And so it begins. A new chapter in a never-ending narrative. Yet the story never gets old because the characters are endlessly fascinating. They fall into three categories: devoted parents and family; dedicated faculty and staff; and – at the center of it all – the vibrant and spirited student body. At the moment, our focus is on the classes of 2013 – 2019. With each passing year, that focus will shift. A year at each end. That’s how it works. Notre Dame has a rich history and a proud past. And every Notre Dame girl has an exciting future, full of promise. But for now, we fix our attention on the present. Each girl is a story unto herself. Fascinating. Special. Unfolding. Her parents are an integral part of her saga. They want nothing but the very best for their girl. They feel confident she will get that at Notre Dame. The faculty and staff are sure of it. And so it begins. Another exciting school year at Notre Dame Prep.
Monday, August 27th. The place is hopping. The parking lots are full. It’s someone’s 16th birthday and signs have already been posted along the NDP driveway. A train of cars pulls up to the front, unloads its passengers, and moves on. Scores of girls scurry in through the doors and up and down the halls. There are lots of hugs and laughter. One sweet redhead comes up to me hesitantly and asks, “Excuse me, do you know where 9B is?” I don’t. But I am able to help her anyway. “I don’t know where 9B is but I do know that all the freshman are meeting in the auditorium right now.” The redhead looks relieved and thanks me. I am impressed by her manners and her bravery. It’s not easy being a freshman. I wander into the auditorium. Most of the girls sit together in groups made up of members from their old middle school class. I ask some of the 9th graders assembled what they are most excited and most nervous about. The answers are touching, if predictable. Most excited about: “Gym Meet”; “Sports”; “Meeting new people.” Most nervous about: “Homework”; “Getting lost”; “Meeting new people.” I make the mistake of telling them that I still don’t know my way around which only makes them more nervous, but I redeem myself when I tell them that 4 years from now, they will each have made a hundred new friends. I tell them I am still friends with my NDP high school buddies and we all went to different grade schools and different colleges. That seems to encourage them, although I am pretty sure that at least one of them became preoccupied with trying to calculate in her head just exactly when in the last century I must have graduated from NDP. I feel certain she was formulating a discreet way to ask me when I was saved by the headmistress, Sister Patricia McCarron. She had stopped by to warmly welcome the assembled freshman to Notre Dame and to a new school year. In person. Not over the loudspeaker. And she would do this with every class that morning, from the newbie 6th graders to the college bound seniors.
It would have been perfectly understandable if Sr. Patricia had started off the new year by going over the NDP handbook and explaining all the rules. It would not have been unexpected if she had spoken about the rigors of academic excellence or the wide range of programs, clubs, music, arts, and sports offered at NDP. The list is long and there is something for everyone. Instead, Sr. Patricia spoke about something that gets to the heart of Notre Dame. Something that sets it apart and makes it special. A hush fell over the class as Sister spoke.
“Take good care of each other,” she began. “Be nice to each other. Be nice to everyone. Cheer each other on. Reach out in grace and be good to one another.” All the other things…academic excellence, sports, clubs, opportunity, college preparedness…they’re givens. You expect those things from a private school and NDP provides them in spades. But Sister’s message on this first day of school, this is at the heart of Notre Dame. She reminded them of the words of Micah stenciled on the cafeteria wall and cautioned them, “These words must not just be in your head. They’ve gotta be in your heart. They must come alive in you,” she urged. And then, just to balance things out and because, after all, her audience was teenagers, she threw in a bit of pop culture for good measure. “You know that song, ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jasper…”
“Jespen!” the girls politely corrected her.
“Right,” Sister continued. And then she got them to sing it.
“Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me, maybe,” the girls sang, more or less in unison.
“That’s it!” Sister exclaimed. “Only I want you to change the lyrics to, ‘Hey I just met you, but call me sister…always!’ That’s what I want. I want you to be good sisters to each other. Every day. And always.” She delivered the same consistent message to each of the 7 classes. To the seniors she added,
“This is your year. You are the new leaders. You’re going to show the others what we’re all about. My expectations are high. I’m counting on you… And I can’t wait to follow your lead,” Sister concluded. From where I sat, she couldn’t have set a better tone or sent a better message.
And so it began. Another promising school year at NDP. Rooted in grace.