Developing Humanity – Fulfillment of a Vocation
By Joe Geiser
Protective Services Coordinator, CPCO
“Although I achieved my high school diploma from a Catholic school I have never felt truly fulfilled in the 15 years since then.” “Why don’t students in our Catholic elementary schools know the bible stories anymore?” “Can we say a prayer of thanks before we eat?”
These statements and questions were made by former students as we caught up with each other over a meal. As I reflect on them, I am struck by the significant role and tremendous opportunity that Catholic administrators have on a daily basis.
Our work as Catholic principals and vice-principals calls us to recognize the talents, the challenges and the potential in all of God’s creation. As such we are given the responsibility to develop the humanity, the ‘humanness’ of all within our communities – students, faculty, support staff, families and occasionally even our parish teams. St. Teresa’s words remind us that the vocation we have and the work that we do ‘ … is between you and God.’ And that we are called to ‘… Do good anyway.’
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
I am reminded of the words of a friend and cancer survivor, at her 50th birthday celebration. She spoke of the difference between fulfillment and achievement. While we in education focus our time, attention and energy on achievement – that of students, staff and our own – should our end goal not be on fulfillment? I have long maintained that there is no better job or role in Catholic education than that of a principal. It provides the greatest opportunity to have a direct and immediate impact on the lives of those whom we serve. This also provides us with an opportunity to have a lasting impact on those with whom we come into contact – to be fulfilled.
The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario in their document, Fulfilling the Promise – The Challenge of Leadership: A Pastoral Letter to the Catholic Education Community (1993) enumerates the qualities that they believe Catholic leaders ought to possess. Among which are: humility; compassion; trust in others; a deep sense of service and dedication; a deep commitment to evangelization and life-long faith development; a collegial style that seeks to empower staff and students; the ability to bring people together and to foster reconciliation when needed; sensitivity to the needs and hopes of the families of students; and, a commitment to ensuring understanding and cooperation between Church and school (pages 3, 4). Taken in their totality, these qualities would lead one to sainthood!
Proclaim the message: be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable;
convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2
However, as leaders in a Catholic school system we are reminded that our work in developing the humanity of those we serve has been well established in our traditions. It is not by a mere happy circumstance or coincidence that community service or volunteerism is now a requirement of graduating from all secondary schools in Ontario. Or that all schools now focus on character or ‘values’ education. Not to be confused with the Gospel values that our Catholic schools have always focussed on – faith, hope, love, empathy, reconciliation, and so on. These elements have been part of our mission and work for a very long time. Teaching and modelling the work of Jesus is inherent in our ‘job descriptions’ as Catholic school administrators. The task of developing humanity in others allows us to recognize our frailties and those of others, providing support, offering forgiveness when they err, and welcoming them back again and again.
In what ways then do we allow our staff, faculty and students to develop and demonstrate their own humanity and the capacity that each one has? We can do so by providing a voice into the decisions that impact them – organizing student events, participating as an equal partner on school committees, making recommendations, speaking face-to-face, addressing issues head on, providing an outlet for their frustrations without judgement, allocating resources in a fair, balanced and equitable manner. By acknowledging that we don’t always know what’s best or have all the answers, that we are here to serve, we contribute to the development of their humanity.
Similarly, how do we demonstrate our own humanity while trying to develop it in others? Are we consistent in our decision-making? Are we inclusive in our actions and interactions? Do we show favour to one over others?
When I first went into Catholic administration I knew that I would miss that regular interaction with the students in my classes. My role as a teacher, a coach and a staff advisor gave me a unique insight into the many ‘stories’ that each of my students were experiencing while coming to school and living up to my expectations of them.
As such, I made a conscious decision and effort to ensure that my office was always viewed as a safe place that students and staff could come to unburden themselves, to continue to share their stories. Setting up areas for students directly in my office to work, where they could spend quiet time or meet others, offered me the opportunity to stay connected with the pulse of the school – to understand their challenges and to demonstrate the human face, the humanity, of what goes on in Catholic administration. This allowed students – any student – to see and understand that you are fallible, to understand what you do, how you do it and that you care.
As a principal, I often ‘invited’ students to sit with me at school liturgies. These invitees would have had high visibility with staff and their peers for the negative impact they were having on the school community at the time. For me, it was important that these students understood the importance of what we were doing as a Catholic community together. It was also important for the rest of the student body and staff to realize that no matter the concerns with individual students, we were all part of one ‘body’ of learners by forgiving, reconciling and welcoming.
There is no greater ‘fulfillment’ as a Catholic administrator than to shake the hands of each and every graduate coming across the stage as they ‘achieve’ their high school diploma on their way to the ‘fulfillment’ of their dreams and aspirations. While this may take some time to realize, knowing that as a Catholic principal my words, actions and interactions contributed to this fulfillment and to their humanity is in of itself a very humbling and fulfilling feeling.
The above article was featured in the Developing Humanity
issue of CPCO’s Principal Connections magazine.
If you would like to read the whole issue, you can purchase it here.
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