We celebrated Passion (Palm) Sunday as we turn our attention to the crucifixion and resurrection. It is often said that Catholics have a sacramental (or as David Tracy coins The Analogical Imagination) imagination. In other words, they can see deeper meaning in life’s events. Last month, St. Francis Catholic School in Billings was challenged to see a deeper meaning in a tragedy.
After celebrating a sleepover with a friend, a 4th grader from St. Francis reported that she was not feeling well. The parents administered over-the-counter medication but she declined rapidly. The parents took her to the emergency room Sunday evening and she passed away Tuesday afternoon. Influenza was the cause. While she was in the hospital, school officials were contacted and a prayer chain was set up immediately.
Although the family was not Catholic, the hospital’s chaplain was contacted and visited her Monday evening. She had earlier expressed a desire to become Catholic when her friends were confirmed but her parents asked her to wait until she was older. The parents were now willing and she was baptized that evening.
Tuesday afternoon, the school’s president, Shaun Harrington, contacted the Crisis Response Team from the local public school to be on alert. As a former public school principal who had led schools through this type of tragedy before, he had access to the templates of letters to send out to staff and parents as well as experience developing scripts for communication with students and board members. These resources were handy because this tragedy unfolded very quickly. By late in the school day on Tuesday, the parents called principals Deb Hayes and Jim Stanton to tell them of their daughter’s passing. The administrators decided to travel around to each class and inform students in person. However, they called the parents of the sleepover friend so they could tell her themselves.
The three administrators (Shaun, Deb, and Jim) showed tremendous leadership and care for the teachers and staff during this difficult time. The teachers—especially homeroom teacher Julia Lynch—showed care for the students. Throughout, the school community rallied around these parents who lost their only child by providing a Memorial Service. The school was open in its communication with all stakeholders and showed its foundation as a faith community.
Harrington, the former public school principal turned Catholic school president, remarked how being able to share his faith through this tragedy made this difficulty a bit easier. It was the Passion Sunday come to life for the St. Francis Catholic School community as they hoped for the resurrection of their sister in the midst of this tragedy.
Want to reach out and support your colleagues at St. Francis? Julia Lynch, the homeroom teacher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As we begin Holy Week, I offer a reflection on the tragedy which befell St. Francis Catholic School in my blog and discuss how our faith provided a framework for dealing with the loss of a student.
- In the American Catholic News section, I’ve included three articles on Cardinal Wuerl and Amoris Laetitia such as the summary from NCR. If you’re like me, you’ve heard the controversy about divorced Catholics receiving Communion but haven’t connected Amoris Laetitia to our ministry in Catholic schools. You’ll think differently after reading these articles.
- In the same section, I’ve included a micro-blog entry from my friend Lisa Orchen “Easter Resources for Schools.” There are a lot of great links for understanding and displaying this liturgical season. Often Catholic schools only celebrate Advent and Lent. Thanks Lisa for bringing this to our attention!
- In the Teaching & Instruction section, Danny Steele’s blog post “Five Ways Teachers Can Impact School Culture” is full of great ideas on how teachers can make a difference. Yes, we all know that leadership is important. But leadership doesn’t just come from the school leader!
- The first article in the Miscellany section (“A Deeper Look at the Whole School Approach to Behavior”) is a remarkable story about how to turn around a negative behavior environment.
- The next article from NPR centers on “The Fight Over Teacher Salaries” and included average teacher salaries from every state. This is the time that boards, advisory councils, and pastors begin to discuss teacher salaries. I find that they often lack the data to make informed decisions.
I”ll be taking the next couple of weeks off in order to attend and enjoy the NCEA Convention in Cincinnati. See you in April!