For me, this is one time of year when I most regularly feel that sense of both stability and change. This week starts a new school year at St. Malachy School and many other schools in our neighborhood. In many ways, each new year brings the same sense of excitement as we get back to our routine. On the other hand, each school year is a new adventure. Each year there are new names and faces; each year there is something new happening. Where children are involved, of course, there are also familiar students taking on a new level. Often I look at the students at the beginning of a new year, and I marvel at how much they have grown over the past couple of months. Each year I am amazed at how quickly the summer has flown. But once I get over the shock, I get excited at having school in session once again.
The beginning of a new school year provides an opportunity, then, to reflect on both the stability and the change. For me it will seem strange to welcome the children back and know that I will not be teaching them every week. After all, in about a month and a half, I will be part of a different grouping of parishes. Fortunately, part of my assignment over there includes working with St. Gabriel School. That itself will feel a bit like Lewis’ combination of novelty and familiarity. Not only did I serve at St. Gabriel (and teach in the school) from 1989 to 1995, but the principal there is Mr. Donald Militzer, the son of our own principal, Mrs. Catherine Militzer.
I have been blessed to work with schools throughout my priesthood. There was a time when priests were involved in the schools regularly. The biggest part of the problem, of course, is that there are fewer of us and more demands upon our time. In addition, without going into more detail on what has recently been in the news, we priests have to be careful of our involvement with children. A few years ago I was talking with Bishop Edward Burns, who has worked with the Bishops of the United States in setting the policies for the protection of children. Before becoming a bishop, Bishop Burns was a priest of our diocese. I mentioned to him that I hoped we would continue to be involved with schools, particularly since that involvement is important to promoting vocations. I have remembered Bishop Burns’ response to me. He said, “We have to protect the children out of love, not neglect them out of fear.”
So if you are around St. Malachy during the week, you know there will be more activity. There will be children (who probably wish they were still on vacation), and there will be teachers (who probably wish they could wake the children up). Please pray for everyone involved with St. Malachy School. Know that what we are doing in our school is important to build the Church and the world in the future. And to the students and teachers, welcome back.