Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January, 2011-- Dominican High School, salt of the earth

Some of the holiest people around are also some of the most quiet and unassuming. Jesus often pointed out that spiritual bravado wasn’t the equivalent of holiness. He spoke up against the Pharisees praying aloud for all to hear, while highlighting the barely-noticeable widow who put a few coins in the offering jar. We all know of the salt-of-the-earth folks who go about their lives matter-of-factly doing good — they don’t carry a bishop’s miter or have a position of authority in their job or the community, yet their example shines forth and their goodness inspires others to become better. 
            It is a paradox of Christianity that strength and truth often arrive humbly wrapped — in swaddling clothes, for example.
            And if this is true for Christian people, it is also true for Christian institutions. Dominican High School, a small co-ed Catholic high school in Whitefish Bay, is so quiet and unassuming, it doesn’t even show up on the radar of some parents who are considering Catholic high school for their children.
            But for those who slow down enough to take a look at Dominican — for those who recognize the Gospel connection between humility and greatness — they invariably find in Dominican the genuine beauty of Catholic education done right.
            Catholic faith is at the heart of Dominican; there is an intentionality to the parent community. Dominican families don’t choose the school for its status or its legacy — it is too small and too young to have much in the way of either. Rather, Dominican families choose the school because they come to visit and become aware of the holy. Not holy in the sense of the overly pious or a chest-thumping spirituality. Rather, holy in the sense of genuineness, and God present in the ordinary.
            And somehow, in tandem with that quiet faith comes an academic rigor that manages to be neither boastful nor arrogant. When our oldest son Jacob was in eighth grade, I was concerned about whether Dominican, as a high school with fewer than 400 students, could wield the academic chops of larger schools that might draw from a wider base. I needn’t have worried—much in Jacob’s freshman and sophomore curriculum has been material and works of literature Bill and I remember studying early in college. Dominican just published the universities where its 80 or so seniors have been accepted so far, and the list— which includes Fordham, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Boston College, Marquette and Purdue—is a simple, yet eloquent statement about the strength of Dominican’s academics.
            Part of Dominican’s strength comes from its diversity. More than any other Catholic school in metro-Milwaukee, Dominican mirrors the ethnic and racial makeup of the metro area it serves. Dominican reaches past the homogeneity of surrounding Whitefish Bay and welcomes a multicultural student body that will prepare its students well for an increasingly global work experience.
            For me, the spirit of Dominican can be expressed through an example of the JV boys baseball team last spring. At the end of the season, the boys and their families gathered for an end-of-season celebration at a pond near our house. The majority of the boys were excellent swimmers and were comfortable in the water, playing keep-away, leaping off a raft in the middle of the pond, racing each other. Two of the boys didn’t have much experience with natural bodies of water and didn’t know how to swim.
            “I’m more of a land animal,” one confided to me.
            “Well, you two could just stay in the shallow part,” I told him. I didn’t actually think the young man would go in the water at all. I thought he and his friend would just stay on shore; that he might be concerned the good swimmers would give him a hard time. Instead, though, he thanked me, nodded and the two slowly ventured out to waist-deep water.
            As I looked on, the swimming kids splashed their hellos to the guys in the shallow water, and included them in a game of catch. No one commented that they both kept their feet firmly on the bottom of the pond. When the ball landed beyond the comfort zone the non-swimmers, one of the swimmers would stroke over and toss it to one of them without comment. It was a remarkable moment for its ordinariness. And it struck me that at Dominican, quiet kindness is the norm, not the exception.
            This Catholic Schools Week, eighth graders and their families all over the city are preparing to make their final decisions about which high school to attend. Perhaps a thousand of these students will choose Catholic high schools with big names and correspondingly big enrollments—excellent schools indeed— and I would never second-guess the education those students will receive. And as those thousand students sign the enrollment papers for their schools, a separate group — of perhaps just a hundred—will choose Dominican. And I can’t wait to meet those families; to hear the stories of how they found Dominican and the moment they knew it was for them.
            Dominican. Small and quiet. Leaning humble. Filled with spirit and grace.
            Salt of the earth.

            And strong. So strong.