Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Sky Full of Sabers

In the popular Coldplay song “Sky Full of Stars” we hear the band sing “cause you're a sky, you’re a sky full of stars, such a heavenly view.” As we celebrate Homecoming, this song can be seen as a reflection of the view of which our lives should be focused on - Heaven. Homecoming is a time to reflect and celebrate our short, but rich 18 year history as a Catholic High School at Saint Thomas More. We have been blessed and fortunate to have over 1,000 “stars” come through our halls to learn and achieve academically and in extra-curricular, grow in fellowship, hear the Truth, and be a witness of of Faith to the world around them. This is ultimately the goal and mission of STM to help our students shine bright in the world and join the true “sky full of stars” in Heaven one day.



In Heaven we find our true homecoming that is lit up by all of the “stars” of faith who have gone before us - the Saints. The Saints are those men and women throughout all of HIStory who have followed the great North Star of Christ in lighting up the darkness of the world with the light of Christ through their prayer and work. One of the joys of our Catholic Faith is that we have so many different examples of Saints who have joined the sky full of stars in Heaven that we can all identify with and seek to model our own lives after. This year with our Family System at STM we have four families named after four great saints who were truly stars of faith during their “lifetime” in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Kateri Tekawitha, St. Michael the Archangel, and St. Peter. Each family Saint was decided upon by the students in each of those families and all have a great story that our students can model and imitate in their own lives of faith.

  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton helped to start the beginning of the Catholic Education Movement in America and our March for Life group visits her shrine in Maryland every year
  • St. Kateri Tekawitha brought the Christian faith to her fellow Native Americans as she is called the “Lily of the Mohawks”
  • St. Michael the Archangel leads us in our Spiritual Combat helping us to overcome temptation and sin that joins us to the Lord’s Heavenly Army through Christ’s victory over Satan
  • St. Peter is the Rock upon whom Jesus built His Catholic Church upon and who reminds us to keep the foundation of our lives on the true Rock of Christ

Although each Saint has their own story and our Family Saints serve as an inspiration to our students for many reasons, all of them have one thing in common and that is the courage they had to live out their faith. In line with our theme for the school year of #MoreCourage, each of those saints had to have that strength to conquer their fears by putting all of their faith and trust in God that all would work out as they should for good. It can be difficult to be a star of faith in the world today, but our students take small steps each day in stepping out of their comfort zone to share and witness their faith to others and by doing the right thing even if it means going against what is “popular.” Even our teachers and staff take this step into the unknown in leading our students to a deeper
understanding of their faith through their own witness of faith and in doing the right thing.
We have these great patron saints for our Family System at Saint Thomas More to be an example and intercessor for us along with our patron Saint who stayed true to his conscience even when it ultimately “cost” him his life. We also have Mary who had the courage to give a total and free yes to the Lord’s will and desires that all of her children follow the light of her Son. It is our hope and prayer that STM, her students, families, teachers, alumni, benefactors, and future students may always be led by the light of Christ as we continue on our journey to our true home in Heaven.

Mary Our Lady Star of the Seas...Pray for Us!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#MoreCourage = #MoreConfident

In one of the House Leader training sessions over the past summer, we shared with our STM House Leaders the picture of an “ideal leader.” As a Catholic School we know our true Leader to be Christ who is the New Adam and shows us the true image of what it means to be human. In following the example of Christ, our House Leaders discussed many different characteristics or values of leadership and those who throughout history have lived out those qualities of leadership. In a Harvard Business Review Study called “Leadership That Gets Results,” the author Daniel Goleman concludes that an ideal leader is one who can switch between different types of leadership. Our student House Leaders discussed the various types of leadership styles and how they would apply these different styles to their roles as leaders at STM. One theme throughout those various styles of leadership and one that our students recognized was going to take a lot on their part was “courage.” As our theme for the school year of #MoreCourage, there will be times when our students
will be called out to conquer their fears to be firm and convicted in what they are doing in knowing that is for the good of their fellow students and for STM. As a virtue, courage then leads us to other virtues necessary for leadership.

St. Thomas Aquinas states that those who have courage will often also have confidence. The word confidence comes from the latin “confide,” which means to have trust or faith. This faith or confidence in one’s beliefs and abilities allows them to stand up to those fears or obstacles they may face in leadership. This strength of confidence comes from a belief in one’s own strength, the strength of others, and ultimately of God for it is through Him that we are strong. We have already seen our House Leaders show #MoreConfidence in leading their peers during the House time. They speak and act confidently before their peers in many ways including prayer with their House and at lunch and at the end of school, organizing house tasks and competitions, planning and organizing school events with House Mentors and Deans, etc. Not only our House Leaders, but in the classroom leading discussions, sharing ideas, presenting projects and in extra-curriculars leading pray and reflection at practice and games, etc. These House Leaders are showing the confidence needed to help lead their fellow students to their ultimate good in living out that life of excellence that we are all called to.

This call to leadership and forming students to be leaders is right in line with our Mission as a school. The House Leaders were given the task of creating a “tagline” or shortened form of the Mission Statement before the school year. Here is what they and a group of STM Staff & Teacher Leaders came up with:

STM Students Today...Community Leaders Tomorrow...Christ’s Disciples Forever

As a Catholic School this is our mission with our parents to help our students be those leaders in the world today to bring the light of Christ’s Kingdom truly present in a world that can seem so dark at times. To do this our students draw on the confidence that is needed to truly be courageous. As our Family System grows with us at STM, so will our House Leaders. As we grow courageously in our mission as a Catholic School, our students will grow confident in their abilities as leaders empowering their fellow students to be leaders as well. This is one of the many hopes for our students that we have at STM that they may be given the foundation of virtue needed to be leaders and disciples for Christ.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Conviction of Faith Leads to Courage

In a recent “EntreLeadership” Podcast, author and speaker Jon Gordon spoke on the power of positivity for leaders, coaches, business, teams, etc. In the interview, he described the ability to be positive in all circumstances and environments and being optimistic about what is possible even to the point of being relentlessly optimistic and sharing that hopeful vision with everyone. When a person, a leader, coach, captain, etc. has this unwavering optimism it can then lead them to have courage.

When we are passionate or convicted about something, this belief or Faith gives us the “strength” to go out and act on and not waver from what we are passionate about. This conviction leads to courage to have the “strength of will that enables us to conquer fear (Virtue: A Man’s Life takes Courage).” This inner strength of the will enables us to make decisions and actually do what we know what we are called and should do. We no longer live in fear because of the difficulties that may come or the rejection or failure we may face.

We at the High School of Saint Thomas More are truly convicted in what we are passionate about and believe in - our Catholic Faith as our Foundation for our Mission of Catholic Education. Our mission is to help our families form students mind, body, and soul during their four years so that as they go out in the world they can be leaders in the world and Christ’s disciples bringing light to the
darkness of the world. It is this mission that drives each action and decision that we do in helping our students become the people that God made them to be. With our theme of #MoreCourage this 2017-18 school year, we are letting that mission be driven by the Lord in our faith and belief that He is the one leading us. It is this faith, this conviction in the difference that our Catholic High School is that allows us to have the courage to stand up for why we do what we do at STM. It is our faith that allows us to pray throughout the school day as a school, in the classroom, and individually in the Chapel having that quiet time with the Lord. It is our Faith that allows us to celebrate the Sacraments together especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation as a Faith Community...by the way what an AWESOME first Adoration and Reconciliation Liturgy we had last week - our students were led in Eucharistic Worship by Mrs. Tasch and many of our area priests heard A LOT of confession! No other high school around can compete with us in this way. Our faith leads us to have the courage to be different and to share and live out our faith in and out of our school. Many of our sports teams are taking on the challenge on courage and living out their faith by taking their prayer to the field with other teams and even home with their own families.

One more way our students, teachers, and staff are stepping up the challenge of courage this year is with our Family System. The House Leaders and Teacher Mentors are taking a true leap of faith in having the courage to lead their peers in a new way. The Family System is another way we live out what we are passionate about as our Catholic Christian Faith is lived out in community with others - in a “family.” For the rest of the month of September we will focus on one aspect of having courage with leadership in our Family System. It is because of this strong optimism in who we are as a Catholic High School that allows us to have the courage to take the next step and form our students as faith leaders within STM to change the culture to be a culture of faith and family so that they can go out and transform the culture of the world that is “thirsting” for this faith we hold. As we go forward living out our mission let us first to have the courage to let the Lord give us this inner strength of courage to go out and be His disciples at STM and in the world.

Be strong and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the Lord, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#MoreCourage

We were made to be courageous
We were made to lead the way
We could be the generation
That finally breaks the chains
We were made to be courageous

As we continue on with the new school year and living out our theme of #MoreCourage, there is a song that truly fits this mission of being courageous Sabers! The song “Courageous” by Casting Crowns comes from the movie “Courageous” about a group of Fathers who recognize the need to step up and lead their families in living a true Christian life and standing up for what is right.

The lyrics above remind us of a couple of things in what it means to be courageous and how we can be courageous at STM. As human beings, we have been made in the image and likeness of God which gives us a great “power” of intellect and will. Through our Baptism and Confirmation we have received the Gifts and “power” of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our intellect and will. One of those Gifts of the Holy Spirit is “Fortitude.” Fortitude is the strength to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of obstacles. We see “fortitude” in our lives by the fruit of taking the act of the will in being courageous. In simpler terms, Fortitude is the inner conviction of doing what is right and courage is the acting on that inner strength of the will - fortitude. We already have this power and ability inside of us to be courageous and lead others because of our being made in the image and likeness of God and the Holy Spirit living inside of us.

At STM we are empowering our students especially with our Family System and Extracurriculars with leadership opportunities to lead the way and show others that it is possible to do the right thing when it is hard and to live a Christian Life in a world that says it is not “cool” or popular to do so. We could be the generation, but we will be! The Family System has identified students leaders to lead their fellow Sabers and will continue to build and strengthen them in their leadership abilities. Our ExtraCurricular activities, especially Athletics, seeks to build leadership through the captains and leaders of their teams and groups in building up their fellow teammates and encouraging them through the tough moments of competition. One thing to keep in mind though is that although many students have been given “titles” of leadership, all of our students at STM have the opportunity to be leaders through their own actions and words and that is truly at the heart of the Mission of STM.

It is the mission of the High School of Saint Thomas More to form the young men and women during their four years as a student so they can go out and be leaders in the world and Christ’s disciples. This mission takes great courage and what a perfect example in our patron saint - Thomas More - for our students and teachers to follow. We are excited for the school year as we know we will face many challenges that come our way, but with courage we can overcome those because we have been made for it and know that the Lord is always with us.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

These words that God speaks to Joshua in the Old Testament still ring true for us today. When God spoke these words to Joshua, Joshua was leading the Israelites into the Promised Land of Israel after hundreds of years of living in “exile.” As joyful and hopeful as this would be for the nation of Israel, it was no small task for Joshua. He was leading hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who had been walking for years after leaving Egypt and had been tested by many trials and tribulations in their faith and trust in God. God though does not abandon Joshua and His people as the Lord tells Joshua in the verse above.  

What does this mean for us at STM? As we begin a new school year we use these words the Lord speaks to Joshua as our theme for the year of #MoreCourage. High School can be a difficult and exciting time for many students as they discover and hear the Lord calling them to their vocation.
Our students today face many challenges as they live in a world that says it is not “cool” to be a Catholic or to be a Christian, you are not good looking enough if you have the “right body,” you are not good enough if you don’t get good grades so that you can get into a good college so that you can get a good job and have money, it is “cool” if we put others down on social media, etc. There is a lot of pressure for them to live up to the world’s standards and expectations. It can be really easy then to just give up and feel like we are not “good enough.” However, with patience and perseverance we can say yes to doing the right thing and no to doing those things that keep us away from God. This is true courage, which means to have the strength to conquer fear and negative peer pressure in the most adverse and difficult situations, no matter what the consequences may be.

We try to conquer the waves and chaos that surrounds us, but many many times we still “fall.” It takes courage then to pick ourselves up and “keep on keepin on.”  However, we as Christians know we cannot do this alone. In the story in Matthew 14: 22-33, we read of the story of Peter (almost) Walking on Water. In the story Peter has the courage to go out and walk on the water, but lost that courage to continue to do so amidst the waves and chaos of the “storm” of life. As Peter is falling though, he knows that it is only Jesus who can conquer the chaos and give us the strength to “walk on the waves.” Peter as he is falling cries out “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30)

It takes this courage for us as a school to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus in the world and in our lives that seem like a storm and total chaos. With prayer and God’s Grace we can overcome the world because Christ has already come and conquered. That should give us the courage to do the right thing even when it may not be the “cool” thing. In doing so, we at the High School of Saint Thomas More can truly be the light of Christ in the world and live out the example of our patron saint Thomas More. Thomas More had the courage to stand up for his Faith and live by his conscience...why can’t we?

“Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God”

St. Augustine

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

STM: Forming the Whole Student - Academically & Physically as a Child of God

According to “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools” written by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB compiled from statements by Pope Benedict XVI,  the American bishops, and other Church Teaching and Documents, one of the defining characteristics of a Catholic School is the “Commitment to Educate the Whole Child.”

“Catholic school education is rooted in the conviction that human beings have a transcendent destiny, and that education for the whole person must form the spiritual, intellectual, physical, psychological, social, moral, aesthetic and religious capacities of each child. Catholic schools should develop and implement academic, co-curricular, faith-formation, and service/ministry programs to educate the whole child in all these dimensions (The Catholic School, 29).”

As a Catholic High School, we believe that every student is made in the image and likeness of God as a person who is mind, body, and soul. This means when they come to STM for a high quality faith-filled Catholic Education we are seeking to form the whole person as stated in our mission statement. Thaat means we hope to push and challenge our students intellectually in their academic learning, to encourage and inspire them in their understanding of their faith to lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, and to use the gifts and talents God has given them to the best of their ability in their extracurriculars. Our academic, extracurricular, and faith-formation programs all seek to form the whole student as they provide the opportunity for our students to grow and develop these God given talents and skills.

We have seen a combination of these this past year especially in the achievements of our Athletic Teams. Each Sport “season” the IHSA recognizes team academic achievement based on a cumulative GPA score for each school’s teams. A high percentage of our Athletic Teams have achieved this great honor and would like to congratulate those teams who have taken the dedication and commitment to academic excellence in the classroom onto the field of competition.

Congratulations to the following Spring Sports Teams on achieving this award:
  • Boys Tennis
  • Girls Softball
  • Girls Soccer
  • Boys Baseball
  • Boys & Girls Track and Field
With the Girls Soccer and Girls Track and Field teams posting the highest cumulative team GPA!

This in line with our SportsLeader program, which seeks to build faith and virtue through Athletics, is why STM can provide MORE for our students. We seek to form the whole person and see them for their human dignity and not just a test score or trophy to be won. We are honored that many families have chosen St. Thomas More to be the school to help them form their students intellectually, physically, morally, and spiritually in becoming the saint God created them to be. As we get closer to the new school year, we are excited for this opportunity to help our students on their journey of life and team up with our STM Families. We also hope that many more families would join us in this great mission in the future!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Academic Excellence at STM

According the The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools developed by the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University, one of the “marks” of a Catholic School is Academic Excellence.

The Standard for Academic Excellence states:
“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirms the message of the Congregation on Catholic Education that intellectual development of the person and growth as a Christian go forward hand in hand. Rooted in the mission of the Church, the Catholic school brings faith, culture and life together in harmony. In 2005, the bishops noted that “young people of the third millennium must be a source of energy and leadership in our Church and our nation. And, therefore, we must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education” (Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary School is in the Third Millennium, 2005).

The essential elements of “an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program” mandate curricular experiences—including co-curricular and extra-curricular activities—which are rigorous, relevant, research-based, and infused with Catholic faith and traditions.”

What can we take from this and how do we strive to live this out at the High School of St. Thomas More?

“...intellectual development of the person and growth as a Christian”
At the High School of St. Thomas More, it is our Mission to assist our parents in forming students morally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually to become the person God made them to be. This mission seeks to form the whole student and not just the mind from an intellectual development, but how that intellectual development then affects their moral and spiritual aspects of their humanity. We start with this in seeking to form the whole student in giving them a foundation built on truth that seeks to grow the intellectual mind of the student so that they can take that truth with them in growing morally and spiritually. What is this foundation of truth? It is Christ who is the Truth, who gives meaning to our students’ lives by knowing that is in Him they find purpose and direction. By seeking to provide a firm foundation of intellectual development of our students rooted in the Truth of Christ, they can then grow in becoming the person God made them to be.

“...provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education”
What does this foundation of intellectual development rooted in the Truth of Christ look like? It is a program that is “academically rigorous and doctrinally sound.” Let’s look at two of the specific substandards of Academic Excellence that focus on classroom instruction.  

“7.6 Classroom instruction is designed to engage and motivate all students, addressing the diverse needs and capabilities of each student, and accommodating students with special needs as fully as possible.”
Teachers at St. Thomas More are committed to our students and recognize the various needs and capabilities of each student in recognizing their strengths and weaknesses in seeking ways to build student capability and learning. Because STM is a model of the Church, we have a diverse body of students and so our teachers strive to meet each of those students’ needs in engaging and motivating students in taking ownership for their own learning and to engage them in critical thinking of the content and topic that is being discussed in how it points back to the Truth, etc.

“7.5 Classroom instruction is designed to intentionally address the affective dimensions of learning, such as intellectual and social dispositions, relationship building, and habits of mind.”
As discussed already, our intellectual development of our students in Academics is founded on the pursuit of Truth that seeks to form the whole person and not just intellectually. This formation flows from intellectual growth to then seeing how it impacts the students socially in being aware of the world around them and how they play a part in the building of God’s Kingdom, building relationships that help others grow to become the person God made them to be, and building those habits, which we call virtues. Many of our classes seek ways to engage students in learning a base knowledge and foundation of the content to then see how that affects the “real world” and how we
can apply that to our own lives. For example with the recent President Election our students in various classes were able to use their intellectual understanding of politics, society, etc. rooted in their Catholic Faith to discuss the election issues related to it. In challenging students and addressing those variety of needs, our teachers strive to help our students form those academic and intellectual virtues of perseverance, dedication, understanding, wisdom, art - ability to make things, science - ability to make conclusions, and prudence.

What is the result of this?

Our students perform at very high academic levels and are well prepared for college. Our ACT scores are well above state and national averages and are well above the college and career readiness scores. In 2014, we were honored to be named a Blue Ribbon School, which recognizes academic excellence in schools. We will be eligible for this nomination in 2019 and hope to build on what was “started” years ago. With a little over a month until the 2017-18 school year starts, our teachers are already starting to plan lessons that will build and grow on our students intellectual growth in challenging them to grow in their learning and virtue. We hope to build on this strong foundation of Academic Excellence at STM to continue to provide the strong intellectual development that is a sign and mark of a strong Catholic School. We must always remember that this intellectual development is always rooted in Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.