9/14/2011 10:53:00 AM Portland - St. Mary's Academy
St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary’s Academy teachers and staff members have fun rehearsing their annual Welcome Back Assembly skit and dance routine.
It is a late August morning. I step into the historic Laundry Building at Marylhurst University to begin the annual rite of the St. Mary’s in-service, that bridge between the abundance of lazy, restorative summer days and the breakneck speed of the school year.
We meet here in this room where Holy Names novices, on Mondays long ago, used to press laundry on industrial sized mangles. We meet here, consciously, to connect to our past, to founding sisters who established St. Mary’s in 1859 for six girls who came to Fifth Avenue for a Catholic education in this state’s earliest days.
Like members of a family reunion we gaggle about with cups of coffee and settle into the real business of the day: a reflection on mission, on the heart of St Mary’s Academy. I am grateful that we begin our year not with computer workshops or equipment sign-out. Instead we focus mindfully on the values that inform what we do each day. Our Catholic faith serves as a touchstone for all our educational goals, the gospel values we weave between our classroom lessons and our myriad activities. We begin here because truly this mission is the heartbeat of the school.
We take a collective gulp and reflect on miracles that happen each year. Girls we might not have bet on walk across the stage in June. Girls who didn’t know how to genuflect choose confirmation. Girls who thought it wasn’t OK to be smart find peers who also want to discuss neuroscience. Girls who begin as surly 14-year-olds tell classmates thank you for not giving up on them. Girls with tragic personal losses find a bevy of sisters. We recommit to our mission of preparing young women for our rapidly changing world, to “take ordinary girls and graduate extraordinary women,” as former principal Sister Shawn Marie used to say.
Soon we will be putting up bulletin boards and practicing our dance steps for the infamous welcome back assembly, but now we pause to remember who we are and why we are. Bring on the school year – we’re ready.
The writer is an English teacher at St. Mary's Academy.