The day of reckoning is upon us. School, as we now know it, begins tomorrow in earnest. The first three days of this week, days of orientation, are about to appear in the rear view mirror, and the work of seeing how all this planning comes together really begins.
As with all things, this important endeavor should begin with prayer. To start anything as important as a new school year without placing oneself under the mantle of the all loving Father is sheer folly. To do so this year in particular is to align oneself with the guy whose last words are “Hey, everybody! Watch this!” right before he does something that he thinks is really clever, but is, in actuality, lethal. This year, more than ever, we do not want to be that guy.
Back in 2016 Saint Ignatius published In All Things, a book of prayers for the school community and dedicated to the memory of Jim Skerl ’74. I was honored to be asked by our President, Fr. Ray Guiao, S.J. ’82, to write a prayer for the start of the school year. As I pondered what to include in this prayer of petition to the Source of all knowledge and wisdom I felt overwhelmed. So I tried to imagine what Jim Skerl might say in such a situation, and only then did things start to come into focus.
First, he would have asked God to bless all that we do. For Jim, any work that did not begin with such a request was work not worth doing. Anyone who has ever participated in the Labre Ministry, or any of the other Jim Skerl-initiated works of the Christian Action Team, would know this. Jim had the vision to see that if any endeavor began with prayer then, no matter what else happened, it would be a success.
Anyone who knew Jim would also know that he would ask for the grace of humility. As things like the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearers Ministry became more widely known there were those who wanted to interview Jim about his work. In all of these instances he would choose student leaders to take center stage when those from NPR and other national media came calling. Jim was very happy to work in the background, allowing our young men to shine and to be the voice and face of C.A.T.
Those who knew Jim well also saw a great courage in his approach to living out his faith. He is the only person whom I have ever known to take a year’s sabbatical from teaching not to travel or do research, but to work with those who were forgotten and on the margins of society. What he brought back from places like the Holy Family Cancer Home was an unyielding sense of trust in God. It is in such trust that true courage lies.
As I sit at my desk in 223 Loyola Hall I am looking at a small crucifix and candle each nestled in a small block of wood. This was a gift from Jim many years ago. As I look across the room I see hanging on the wall an icon of St. Patrick, also a gift from Jim. In my safe at home is a note written by Jim thanking me for my work with our students. I could go on and on. Among his many wonderful traits was his unbounded gratitude to all those who helped him or any project in which he was involved.
As a true son of Ignatius, Jim took to heart the lessons of the Spiritual Exercises, lessons that encourage both a trust in the Church and an openness to those with whom we, and the Church, may differ. Ignatius called his followers to have hearts willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt while binding themselves to the teachings handed on from Christ through His apostles and their descendants. A purity of heart, necessary to enter the Kingdom, was at the core of Ignatius’ teaching and at the forefront of Jim’s approach to all with whom he came into contact.
Humility, courage, generosity, purity of heart – these were traits that made Jim Skerl such a great success in whatever he did, but, more importantly, in who he was. As this new school year begins it is a good thing to pray that these virtues will become our own and will animate all that we do – for the greater glory of God.