Molded and Remolded

“We are, all of us, molded and remolded by those who have loved us, and though that love may pass, we remain none the less their work.”

― François Mauriac

I was sitting at the back of the celebration of Dave Larson’s life a few weeks ago. Dave, father of Thomas, class of 2018 recently passed away after a long struggle with ALS. Dave had an incredible impact on countless people through his coaching and scouting and fatherhood. Those he influenced helped carry him through his struggle as he continued to mold and remold those around him. I could not but help but see the sea of De Smet Jesuit students who are building similar relationships with each other and how they are being molded and remolded by the brotherly love.

Maybe that is the core of a De Smet Jesuit education—the constant molding and remolding we experience by the community. Sadly, in death, the reality of the power of relationships comes to the fore again and gets celebrated. Many times, those relationships mold us into men for others. Occasionally that molding leaves marks and scars. As I saw it at Mr. Larson’s funeral, I see it in our hallways.

During our great soccer run through the playoffs, I saw that molding and remolding again, but in a different context. This time, it was in the stands and on the field. Cheers and pride and self-sacrifice on the pitch molded us individually and as a school. I saw hundreds of young men just being themselves in all their goofy, hysterical, and energetic glory. Something that purely fun and raw can’t help but change you. The second place finish stings a bit, but does not overshadow the incredible run these guys had.

If you ask a teacher what word I use most, it will probably be “transformation.”  We teach so our students can transform the world-the transformed man, transforming the world. That transformational learning opportunity begins and ends with relationships. Our students will learn as much—if not more—from their peers as they will from the adults in the community. That does not mean the relationships they form as adults won’t also have a profound effect. Those relationships are powerful ways of molding and remolding our students.

As these young men become colleagues and fathers, they will always remember the relationships they strengthened in times of trial and times of joy at De Smet Jesuit. These relationships will have molded and remolded them into Men for Others as Dave Larson molded so many.


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Papal Visit

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States has thrust our Catholic faith into the spotlight. In a sense, I feel like Catholicism is finding its rightful place in American culture as a credible and prophetic voice. What started with the Venerable Fulton Sheen has come to Stephen Colbert and Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. Pope Francis’ expression of the Gospel message is taking its place in our social dialog. Our students had a front row seat to this last week when they went on a Papal pilgrimage to Philadelphia to see him in person.

Alongside the Pope at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last week, we saw comedian Jim Gaffigan, TV host Mo Rocca—an alum of Georgetown Prep, my alma mater—, and actor Mark Wahlberg. Most Americans have laughed at these guys’ jokes or watched them on the screen. I imagine more than a few folks said, “I didn’t know he was Catholic!” These guys are living in the world but not “of” the world. These celebrities embody what the American culture considers “successful” nowadays—how many “successful” Catholics have there been from American cultural perspective? They are talented, are adept at social media, and have millions of “likes” and twitter followers.

Pope Francis is this moment incarnate. His presence and persona are so powerful precisely because he is expressing a core Gospel truth. God is found in the margins and when we find God, we find joy. He preached this both in deeds and in words. It was neat to see him eat with the homeless people I came to love while I lived in Washington D.C., especially. His voice was prophetic and a challenge to both the left and the right; isn’t it shameful that we reduce the Gospel message to politics so easily? (Ideology is not a Gospel category, we must remember!) He is calling our teens to look outward. “Dear young people, do not give up your dreams of a more just world!”

Pope Francis has also avoided the cardinal sin for teenagers in our society these days—being hypocritical. His most profound message to me is his constant, “pray for me” mantra. Rather than a simple statement of humility, I believe he states it from his Ignatian heritage —  “I am a sinner” but I can still do great things. For teenagers—and many adults—his admission of failures and flaws adds authenticity to his call. In all the clutter of social media, this message is captivating and distinctive.

What a time to be growing up Catholic. What Venerable Fulton Sheen started in American media and culture is coming to fruition in the person of Pope Francis. Our students came back from their pilgrimage in Mr. Luecke’s words, “back inspired and ready to serve.  They were energized and joyful.” Now is the time for Catholicism to be that prophetic force that calls us to the margins rather than that marginalized religion pushed aside by force. Our culture is coming to see the power of the Gospel message.

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Off to a Wonderful Start

This blog is a light edit of my opening remarks at our first all-school assembly.

Each year, I focus on a different Jesuit idea that makes our education at De Smet Jesuit unique and special. Last year we talked a lot about the magis, or, the more. We reflected on the ways we can not just do more things, but do the things we already do better or more profoundly.

This year, we turn to the Jesuit concept of A.M.D.G.–ad maiorem dei gloriam—to the greater glory of God. The idea is pretty simple –  when we do something, we should do it for God’s greater glory, not for our greater glory. It is everywhere in Jesuit education. I used to put AMDG at the top of my papers when I was in high school at Georgetown Prep in Maryland. Maybe some of you did that, too. At De Smet Jesuit, every day we pray, in unison: “We dedicate all of our thoughts, words, and actions to the greater glory of God.”

Even though it seems pretty simple, I still struggle with HOW to give God greater glory. There are, however, some practical ways to do it. Since we find God most often in others, it makes sense that when we glorify others, we glorify God. When we give others the credit, we glorify God. When we help others, we glorify God. So here is a question to focus our actions toward the greater glory of God – “What can I think, say, or do that will make someone’s life better for having known me?” Let’s find ways of giving others glory this year from within the briefest of conversations with others to the context of the deepest of friendships.

When we think positively and assume the best, we unconsciously treat others better. When we talk to others, we need to build each other up, not tear each other down. When we do things like cheer for our sports teams, help someone with his school work, befriend someone in our service projects, or volunteer at Open House, we make others better for our presence. When we think, say and do these things, we transform the school. When we think, say and do these things in the greater community, we transform the world.

Remember the question, “What can I think, say, or do to make someone else’s life better for having known me?” This is our responsibility as men for others and as Spartans. From the looks of the start of the year, we are meeting this responsibility well. And today, as every day, let us dedicate all our thoughts, words and actions to the greater glory of God by glorifying others.

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End of Year Reflections

In St. Ignatius’ Contemplation on the Incarnation, he places us shoulder-to-shoulder with the Trinity as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit look down on the world. “Let us work the redemption of the whole human race; let us respond to the groaning of all creation.” The image he invites us to paint in our imagination is powerful. God is a laboring God, engaged in all the joy and challenge and general messiness of the world. As I reflect on the end of the year, this image of the laboring God—through the Person of Jesus Christ—is foremost in my head and heart.

I saw the laboring God most often in our students this year. We were at our best when they were working for themselves and others for something greater. I think of Jackson, Ray, and Bronson, working on the wildly successful cultural fair. I think of an unnamed student with learning differences who achieved great academic success while having to work twice as hard as his classmates without his challenges. I think of our sophomores who forged new relationships with their buddies when we hosted the Special Olympics. Almost every morning, I see a lone young man on the turf doing sprints or shooting on a net. They all realized the laboring God in transcending themselves and in building stronger relationships.

Behind the scenes, our teachers realized that same laboring God in their work for our students. I think every teacher in every school works diligently to prepare for classes. De Smet Jesuit teachers are no different. I see that laboring God, however, in all the extra things that teachers here do to provide the whole of a De Smet Jesuit education. After school, teachers provided places for students to relax and be themselves; Tom Sothers’ classroom was a great example of that, where students routinely hang out, playing the latest card games. As I walked down the halls recently, I saw a group of faculty members planning our Odyssey experience for incoming freshmen. Did I see a laboring God in the students and Doc Behm playing ping pong in the science hallways after school? Absolutely. This year was filled examples of that.

What is the sure sign that we are laboring with God and that God is laboring with us? Joy. Despite the challenges that struck our community this year, joy has been the most present and abiding feeling I leave with from the year. In this year of the magis, we experienced joy each time we transcended ourselves for the good of others. By the fruits, ye will know. We have bore much fruit.

See more at:

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Weight Room Reflections

I spent more time in the weight room at Georgetown Prep than any other place when I was in high school. It was a sanctuary of sorts. I always knew where I stood. “One more set. Need one more plate. Need a spot in a few reps.” Everything was quantified. For a teenager with a million concerns and preoccupations, I loved having simple, single-minded focuses and goals.

As a student, I received a great deal of satisfaction from making progress on the bench press. Though it was hard to come by, I relished every time I could put more weight on the bar. My goal of working out with two plates (235 lbs.) never materialized. But 185 lbs. on the bench was quite an accomplishment for this skinny boy. I entered into Jesuit education not being able to do a dip; I left able to do as many as I wanted. Now, as an educator, I am proud of the individual work our young men do to progress physically. Walking around first thing in the morning, you will see students on the field, at the lacrosse wall, and in the weight room with a single-minded focus on their faces. Spartans, in the truest sense.

Where did I meet up with friends during and after school? The weight room. Like most great male relationships, few words were spoken for the hour and a half. “Spot me,” or “Come on, one more rep!” were sometimes all that were spoken. The friendships were made better for the company, however. My friends and I would meet back up over breaks at Prep during college. After a handshake and a few sentences on college life, it was back to the same non-conversations . . . that meant more than ever. We were maintaining the friendships and the community we formed in high school.

Now things are different in the weight room. Sure, De Smet students are still working out as individuals, looking to better themselves. They, too, have that peace that comes from focusing on the task at hand. What is different now—and I believe, so much more powerful—is that working out is a quintessential team activity. Rather than one or two people exercising separately, we have whole groups and teams getting stronger together. The weight room is growing into a bustling hub for the whole community.

I could not be more excited for our weight room renovation. It is going to make the weight room a true fitness center—a locus for Spartans to improve individually and as a team. Think of a place where players from all our teams, coaches, alums, faculty and staff can all work together to be bigger, better Spartans! With Kevin Lee and Pat Mahoney’s leadership, we are already seeing this come to fruition. Everyone is involved in the campaign to make this idea a reality. Student videos, alum phone calls, text donations are all helping us make progress.

As individuals and as teams, let’s make the fitness center a place to build a community of bigger, better Spartans.

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Mid-Year Reflections – The Magis

My fondest memories this year have been watching our students go deep on their experience here. The examples are legion. Mission week—the subject of a future post—is one of them. The student-produced admissions video is another fantastic example. Our unique culture lends itself to going deep, or, in Ignatian speak, the magis.

The guys that interviewed me last week for the first DSPN news cast showed the magis. Picture four seniors with a boatload of video equipment—two cameras, tripods, wireless mics with receivers, palpable enthusiasm —in a little office with me and more than our share of ridiculous ideas to make the interview awesome to conduct. I am impressed that we kept ourselves together and that the only gimmick was switching my jacket with Nick’s quarter-zip halfway through.

They were engrossed with the whole interview process—a sure sign of students naturally striving for the magis. Camera angles, sound, questions, and shenanigans were all-consuming. All-boys schools get it right when we tap into the passion young men can have for relatively obscure topics. We all know that kid down the street who collects baseball cards and knows every Cardinals stat since 1892. (For me, it was memorizing the characteristics and silhouettes of Soviet aircraft. . . don’t ask.) DSPN is an outlet for these guys to be totally focused on a task. Though John Hawkey and Mike Talken are providing guidance and coaching, these guys are doing ALL the work—no faux student products here.

I have found the same focused attention on the magis among our faculty. We spent two faculty meetings working on our standards and expectations for students. We are forming a common vocabulary for articulating these high standards and high expectations for every student—something we do well, already. What is striking to me about the conversations is not so much the content, but the engagement the faculty are bringing to the conversations. These are Ignatian Educators to the core; we are benefitting from years of concerted efforts to form our faculty in the Jesuit tradition. Our faculty meetings are proof that investment is paying off.

I am having a year full of profound gratitude for the deep engagement of the whole community in educating our young men in the magis. It has been dynamic, challenging, fun, and engrossing—all signs of doing Jesuit Education right. I am having a ball.

P.S. – You can watch DSPN’s first student-produced newscast of the year at

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A Christmas Reflection

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” — Luke2:7

Growing up on a farm on the eastern shore of Maryland, I used to feed my steers in a manger. It was not a pleasant place – hay and feed were smeared on the inside. Flies and tufts of hair floated around in the air outside. That is where Jesus was born. Luke’s passage provides an incredible tension between a feeding trough and a crib befitting a savior. What does this mean for us now? Where is Jesus going to be reborn for us?

Working in education for the past 19 years, I know that every teenager has places in their lives where Christ needs to be reborn. For some, it is a challenging personal relationship or a disappointment in the classroom or on the field. For others, it is in the legions of questions and uncertainty about life that plagues them. Ignatius writes that the incarnation was a response to the “groaning of humanity.” We groan when the messy parts of our life well up in our memory. Christ’s birth in an obscure barn reminds us that Christ can be reborn in those hidden places in our hearts where we need him the most.

Christ was born on the margins of society as well. Christ is reborn every year in those places out in the world we do not experience in day-to-day life. Our service program is designed so students can go and visit these places where Christ is needed-and present-the most. An Alzheimer’s ward, a homeless shelter, an alternative education program, and the boarded up neighborhoods of our city – these are places our students can see Christ’s rebirth in action. Christ’s marginal birth calls us to the margins.

Where in your life do you need Christ to be reborn? I wish you a rich and joyous Christmas celebrating Christ’s rebirth in the places where we all need His presence the most.

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