Every year since 1622 the Catholic Church has celebrated July 31 as the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As one would imagine, this memorial takes on a special significance in parishes and institutions associated with the Society of Jesus, those men who carry on the work begun by Ignatius in the first half of the 16th Century. Yet, no celebration of this special day has ever meant more to the community at Saint Ignatius High School than this year’s.
As I walked into 223 Loyola Hall at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year I could never have imagined that I would conclude my time with the Class of 2020 on Wasmer Field on the 31st of July at graduation, but such was the roller coaster ride that all of us have been on since mid-March.
One thought that would not leave me as I sat on the 20 yard line with my great friend and department chair Jim Brennan ’85 was that we as Catholics, but especially as educators working in a Jesuit institution, must strive to see God in all things. First and foremost, we Catholics believe that because the world was created by God, then it is essentially good – no matter how much evil we might find in it. The Incarnation showed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the world and its inhabitants are so special to God that – as we are told in John 3:16 – He “so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”
But also, in following the teachings of St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises, we are partakers in the only vision of reality that makes life worth living. If God is not in all things, then something as central to the life of faith as the theological virtue of hope loses its meaning and eventually – especially in difficult times like these – becomes despair.
The words of Salutatorian John Cugel ’20 and Valedictorian Robby Klanac ’20 radiated both the Catholic vision that underpins all meaningful hope as well as the Ignatian belief that God is in our lives every single step of the way. While not ignoring the difficulties that this class endured by having the business end of their senior year canceled, both focused on what strength was gained amidst the difficulties. Both of these young men – and they were the rule, rather than the exception in this exceptional Class of 2020 – saw God in the difficulties and struggles of missing out on so much that makes life at Saint Ignatius, and especially senior year at Saint Ignatius, so special.
They have learned their lessons well, and they certainly had a great role model in our outgoing principal, Dan Bradesca ’88. No one could ever wish that their last months as the head of Saint Ignatius would be a remote experience away from those who make the school so special, yet Dan was true to his Catholic faith and his Ignatian vision in his seeing-God-in-all-things leadership.
As he watched one domino after another fall on the last months of his tenure as principal, Dan was constant in his rallying of the spirits of our boys and their families. He led the school in a time when so many decisions were taken out of his hands, and he was incredibly deft at making a virtue of necessity. His unwavering message to all of us to focus unflinchingly on the Ignatian call to cura personalis – the care of the individual person – rather than a “business as usual” approach to academics, gave teachers and students a sense of calm within the storm and brought out our ability to find God even in the midst of an ever-changing situation.
It is that concern for each of these seniors and their families that brought Dan and his staff to undertake the herculean task of doing everything possible to provide the Class of 2020 with an in-person graduation ceremony. And provide it they did. In the process they also added another chapter to the illustrious history of Saint Ignatius High School.
John and Robby, the other award winners honored at graduation – August Slawienski ’20, Charles Wendt ’20, Jack Auletta ’20, Max Malley ’20, David Martin ’20, Will Sullivan ’20, Jack O’Rourke ’20, Michael Chopra ’20, and all those seniors who walked across the stage on the Feast of St. Ignatius faced difficulties unforeseen on March 12 when they last gathered in class, in the Senior Lounge, and around campus. Yet they grew from that experience and take with them the lessons learned in the cauldron of adversity. They also take with them the memory of a principal whose legacy is steeped in the belief that if we see God in all things, then He will most assuredly bless our work.