I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Monday, March 31, 2014

Empty Hands

There was a beautiful reflection on Spirlaw on Monday about God wanting to give us something but he can't because our hands are already full.

It reminded me of a poem my dad showed me awhile back. (I'm pretty sure I've included it in a blog post before, but it's a good one to include again.)

One by one He took them from me, 
The things I valued most, 
Until I was empty-handed; 
 Every glittering toy was lost. 

And I walked Earth's highways grieving, 
In my rags and poverty, 
'Til I heard His voice inviting, 
"Lift your empty hands to me!" 

So I held my hands toward Heaven, 
And He filled them with a store, 
Of His own transcendent riches, 
'Til they could contain no more. 

Then at last I comprehended, 
With my stupid mind, and dull, 
God cannot pour His blessings, 
Into hands already full. 

- Martha Snell Nicholson

"Stuff" tends to be an overwhelming burden in our society, often taking over our time and energy. Lent is a good time to reflect on what "stuff" is preventing us from lifting our hearts, minds, and hands to God. It is a time to ask ourselves what we need to rid ourselves of in order to make more room for God's abundant graces and love...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Live and Let MS Die - Pub Crawl 2014

A Saturday well-spent - had a few beers, hung out with some Church friends, watched some basketball (although, I would have preferred Arizona to win), helped out a good cause (MS pub crawl = 7 years running, raising nearly $50,000 to help fight MS)...good times.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I visited my sister's classroom today. And, though crazy at times, it made me miss teaching elementary school.

[Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoy teaching religion to middle schoolers, but younger kids just bring a different energy (and randomness).]

I enjoyed the variety of activities in each subject, and in Math, I got to teach a small group. *Teacher Nerd Alert!* Even the older students were doing double takes, and students from previous years called me "Miss Kelly" when I saw them. I'm very glad I was invited to 2nd grade.

And, at my sister's urging, I brought Olaf. See for yourself the adventures he had:

Just chilling on spring break...

The many faces of Olaf

Definitely a Catholic School supporter

Amid the many stuffed animals of 2nd grade

sight word Jenga (way to use the nose!)

"Student of the Day"

Only one more day of spring break to go...I hope to make it count by taking it easy...and by finishing my lesson plans.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Exuding the Church

This morning I was blessed to head to the hospital for Ministry of Care. While on my rounds, I met one patient (who was probably around 80 years old) and her daughter who were waiting for the pastor of their parish. And what parish was that? Well, it turned out to be mine - St. Clement!

We spoke for awhile - good thing I didn't really have somewhere I needed to go immediately - and it was lovely. We talked of the parish, of my work as a Catholic school teacher, of being Eucharistic ministers... 

As I was getting ready to leave, the woman's daughter remarked, "You just exude St. Clement." (I wasn't sure exactly what she meant, but I'll take it as a compliment, considering we were talking about what a special, warm & welcoming place it is.)

Every time I need renewal in my ministry, God wakes me up...usually through simple conversations.

Thank you, Lord, for my encounters today. Thank you for opening my eyes to your presence in those people to whom I minister at the hospital.

- - - - - - - - - -

On an unrelated (but spring break-related) note, the following series of pictures are the start of what I would like to term "The Olaf Chronicles" - mostly, I take pictures of the stuffed Olaf my sister gave me in different places and message them to her throughout the day. As you can see, I am having a little too much fun with this...

Olaf is really a Spartan fan at heart...

And he likes to hang out with the Bible...at Starbucks...

And, while faced with snow, he likes to dream of summer...and sun...and all things hot...

Rise and shine!

Almost a selfie? (I watched "Frozen" today...)

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Odd Bookstore...

It's true - I read Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore today, and it is very Westing Game-esque. The book just grabs you and takes you for a wild ride from the moment you walk into the bookstore with Clay, the book's main character. It's so intriguing - I must have read for about 3 hours straight today...but it didn't feel long at all.

Can you tell I'm on spring break? I hadn't read for pleasure since I finished the Divergent trilogy in the middle of February, so a book for fun was way overdue.

My to-do list for the week is still pretty long, but I did cross off finishing this book. And I did so with a sense of accomplishment, as it felt like I had just helped Clay solve the mystery too.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Break!

Spring break has started. And I am excited for some renewal and relaxation.

Plans do not consist of much besides lesson planning, MOC one morning, some visiting, and my usual evening commitments at Church.

But I don't need big plans. I just need time to breathe...to catch up...to read a book...

While last week crawled by, this one will surely fly by, so ready or not, here it comes...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Miracle of Miracles

3 colors of square construction paper + prompts for "Take a Step" activity = 15 engaged 8th graders

In other words, I experienced a small miracle today.

By the end of the activity, all students were silent, and they were literally the distance of the entire gym away from each other. The concrete illustration of the income gap and growing differences between classes in society seemed to really hit home. After the activity, we circled up in the center of the gym and debriefed. What struck students were the differences that education and being born into privilege/$$ make...and that having these things almost seems random. And, they focused on this idea of a cycle that's, in the words of one of my students, "nearly impossible to break out of."

Another small miracle? The students participated actively and listened attentively, acknowledging the points of their classmates and adding on to each other's ideas. No shenanigans. No call-outs. No goof-offs.

Tomorrow, we may be back to "normal," but for today, my students made it count.


In other news, my sister spent the entire day - from Mass to volleyball practice - at my school...well, minus the short trip she took to get us lunch. My students enjoyed doing the whole "double take" thing. The fourth graders tried to sneak a peak in the classroom while going to and from art. Parents enjoyed seeing double. My volleyball girls enjoyed the extra attention (and I enjoyed the extra set-up help)... 

It's amazing - I guess twins really are a phenomenon. My "cool points" just went up...and she was an instant celebrity.

Next week, the tables will turn - it will be my spring break, and I'll head in to her school to spend an entire day with 2nd graders.

My mental preparation starts now...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Many ThACEnks

Thanks to my sister (who made me aware of it), I just watched the Alliance for Catholic Education's Live Stream of Accepted Applicants Night. It's a night I did not have the pleasure to attend (as I was at school in the great state of Florida at the time), but it is a night I remember well. (Though, at that time, we did not have live video options - we got a DVD recording.)

It was good to see familiar faces on ACE staff, to hear the names of the communities being read off, and to be reminded of what ACE is all about. Even more so, it was a reminder of my own "yes" to serve in ACE six years (has it been that long?!) ago. (I was ACE 15...if that dates me...)

Saying yes to ACE was, in a way, my very own fiat - nowhere near comparable to Mary's yes to be Jesus' mother but one that changed my life, nonetheless. Without ACE, I don't know where I would be right now. What I do know is I'd be minus some of my closest friends as well as a couple hundred friends/classmates & colleagues. (I also likely would have never engaged in a public debate, helped create a music video, ran several marathons, or realized what everyone's fascination with Notre Dame was really all about. But those are all stories for another time...)

And so, tonight I am most grateful to those ACE teachers who led the way for me (and my sister) to become a part of the ACE family. Having not gone to Notre Dame for my undergrad (and before the program's popularity boomed), I wouldn't have even thought to apply if I had not ACE teachers in high school. They were the ones who served as role models, who coached our sports teams, and who stayed after school to help us catch up or work ahead. They made an impression on me...and I didn't even fully realize it until years later. (Now, having gone through ACE, I sit back and wonder what students in class my ACE teachers talked about around the dinner table or what classroom shenanigans stood out on any given day. I wonder what they did for fun and how they viewed their first years of teaching. I suppose I'll never know...)

This summer (yet again - thank you, ACE!), I will have the opportunity to be back on campus, assisting with some of the first and second year classes. It will be a chance to renew my own zeal for teaching and to keep reminding myself why I said yes in the first place. (And, hopefully, I'll help some newer teachers along the way...)

I'd like to close my post tonight with a prayer. I pray in a special way for all of those soon-to-be teachers who will accept the invitation (or challenge, if you will) to serve with ACE. May the experience bring them challenges, learning opportunities, friendships, insights, laughter, and wisdom. May their community dinners last a couple of hours around the dinner table, especially when grading or lesson planning needs to be saved for another time. May they make God known, loved, and served in their school communities. And may they always be aware of the greater ACE network of staff, graduates, family, and friends who are praying for them each and every day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Has Lent become a blur...?

Today's Sunday Lenten Reflection Series (through the University of Notre Dame) caught my eye with the following prompt:

Take a moment to evaluate your Lenten observances. Is the season passing by in a blur? To what practices might you re-commit yourself, in order to distinguish the month ahead from any other random selection of days?

These questions really made me take notice, pause, and reflect. Has this Lent become routine? Sure, I have my Lenten promises...but are these commitments aiding my entrance "into the desert" in preparation for the most sacred time of our Church year, which is just about a month away? Or, am I merely going through the motions - doing them because I can't break a promise or because this is what I do every Lent each year?

In all honesty, it's probably the latter. In fact, I'm sure it is. Things and routines look different on the outside, but, on the inside, I feel the same. My "Lenten lens" seems to be missing...or cloudy.

Yet, in today's Gospel, we listen to Jesus' Transfiguration on the mountain - a truly transformative experience. And so, as we continue our Lenten journeys, may we be reminded of Jesus' presence slowly transforming our own lives. May we continue to enter into this Lenten experience with our hearts and arms open wide, offering up our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving lovingly to God.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Keep On Moving On

There seems to have been so much to do and keep up with over the past week (as evidenced by my absence from this blog, among other things) - my head was constantly swimming just thinking about it all...

- Fourth grade volleyball practices started up again. It's been good to be back with the kiddos and helping them work on basic skills. "Can we spike it?" Hmm...let's see if we can just bump it up and over the net first, ok?

- Our school had an in-house field trip on Thursday. It was called Saints Alive, and it was a one woman production. I had my doubts that 75 middle school students could sit still to watch and listen for an hour, but most of them were truly captivated. Many even went home and told their parents about the performance. She was absolutely wonderful, and she was so humble about all of it. (I'm really glad I got motivated to organize that for the kids!)

- Parent/teacher conferences were on Friday - our last ones of the school year! They went well - some conversations surrounding behavior were a little bit harder than others, but the parents were all very responsive. I almost fell out of my chair when one dad told me that his son came home and said, "We should go to Mass as a family more often." (I feel like my work has not been in vain!) The feedback from parents was affirming and helpful - even though the students don't always show it, I think they're thinking a little deeper about those tougher topics and are not afraid to ask questions of our Catholic faith. Now that parent/teacher conferences are over, I feel a little less overwhelmed, especially knowing that spring break is just a week away.

St. Patrick's Day will be lighting up Chicago this weekend with the annual river dye-ing and parade...but this girl is steering clear for the first time in 3 years. (Yes, I went even before I lived in this city.) I went out last night for some good old Catholic fish fry followed by a few stops for birthday drinks with my roommate, sister (coincidentally, it's her birthday too), and friends from Church. It was a lot of fun...but it was a late night, so today is going to be low-key...especially since there is still work to be done tomorrow for the upcoming week.

May the luck o' the Irish be with ye! (Everyone's Irish on Saint Patrick's Day...)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Bit of a Mixer-Upper

At this point of the year (with or without consideration of the unending snow/cold), the kiddos are a bit...hmm...Shall we say...no...How can I put this nicely?...Well, let's just face the facts - they're bonkers with no real outlet for all that energy.

What's a poor teacher to do?

Carrying on as usual is certainly not an option. (Not if you want to keep your sanity.)

It's been time to dig deep and get those creative juices flowing - what's going to be relevant to these kids? What's going to make them want to put in the time and effort?

You know you're in for it when your announcement to the class that they will be doing independent projects meets with a choruses of "oh man"s and "another assessment?"s. (Sometimes they don't even let you finish your sentence. Sheesh.) But then I kept going - the students were going to do a bulletin board design contest that features the three pillars of Lent. (As I told them, anyone who comes into our room should be able to tell from your bulletin board what Lent is really all about - and I should also be able to tell .)

One of the students piped up, "Wait? That's our project? I LOVE you," and then proceeded to lead the class in a short cheer/clap. (Later, I found out she was very proud of her cheer.)

Maybe she saw the relevance? Or maybe she liked the idea of some creative freedom?

Who knows...

What I do know is that, for the most part, all 19 (one was absent) students were focused and were working the whole time. I haven't scored the projects yet, so I don't know how well they applied their knowledge, but I'm crossing my fingers that they made this assessment count. Only time will tell.

And then, it will be on to the voting for and making of the best bulletin board design. (I love it when the kids do all the work...the only downside is we won't have the bulletin board up for conferences. Should have timed that better - oops...)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent in our classroom

What have we been up to in religion class these past few days?

Well, see for yourself:

Prayer Doodling in 6th grade - It's a way to keep up with the daily Gospel readings by reacting with striking/memorable words and images on paper. Most students have been responding well...

This was part of a pass-the-paper activity, where students sat in a circle and 5 prompts about prayer were passed around. This was to activate prior knowledge and also get them thinking about how this pillar of Lent (along with fasting and almsgiving) takes on special significance during this season.

40 days of being grateful - each student had the opportunity to write down 2 people/things (on 2 separate post-its) for which s/he is grateful. The result? A colorful reminder of God's grace and presence in our lives.

Fasting is tricky, so students watched some videos, read an article, and discussed about it before being able to rotate around the room to different stations with butcher paper on which they responded to questions and prompts about fasting. This particular poster was questions that still remain after our class...it's probably the hardest pillar for most people to wrap their heads around.

So this, my friends, is what we've been doing - learning about the 3 pillars of Lent: fasting, praying, and almsgiving. We've also tied in a lesson for each grade level surrounding our Archdiocesan participation in the CRS Operation Rice Bowl project. 6th grade focused on Malawi, 7th grade on the Philippines, and 8th grade on Guatemala. Though I altered the lesson plans a little (to adapt to time constraints), they are pretty solid (and free!). The videos are helpful in making the stories real to the students.

So, how have you been spending your Lent...?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Still Winter...

I'm out of ideas for tonight, so here is some Daily Quipple love:

“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” [Anton Chekhov]

I hope you have a wonderful week! Look on the bright side - it's bound to be warming up soon...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Yay, Holy Spirit

Tonight was the big night: Confirmation. (In the words of my mom's text: "Yay Holy Spirit!")

My evening started with a fish fry dinner (over at the parish office) with my pastor, co-principals, and other members of the parish/those serving at the Mass. Oh...and the Bishop came too...and sat next to me. I was very humbled, and I was impressed by his jovial spirit, warm nature, and the ease with which he told stories and held conversation.

And the Confirmation Mass, itself, was beautiful. All the lessons, practices, parent emails, and reminders - they were all worth it. The student icon projects from the retreat donned the walls of the Church, and they stood out in a special way as reminders of the Holy Spirit and the Saints. The Confirmande and their parents dressed nicely (and modestly), with the young gentlemen wearing suits and the young ladies mostly in dresses.

During the Rite of Confirmation, I was blessed with the opportunity to call the names of my students to be presented to the Bishop. Then, Bishop Kane gave us an inspired (and inspiring) homily. He joked with the candidates, saying that our pastor said they knew all the answers so he should just skip the questioning so families could leave and get to dinners and such. He went on to explain how people will know we are models of the Catholic faith: 1) We know the faith (learn about Jesus); 2) We live the faith (put it into practice); 3) We pray the faith (make time for God); and 4) We celebrate the faith (go to Mass on Sundays). And the last point he made was to emphasize two of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - Wisdom and Courage - praying in a special way that the Confirmande receive those even more strongly and fully than the others.

Following the Bishop's homily, the Confirmande and all of us present renewed our Baptismal promises. He and Father Larry then proceeded with the laying of hands. And, finally, I ushered up each student & sponsor (& the family/friends) to for the anointing with holy chrism.

Yes, I did say I ushered up the family and friends along with each candidate and sponsor - it was the most beautiful part of the evening --> Parents stood arm-in-arm. Grandparents looked on. Younger children took positions by their siblings. And the Bishop addressed all of them. It was a concrete representation of the whole family affirming and supporting the Confirmande. And it was so powerful it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

It's crazy to take a look back over this past school year (to date) and see how far the 8th grade students have come as a class. There have been good days and not so good days. There have been moments of genius & insight and other moments where I find myself thinking, "How on earth are you going to survive in high school next year?"

But tonight, I just looked on with awe.

Tonight was about the students and their families.

Tonight was an affirmation of faith.

Tonight, I was so very proud of each and every one of them.

Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Taking Time

Once I stopped to think about it, I never quite understood the phrase "making time" - we don't make it at all. We take time, or we regulate or designate time. But make it? No.

This Lent, I'm on a mission to use my time more purposefully - getting up a little earlier, surfing Facebook and Pinterest less, attending prayer opportunities, and more. Two days in, I feel pretty good; though, the getting up early thing may get a little rough. (Last night, I conked out at 8:30!) 38 more days to go...

Meanwhile, on the classroom front, it's been an interesting experience trying to explain the three pillars of Lent to my students: What really is fasting all about? Why do we give alms? What should our prayer look like? It's funny how the kids sometimes get caught up in the technical wording of things, both in the Bible and in the Catechism. (It reminds me a little of the Pharisees.) Sometimes, all I can do is shake my head - you're missing the point! Ah, well, we discuss and move on.

I feel like Lent is made for a lifelong learning process - hence why we get to experience it every year. It's good to know I won't be able to give them all the answers this time around... (Heck, I don't even know all the answers.)

Before I close tonight, I continue to ask for special prayers for my Confirmation students - they receive the Sacrament in the presence of the Bishop and their families this Friday night.

My mom asked me if they're ready...my reply was, "I sure hope so." We've prayed, reviewed, and practiced. The only reason they may respond "and also with you" instead of "and with your Spirit" while being anointed would be because they are nervous.

I hope that Friday night is just the next step in their lifelong faith journey...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I apologize for letting my negative emotions get the better of me last night.

It's fitting, though, that I was feeling so frustrated because tonight I (while at practice with my 8th graders for their upcoming Confirmation) was reminded that while our students/children are gifted, they are also gifts from God.

Oftentimes, I am guilty of forgetting that. It's easy (as evidenced by yesterday's post) to get swept away in negativity and frustration. But it ultimately all goes back to this idea that we are all gifts of God gifted with talents and other things to use in service of those around us. Gifts are meant to be appreciated, not tossed aside or scorned.

Thanks for that reminder of each life as a gift, Fr. Larry. Sometimes when you're smack dab in the middle of it, you forget what you're looking at...

P.S. I am so excited for Confirmation - it's going to be a beautiful celebration.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Forgiving Regularly

At the outset of Bible study, I stated things as they were: "____, you should probably lead our Bible study group because it's been a rough day."

And it had been. I thought that today, of all days this week, would be a good one - with state testing in the morning, the only classes I would see today would be the 6th grades.

Awesome...or so I thought...

To say I missed my 8th graders today would not be a lie. (And that alone speaks volumes of how my day turned out.)

Those 6th graders really pushed my buttons today. They just would not stop talking. I feel they think that because they're testing they don't have to learn anything new this week. (I'm sorry, but if that were the case, why bother still being in school for the rest of each day after the morning's testing is up?) It's true they don't have any homework, but that doesn't mean it's time for free reign in the classroom and low levels of respect, does it? I hope it doesn't take someone(s) getting silent lunch or being sent to the principal's office to wake up the rest of the class, but that just might be the case.

I know testing is hard. And I know that finishing early and having to sit there and stupidly stare at your test when you finished 10-15 minutes early is tough. Silence is hard. I get it. But self-control needs to happen. Respect needs to happen.

At the end of the day, I felt like Tom Hanks would have yelled at me, "There's no crying in teaching!"

Like hell there's not. I cry (not a fountain of tears, mind you) - not out of weakness but out of frustration because I care. I want the students to do better because I know they can do better.

I cry because I forgive them. Over. And over. And over. Each day is a brand new start.

I cry because I want to figure out how to make them see how blessed they are when what's really clouding their vision is a sense of entitlement and worry over if so-and-so is going to text them later. I want them to be kind to one another and I want them to show respect for God.

Maybe it's a lot to ask. But maybe our world is not demanding these things enough...

Here's hoping that tomorrow is a better day...