The weight of those words resounds no matter where you go.
Traveling in Mombasa and the Masai Mara, people ask, “What are you doing in Kenya?”
“We are teachers,” we respond, “in Bungoma at a school run by the Xaverian Brothers.”
In some capacity, I’ve now taught on three continents: the United States, Kenya, and China. Everywhere I’ve gone, identifying myself as a teacher garners instant credibility.
Why is that?
Perhaps people know that working in education is a willing commitment to earn a simple salary?
Perhaps people are impressed with your insanity to willingly raise other peoples’ children?
Perhaps it’s a recognization that we owe our life to our mentors and educators?
Here in Kenya, when I mention the Xaverian Brothers, people’s eyes light up. The work of the Xaverian Brothers has made a marked difference in the lives of countless people. Bishops, Priests, Politicians, business leaders, your neighborhood shopkeep, doctors, lawyers, parents, friends, and strangers dot the landscape. People recognize the work of the brothers and the impact they’ve made on the lives of others. Each former student is a living witness of the Xaverian mission that “in harmony, small things grow.”
That’s the hope of any educator. To hope that in small ways, they’re making a difference not only in the lives of your students but in the world.
Xaverian Brothers have been in existence since 1839 and soon after began their work as educators. Since then, their schools have transformed the lives of countless students in Belgium, the United States, the United Kingdom, Haiti, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Marching on in faith,” Brothers, Teachers, and Administrators, instill the promise of holistic, transformative education. When the Brothers are mentioned, names like Mike Foley, Matthew Burke, and John Olsen, are mentioned alongside Kenyan Brothers Steve Obara, Raphael Wanjala, Anthony Dindi, Dan Ssenyomo, Daniel Ongeso, and countless more brothers who carry on the mission.
Thomas Merton wrote, “The purpose of education is to show a person how to define themselves authentically and spontaneously in relation to their world–not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of the individual themself.” The mark of a good education is to accomplish just that. It is not enough to just teach a particular subject; good education requires the transformation of the hearts and minds of students. Xaverian Education accomplishes that aim. Through their work in and out of the classroom, their students are inspired into a new way of being.
As I think of the people who most significantly transformed my life, they are consistently teachers, men and women, who devoted their lives to raising the future generation.
I think back to my elementary teachers, Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Conliffe, Mrs. Cobb, Miss Meyer, Mrs. Haury, and so many more who guided me through Thomas Merton Academy until its untimely closure. Their nurturing compassion guided me with tenderness. They became the namesake of the adjoining parish, Guardian Angels.
I think of my brief two years at St. Bartholomew, teachers like Mrs. Priddy, Mrs. McCarty, and a handful of others who shepherded me towards high school.
I think of the teachers, mentors, and eventual colleagues and friends at Saint Xavier High School who were fundamental in inspiring me to be the man I am today. To write their names here would involve a post a thousand times longer. I pray they know their fundamental impact on my life-many of them do as I frequently write and reconnect with them. More commonly, I laugh about them as often I find myself imitating their teaching style or stealing their stories and examples as my own. If it weren’t for them, I’d be half the man I am today. Their mission as Xaverian educators truly cultivates “enduring personal relationships.”
I think of professors and Jesuits at Xavier University who “ruined me for life” by their challenge to make me love as “a man for others.” Dr. Chris Pramuk, Dr. Charles Walker, Dr. Art Dewey, Rabbi Abie, Molly Dugan, Leah Busam Klenowaki, Katie Mining, Abby King-Kaiser, Molly Robertshaw, Dave Johnson, Greg Carpinello, Dustin Thomas, Fr. Al Bishoff, Fr. Graham and countless more professors, staff, and Jesuits who forced me to see the complexities and diversities of the world.
I think of the men and women at Villanova University whose talents inspired me to practice my faith and academics in ways I hadn’t thought possible. Professors like Ilia Delio, Massimo Faggioli, Christy Lang-Hearlson, Tim Hanchin, Mark Levand, Fr. Kevin DePrinzio, and others who begged me to ask questions I couldn’t have fathomed without their prodding.
I am each professor, teacher, mentor, and advisor who came before me. I am the sum of their parts. Bits and pieces of their wisdom and grace have sculpted me into the man I am today. In life, if we are lucky, we will be able to carve small portions of the world, leaving a mark and difference for the good. For teachers, their life is an essential tool in sculpting the lives of others. Without teachers, our world would look entirely different. Without teachers, no profession would exist.
What I find most inspiring about the educational profession is the reality that your work is incomplete, imperfect, and impossible to see the results. Preparing for students to cross the graduation stage is merely the beginning of what a teacher hopes to come. It won’t be until another decade when the lessons fully set in. This slow work of education is the inevitable hope for tomorrow, a promise that there is a world beyond our own.
As I think about the teachers who inspired me and the educators who are transforming the world, I feel humbled to stand alongside their mission and claim to be an educator.
I offer this brief prayer to all teachers, Brothers, mentors, and educators:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
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