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‘We Learn the Curriculum of Life’

At last month’s Catholic Schools Week Mass, celebrated for all students of Cape Cod’s Catholic schools, Shannon Cummings, ’18 shared her thoughts near the culmination of her twelve years of Catholic schooling.  With her signature style, Shannon makes the case for the special sauce in Catholic schools.

Read Shannon’s remarks here.

September 4, The First Day of School

Pope John Paul II High School’s first day of school was ten years ago today.

On September 4, 2007, 38 students, seven teachers, and four staff members joined in Our Lady of Fatima Chapel for prayer, thanksgiving (program here), and to take one uncertain step in a journey of personal growth and building a school. On that day, as with many in those early years, the notion of ‘PJP’ in ten years was, while hopeful, remote. Yet God provides. I was then and am now grateful for the privilege of this work alongside the many hundreds of students, families, and staff members who have brought us to this milestone. 

I shared the following during the school’s seventh Commencement Exercises this past June:

The first day of school at Pope John Paul II High School was September 4, 2007. With your graduation tonight, our high school completes its tenth year. This is a milestone –double digits — worthy of recognition and reflection.

Bill Gates — and please forgive the cliche of a Grad speech with a Bill Gates quote — Bill Gates said that “Most people overestimate what can be done in one year and underestimate what can be done in ten years.”  This is true. I’ve lived it. As the founding principal of our high school, I admit that I overestimated what could be done in one year. I imagined rapid growth — like the athlete who expects to win the game by putting on the jersey. And in case I want to forget, there’s a framed print, hanging in the Conference Room, from a 2006 Cape Cod Times article where I tell the world that we’re looking to enroll 150 students in our first year. We opened with 38. Yes, it’s easy to overestimate what can be done in one year because one-year horizons encourage fantasy thinking that omits the necessary factors of planning, people, and perseverance. 

But Gates also says that we often underestimate what can be done in ten years. True, too. In 2007, when we opened our doors, and you were in second grade, no one figured that within ten years, Pope John Paul II High School would capture a state-record three consecutive state championships, or send 62 voices to provide sacred music at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. We did not estimate Ivy League and other top-school acceptances, or alums now studying for the priesthood in our Diocese. You have contributed significantly to these accomplishments and many others.”

May God bless St. John Paul II High School with many more September 4ths.

The Long View

The following reflection is excerpted from my commencement address delivered on Monday, June 5, 2017. 

“Along these lines, that of big goals, selfless effort, and the long view — I’d like to introduce and honor a man whose vision and efforts proved critical to the existence and success of our high school. Joe Hoffman began the effort, in 2004, to open the Cape’s first Catholic high school, then conceived to be St. Francis Xavier Preparatory High School. As a parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Cape community leader, and one whose sister lives vowed religious life, Joe was drawn to the possibility and promise of a Catholic high school on Cape Cod.  

Joe was a leader in the successful effort to purchase the Barnstable grade five building as the site of the new high school, despite opposition and competition. After the building’s purchase, the sledding proved to be difficult, and key leaders quit the effort; true to the notion that we often overestimate what can be done in a year. But Joe stayed on. Navigating between a local group that lost its mojo and our Diocese not yet willing to adopt the fragile project, Joe and a small number persevered, kept the vision in sight, and the dream alive. Soon additional funding was secured, the Diocese sponsored the school, and the doors opened in 2007.  Joe continued to serve as an Advisory Board member and chaired through the school’s difficult unification with St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School in 2013. Always, Joe and his wife Felicia have been faithful donors, supporters, and Cape citizens willing to work for things larger than themselves. Take from their good example.

This past Spring, Joe retired from active leadership on the Advisory Board. 

We honor Joe tonight not only for his contributions to our ten-year story but as an example of setting big goals, goals that lead away from self and toward God. From the beginning of this work, Joe had no self-interest. He would never send a child to JPII, nor seek a job, nor expect remuneration, nor benefit personally from the school’s success. He put himself at the service of something he knew could be achieved and derived from his efforts the satisfaction of your success. Joe Hoffman and his wife Felicia are here tonight, and I ask that you join me in expressing our appreciation.”

The Measure of Success



Where do JPII grads go to college? Do they get jobs? Are they successful?

Good questions, all.

Our Lord shows us a simple and yet challenging vision of success: Love God and one another. When students leave JPII & SFXP, we send them with the hope and expectation that they know the best meaning of success and are ready to live it.

JPII grads Mike Doyle, ’13 and Kate Pendleton, ’13 are two of twenty Assumption College graduates recognized with the school’s “Crown and Shield” Award. Mike and Kate, like many JPII & SFXP grads, know that God and others come before self. They make those around them better.  This is the best definition of success, and I am proud of our graduates.

Read more here.

Net Effect

At today’s Catholic Schools Week Mass, celebrated for all student of Cape Cod’s Catholic schools by Bishop Edgar Da Cunha, Samantha Carolwicz, ’17 shared her thoughts near the culmination of her twelve years of Catholic schooling.

She sees the net effect of what makes the Catholic school way different. These are good words.

Read Samantha’s address here.

A Man Worth Noticing

Typically, institutions’ part-time, evening custodians go unnoticed. JPII & SFXP’s Mike McManus has a quiet, unassuming demeanor that virtually guarantees this. He doesn’t make speeches, deliver lectures, win games, or write blog posts. He cleans the restrooms, hallways, and locker rooms in our buildings.

Yet Mike McManus is a man I respect and admire and worthy of our notice.

Mike had worked for over thirty years in public schools when his “brother,” Mr. Ernie, recruited him to come to JPII. Since then, Mike has found the JPII & SFXP atmosphere to be “night and day” in comparison with other settings. “It’s so different here. Students have respect for the school and for you as a person. These kids are great. People recognize you here and you matter. I love coming to this school,” he said.

You may not know Mike’s deep faith and positive attitude — traits that I admire and the source of his strength and humility. Mike’s wife, Donna, suffers from advanced stages of MS. Through this struggle, they have grown closer and share their faith with one another even more deeply. Mike and Donna pray with the gospel of the day each morning and were able to share a pilgrimage to Lourdes several years ago. “God never gives us more that we can handle. He is part of my life, Donna’s life, and our marriage. He gives us our strength.”

I asked Mike how he feels about being less known as evening custodian. “I’m here to serve. That’s what our Lord wants us to do. In my job, I help to keep the school clean so that the teachers and students can have a healthy experience. That’s fine with me.”

Plus, the quiet of evening hours has one more benefit: “I love the Chapel. I feel like He’s there for me. I sit in the Chapel, when the building is empty, and say ‘thank you’.”

Mike McManus is a man worth noticing.

Lessons from 1796 to 1996 to 2016

Parents able to attend our SFXP Second Quarter Honors Breakfast were richly rewarded by the inspiring words of SFXP founding Pastor, Rev. Edward Byington.

Rev. Byington’s visit commemorates the twenty year anniversary of our 1996 founding. Yet while no one would fault Rev. Byington had he taken a trip down memory lane; instead, he took the occasion to challenge and inspire students to lead the type of life that forms the vision of the best Catholic schools. Rev. Byington focused on Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence and longest survivor. While telling Carroll’s story, Rev. Byington highlighted three simple, powerful habits of body, mind and spirit that we might emulate —

  1. Exercise every day. Run, walk, play with vigor.
  2. Read, read, read, read. Cultivate your mind through reading.
  3. Pray, meditate, receive the sacraments. Nourish your soul every day.

Wise words in Carroll’s day, in 1996, 2016, or anytime. Thank you, Rev. Byington.

Man (or Woman) the Stations

In the short history of the Our Lady of Fatima Chapel, three sets of ‘Stations of the Cross’ have adorned the walls.

In our first year, a set rescued from another Diocesan entity was installed, then, nearly as quickly, taken away. Second, a generous donor and JPII family purchased stations which have held us in good stead since 2009. Now, a second JPII family has secured and repaired full-sized stations, which were installed over the weekend. Arrangements are being made for the previous stations to make their way to Ecuador.

Next time you’re in the building, check ’em out. JPII families are good!

Several people have asked after Dr. Francesco Cesareo’s excellent remarks at the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony last Thursday.

Read Dr. Cesareo’s Address here.