I don’t have any children to send off to school these days. But I do live within a mile of about six schools and am enjoying the sight of young people from preschool through high converging on those institutions to begin a new school year.
Farther away but also part of my awareness and prayer are six grandnieces and nephews who are returning to school these days. Reports from their mothers indicate that they are all quite excited by the prospect of rejoining friends they did not see during summer vacation and moving into another year of growth and learning. There seems to be an added measure of excitement in two members of that generation: Julie Neff, who begins high school this year, and Kevin Grignon who, as a first-grader, will be going to school all day long this year. One uncertain note is how Kevin’s 3-year-old sister, Jennifer, will react when he does not come home for lunch with her on the first day of school. My guess is that her reaction to that will be a teary one similar to her reaction last year as she chased the bus that carted him off to kindergarten.
I don’t remember much in detail about going to kindergarten. I do recall that my teacher was Mrs. Bull who was very good to us kids and who, I am sure, is the main reason why my memories of those early days, although vague, are very pleasant. A part of that may be because we lived two houses away from the school and, as preschoolers, often ran into Mrs. Bull as we played in the neighborhood.
My memories of my first day in high school are much sharper. The equivalent of Mrs. Bull in my high school years was Sister Mary Clare, CSJ. Sister Clare, an art teacher, also was my homeroom teacher. I never realized when I met her on that first day of school that I would remember her so clearly, and with such fondness, 58 years later. Why? Because she was unfailingly kind and patient with us. Because she taught me a prayer that I have said virtually every day since I learned it. Because, even though I never had her for class, she taught me a great deal about how to be and behave with younger or more vulnerable people.
I mention Mrs. Bull and Sister Mary Clare. I could have mentioned many other women and men whose support and care contributed so much to the shape and direction of my early growth — the catechists in my home parish, the teachers at P.S. No. 1 in Waterford, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sisters of Mercy and the diocesan priests who taught us at Catholic Central High School.
In these early days of school, I try to jump into Kevin’s shoes and Julie’s to remember what it was like back then — to be 6 years old and starting first grade, to be 14 years old and beginning high school. It’s good to remember the people and the experiences through which the Lord has shaped us as the potter shapes the clay.
I also think about their teachers, the Mrs. Bulls and Sister Mary Clares of today. As I do so, I hope and pray that they have a lively sense of the impact they can have on the young people in their care. They do that, of course, as they help their students to think critically to solve problems, to acquire skills and to appreciate the arts. But they also do that in lasting ways through the respect and encouragement they show them, and in the reverence in which they hold them.
My prayers and affectionate good wishes go to all students and to those who teach them.
Peace to all.