Monday, February 4, 2008

Why This is Worth It

"Everything we have and everything we are is for you."
-Sr. Roasnn, on behalf of the Salesian Sisters, to the St. John Bosco School Community.

On Friday night, St. John Bosco School commemorated the closing of its 50th anniversary year with a gala at the Gunter Hotel (I picked a good year to volunteer here, because I keep getting to go to these wonderful events that only happen every so long). I don't think I have, in the almost six months I've been here, spent adequate time describing how unique and wonderful a school SJB is. I cannot imagine a better place for my first year of teaching. I went to eleven different schools before I graduated high school, and several of them were of incredible quality, but none compare to what I've experienced here. At other schools, "family" is a buzz word that really means, "We mostly get along and will ask favors of each other when we need to". It's a truth here.

It's more than the fact that we have kids whose parents went here, and even a few teeny ones whose grandparents attended decades ago. It's more about things like the fact that I know almost all of my 79 students' parents, and they know each other. The members of the SJB family back each other up in things great and small. This school would literally shut down in an instant of all of our involved parents dropped out, but what's more remarkable is how willingly and gladly those parents do the work they do. So many students and parents at SJB stay connected for years -- decades, even.

Two things, I think, are responsible for the closeness in this community. The first is common love for the children and commitment to whatever is in their best interests. The parents are, even by parent standards, admirably devoted to their children, and to their education and well being. The teachers, who make half of what they could at public schools in San Antonio, stick around for upwards of twenty years not because they get any special compensation or renown for it, but simply because they love these children. Everything we do, everyday, is not just about doing a job, keeping the kids occupied, and getting them out the door. We're all hell bent on teaching them everything we can, not least of all how to be a good Christian and a strong individual. The sisters, of course, have literally given their entire lives to this purpose.

St. John Bosco, co-founder of the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians (the Salesian Sisters' formal title), said education should form good Christians and honest citizens; that teachers must not only form the mind but the whole person. Secular educators are getting around to this idea in the last few years, but the Salesians have been doing it for over 150 years, to the exclusion of just about everything else.

And this, I think, is the second reason SJB is so tightly woven: we share a common love and wonder of these sisters, who live a life so contrary to what the world tells us we must to be happy, who act in every moment of the day for the kids, whose have given up everything else to be in the service of Christ, and to that end they walk with these children selflessly and tirelessly. At the gala, we premiered a commemorative/promotional video about the school, towards the end of which one of our more active mothers was interviewed and said, "Thank you isn't enough to say in response to what these women do for our children." She paused and teared up, searching. "We're very grateful," she said, pausing another moment but still only being able to quietly say, "very grateful."

There are days here, especially lately, that I am so tired and burned out and uninspired, I honestly wonder if I will make it to the end of the year without prompting a revolt from my kids (or the sisters). But then Sister Carmen comes into the dining room smiling and laughing after hours in the kitchen, Sister Thuy goes on and on about all of her kids in a jaw-dropping display of how possible it actually is to never quit caring, and Sister Gloria spends hours upon hours alone in the VIDES office while the rest of us are at school so that more people like me can share this incredible life, if only for a little while, and I have to sit up a little straighter, push myself a little harder.

They have this effect on all of us. It's hard not to love the obnoxious punk(s) in your class when you have these witnesses to Love walking around in those conspicuous habits all the time. Their holiness, and the love that comes from it, comes from them like vines that wrap around the school -- from the teachers to the parents to the cafeteria ladies, from the desks to the rafters -- and keep the whole thing upright. It is a living, breathing, growing discipleship. It is Christ among us. It binds us.

I haven't talked much about "what I'm getting out of this", mostly because it goes to deep for me to be able to finagle into words. What I can say is that I hope I walk out of this convent with just the smallest speck of the devotion, first to Christ and then to his work, I see in these women.

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