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Christopher Keavy

JPII Loses a Good Friend

Shawn and Carolyn O’Callaghan first visited Pope John Paul II High School during our inaugural year, 2007-2008, seeking to help students afford a Catholic education. From 2008 and every year since, the O’Callaghan’s have given faithfully for student scholarships.

Shawn O’Callaghan died last week, on February 4, 2020. Read about Shawn’s life here.

More than simply donors, Shawn and Carolyn enjoyed meeting the students they were supporting, checking on their progress, and providing kind encouragement. I would see Shawn and Carolyn at school concerts, plays, and events. Shawn was gentle, kind, and funny; he liked JPII, liked young people, and wanted to be of service.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading calls disciples to be ‘salt of the earth.’ That Shawn O’Callaghan was. Salt of the earth. May he rest in peace.

Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Results Are In

The College Board recently released final performance results from the SAT for the class of 2019. Again this year, JPII’s Class of 2019 outperformed national averages and Massachusetts averages. This continues a trend that JPII students have achieved since 2014.

While numbers don’t tell the whole story, they matter. We’ll keep focusing our efforts on maximizing each and every student’s college opportunities, including their numbers. Beyond this, current seniors (Class of 2020) took the SAT in October, during the school day, and at school expense. Of the 66 seniors who tested, 50 improved their scores. No doubt that the comfort, convenience, and familiarity of school-day testing aided in these gains.

This is Fun

Often, my 45-minute daily sliver of teaching Introduction to Western Philosophy is the high point of the day. This year, an especially small (five-person!), talented class allows us to push further into primary sources. Recently, I asked for their intellectual interests, in the form of “Fill in the blank: I’m interested in the philosophy of…” Students came through with some cool answers.

I then selected primary source readings that each student will read and discuss with me, then present in seminar discussion for their peers. These are no easy readings, as you can see:

  • Sleep: Aristotle’s On Dreams (350 BCE)
  • Mathematics: Whitehead and Russell, Principia Mathematica (1910) [excerpts]
  • Perception and Reality: Bishop Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) [excerpts]
  • Freedom: Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism (1946)
  • Artificial Intelligence: Alan Turing, Computer Machinery and Intelligence (1950)

Reading and student-led discussions will take place weekly through December. This is fun!

 

 

Blaine from Maine

There are several high-profile, charged cases set to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court this year. But one, cited in this New York Times preview, is of particular interest to Catholic schools.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue tests the state’s ability to exclude religious schools from state aid available to all children. The U.S. Catholic Bishops signed an amicus brief which puts the question this way:

Does it violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools and on the basis of a state-law provision that singles out religious schools for adverse treatment?

Or, can there be any state aid for students and families attending religious schools?

Fairness dictates “yes,” but history is not on our side. At the height of ant-Catholic sentiment in 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech stating that state and federal governments should not “support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford to every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas.” In 19th-century America, “sectarian” typically meant Catholic. And “dogmas” speaks for itself. These sentiments led to the so-called Blaine amendments found in states such as Montana — and Massachusetts — that prohibit even the most common-sense funding for students in religious schools.

Should the Montana Supreme Court action be upheld, it will be a blow to students and families seeking basic fairness from the state while attending religious schools.

Commencement Remarks, Class of 2019

Remarks delivered by Mr. Keavy at the school’s ninth Commencement Exercises, 6-4-19.

To the graduates, my hope for you is that, through your formation here and as you move forward, you will see more and more of what’s really going on.

It is said that God comes to us disguised as our lives. For you these past four years, God came to you disguised as your school. He has been with you in your teachers, coaches, friends, and classmates. Especially vividly He has been with you through your friends and classmates. Teaching you to love, to forgive, to will the good for others.

It is easy to view other people as bit players in our own hero’s story. To view them only for how they affect us. We are the stars and they are the supporting cast. Harder to see other people for who they are in their own lives, dreams, and pursuits. Harder still to see them as God does, to see God through them. But God comes to us disguised as our lives and the people in it. As you grow in wisdom and experience, you will more and more see God’s loving care in and through the people in your life.

An example is in order.

Alexa and Dan Paige are the final two of four Paiges that have gone through JPII since 2009. They are siblings, though not biologically so, as Dan was adopted from Korea at a young age and Alexa was adopted from China at age 12. To their classmates and teachers, in many ways, they are quite different. Dan more “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” to Alexa’s “sugar and spice and everything nice.” If one is “helping” Mr. Ernie after the school and the other volunteering in Campus Ministry, well, might not be hard to guess who.

But God comes to us disguised as our lives and the people in it.

Alexa is pure-hearted, caring, and one who makes everyone around her a better person. Last year in Ecuador, we were concerned that Alexa’s appearance — due to her medical condition of albinism and nystagmus — would draw reactions from those unfamiliar and become uncomfortable for her. Instead, while visiting a neighbor, Yvonne in her tin-roofed, cane home, Yvonne turned to Alexa and said, “You are beautiful, inside and out.” True words. Yvonne nailed it. Alexa makes everyone around her a better person. Dan is an honest, principled young man — and a man of his word. Dan demands and gives honesty and respect. Many of the guys know how much Dan wanted to play football, and it is easy to imagine Dan delivering punishment on the field. But his parents wouldn’t permit it, and out of love, loyalty, and obedience to them, he honored their wishes and instead ran cross country. Didn’t complain. He’s honest, principled, worthy of respect.

Can you see God revealing himself in and through Dan and Alexa’s presence in your lives? I can. And not just them, of course. When we stop seeing other people as part of our story, and start seeing their own story, and even better, God’s divine authorship, friends and classmate like Dan, Alexa, and each and every one of you — reveal God and his plan.

Next year, you will face many new people and circumstances and the temptation will be  — out of nervousness, uncertainty or anxiety — to see as allies or obstacles in you establishing yourself. But remember what you have learned and accomplished as a class — remember that God come to you disguised as your life, look for him in others, and as you have here though people like Alexa and Dan, you will find him — through them.

For the first time, every senior here tonight was born in this millennium. You know only routine availability of the Internet and Internet-connected devices. 9/11 was the tone-setter for your sense of America and its place in the world. For you, it wasn’t or shouldn’t have been a big deal to elect the first African-American president.  You live in your world more than we — your teachers, coaches, parents, me — do. Of course. We cannot and have not prepared you specifically for the vast plurality of views, perspectives, attitudes, ideologies, dispositions, and movements that you will encounter. We have not anticipated nor could accurately predict the changes that are to come or the realities that you will experience. What we have done  — to the best of our ability — is prepare you in a different way — through conservation. We have conserved and shared with you the vast tradition of Catholic thought, literature, and human understanding, that gives you solid knowledge and true appreciation of human achievement and human nature. Here, you have read The Divine Comedy, sung Palestrina, watched Bishop Barron, and met Imaculee Ilibagiza. Use your JPII education as grounding for the many and varied ideas, people, and experiences you will encounter. The tools and truths of your JPII education will help you understand, analyze, and judge the many new ideas, opinions, and experiences that the plurality of our culture will show you. It will be tempting to discard this foundation and perhaps such wandering may even be necessary as you make it your own. I ask you to trust, believe and know that the learning that has been conserved and shared with you is of value — even ultimate value. My bet is you’ll find, like this 50-year-old guy has, that the old days aren’t so old and the new stuff isn’t so new. Truth endures.

A favorite memory of mine is the Holy Father’s Address to Congress in 2015. It was September of your freshman year; We watched together as a school, in this auditorium. Despite his heavily accented English that was tough to understand at times, when the Holy Father concluded with the words “God Bless America” we all applauded just like the members of Congress did.

In this historic address, Pope Francis expressed his desire to dialogue with “all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations.” You are these young people. You have great and noble aspirations. Even if you can’t articulate them, they are in you. Even if you can’t find them, they are in you. In this address, Pope Francis encouraged all people to follow the example of four great Americans, saying, “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, and when it bears the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

Of you, the 69 members of the Class of 2019, some may be attracted to the fight for liberty’s preservation, as President Lincoln was, or equal protection under the law, as was Dr. King. Some of you may work for the poor and underserved, as Dorothy Day did, still others of you desire truth in solitude as Thomas Merton did. Pursue your great and noble aspirations. You have them. Make your life about big things. I want you to find and fulfill your great and noble aspirations in the next stage of your lives.

In conclusion, at moments like this, we learn something about time. High school seems tedious, never-ending, like 2:51 will never come. Then it’s over, and we are saying goodbye is a very real way. And you can’t believe how fast it went by. In philosophy class we read from St. Augustine that “time is a distension of the soul” which is why high school can take so long yet feel over so fast.  Weird, huh? So learn to snatch the eternal from the desperately fleeting, what Tennessee Williams calls the great magic trick of human existence. God comes to us disguised as our lives — and the mundane, regular moments that reveal him.

So it is time to say goodbye. Graduates and families, let me close by sharing how much I appreciate your contributions and how special you are to our school and me personally. On behalf of your teachers and our staff, know that we have grown close, we know you, love you, and will forever be united with you. Godspeed and God bless the students and families of the Class of 2019. Thank you.

 

Richly Deserved

Longtime friend, Board member, SFXP & JPII parent, and community leader Steve Tenaglia has been named “The Board Member of the Year” by The Association of Catholic Admissions and Advancement Professionals (ACAAP). Steve will be honored at ACAAP’s Spring Conference, held at Holy Cross’s Hogan Center in March.

Here’s an except from Steve’s nomination letter:

“Steve Tenaglia is the epitome of community leadership, humble service, and selfless dedication. He is a “founding father” of Pope John Paul II High School (est. 2007), having served as Board project overseer in the school’s early construction phase, and  has provided continuous Board leadership through the school’s establishment, and mergers with St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School (Hyannis, 2013) and St. Margaret Regional School (Buzzards Bay, 2018). Steve’s Board service concludes with the 2018-2019 school year, and it is hard to imagine a more dedicated, professional Board member with which to grow the school.

Like all good Board members, Steve is a faithful donor. However, his service and leadership have been felt most keenly in community relationships and facility management. Steve’s community service background, approachable manner, professional presentation, and willingness to ‘roll up his sleeves’ were instrumental in securing the former Barnstable High School building, in 2005, as the site for the new Pope John Paul I High School. Once secured, Steve led the Facilities Committee through the old school building’s renovation construction management, and transfer to Diocesan ownership in 2007. Steve kept on as a Board leader, leading the Facilities Committee as two new buildings, St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School and St. Margaret Regional School were added to the campus. Steve’s dedication, good humor, and stick-to-it-iveness are a blessing to the Board and the entire school community.

While I cite Steve’s continuous career of service and not one noteworthy accomplishment, he was instrumental in securing a 391 solar panel array on the roof of the SFXP building and is currently leading the school’s exploration of CPC funding for campus improvements.

By honoring Steve Tenaglia, ACAAP honors Board members marked by extraordinary dedication, flexibility, and selflessness.”

 

A Legacy of Devotion

Mr. Robert and Mrs. Francesca Fuchsmann loved Japan, Swiss culture, tennis, and the Patriots. They also loved the Church. As dedicated supporters of St. Francis Xavier Parish, the Fuchsmanns sought to ensure that St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School students have their chance to grow and pursue their passions in our authentically Catholic, caring community.

Therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchsmann included SFXP in their final plans. When Mrs. Fuchsmann died in 2017, she left a substantial gift to the school’s Endowment Fund, which will allow SFXP students for many years to grow and live as she did.

When you visit the lovely memorial bench behind St. John Paul II High School overlooking McKeon Park, know that it marks a legacy of devotion.

By the Numbers

Our academic mission is college preparation, college admission, and college success. So, we watch the numbers.

The College Board recently released final performance results from the SAT for the class of 2018. Nationwide, students improved their scores relative to results from 2017. Looking locally, JPII’s Class of 2018 outperformed national averages, Massachusetts averages, and the mean scores for our Diocesan Catholic high schools. The Class of 2018 continued a trend that JPII students have achieved since 2014.

Beyond this, current seniors (Class of 2019) took the SAT in October at school, during the school day, and at school expense. Of the 64 seniors who tested, 50 improved their scores.  I believe the comfort, convenience, and familiarity of school-day testing aided in these gains.

While numbers don’t tell the whole story, they matter. We’ll keep focusing our efforts on maximizing each and every student’s college opportunities, including their numbers.