Somebody To Lean On

Today as we all returned from our spring break – hopefully refreshed and emboldened by the message of the Easter Season – we also learned from Governor Beshear that in person schooling will not happen for the rest of the school year. This has many implications for all of us, but most certainly for the class of 2020 – at NDA and at schools across our state. Our hearts go out to each and every one of them. We remain committed to doing all we can to make the best of this very difficult situation for our soon to be newest alumnae.

The social distancing and stay at home strategies have clearly saved lives and made a difference to mitigating the exponential growth of this infection. We know that so many are making sacrifices and are seriously affected by the COVID-19 virus. Of course there is no greater sacrifice than those who have lost their loved ones or their own lives to this virus.

Human suffering is a part of our experience. At this difficult time, we suffer as individuals, as families, as a community, as a country and even as a world. Our humanity is not only defined by this reality – it is defined by our common experience of suffering and by our sense of compassion for each other. We can all imagine the pain that our seniors are experiencing and know how vital it is to support them and each other in such difficult times. 

Bill Withers song – Lean On Me – seems to have taken on a lot of significance these days.   Perhaps we can each think of someone we can reach out to and be that person they can lean on. 

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain 
We all have sorrow 
But if we are wise 
We know that there's always tomorrow 
Lean on me, when you're not strong 
And I'll be your friend 
I'll help you carry on 
For it won't be long 
'Til I'm gonna need 
Somebody to lean on.” 
                           Bill Withers, 1938-2020

Inspired by St. Julie Billiart

On this day in 1816, Julie Billiart died at the age of 65. She was canonized a saint in 1969. St. Julie’s life work was to bring God’s goodness into our world through the many good works she performed throughout her life. Most notably, she founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (Belgium) and is considered the spiritual mother of the Sisters of Notre Dame (Germany). You can hear more about St. Julie’s story here. You can see her portrait in the foyer of our school building.

St. Julie suffered extreme physical and emotional hardship in her personal life including persecution during the French Revolution. In spite of all this, she proclaimed a hope-filled philosophy of life grounded in her belief in God’s infinite goodness. Here are two frequently quoted sayings of St. Julie that have been inspirations to many of us at NDA. Perhaps these offer points of reflection in your Easter week journey.

“Be like the sunflower that follows every movement of the sun and keep your eyes always turned towards our good God.”

 “Our charity must not be limited by the love we have for one another. It must make our hearts as wide as the world.”

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New ways to experience community

One thing is certain – we all miss each other at NDA! I have heard this countless times from students, faculty, staff and our dear SND’s on the 4th floor! It is a blessing to see each other virtually on Google Meet, but certainly not the same as being in the school building together every day. Social media has been a saving grace in many ways but can’t replace the energy and camaraderie of our daily interactions at school – in the hallways, classrooms, auditorium, cafeteria, gym, library, theater and even the crazy parking lot at the end of the day!

There are few small things we can do to help us with that and today was a great example. Several of our faculty and staff did a drive by greeting with the sisters on the 4th floor. Yes, we miss them too and they miss us – so we drove in our individual cars through the parking lot and around the circle as the sisters all stood a safe distance away. Sharing signs, waving and blowing horns and kisses – it proved to be a rather joyous occasion. You can see a bit of it on the video here – enjoy!

We are finding news ways to experience community and show support for one another in these difficult days. They are proving fruitful in many ways not the least of which is appreciating the basic needs we have for each other and the simple ways we can share that. The sisters pray for us all the time! Let us all keep one another in prayers of petition and gratitude!

Embracing Father,
You grace each of us with equal measure in your love.
Let us learn to love our neighbors more deeply,
so that we can create
peaceful and just communities.
Inspire us to use our creative energies
to build the structures we need
to overcome the obstacles
of intolerance and indifference.
May Jesus provide us the example needed
and send the Spirit to warm our hearts for the journey.
Amen

—from Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice

Bringing the good news of the Easter story to life

During this Holy Week we recount the journey that Christ took into the darkest experience of human pain and suffering. And today, this journey of human suffering seems all to present to us with the COVID19 pandemic. Christ’s story has the joyful ending of resurrection to new life –  how can we find Easter joy in our current time? How can we apply the Easter story to this present moment? 

It might just be possible that Easter was made for moments like this! We see how the story of Christ’s passion unfolds and we also get to know how it ends. Of course, that alone is an inspiration! We don’t know for sure how our current story will end but we can have faith and imagine the ‘new life’ that can come from all of this. We can hope for a good outcome and put that hope to work through our actions that do make a difference. There are so many in our community doing this already. Think of the health care workers who go to the frontlines every day to provide comfort and care for those who are suffering.

As we begin Holy Week, let us consider ways we bring about positive outcomes in our lives?  Perhaps we can work on a strained relationship, help out more around the house, be more supportive of a sibling, spend a little more time in prayer, be more loving to a sibling, appreciate the beautiful natural world God has given us – there are so many possibilities. The size of the action is not as important as the hope and love with which it is made. This can be the way we bring the good news of the Easter story to life and with it a joy-filled Easter season.

So inspired by the words of Mother Theresa, let us begin our Holy Week with great hope that we will indeed celebrate the joy of Easter.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”                          Mother Theresa

The Class of 2020, Prepared for Life

In recent days, I have been conducting senior exit interviews via Google Meet. These are usually done under different circumstances of course where we can sit at a table in my office and have a face-to-face conversation. I miss that format, but am grateful for the screen time I can have with these marvelous young women. Missing those office visits is minor compared to the things our seniors are missing in these final weeks. But they are handling it all with such grace!

These conversations are always insightful and rewarding not only in terms of what our seniors have to share about their experiences, but in the meaningful and genuine way they reflect the impact of their NDA education. I could not have imagined them being more poignant but these days they certainly are!

In recent years, our seniors have shared ways the academic challenges have taught them how to study and manage their time well, the confidence they have gained by learning in our all girl environment, the importance of the NDA sisterhood in making friends and growing as a community of women and the impact that caring and talented teachers have had on their learning. They have reflected on how they have grown in their faith through religion classes, retreat programs and service.

In these last few weeks the Class of 2020 is reflecting on their final days with added introspection. Some are finding that journal writing helps them cope, others appreciate staying connected to teachers and friends via online learning, and many are grateful for opportunities to spend more time with family and sit outside on a sunny day. They express how moved they are by how much our NDA community cares about them and how much they appreciate all they have in life.

I have always known our young women are well prepared for college and these last few weeks have shown me how prepared they are for life!

May the marvelous and insightful women of the Class of 2020 know God’s goodness this day and always!

What we know for certain

Today we announced that our remote learning plan will be extended through Friday, May 1. This follows Governor Beshear’s recommendation for all schools. As we watch updates from our federal and state officials we know there is no definitive answer about when all this will come to an end. This uncertainty is unsettling but we are grateful for the patience and support we are seeing from across our community. We know we must continue social distancing and find new ways to connect with one another for the health and safety of our family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. We can rely on one certainty – that this will make difference!

My son Louis and his wife Denice live in New York City and they can tell you firsthand how vital it is that we honor this method. Like many parents, I would have never imagined my children would have their lives turned upside down like this – but here we are. I am certain that they love each other and will take good care of one another through it all. The stories I hear from other parents are reminders of this certainty in many of our family experiences.

We recognize another certainty and that is the fortitude and generosity of the human spirit. I am sure you can think of many examples of this, but the most notable one on my mind right now is the bravery and sacrifice of all those on the front lines fighting this disease. This includes a number of parents, alumnae and friends of NDA. They care for those they serve as if they were their own family members. May God bless and protect all these good and courageous people.

Dear Lord,

please embrace your loving arms

around my family and friends.

Keep them always protected,

secured, loved and blessed.

Amen

The Solidarity of Family

Last Friday, Mr. Tom Richmond, well-known religion teacher at NDA, shared a video reflection with our seniors. It was an invitation for them to reflect on how the challenges of these uncertain times are a call to make a difference. He complimented our seniors on doing just that – by handling this unexpected reality with grace, by supporting one another and in appreciating time with their families. We are all proud of you Class of 2020!

A phrase that Mr. Richmond used that is so relevant to these times was this –“the solidarity of family.”  Like our seniors we are each finding more time with that unit we call our family. It is with this group of people that we are learning how to get through these difficult times and, through that solidarity, learning how to rise above it all, to focus on what matters most – the care and support of loved ones.  We may not agree on what to have for dinner, who is cleaning up the kitchen, what to watch on TV or whose turn it is to take the dog for a walk, but we know we must agree on one thing – that we can get through all of this together and we will be better for it.

As our seniors prepare for the next phase of their lives beyond high school, they have to do so in a way they never expected. This is always a bittersweet time for our young people as they prepare to launch their lives beyond high school and their family home. It is especially poignant that each of these young women has been given some extra time at home with their family. It seems they are finding an unexpected gift!  My wish for them is that when they make their journeys forward – this will be a time they will always cherish – and one that will prepare them well for their next challenge and opportunity to make a difference.

“You don’t choose your family, they are God’s gift to you as you are to them.”
Desmond Tutu

Happy National Doctors Day

Beneficence is the quality of doing or producing good.  For medical professionals, this is the fundamental principle guiding their practice. On this National Doctor’s Day, may we all remember those who are caregivers and healers – doing so much good for others especially at this very difficult time. To our many parents, grandparents, alumnae and friends who have embraced this commitment to find healing for others, let us give thanks and appreciation!

We are all witnessing the great challenge our doctors and nurses are facing today. And yet they go to work each and every day to face these incredible challenges and provide a healing presence to those for whom they seek to do good. Let this be an inspiration to us all.  Perhaps we can find ways to support and give witness to their many good works through some small act of love and kindness. In honor of our dedicated doctors and nurses, may we all seek to do good and be a healing presence to others in some way this day.

To be a “healing presence.”

It is a call …

To listen more than we speak
To remain calm even when others are in chaos
To stay clear and focused even when no clear direction is apparent
To value people exactly as they are and not as we think they should be
To be with people who are suffering, rather than trying to have all of the answers or explain that which ultimately is “mystery”
To let go of the temptation to show only the clinical and professional side and hold back the personal and human side of caring

(Source: Catholic Health Association: https://www.chausa.org/)

Continuing to Cultivate Hope and Happiness

On this last day of week two of Remote Learning @ NDA, we certainly had another memorable start. Every day Mr. VonHandorf has faithfully brought us our prayer and pledge and they have been truly uplifting (and respectfully entertaining). Today he made arrangements for our dear Sisters Paul Ann and Rachel to open our day. And what a joy it was! You can relive those precious moments at this link .

We are so blessed to be a school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame. They are an inspiration and source of hope each and every day. As you may know, we pay tribute to their legacy and sponsorship in our school theme each year. For the 2019-20 school year our theme of Cultivating Hope and Happiness: Strengthened by God’s Love honors the first SND educational principle of the Centrality of our Good and Provident God. Who would have known how relevant this theme would be to the moment we find ourselves in today?!

Suffice it to say – our resolve is not deterred! God’s goodness is alive and well. That is so evident in the many ways our students, teachers, parents and grandparents are supporting this new way of living and learning. Our NDA community continues to cultivate hope and happiness. May your weekend be another example!

SND Educational Principles

  • The Centrality of a Good and Provident God
  • The Human Dignity of Each Person and an Image of God
  • The Notre Dame Educator as Gospel Witness 
  • An Integrated Education for Transformation

How we spend our days

Thanks to my parents and my NDA education, I love reading. One of my favorite authors is Annie Dillard whose writing is so relevant, thoughtful, inspirational and always timely. This quote from her book The Writing Life seems made for this moment we find ourselves in. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Dillard goes beyond stating the obvious in that she challenges us to reflect on how we actually spend our days. Is this what we want our life to become? When we reflect back on our lives, will we wish we spent more time with friends and family, read more books, took more walks, worked longer hours, wrote more in our journal, sent more thank you notes…and on it goes. 

As our daily lives have been completely reshaped for the moment, an unintended consequence may be to take stock of how we actually do spend our days. Many are finding more time – with close family, to take walks, for quiet reflection, in front of a computer, to read books, to talk with God and to chat with friends. This may be a blessing in disguise! When we consider how we are spending our days now, will we think anew how we would like to spend our lives?

And today may you have a little more time to read this poem from Mary Oliver…

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver