August President’s Pen: An interesting phenomenon happens in the first couple weeks of classes.

There are 10 weeks between the last day of exams in June and the first day of classes in August at CRSM.  Technically, that’s our summer break, but for many of us that break is almost non-existent.  Incoming Freshman spend 8 ½ of those 10 weeks in our Academic Bridge Program and Job Preparation Training Institute for the Corporate Work Study Program.  Other groups of older students are in-and-out over those same weeks for Summer School and various enrichment programs.  Before you can blink, a new school year has begun.

An interesting phenomenon happens in the first couple weeks of classes.  Alumni trickle in to visit. Not just the Class of 2019, but alumni going into their second, third, and fourth years of college.  Some have not seen the new building before, some are hoping to see the therapy dogs they heard about on social media, some are sporting a new beard, or wearing their college t-shirts… but all want to check in with one or more of the adults at CRSM before heading off to college.

“Is Ms. Bonnerjee here?”  “Can I see Mr. O?”  “Can I talk to Ms. Dippold?”  “Have you seen Mr. Horcher?”  It’s a delight to enter conversations about majors, travel abroad programs, study habits, and dorm shenanigans.  One day last week, I spoke to four different alumni who will be studying this coming year in Japan, Korea, Portugal, and Spain.  Their visits say something profound about CRSM – they want to come back because it is a place they belong.  It’s what David Brooks from the New York Times identifies as being a ‘thick’ organization.  He says, “a thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul.”

In welcoming back the Faculty and Staff (and welcoming new folks as well), I shared a couple quotes that capture a little something of who we are at Cristo Rey St. Martin as a thick institution.

The Jesuit scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, “We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience.”  At its heart, CRSM is a spiritual undertaking.  Our faith that we are part of something much bigger infuses everything we do: from student-centered instruction, to community service opportunities, to counseling, and even gym class.  And that faith transcends being Catholic.  Faith traditions of our faculty and staff are wide ranging.  It is a privilege to know that what we do at CRSM resonates with Hindu, Jewish, Mennonite, African Methodist Evangelical, Lutheran, and Presbyterian beliefs.  There is something universal in the nexus of spiritual and human experience that speaks to all.  In Catholic nomenclature, we say our work together is about bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.

In the gospel of Matthew, “The disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?’  He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.’”   My youngest granddaughter took her first steps the week before school began.  Anyone who has experienced seeing a child walk for the first time – inevitably moving towards the outstretched arms of her mother or father –witnesses the quintessential illustration of being child-like: having absolute trust that a parent will be there for you, feeling so secure and safe you are filled with the freedom to take risks, knowing someone believes in you so much you can’t help but believe in yourself, wanting to do something not just for yourself but because you are loved.

A human being’s brain undergoes the most growth during the first year of life, but the second greatest period of brain development occurs during the high school years.  Working with teens is challenging precisely because it such an incredibly important, formative period in a human’s life.  Working at CRSM is a profound calling and echoes another passage from Matthew when Jesus says, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”  When we are child-like and come together in this work, God is working with us.

In fact, consider the name of our school: Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep.  Whenever we gather, it is in the name of Cristo Rey.  He is the ultimate counter-cultural King who reigns through service, whose power rests with the weak and powerless, whose death brings life… the archetypal underdog who fights, fails and in failure, triumphs against all odds.  We are called to fight against the odds.

St. Martin is also part of our name.  St. Martin de Porres was incredibly humble.  He responded to discrimination and bigotry in his time with acts of love.  Caring for the sick and destitute.  One famous story has Martin giving his own bed over to a beggar covered in sores and caring for him.  A fellow Dominican accuses him of going too far and he responds, “Brother, I can always wash away the stains from my sheets, but I could never wash away the stain on my soul if I refused to treat him.”  Martin saw value in others and dedicated his life to serving others.

That is our hope for our students: that they will leave CRSM to become persons for and about others.  We hope that, as our Assistant Principal Marlene Eby shared with us, they will heed the advice of Toni Morrison who recently passed away but whose words live on, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab bag candy game.”

Who are we at CRSM?  We are spiritual beings coming together in our human experience to bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth.  We are not out to completely change the world – God made the world and there is much good in it – but we are absolutely committed to helping the world reach its fuller potential.  How are we doing that?  By believing in one another and believing in our students that we can beat the odds… that together, we can help one another reach our collective potential – head, hands, heart and soul.