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, May 30, 2016


It's hard to put this past weekend into words (except for the obvious that it was FOUR. DAYS. LONG.), so I believe pictures will be my better option:

My weekend timeline:

Saturday morning: Soldier Field 10 Miler

Saturday afternoon and evening: Picked up a friend from FL from the airport and hung out by the lake and ate ice cream

twins always seem to match...

Sunday (Fun day): a lovely brunch on my apt's back patio with friends, a trip to LP Zoo, lunch at Lou Malnati's, two chance meetings with friends (one of whom is an ACE classmate who lives out of town), Mass, and dinner/drinks on the patio at Las Fuentes

Monday: Playing tourist with our FL friend, including a quick trip to the Bean, breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien ("The Daily Bread"), more walking around, and a refreshing study break (for Bible Study) at Argo Tea

So grateful for the beautiful weather and even beautiful-er friends! This weekend was one for the books.

But most important of all, as today is Memorial Day, we remember the reason we celebrate at all - our nation's veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country. Below are pictures taken by my aunt and uncle as they visited the cemetery for veterans where my grandparents are buried.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A note bringing a smile

Sometimes, the kids can really bring a smile to my face:

I am SO thankful for service club - it didn't feel like I was giving up my time at all. The kids brought so much joy and energy. It's hard to believe our time for this year is now over - looks like there are some BIG shoes to fill next year.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Entering into the chaos of others

Mercy (n): "The willingness to enter into the chaos of others" (Fr. James Keenan, SJ)

In the Catholic Church's Jubliee Year of Mercy, many people have spent time discussing, reading about, and taking part in acts of mercy and/or ways of mercy. I, too, have tried to delve into what mercy is all about through private reading and prayer as well as retreats, Bible studies, reflection nights, and service.

The definition of mercy written above was offered from fellow group members in various settings this year. And it is one of the most beautiful, true, and complete definitions I have yet to find. Everyone is in the midst of his/her own chaos, sometimes it's shared at a community level and at other times it's more personal. But the chaos is there. Always.

I found this to be particularly true this week in two instances that reminded me very clearly that we never see the ENTIRE picture of someone, even if we think we know him/her well.

The first instance occurred on the way back from the 8th grade Holocaust museum field trip on Wednesday. As the students had filled up all the back seats, another teacher and I found ourselves sitting in the front. I recently learned that this particular coworker's wife is pregnant, but there have been quite a few complications so far, and there had been even more troubles in the past. I will not go into the specific details of their efforts to have children (as that is private), I can tell you that I had absolutely no idea the amount of pain and struggle involved. Talk about chaos! As he told me his story, all I could do was listen and offer support through prayer. On the outside, he and his wife always seemed so strong and "with it," but on the inside they had clearly suffered greatly. It got me thinking about how many other people I interact with every day who may be going through something painful who need mercy and love in a special way - how can I be more merciful and loving in my daily interactions with students, parents, co-workers, friends, and people I encounter?

The second instance happened just yesterday while I was at the nursing home with my sister and friends to bring communion. Again, chaos: nurse stations, beeping, blaring televisions, screaming residents on the third floor... But by bringing communion, all of a sudden, we became part of that chaos, even if just for a few minutes with each person. The communion prayer and receiving were moments of mercy and calm in the midst of the noise and busyness. I couldn't help but think about Jesus and his constant mercy in the midst of people's daily lives, some days more hectic than others.

We all need mercy. And we all need to be conduits of God's mercy. For as it says in the Bible many times in many different ways, forgive so that you may be forgiven. Or, to put it another way, God has already forgiven us - He did this when He sent His only Son down to be sacrificed on the cross. Who, then, are we to withhold mercy from others?

The answer is, we're not.

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Last Lecture

For the last couple of weeks with my 8th grade, I wanted to come up with activities that would be meaningful and reflective. Well, that's certainly easier said than done...

That's when I re-stumbled upon Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture." The version I am showing my students on Monday (and the one below in this blog post) is a shortened "recap" done on Oprah. (You can see the full length version HERE.)

Of course! I could have the students make their own "last lectures" - two to three minutes with a focus on family, time, and faith. 

But this meant I had to make my own version first...which I spent a good chunk of this evening accomplishing. It's by no means even close to perfect (or even good) - there's a lot I had to leave out. Two minutes is such a short amount of time when trying to convey life lessons...

We'll see how the students do. Usually on projects with iMovie they end up blowing me away by their ability to navigate the app, add music, and do other things, so let's hope that's the case for this one last time. I wonder what their messages to the world will be...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Calling all Catholic school teachers and youth ministers...

Finished a good, timely read on Saturday - Room 24 by Katie Prejean. What stuck out to me most about this book were the quotes and anecdotes by her students as well as her own thoughts about ministering (in a school setting) to teens and young adults. For almost the entirety of the book my head and heart were screaming "me too!" 

Trust me, if you work with teenagers in a Catholic school or youth ministry setting, you should get your hands on this - it's poignant and hysterical at the same time. And it's a quick read so you can read a few pages here and there between grading and lesson planning...

Here are some of my favorite parts:

"To teach Jesus is to conform ourselves, and help to form others, into 'little Christs' who go out and share the Good News. People are not easily transformed by ideas and concepts alone. They are far more often transformed by other people." (p. 23)

"When we constrict ourselves to scheduled teaching on its own rather than actively living what we believe, we can become blathering drones losing sight of the greater mission." (p. 78)

"As humble evangelizers, we should be pointing not to ourselves but to Christ. This is humility in its most concentrated form. We seek not to advance ourselves but to advance the work of the Lord." (p. 108) <-- There are lots of opportunity for humility as a middle school teacher. This was a good reminder. Kids have a way of making sure you don't stay too proud of anything... (Check out the Litany of Humility, which the author explains kept popping up when she needed it the most. It's a good one.)

"Student: I'm only fourteen, Miss P. As of right now, my life plan is just to get to heaven." (p. 127)

"My mom used to say that being a teacher was the hardest job in the world, not because the pay was low or the kids were bad but because at the end of the school year you'd have to say goodbye and you never knew how they would turn out." (P. 128) <-- This quote probably hit home the most, especially as many of us teachers are preparing for graduations.

Katie Prejean also talks a lot about how her students always notice far more than she ever realizes. Similar realizations have occurred in my classroom this year too, most recently on Friday, when, upon going outside to return a student's fruit snacks that I had confiscated during class (Could he have picked a quieter packaging choice to try to sneak in?), a group of 8th grade girls stopped me and said, "I really like your outfit today. I noticed it in class and meant to tell you." Well, if that don't beat all - I tell people that you really know you've "made it" in terms of fashion when you get complimented by an 8th grade girl. (They're usually so hard to please in that department!)

All kidding aside, the book reminded me that the whole teaching about God thing is more than one person's job. I may not see the effects of anything take hold while the students remain in my care, but I have to hope and believe that somewhere down the line at least one thing we studied or learned or prayed about will sink in.

For all those who teach (especially at the middle and high school level), keep doing an amazing job! You're planting seeds - scatter them abundantly for you never know where or when they'll blossom...

P.S. Happy Mother's Day weekend to all moms, moms-to-be, and women who seem/act like moms! It was a beautiful weekend (weather-wise) for all those who were out and about brunching and celebrating. Spring has sprung in Chicago!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Make it count. Make it last.

May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord let His face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the Lord look upon us kindly and grant us peace. Amen.

It's like clockwork. The end of the day draws near. Students know that once dismissed they stand behind their desks for prayer. And they know exactly which prayer we'll say.

Even on days when I am too frustrated or distracted to find the words or take the lead, they do it on their own.

Yes, we're in the midst of the "final countdown," the "senioritis" (as far as 8th graders go), and the general "I'd rather be outside right now because I could care less about school," but we teachers are still pressing onward. By golly, these students will learn until the final bell, let me tell you...

If only.

I have to keep it together.
I have to focus on what these 8th graders have done and can do (rather than what they choose not to do or can't).
I have to believe that the end of the school year will arrive quickly, much more quickly than I actually do want it to.
I want to think I've done my best to impart the notion of developing a personal relationship with God through constant prayer and regular Mass attendance.

I love them.
Each one.
And I think of the words we pray at the end of each class, and I pray them with sincerity: May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord let His face shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the Lord look upon us kindly and grant us peace. Amen.

We have come full circle.