Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Reflection on Leadership and Learning

As we wind down the 2017-2018 school year our teams are finishing their regular seasons & into postseason competition - Congrats to Girls Soccer in advancing to Sectional Finals, art & music students put on last touches for their final masterpieces - The Fine Arts Show was fantastic!, teachers & students wrap up another semester of learning, & seniors prepare for graduation & life after high school. For me personally, it is a good reminder to reflect on the past year, on all of the great things the Lord has done at STM, & on where He is directing us for the future.

As a first year principal, I have felt the year go by very fast! Because I became principal & my wife & I welcomed our third child in September, this school year has definitely brought many new challenges & opportunities for me professionally, personally, & spiritually. Professionally, it has challenged me to grow as a leader in keeping STM focused on living out her mission of teaming up with parents to form our students as Christ’s disciples. Personally, it has helped me to focus on my vocation as a husband & father for my wife & three children in ensuring that I am making them my primary vocation in leading them to Heaven. Spiritually, God has truly called me out to “deeper waters” in asking me to trust Him with even more. I thought I was putting my trust in Him with a lot of things in my life, but I have realized that I can trust even more. As someone who wants to tackle everything head on & take charge, God has really called me to step back & realize I cannot do it all on my own, but need to trust in His Grace & strength & let Christ guide & help make those burdens of everyday life “sweet & light” (Mt 11:28-30).  

With this, it is exciting to see where the Lord is calling me & The High School of St. Thomas More. We have hope and confidence in the ways the Lord is working at STM. To have confidence is having the virtue “to believe in yourself, your team and the hard work you have put in to achieve your goals. A confident team is tough to beat because they do not beat themselves before the competition with negativity and self-doubt. You carry yourself different when you are CONFIDENT and that makes a big difference.” The storms and challenges may come our way as a Catholic School in a world who rejects our values and Faith. Together we can overcome those challenges in order to achieve our goals in hopes of growing our school. But with confidence and hope in the Lord especially through Prayer and the Sacraments (esp. Reconciliation & The Eucharist) we are renewed and can soar to new heights at STM. “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Next year we will begin year two of our STM Family System. This will help to bring our STM community of students & staff even closer as we build relationships across grade levels, leadership amongst students, fellowship among students & staff, & teamwork through the spirit of humble competition. The students and teachers found their new housemates at the “STM Scavenger Hunt” and are excited to welcome the Class of 2021 into their houses in August. All we can do now is put our future in the Lord’s hands & trust that He will lead us to where we need to be. It is my hope that we at The High School of St. Thomas More can hope to hear the Master say to us “Well done, my good & faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:24).  
Lord, help us to trust in You more. We have no reason to fear if You are with us. You know all things and You can do all things. Nothing is impossible for You. You are our Captain and our best Teammate. Help us to grow in CONFIDENCE in You this week by reflecting on all the blessings we have received in life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Using the Power of Words to Speak Life @ STM

Last week at the final All-School Mass of the 2017-18 School Year we heard in the Acts of the Apostles of the story of the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). In the story, the Apostle Philip encounters the Eunuch who is on his way to Jerusalem. The eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah and does not understand what he is reading about. “Then Philip opened his mouth...he proclaimed Jesus to him.” Philip is given a great opportunity to speak the Good News of Jesus who is the Word of God made Flesh who fulfilled the passage from Isaiah that the Eunuch is reading. He not only takes the opportunity to speak these words of hope and joy, but also to baptize the Eunuch, which would have also involved Philip speaking the words of the Sacrament to truly initiate the Eunuch into Christ & His Church. One theme throughout this passage and story is the power of words. In this passage it is the power of Philip’s word that he is speaking about that bring the Eunuch to an understanding and believing faith. It is the power of Philip’s word that he baptizes the Eunuch “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” who then becomes a new creature in Christ. The power of words give a new life to the Eunuch, a new and everlasting life that overcome anything this world has to offer.

It truly is the power of our words that can either speak “life” or before he became St. Paul it was “Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples” (Acts 9:1) that our words can speak “death.” The words we use can carry so much weight especially when directed at others, to which we should think do my words encourage and build others up or do they tear them down? We may not ever see the “fruit” of our words, but our words are and can be very powerful.

A new Netflix series called 13 Reasons is “a drama narrated by Hannah Baker, a high school junior who commits suicide and leaves behind thirteen audio cassette tapes, each with her voice naming a person and describing what he or she did to lead her to take her own life.” The show brings a very real and sad presentation to life as “it tends to romanticize the idea of suicide and fails to adequately address the impact mental health played in Hannah’s decision to end her life.” Many Catholic Leaders and Groups have been outspoken about the show and can be found here:

We won’t go into detail here about the ins and outs of the show and would encourage our STM families to discuss with their student the show and the impact it can have (and reading/discussing the above links). What we can reflect on here is the example and power of our words and the impact they can have on other people. We at STM can be “noble” people - the strength to be a person of our word. It is being people of our word that we can lift and build up others to encourage them to become the people God created them to be. Our words can truly give new life like the words Philip spoke to the Eunuch. Or our words can bring “death” to others as they can tear others down to feel as if they are not worthy of that love and abundant life that Jesus promises us all (Jn 10:10). When we see others achievements and successes we should be praising and encouraging them to continue on that path of success instead of tearing them down because we see them as a “threat” or because of our insecurity at who we are. “Spreading a lie – no matter how popular it is – can only cause harm. What can you do from now on to protect yourself and others from any degrading label’s harm, whether the rumors are true or false?”

As a challenge for the end of the school year and beyond, let’s be “Noble Sabers” by being a person of our word. Let’s be people who imitate Christ, who is the Word made Flesh - God became Man - who spoke us into being out His infinite love and mercy for us. Let us reflect that same love to others when we speak words of life to one another so that our school can become a place of abundant life that Jesus promises and desires so much to give us.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Week @ STM

“A Catholic philosophy of education has always paid special attention to the interpersonal relations within the educational community of the school, especially those between teachers and students. "During childhood and adolescence a student needs to experience personal relations with outstanding educators, and what is taught has greater influence on the student's formation when placed in a context of personal involvement, genuine reciprocity, coherence of attitudes, lifestyle and day to day behavior." Direct and personal contact between teachers and students is a hallmark of Catholic schools.” (The Holy See's Teaching On Catholic Schools ARCHBISHOP J. MICHAEL MILLER, C.S.B)

This week we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week at the High School of St. Thomas More. In Archbishop Michael Miller’s book on “the Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools,” he outlines five main marks of a Catholic School and one of those marks is that a Catholic School is “animated by Communion and Community.” One way a school lives this out is through the relationships built between the teachers and students. Teachers in a Catholic High School are not simply there to pass on knowledge of a certain subject area, but to be a witness and model of the Catholic Faith in guiding the students in their own walk of faith. Yes, a teacher at Catholic High School does pass on their wisdom, knowledge, and passion for their content area, but does so much more than that.

“Teachers must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education and faith formation designed to strengthen their union with Christ and His Church.”

At St. Thomas More our teachers are very dedicated in creating a learning environment that is not only conducive to Academic Excellence as seen by our high test scores and alumni success after STM, but a community of learning and growing in the faith as well. Our
teachers go above and beyond the normal expectations for a teacher because they see and know that their teaching is their vocation and calling in life that God has created them for.

In creating an environment of Academic Excellence in the classroom, the teachers at STM instill in our students a variety of virtues in challenging them in their learning with critical thinking, high level reasoning, and creativity to help them grow in their learning and knowledge of the various content areas. This is all rooted in our Catholic Identity in how our teachers strive to create a Catholic Worldview in their classes to help our students see how all of our subject areas and world is connected back to God. In this way our Faith Formation is not done in just the Theology classes, but in all of our classes as we strive to have a Catholic Curriculum that connects all of our subject areas at STM.

We are truly honored and blessed to have the teachers we have at STM. Their time, effort, sacrifice, and dedication to the students and the school are greatly appreciated and it is great that we can celebrate them this week. It is because of our teachers who are so committed to the mission of STM that we truly can help our students on the path of success in life and faith. It is because of our teachers that the following is true about not only Catholic High School students, but our STM alumni, current, and future Sabers as well as they are

  • more likely pray daily, attend church more often, retain a Catholic identify as an adult, and donate more to the Church.

  • more civically engaged, more tolerant of diverse views, and more committed to service as adults, and less likely to be incarcerated than their public school peers. (Campbell, 2001) (from the Catholic Schools FACT Sheet from the USCCB)

So thank you to our teachers at STM for all you do for our students and for the high school of St. Thomas More in keeping her on her mission of forming her students intellectually, morally, spiritually, and physically in becoming Christ’s disciples in the world!

"Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it." Proverbs 22:6

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"CanStruction" and the Acts of the Apostles

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one's need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.
They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.
And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

The passage from Acts of the Apostles was our first reading at Mass for this past Sunday as we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday as a Church. If you have not read through the book of Acts, I would encourage you to do so to see how the Church really and truly grew from the Apostles to thousands of people in a short span of time all the while creating the foundation for what our Church is today. The passage is one of my favorites because it gives us a snapshot of what that early Church was like led by Peter and the Apostles, but also is the core of our Church today.


In the passage from Acts, it was the early Christians coming together because of their one Faith in Christ in living out that faith as a community. At STM, it is because of our Faith that we exist, but that faith is also lived out as we gather together for prayer, the breaking of the bread at Mass, devoting ourselves to the teachings of the Apostles through learning the faith, building our communal life through the STM Family House System, and giving all praise and Glory to God. There is so much we can draw from these passages, but for our purpose at STM let us focus specifically on the verses that are in bold (2:45).

Last week as part of Saber Advisory transitioning to our STM Family House System, two advisories or “Houses” paired up for our first annual “CanStruction” drive and competition. The objective was simply for each student to bring 20 canned goods for their group and as together as a group create something with those cans. Each group that had every student bring 20 cans earned a dress down day and the winning “CanStruction” group earned donuts and chocolate milk on May 3rd. We had 5 groups earn the dress down day and the winning group was led by Mrs. Enos and Sister Bridget’s group who re-created the STM Football field!

What does the “CanStruction” have to do with the passage from Acts? Not only did the competition bring students and staff together to work together as a team and build teamwork and community amongst the groups, but all of the canned goods went to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Sabers gave of their possessions and gave according to their needs for the greater good of those less fortunate. This is part of our call and mission as a Catholic School to help form or “train” our students so that they can go out and serve others. By collecting over 4,600 cans, our students gave great hope and joy to the people at the St. Vincent de Paul Society because that allows them to then be able to live out their mission of feeding the hungry and less fortunate.

It is in this way that we come together based on our one Common Faith at STM to live out our mission as a Catholic School. Through this way and continually striving to live out our Faith, we will see the Lord do great things at STM so that all who come to our “home” will be filled with awe at the many signs and wonders that are being done through our students and staff. By living out our faith we are allowing the Lord to work through us and to live out the virtue of “SIGNIFICANCE - The strength of being worthy of importance, time and attention.” Each of every one of our Sabers on our STM “team” is needed, valued, and loved. By living “significantly” we are serving others as we have done through the “CanStruction” drive and competition. We at STM are truly living out our mission to help form our students to become disciples of Christ serving others and bringing the Gospel to all nations through our words and actions.
Check out the STM Facebook post to see all of the great creations and winners!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Building Physical and Spiritual Strength

Happy Easter for Christ is Risen today - Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! One of the great things about being a Catholic School is that we at STM are part of something that is universal - catholic - and that is the Catholic Church. For as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Church celebrates at Easter the Resurrection of Jesus, which gives true meaning, hope, and joy to life! Pope Francis in his “Urbi et Orbi” 2017 Easter Address opened with this:

“By his resurrection, Jesus Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death, and has opened before us the way to eternal life.
All of us, when we let ourselves be mastered by sin, lose the right way and end up straying like lost sheep. But God himself, our shepherd, has come in search of us. To save us, he lowered himself even to accepting death on the cross. Today we can proclaim: “The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down his life for his sheep, and willingly died for his flock, alleluia” (Roman Missal, IV Sunday of Easter, Communion antiphon).”

In this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we see how He lowered (“humbled” himself as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2) himself to a very humiliating and painful death on the cross. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus does this willingly out of love for his “flock” - the Church - to bring them back when we lose our way because of sin.
Many of our STM Spring Athletic teams have banded together for the SportsLeader Stations of the Cross Workout. This workout is both a spiritual and physical exercise meant to draw the person and team into the Stations of the Cross through prayerful meditation on the stations and through various exercises that will challenge the mind and will. In combining the spiritual and the physical, it reminds us that we believe that we are both body and soul and how Jesus’ Resurrection gives us this great hope and joy that one day both body and soul, we can be with Him in Heaven one day. The workout also helps us to reflect on what Jesus endured for us on the cross and offer up the various prayers and exercises for others as Christ did for us.
SL_Stations_Web_site_slide.001.jpegDuring Holy Week, our PE classes went through the Stations of the Cross Workout and discovered that this is definitely not for that faint of heart! As the students and staff prayed the various stations, they would complete some sort of physical exercise to “enter into” the physical hardships Jesus faced while carrying His Cross. For example: the 11th Station is Jesus being nailed to a cross. After prayerfully reflecting on the station, the students joined together to complete a 2-3 minute wall sit and did so in offering up the pain and struggle for someone else.
To see how our STM students did on this Stations of the Cross workout and challenge, click here to view the slide-show and reflections from some of our very own Sabers! The great joy we have in praying and even enduring the Stations of the Cross Workout is knowing that the pain, struggle, and ultimate death Jesus faced on the Cross was not the end. The cross was not a victory for anyone who thought it would be a “victory”, but it was Christ’s Resurrection who brings true victory over sin and death so that we may be drawn back to Him.
We pray that this time of Easter may be a time of great joy and hope for Christ has overcome sin and death! Let it gives us the great hope and joy as well at STM as we persevere through these last weeks of the school year glorifying and praising the Lord in all that we do united as one Catholic School.

See more information about the workout here @ SportsLeader.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

STM's Call for Vocations: A Fitting Image for Holy Week

On Tuesday April 11th, the Peoria Diocese led by Bishop Daniel Jenky celebrated the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week. It is at the Chrism Mass where Bishop Jenky blesses the sacred and holy oils used throughout the year for a variety of reasons mainly in the use of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders - where those receiving the oil are “anointed”
for their mission. It is also at this Mass that all of the priests from the Peoria Diocese come together as one to renew their vows they take at their ordination. It was a great opportunity to attend this Mass especially to celebrate our Priests who have given their lives over to God in humble submission to His will. A couple of ideas come to mind when reflecting on this powerful Mass especially with the Priests and our own High School of St. Thomas More.

As the priests processed into the Cathedral it was truly humbling to recognize and know many of those priests. We can all look back at our lives to see how the priests we have met and interacted with and how much they have impacted our own lives. Many of those priests were our first true connection to the Church, were those who celebrated our first Sacrament(s), who were regular dinner guests for our family, spiritual directors, and mentors, etc. I can speak only for myself, but am sure all can relate in how I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for God working through His priests to shape and form me into who I am today.

We are very fortunate to have these men who have laid down their lives for Christ acting “in persona Christi” as they give themselves over to a live of service of Christ’s bride the Church. Echoing what was mentioned earlier, we would not be where we are today as individuals and as a High School if it were not for the many priests who have impacted us because of their holiness and love for Christ.

It is our mission at STM to help form our students to be the saints God created them to be as they graduate “sending them forth to fulfill their baptismal call as His disciples in the world.” Part of that formation of our students as disciples is helping them to recognize their vocation or calling from God. As a Catholic High School, we seek and strive to inspire and encourage our students and families to consider all vocations starting specifically with the single, married, and religious/consecrated life. Why not encourage or inspire our students to consider - to prayerfully discern that calling from God to the Priesthood (or religious life)? As we seek the Holy Spirit’s encouragement and guidance each day, we also pray that the Holy Spirit would lead and inspire our students to vocations especially to the Priesthood so that the future generations of Sabers will benefit from these Holy Men who serve the Church and her people.

This week we celebrate Holy Week starting with Palm Sunday leading up to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday celebrating Christ’s Resurrection and victory over death. How does this tie in with the Priesthood and STM?

At Palm Sunday Jesus tells the two disciples to go into the town and tell the owner of the donkey that “the Master has need of it.” Jesus has a “need” for us - a calling, a vocation that ultimately brings us closer to Him in an act of service for others. Our priests have answered that call in humble submission to Christ’s need for Holy Men to lead His church. What is it that Jesus may “need” me for, what is He calling me to?

On Holy Thursday, we see Jesus institute the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders at the Last Supper as the two go hand in hand. It is at Mass where the priest acts “in persona Christi” in consecrating the bread and wine into Jesus Body and Blood, which will be poured out for man on Good Friday on the Cross. After the Last Supper, Jesus goes out into the Garden of Gethsemane and seeks to be delivered from what is about to happen to Him, but nonetheless says to the Father “not my will, but your will be done” (Lk 22:42). Our priests have said yes to the Father’s will in giving themselves to be “alter Christus” (another Christ) for God’s people. We too can look to their example of listening and following the Father’s Will in our own lives.

Ask any priest and they would say that there are times when they carry many crosses or challenges as a Priest. Jesus on Good Friday shows and gives us the strength as He carried His own cross in ultimately handing over His Spirit to the Father. Jesus told his apostles at the Last Supper that “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13) and in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (5:25). It is our priests who in imitation of Christ have handed over their own lives for Christ’s bride, the Church, to serve her children. How can I truly lay down my life in service of God’s call for me and for others?

Finally, let us pray and thank those priests who have heard, listened to, and answered God’s call for them to be his priests; for their service to the Church in leading the people to holiness through the Sacraments, Prayer, and Spiritual Guidance.

Thank you to all the priests who serve in our Diocese, Vicariate, and especially those who have served at STM in leading our students, staff, and families to a greater understanding of our Catholic Faith, holiness, and love for the Lord in truly guiding STM as a Catholic High School living out Her Mission, which is the Mission of the Church.

Thank You Fr. Dittmer, Fr. Dondaville, Fr. Lampitt, and Fr. Hoelscher!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Formation of the Human Person @ STM

One of the marks of Catholic Education that differentiates itself from traditional public school education is the focus on the formation of the whole human person made in the image and likeness of God. It is the mission of STM to help our families form our students morally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically. “We want our students to maximize their human potential and to both be good and do good in authentic freedom. In order to do this, our students need to be able to know how to wisely and fully apprehend and interrogate all aspects of reality from a solid Christian intellectual tradition. This intellectual tradition involves not just teaching facts and skills, but is also essentially focused on seeking to know the value and nature of things and in appreciating the value of knowledge for its own sake” (Cardinal Newman Society: Truth, Beauty, & Goodness). One of those ways we are able to do help form our students in their humanity is through the understanding and pursuit of the three transcendentals of goodness, truth, and beauty. Throughout all of our classes we seek these three things as part of our call to know, love, and serve God in our journey of faith in this life and growth of holiness. As a school we have started to begin working with the Cardinal Newman Society Standards for Catholic Curriculum specifically in the areas of Social Studies, English, Science, and Mathematics. As part of these standards all of our classes are using the three transcendentals of goodness, truth, and beauty to start the conversation and deeper level thinking in guiding our students to a greater knowledge and awe as being made in that image and likeness of God. Our teachers are seeking ways to bring these discussions and questions into our classes to intentionally form a truly Catholic Curriculum that all our subjects point back to the reason why we exist at STM - to bring and pass on the Catholic Faith in forming them as disciples of Christ so they may go out and be “disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

This is just a small part of a bigger project as we at STM seek and strive to stay true to our Catholic Faith and Identity. In our world today it is not always easy, but with the virtue of resiliency - the strength to to be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions- we can stay true in carrying that cross as part of the Mission of the Catholic Church. Our own patron Saint - St. Thomas More - shows us this resiliency in standing up for his Faith, loyalty to the Church, and following his conscience even to his death. Let us have the same spirit of resiliency and be inspired by our patron St. Thomas More to be resilient in our learning and pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness in our school and in our lives. Today - April 7th - we will be praying the Stations of the Cross together and in Jesus carrying the Cross we see the ultimate example of truth, beauty, and goodness displayed in His humanity in showing us the way to the Father in whom have and find true goodness and beauty in our own lives. Pray with us that at STM we may continue to strive to form our students and staff in this way always with resiliency even when it may be difficult!

Lord, You were the most RESILIENT man ever. You encountered every possible difficulty ... hunger, humiliation, traveling, insults ... not to mention all You suffered in Your Passion and Death. May we learn how to be RESILIENT like You especially with and for our family members, classmates, and teammates. Help us to develop the habit of looking for ways to do good for others in all of life.