With over 50 school leaders from 25 member schools gathering for our first Leadership Conference on October 27-28 in Philadelphia, the NativityMiguel Coalition has officially moved from an idea to reality. As Fr. Jack Podsiadlo said in his introduction of Fr. Edward Durkin, it is “a graced moment.” Both Jesuit priests, who are legendary figures in this mission, highlighted the conference with stories from over 40 years of teaching and leading in this educational model. Fr. Durkin recalled one alumnus who managed to just get by in middle school calling him years later for a recommendation for a school leadership program that would train him to become a school principal. Our faith in God centers us to believe in the “sainthood” of each child even that which we can not yet see. Fr. Durkin reminded us to remain faithful with all students; those students who are struggling and seemingly “not getting it” may become our most determined learners and achievers and those students who are reserved and overlooked may become our most purposed leaders and influencers.
The lessons of care and perseverance learned by our students in the classroom reverberate in professional and personal lives years later. Jose Luis Vilon, a graduate of Nativity Mission Center in New York City, is a teacher, blogger, writer, and speaker. Fr. Jack read from Jose’s book This is Not A Test which he recommends as a “must read” for leaders, faculty and staff in the Coalition. The book tells Jose’s story from student to teacher and urges all teachers to reclaim their voice to bring about change and reform in an educational system that seeks social justice. Fr. Jack read from the book’s introduction in which Jose recounts a homily from summer camp.
Father Jack Podsiadlo, my longtime mentor and a father figure to hundreds of students at Nativity Mission School, used to read us the story of Jesus walking on water [Fr. Jack gives credit to Fr. Durkin for the sermon]. In it, the disciples had gone out on a boat at Jesus’s behest to come see Him. He appeared to them some time later and walked on the lake to meet them. They were obviously terrified, but Jesus reassured them to take the walk with Him. Peter, the most eager, went out to walk first and started to follow in Jesus’s footsteps. However, he let doubt creep into him and soon fell right into the lake.
When Peter yelled out, “Jesus, save me!” Jesus came and helped him back on the boat, but not before asking him why he didn’t believe in Him. I took a different meaning from it than perhaps even what Father Jack meant to deliver in his homily: when we find our passions, we must enter into them boldly and trust that we do what we do with a love for that. Right now, and possibly forever, those passions include teaching and writing, and here’s my testament to it.
I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water.
Across our Coalition there are graced moments every day. What is extraordinary about a graced moment is that it gives us the strength and courage to get off the boat and walk on water. Yes, the founding of the Coalition is a graced moment, and together, the leaders, faculty and staff, students and families, donors and supporters of our member schools are primed to do what others may deem as impossible.