On Sunday morning at 11:24 my phone dinged. I looked to see who the text was from. Dan Bradesca ’88: former student, close friend, and also, by the way, Principal of Saint Ignatius High School. As my nervous system is constantly set to “11” my heart began to beat rapidly: What has gone so wrong that Dan is texting me on a Sunday morning? With a great deal of trepidation I opened the text.
“Are you teaching Beckett this year?”
Whew! Not, “Meet me in your classroom immediately...and bring a cardboard box for your personal effects.” The grift goes on.
I couldn’t help hearing in my head the voice of Peter O’Toole as King Henry II exclaiming, “Beckett! Always Beckett!” And yet, no one has asked me about Beckett in decades. Dan watched that film in my freshman theology class in the first semester of the 1984-85 school year. It, along with A Man for All Seasons, was the one-two punch of great films that showed my freshmen what it was to be willing to love God above all things and to do all for His Greater Glory.
Most of our students, God willing, will not ever be put in a situation where they could join the ranks of those martyred for Christ, but it is good for them to strive to be the type of people who, if called upon, could stand up for their Faith.
Fortunately, these days standing up for the Catholic vision of reality is a lot less dangerous than it was for Beckett and Thomas More. But it still has to be known in order to be stood up for, and several instances from last week – including Dan’s text – give me indication that Saint Ignatius is still “doing the business” when it comes to passing on the Faith in a meaningful way.
Dan wanted to know about Beckett because he is working through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with his juniors. The film would give them a better understanding of the saintly yet very human man whose gravesite at the Canterbury Cathedral was the terminus of the journey that gave birth to the Tales. Plus, it’s always a good thing to raise the cultural awareness of our students: O’Toole and Richard Burton on the same screen – epic.
So as I was proudly basking in the knowledge that a former student is now carrying on “The Tradition,” I was reminded of another English teacher, and, in fact, an English teacher who was a student of Dan’s.
Last week this English teacher sat next to me in the Donahue Auditorium of the Dolan Science Center at John Carroll as we heard Fr. Ronald Nuzzi, from the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), speak on the topic of “Catholic Schools, Pope Francis and the New Evangelization.” [Sidebar: This English teacher would right now be wondering why I did not use the Oxford comma after the word Francis, especially since it is a pet peeve we share. Sidebar Answer: I am quoting the title, and there was no Oxford comma in the title. I shudder as I type this.] This English teacher, Thomas Yarcusko ’12, is a proud graduate of the ACE program, so how could I say no to his offer to learn how to better bring Christ and the Gospel message to our students?
Here we have two English teachers, from two different generations, showing their concern that “our boys” (to use the phrase always on the lips and in the heart of the great Fr. Robert Welsh, S.J. ’54) are exposed to the liberal arts in the old-school Jesuit way. For men such as Dan and Thomas, finding God in all things is not just a nice phrase from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: it is the raison d’être of the ministry of teaching English to high school boys. After all, our English teachers are in the business of making saints.
So, very soon, because of his dedication to our boys, Dan’s juniors will be taken in by the witness unto death given by that great Archbishop of Canterbury, but also by the sheer brilliance of a cinematic classic.
As for my trip to JCU, the lecture was worth attending, but it was not as good as the dinner that preceded it. My wife Ann and I went to Melt in Cleveland Heights with our daughter Mary Kate, who works for John Carroll as a graphic designer. Lest I forget, Mary Kate brought along her husband. Some guy named Thomas Yarcusko. The Tradition continues.