In November of this year, I will once again make the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The last time I made them, I was a fresh-out-of-college 22-year-old novice with limited life experience. Life experience shapes one’s prayer in the Spiritual Exercises as the background for every contemplation is the way in which God has worked in one’s life. The retreatant becomes an active member in the scenes of Jesús’ life, becoming a disciple alongside his family members, his friends, his students, and his colleagues. So, I am eager to make the Exercises anew with the background of the retreat being the wonderful people of Saint Ignatius High School with whom I have shared these last 5 years.
I wonder who will come to mind in prayer. Will it be the first person I met at Saint Ignatius High School, senior cross-country captain Tom Sullivan ’16 who like Jesús told me, “Do not be afraid?” Tom greeted me on a sweltering July evening as I stood nervously awaiting my first cross-country practice. Tom, sub-consciously sensing my fears, held out his hand to greet me. “Hi, I’m Tom, one of the captains of the team. Are you here for practice?”
Will other runners who taught me how to listen come to mind, like Matt Harsar ’17? One day while running through the woods he explained to me how much harder my morality class was than all the other teachers’. He suggested that I might want to scale it back a bit. “Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen’” (Acts 13:16).
Will so many other students fill my prayer? Will it be the sophomore who consoled me after my mother's death in 2018? He said, “Pater, my father died a few years ago. We have a grief group here that you can join.” “Blessed are those who mourn…” (Mt 5:4).
Will it be the basketball players who gave me my favorite nickname of all-time, “Fr. P?” Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14).
Will it be my Latin 1 homeroom of 2018-2019? They not only made me laugh everyday but gelled like no class I have ever taught before, with over half the class earning distinction on the National Latin Exam. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor 1:10).
Will it be the best lunch table of all-time, members of the class of 2020, with whom I shared a chocolate filled Advent calendar in 2017? For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt 18:20).
Will the dedicated, smart, and supportive faculty come to mind? Will Elizabeth Colburn’s generosity in sharing her writing rubrics with me help me understand the Prayer for Generosity? Will witnessing the excellent way Megan McCullough led students to reflect upon their experience while we co-taught Ecclesiology aid me in envisioning the disciples going out two by two? Will I understand the Annunciation better when I think of sharing a beer at Nano Brew with Dave Cicetti while he joyously, yet nervously, shared the news that he would be a father for the first time? Will all those post-game/race meals with Doc Gallagher, Brian Becker, and Cam Joyce help me understand the Eucharist as thanksgiving?
When I imagine the Standard of Christ from the Spiritual Exercises, will I see the poverty in which Fr. Pribyl, S.J. practiced by giving up every Saturday to prepare his excellent homilies? Will I notice the humility Fr. Reim, S.J. modeled by being a part of the Labre team and not the Jesuit who knows it all? Will I remember the grace Fr. Guiao, S.J. demonstrated when he received any criticism concerning the direction of the school? When I pray the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love will I remember how much joy Matt Donovan, S.J. filled our community with his laughter? Will I recall how silently yet faithfully Dan Dixon, S.J. labored for God’s kingdom as he brought the Welsh Academy to life?
Yes. Yes to all these questions and to so many more. I leave this place filled with God’s Spirit knowing the people here have given me more than I could ever have given them. And while it is hard to depart, to leave, I have no fear for myself or for Saint Ignatius High School. I will carry these people wherever I go and their love will sustain me, allowing me to love others. I also am supremely confident in the future of the school in these uncertain times. Everyone who has walked through these doors, myself included, has been touched by grace. I look forward to returning one day to listen to the stories of grace of new generations of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Thank you and God bless.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Shelton, S.J.