Back in June, a group of educators came together to plan what many individuals who work in places other than Catholic schools may not understand—a retreat. Not the typical corporate retreat where folks put on casual clothes and talk about goals and objectives, but rather a retreat to serve as an open-armed invitation to the NDP community to come together to further cement the theme of UMOJA—unity—that is infusing the year.
“We wanted the day to reflect on our love of teaching but more importantly, how we could serve our students and our community through our mission as a Catholic Community in the theme of Umoja,” explained Christian Lietch, Middle Level art teacher.
Running the retreat was SSND-extraordinaire, Sister Claire Fitzgerald, whose professional resume makes even the most ambitious of us look like slugs. Her 50-plus years of scholarship, her professional experiences, her sense of humor, her “mah-velous” Boston accent, but mostly, her deep spirituality proved immeasurably inspiring.
“Luncheon and conversation with Sister Claire was probably a highlight of my summer,” said Joan Carlson, Upper Level campus minister, who met with Sister Claire in July to discuss the retreat.
The crux of the retreat was reflection which Mary Fahy’s book, The Tree that Survived Winter, inspired. Simply, a young tree survives a long, harsh winter, experiences the joys of spring and summer, and then prepares again for another fall and winter with a whole new outlook.
Throughout the cycle, the tree grows stronger and comes to understand its own identity as a shade-giver, a shelterer, even a friend. Ultimately, the sun, who has nurtured the tree throughout its life, names it “Faithful,” for it bore up under the stress of winter to grow into the strong tree that it is at this moment.
For the educators in the group, the story hit home, as Mary Dohmeier, English teacher and retreat committee member, sums up:
“Understanding that the sun was God and that we were the trees, we were inspired to know that God loves us and our students. We, as teachers, can challenge and love our students into the beautiful human beings that they are. We learned that we are all survivors, that the tough times only serve to make us stronger and that God loves us along the whole journey.”
This realization of strength through change and challenge reminds us that on life’s journey, we are never alone—regardless of the circumstances—for God is with us unconditionally. No one ever knows what one is carrying with them on any given day, but as Sister Claire reminded in the opening and closing song, “Nothing can change the love that I bear you, All will be well, Come as you are.”
Come as you are…indeed!