President Letter January 2017
“Jesus Christ wants you to understand that the more your work for the good of your disciples is given life by Him and draws its power from Him, the more it will produce good in them.” [St. John Baptist de La Salle’s Meditations for the Time of Retreat, No. 195.3]
Greetings to you all as we are well into 2017. The 2016-2017 school year is now well into its sixth month, and we only have four months until this year is a wrap. It’s dizzying how quickly the year is moving along. In my opening remarks to the student body in August, I encouraged them and all members of our faculty and staff to “make the most of the time that has been given to us this school year.” And as you know from the successes mentioned in my previous monthly newsletters, we have been blessed that the members of our school community certainly have been making the most of numerous opportunities to shine in and out of the classroom. Our challenge now is to keep our focus and finish strong.
We officially began the second semester with a faculty in-service day on Tuesday, January 3, and the in-service began by celebrating mass together. Beginning the school year and the second semester by celebrating mass together is intentional, and the reason is found clearly in the quote above that began this month’s newsletter.
Educating young people in today’s world is a daunting challenge irrespective of the religious or secular mission of a school. This challenge is particularly daunting because of the “noise” in our society that competes for the attention of our young people, and our young people must make their way through this muck as they search for their way in the world. As a school with a clearly-defined religious mission, the faculty and staff members at De la Salle have the benefit of a Companion as they work daily with our students in a myriad of ways.
Of course, this Companion is God Himself as He works in and through our faculty and staff for the benefit of our students. Celebrating mass together to begin each semester reminds our faculty and staff not only of their vocation in spreading the good news, but also that they are not the source of the life and power that flows from them to their students. God is that source of life and power, and He is a never-ending source. That should be a comforting realization not only for our faculty and staff, but for us all, myself included, as we go about living our lives and doing what we can to make living better for those we love.
In that January 3 mass that our chaplain, Fr. Schneller, celebrated with us, he referred in his sermon to a book that was distributed widely to the parishioners of local churches during the Christmas holidays. This book is entitled Resisting Happiness, by Matthew Kelly, and it was provided to people free of charge. I am sure that some of you reading this have a copy of the book. I grabbed my own copy over the holidays and placed it on my nightstand without opening it up. But after Fr. Schneller mentioned it in his sermon on January 3, I went home and started reading it over the course of the next weekend.
I found many aspects of the book excellent and especially relevant for our work as Lasallian educators. One quote particularly struck me:
“We live in a culture that says the meaning of life is to get what we want, and then we will be happy. We yearn for happiness because we were created for it, so we fall for the lie. We race off into the world to get what we want, but sooner or later we realize that getting what we want doesn’t make us happy.” (pp.38-39)
As I do before all school masses, I offered some comments before we celebrated our school-wide mass on January 6 to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Coincidentally, although I didn’t read Resisting Happiness until after I had delivered my comments on January 6, they were similar in nature to what Matthew Kelly expresses in the quote above. My comments concerned the three wise men and their mindset as they traveled to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. I noted to the students that when the wise men departed to return home after delivering their gifts, they left with nothing. There was no gift exchange. The wise men’s gift was simply to be able to give and to worship the baby Jesus.
But how often do we all—especially at Christmas time–get caught up in wanting to get something in order to feel happy? And how often do we want “to get something out of mass” in order for us to believe the mass was meaningful? I must admit that I myself have sometimes had these thoughts about mass. But should it not be enough for us to be present at mass and to be able to worship in community? In concluding my remarks to the students, I encouraged them to remember that ultimately it is in “giving of ourselves” that we truly “get ourselves.” And, as people of faith, we know that it is ultimately in doing His will that we truly get ourselves.
With Christmas time behind us, as people of the resurrection, we now look forward to the celebration of Easter. We are moving from the cradle to the cross. But between the two seasons, here in New Orleans we have this middle ground called Mardi Gras. We live in a wonderful city, don’t we? And, of course, De La Salle will be taking part in the festivities in a major way. Please mark on your calendars the dates of February 18, 23, 24, 26, and 28. These are the dates respectively of the Caesar, Babylon, Krewe d’Etat, Thoth, and Rex parades. Our De La Salle Marching Band will be featured in these parades, and the band members would certainly enjoy having you on the parade route to cheer them on as they march on by.
Speaking of marching, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be the chaperone of eight De La Salle students as we all participate in the upcoming March for Life Pilgrimage in Washington, D.C. This peaceful event has been taking place for over 40 years in Washington D.C. to call attention to the need to preserve all life from conception to natural death. The pilgrimage has typically taken place at about the same time as the 1973 Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. We will be leaving in the evening of January 24 and returning to New Orleans on January 29. The march itself will take place on January 27. We will be traveling by chartered bus, and we will have more than 500 students from other metro Catholic schools traveling with us. Several hundred thousand people will be participating in the march on January 27. We ask for your prayers while we are away, and thank you for your prayers.
We also ask for your continued prayers as we begin to plan steadily for the 2017-2018 school year. We had a very successful Application Day on Saturday, January 7. We are blessed to be experiencing continued growth, and we are growing because people are aware of how special our school community truly is. Thank you for continuing to be excellent ambassadors for De La Salle to your family and friends. Interviews of next year’s applicants continue to happen, and our faculty do a great job in conducting these interviews of applicants and their parents and/or guardians.
Of course, although we are already planning for next school year, we still have this year happening. And we are blessed to have so many wonderful things going on at De La Salle. The remainder of this newsletter will catalogue some of these blessings for our school community.
I know that I speak for many in being proud that De La Salle High School has been chosen as the only high school in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas to receive the designation as a No Place for Hate high school from the ADL. ADL’s No Place for Hate initiative provides schools with an organizing framework for combating bias, bullying, and bigotry. De La Salle received our designation for several reasons: 1) by building an inclusive and safe community in which respect is the goal, and in which all students can thrive; 2) by empowering students, faculty, administration, alumni, and family members to take a stand against bias, bullying, and bigotry by incorporating new and existing programs under one powerful message; 3) by engaging in ADL-organized anti-bias activities each year; and 4) by sending a clear and unified message that all students have a place to belong. Many thanks are in order to our Academic Advisor, Mr. John Charles, for his coordination of this program at De La Salle. Students and faculty have received recent, additional training for the program, and we are in the process of doing the same for parents and alumni. Parents and alumni are encouraged to be on the look-out for information in the near future about this training.
At our principal’s assembly on January 10, we offered numerous kudos to students and faculty for various recent accomplishments. I share several here: Our math department faculty members and various students helped to coordinate and work the Catholic Elementary School Math Tournament that we held here at De La Salle before the Christmas holidays. 120 students from 10 local schools participated in this very successful event. It was wonderful that our school community was able to donate 145 boxes of food toward the Second Harvest Food Drive, and another school community event provided dozens of sweet treats to members of our local 2nd District Police Department. I congratulate De La Salle student Ben Calico for the wonderful honor of recently being elected president of the Louisiana Association of Student Councils for District 1. District 1 includes the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and St. Charles. I also commend De La Salle students Jemiya Jacob and Jordan McFarland for representing De La Salle, Louisiana, and the United States in London, England as All-American cheerleaders during the holidays. Jemiya and Jordan marched in London’s New Year’s Parade.
We have certainly had a parade of successes in our current winter sports seasons. Boys’ basketball is currently ranked #1 in all of metro New Orleans, irrespective of classification. In addition to capturing the CYO tournament championship for the first time since 1988, the boys were a finalist in the Sunkist Shoot-Out Tournament in Lafayette over the holidays. The team lost in the championship game in the final seconds to the home team, St. Thomas More. Currently, the team is 18-4, leading the district, and remaining focused to earn a great spot in the playoffs. Girls’ basketball is tied for 3rd in a very competitive district and is fighting for a play-off spot. The girls are 5-3 at home. Girls’ soccer is unbeaten in their last eight games, and they are fighting for a play-off spot as well. Boys’ soccer is in the final year of a rebuilding program that features nearly all underclassmen on the varsity roster, and the team has been competitive, even competing in the prestigious Louisiana Showcase of Soccer tournament. They remain mathematically alive for a play-off spot. Last but certainly not least is our wrestling team’s successes. The team is going to be defending last year’s state championship at the State Tournament the weekend of February 10 and 11 in Shreveport, and they have positioned themselves well with a solid season thus far. The team participated in the Louisiana Classic in late December in Baton Rouge and finished 6th out of 45 schools. Most notably in this tournament, no team in Division 2 or 3 finished higher than De La Salle. We are a Division 3 team. The team also won the Brusly tournament earlier this month and did extremely well at The Bash on Da Bayou in South Plaquemines. The team did not lose a match in that tournament. And just this past weekend at the Comeaux High School tournament in Lafayette, the team finished 2nd out of more than 60 teams.
To celebrate our five winter sports teams, we are having “Hoops Week” this week. Various activities will be taking place here at school throughout the week, and we will have an all–school pep rally next week for all five teams.
As we look ahead to the end of this week, we are excited about our Honor Roll Breakfasts on Thursday and Friday. Friday is also an important day for our sophomores as they experience their off-campus retreat as a class.
It is appropriate that I end this newsletter with a reference to a spiritual activity for our students. Ultimately, everything we are, say and do at De La Salle has its source, foundation, and goal in God. I take this opportunity to state here the prayer in which our principal, Paul Kelly, leads the school community every morning:
“Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God…. I worship You, O my God, and I acknowledge you as my God and my Maker. Teach me, I beg You, to know You, to love You, to serve You, and to open my heart and to hear Your voice in my life. I offer You my day, and I resolve to spend it in Your love and in the service of my neighbor. I ask You to bless our school and all our endeavors.”
St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts, forever.
Best and blessings,