields. There are plans to systematically treat our other grass ball fields in the coming years.
  • Additional exterior and interior security cameras have been installed.

Turning to our buildings, it amazes me to realize that the Girls building is almost 25 years old, and the Boys building is more than 10 years old. The Capital Projects Committee is working hard to anticipate and plan for the projects that will keep our buildings looking good and performing well far into the future. Three such projects that took place this summer were:

  • The replacement of the roof on the Girls building
  • The replacement of many windows in the Girls library
  • The replacement of concrete at the east entrance to the Girls building, and outside the Houlihan Conference Room

It seems that schools are constantly reconfiguring spaces, moving offices, and otherwise trying to make the buildings better serve our students and faculty. Such projects this summer include:

  • The first-floor faculty office suite in the Boys building received new furniture—visually compatible and spatially more efficient.
  • This allowed the creation of a larger space for Boys Division Learning Services at the west end of the first floor corridor. This area will house our new Learning Services assistant, and provide much better space for student testing, tutoring, etc.
  • The Boys Division Admissions Center is being expanded and remodeled, providing a welcoming and pleasant space for parents and prospective students to gather and meet with our Admissions personnel and student ambassadors.
  • The Girls athletic training space has been expanded to include an area for small classes and other training activities.
  • The Girls PE office has vacated that training space and moved down the hall to what had been the Raider Shop.

Again, all this is in addition to the usual deep cleaning, painting and repairing that have happened in preparation for the arrival of over 1600 students. Sincere thanks to Ben Teeples, our Facilities Manager; Mark Canino, Assistant Facilities Manager; and their entire crew—including some young alumni who return to their alma mater for summer work, and many current students who fulfill their work grant hours during the summer here. And finally, thanks to Rick Sullivan, whose eagle eye and attention to detail keep it all working together.

“Primary Wonder”: We begin again

Many people know that the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola more than 450 years ago. But some might be surprised to learn that there was a period in our history when we nearly went out of existence. If that condition had remained, over 200 Regis Jesuit faculty and staff would not have assembled on Thursday, August 7 to begin preparations for the upcoming school year—because Regis Jesuit would never have been founded!

The very first thing we did to begin the new year was to gather in the Blessed Rupert Mayer Chapel for Mass. I told my colleagues that of all the work that lay ahead this year, the most important may well be what we did at Mass, and what I invited them to pledge to do each day this year: to pray for one another, our students and their families.

By providential coincidence, August 7 was the exact 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuits by Pope Pius VII after 41 years in which Jesuits were allowed to exist only in Catherine the Great’s Russia. The factors that led to the suppression of the Jesuits were many and complex; but a big part of it was rooted in the conflicts among various European monarchies, and conflicts between them and the papacy. But the end result was the disbanding of nearly 22,000 Jesuits worldwide. Five thousand were kicked out of Spain alone. A good summary of the aftermath of the suppression appears in an article in America magazine: “The 41 years of suppression had very detrimental effects on Jesuit missions in far-away places like China, India, North and South America. There were very few Jesuits to replace the aging veterans. It was over a decade before the seedlings of these apostolates would be able to sprout and blossom once again.”

The image of sprouting and blossoming reminds us of the enduring cycle of nature, human life, and history: birth, diminishment, death, rebirth. Regis Jesuit is in a blessed time of rebirth. But we must never take this blessing for granted. Everything human is fragile; and in fact everything divine is pretty fragile too, because God has entrusted the Kingdom to us humans. The Gospel we heard on Thursday recounts Jesus’ words to Peter and the other apostles: “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What an awesome gift it is to be entrusted with the very mission of Jesus! Please join us in praying that we may all be worthy of that trust as we, individually and together, do our part to build our piece of the Kingdom this year.

In assembling these reflections I discovered a wonderful prayer-poem by Denise Levertov called Primary Wonder. It expresses beautifully how easy it is for us to forget the simple mystery that we are called into and held in being by an impossibly loving God:

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
                                                    And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng's clamor
recedes:  the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

A Week of Big Transitions

Yesterday was “kind of a big deal.” It was the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. On that day, after 150 years, the Missouri Province of the Jesuits ceased to exist. The new U.S. Central and Southern Province was born. The official decree, issued by our Father General last November, highlights the vast extent of our new territory:

The new Province will be comprise of the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas in their entirety; it will include that part of the State of Illinois that is south of a line extending directly west from the city of Decatur to the Mississippi River and west of a line from the city of Decatur to the city of Cairo. It will also include the country of Belize in its entirety.

(The painfully detailed description of our piece of Illinois contains a history lesson of its own, with which I won't bore you here!)

Our own Jesuit community hosted a celebration for about 30 local Jesuits and summer visitors. Meanwhile a larger celebration was taking place in New Orleans, as Fr. Ron Mercier, SJ, the first Provincial of the new Province, took office. Unlike the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the installation of a Bishop (not to mention a Pope!), there is no prescribed ceremony for the beginning of a Jesuit Provincial's term of service. At midnight on the designated day he simply becomes the provincial. At midnight six years later (usually), he reverts to being "one of the boys" again. The day before that happened to him, our outgoing provincial, Fr. Doug Marcouiller, SJ, wrote one last letter to the Province, sharing the insights that he had found himself repeating most often during his time as our leader:

  • We are not monks bound to buildings and places; our house is the world.
  • We often think of Missouri Jesuits as simple, solid, plain-spoken, and hard-working; we should also be grateful for our apostolic creativity, our strong international ties, and our deeply Ignatian spirit.
  • We are both sinners and servants of the mission of Christ, whose grace calls us to the service of faith and promotion of justice in dialogue with cultures.
  • Being available for mission requires more than a willingness to go to a new place; we also must be prepared to do something once we get there.
  • The ministries of the Society depend on the grace of God, on the generosity and competence of Jesuits, and on strong apostolic partnerships with others; we share the mission with marvelous companions and friends.
  • We should continue to approach difficult choices as the First Fathers did, with an underlying commitment to preserve the union that God our Lord brought about by calling us together.
  • We have a holy impatience with things that need to change; we could use a bit more holy patience with one another.
  • Because the mission that we serve is Christ’s, we can proceed with confidence and great hope; we already know how things will turn out in the end.

One of the very first things Pope Francis said after becoming pope was to ask the people of God to pray for him. Fr. Mercier made a similar request in his first letter to us a Provincial:

Let us ask St. Peter Faber to pray that God may bless the new Central and Southern Province with that same apostolic creativity and zeal, and also with many vocations to reach the people of our day. Pray for me and know you are all daily in my prayers.

As I have mentioned before, we will have a special chance to pray with and for Fr. Mercier when he presides at our Mass of the Holy Spirit on Friday, September 5. As with all of our all-school liturgies, parents, alumni and friends are invited and welcome.

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Earlier this week Jeff Howard '88 marked the last day of his 20 years as a teacher and administrator at Regis Jesuit. He now begins his new job as Vice President of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA). There have been many who have served longer than Jeff, but few who have served in as many roles or with as much passion. Jeff has written a very touching blog post, reflecting on his years at Regis Jesuit.

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I'd like to note one final transition that occurred this past week: the passing of Frank Sferra '54, Regis Jesuit alum and former teacher, and longtime teacher and speech coach at Mullen High School. As a Regis Jesuit student I spent many a winter Saturday at speech meets. I can't think of those days without recalling the image of Frank Sferra's bright red vest covering his significant paunch. His Mullen speakers and debaters were formidable, and he was justifiably proud of them. But he always had a place in his heart for his alma mater, and was unfailingly gracious to us "Regis boys." He was one of the great ones in the history of secondary education in Colorado. There is a nice article on the CHSAA website.

I am still here!

In the wake of my announcement a few weeks ago (located in a blog post below) that I am nearing the end of my time as President of Regis Jesuit High School, several of the “fond farewell” messages I received made me wonder if I had not made clear the timing of my move. While I do appreciate the “fond” part of this, the “farewell” is premature! The Lord willing, I will remain in my office through the entire school year ahead, and I plan on being here most of next summer to help the next President through the transition.

Speaking of that, I want to update you on the search process, which has already begun. Our Board Chair, John Sheridan ’76, has formed a search committee. Since hiring the President is one of the most important functions of the Board of Trustees, the search committee is heavily, though not exclusively, composed of current Trustees: John himself; Tim McMahon, SJ, President of Arrupe Jesuit High School, who has agreed to chair the committee; John Fitzgibbons, SJ, president of Regis University; Ellen Kiniry; Mary Sullivan; and Phil Vottiero. Other members are Catherine Cole, theology teacher in the Girls Division; Adam Dawkins '98, English and journalism teacher primarily in the Boys Division; Dan McCallin ’67, member of the Council of Regents and former Trustee; and Rick Sullivan, Vice President of Operations. Clearly this is a blue-ribbon group. I am very grateful for their generosity in undertaking this most important task, and I am confident that they will be an enormous help to the board in identifying our next President.

Like the farewell, the question of what comes after this for me is a bit premature. Let me explain.

This coming Thursday, the Feast of St. Ignatius, marks the official beginning of the new U.S. Central and Southern Province of the Jesuits, formed from the Missouri and New Orleans Provinces. Fr. Ron Mercier, SJ, will be our new Provincial. We have been preparing for this moment for a number of years, and it’s a pretty big deal! There will be local celebrations throughout the Province, including one for Denver-area Jesuits and visitors hosted by our own RJ Jesuit Community.

Fr. Mercier will join us for our Mass of the Holy Spirit on Friday, September 5. Parents and friends will be most welcome. After a year of construction, it will be great to return to our newly beautified McNicholas Green for this celebration. Sometime in the months following that I’m sure I will be having conversations with Fr. Mercier about what might be next for me. The Provincial missions each Jesuit to his work, but of course lots of prayer and conversation precedes that. I am not worried at all; every mission I have been given as a Jesuit has been life-giving. I have been surrounded by wonderful people, and I am so glad that I get to spend another year with you, the community of Regis Jesuit High School!

As the summer winds down, let us pray for one another—for the safe return of all those traveling, and for the Spirit’s blessing on our school year ahead.