All-School Blog

Dr. Paul Barker | Good Counsel President
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Barely a year ago, I wrote a midsummer letter to the Good Counsel community about horrific shootings in Dallas. Today, I write in response to yet another frenzied attempt to shred our frayed social fabric. Like you, I am appalled and angered at the hatred and violence this past weekend in Charlottesville.

We are all aware of the deep divisions in our culture – racial, socio-economic, religious, political – that have only become more prominent in recent months. Talking heads engage with issues, often in a parody of serious debate, in our chambers of government, via our news outlets, and on our streets. Gradually, I have found my own opinions and how I express them become coarsened. Social settings have the potential to erupt with antagonism. It sometimes seems that the easy solution is to keep one's opinions to oneself. Tread lightly. Make no waves. Say nothing.

At some point, one cannot stay silent. When the cherished right to free speech becomes a tool to marginalize, oppress, and take away the freedom of others, we have a moral duty to speak up. I have heard and read plenty of euphemisms to describe the Unite the Right rally. The eye test, however, makes clear that many involved were fueled by the vilest bigotry and hatred. We may wish that entities like the Klan and the Nazis were in the dustbin of history. Clearly, they are not.

What can we do at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School? The start of school is now just days away. Each year at this time my mind is on how we can become a stronger community. Our website and admissions materials lead with the phrase, "Become your best self." Striving to get to the depths of what it means to be the best community we can be means we must name and address hatred and injustice as they have no place here.

We have the lens provided by the Xaverian Brothers to help us see. Like the Brothers, our goal is for the Falcons of 2017-18 to mutually respect, help, encourage, and edify one another, and work together. That means being compassionate with one another in our difficulties, bearing with one another in our weaknesses, and affirming one another in our giftedness. Things that discourage us and try our patience will continue to happen beyond our walls. And they will sometimes happen here, too. It will require our founder's zeal to deliver on the promise of our new, Board-approved diversity statement and "identify and challenge all forms of prejudice, discrimination and injustice."

The essence of our mission as a Catholic school in the Xaverian tradition is to see each person as an expression of God's love: I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35).

I thank you for your support of the core values that have driven Good Counsel for almost sixty years. I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the rapidly approaching school year.

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As some students learn the hard way, life often comes with responsibility for specific outcomes with specific deadlines. To complicate matters, sometimes after we set things in motion, the finished product and delivery date are largely out of our hands.

That's how I feel this summer with project upon project underway and freshmen scheduled to show up for Convocation five weeks from today. Will we be ready? Uhhhh, I think so.

Maybe it's the sheer number of projects, the lengthy wait for permits, and the fact that the many improvements we are making involve demolition as prelude to construction that have me anxious – it needs to look bad before it can look good!

Here's what we have been doing:


Counseling suite

We are downsizing the under-utilized College Room that sits in the middle of the Counseling footprint. We are adding two offices which will allow Br. Bob Arrowsmith to join his colleagues and create a space for our new position, a second college counseling specialist. In addition, we are moving the reception area and adjusting the size of the two meeting rooms and storage room. We anticipate a space that is both more functional and more welcoming.


Baseball field

In a project funded almost entirely by friends of our baseball program, we have reduced the curvature of the playing area and taken out the hill that was along the third-base side. We have moved the backstop closer to home plate. Once completed, we will have added a practice infield and a hitting pavilion.


Practice field

The soil we have taken off the baseball field has help us level the field out back. Players who have practiced there are very familiar with the uphill/downhill nature of the field. It took a lot of dirt to raise the southern end approximately eight feet.


Dining hall and servery

We feed +/-350 people in about 25 minutes four times each day. Any bottlenecks we can eliminate make for a more relaxing student experience. We have removed four cheek walls and opened up the wall at the salad/soup bar, providing double-sided access. We are relocating the beverage stations outside the servery and installing a hot-food serving area and panini station in its place. We are moving away from disposables to washable plates (they are blue and yellow) and utensils which means the grinder is gone and with that the noise level will drop by a bunch of decibels. We have enlarged the space for dropping off dishes.


Loading dock

We have addressed a drainage issue out back at the loading dock, reinforcing the concrete and making it easier for roll-in, roll-out access to the Performing Arts Center. We are also creating a secure storage space.


Lacrosse wall

In another donor-funded project, we have installed a double-sided block wall for throw-and-catch practice. The wall is just inside the stadium fence.


Parking lot

We are addressing a longstanding concern with curbing in the main entrance lot – the curb was close to falling into the drainage culvert. We are restriping the parking spaces.

In the meantime, our hardworking maintenance and custodial crews are performing preventative maintenance. Did you know we have more than 150 heat pumps in the school? We paint walls and rails, refinish floors, clean lockers, all so that school will look, as it does every day of the school year, sparkling.

There are a couple of projects that we know will spill over into the early weeks of the school year.

School store and student lounge

A delay with the permit and settling on a contractor meant a project that has seen more than its fair share of delays will probably run into the first couple of weeks of the school year. It will be worth the wait. And no one has waited longer than Mrs. Tamsyn Ryan, manager of the school store, who has provided wonderful service to students, parents and alumni in less-than-perfect merchandising conditions for the past three years. The students are going to love the mural painted at the end of last year by our most gifted student artists.

Grotto

We await confirmation of a delivery date for Tim Schmalz's bronze sculpture of Our Lady of Good Counsel. It will be a magnificent addition to our Catholic school.

I am sure I have left some projects out but you get the idea. Again, I am grateful for the hardworking and talented teams of workers, inside and out, who have been tearing down and building up this summer.

There's still plenty to do. So, join your prayers to mine for the precision and perseverance of everyone involved in helping us bring you an even better Good Counsel for the 2017-18 school year.

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Dr. Paul Barker | Good Counsel President
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's a small world.

Who hasn't heard that expression? We are surprised when we find an unexpected link with someone or discover a shared acquaintance or location. Acknowledging the smallness of our world expresses some level of shared identity. It feels good. And it's not new. The world was small long before the Facebook, LinkedIn and the like were around as constant reminders of how few levels of separation there are with people across the globe.

I write less than 48 hours after returning from a trip to see my parents in New Zealand. I attended Easter Sunday Mass at the parish church I grew up in, Sts. Peter and Paul in Lower Hutt. The church structure has been modified in recent years, strengthened in response to earthquake activity (three tremors during my visit), but in most respects it is the same church where I was an altar server almost 50 years ago.

I had an "it's a small world" moment. In 1968, the parish population was relatively homogenous, white families of European descent – the Irish, Poles, Dutch, Italians, and so on. Almost half a century on, as I looked around I could have imagined myself 10,000 miles away back in Maryland with my fellow parishioners at St. John the Baptist on New Hampshire Avenue. The Church has changed in Lower Hutt, just as it has in Silver Spring. In both settings, today's community looks like the world, with families descended from Asia and the Pacific, the Americas, Africa and Europe.

The powerful sense of the catholicity of today's Catholic Church was further emphasized by a celebrant from India assisted by a deacon from the Philippines, elements of Samoan culture in the vestments, and Maori culture in the sacred vessels. The priest used the long Eucharistic Prayer, the one that includes a litany of saints and martyrs. Easter 2017 offered a deeply satisfying sense of belonging to a community of believers, having a shared faith heritage, and coming together on the biggest feast day of the Church year to celebrate the mystery and triumph of the Resurrection.

This Easter season my wish is that we might all have more "moments" that lead to a deeper appreciation of the threads we each contribute to form the beautiful tapestry of the community of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.

It's a small world. It's a universal Church. Hallelujah!

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Dr. Paul Barker | Good Counsel President
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This Friday, we will celebrate Mass for the Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of Catholic missions and the patron of the Xaverian Brothers.

St. Ignatius Loyola is said to have bade farewell to Francis, saying: "Go forth, and set the world on fire." And he did. The stained glass in our chapel reminds us with a beautiful depiction of Francis, the zealous and inspired missionary, gazing toward the heavens, surrounded by flame. His missionary voyages took him to Mozambique, India, Malacca (modern-day Malaysia and Indonesia), and China. And in 1549, Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan.

By coincidence, a group of faculty and staff have formed a book group to discuss Silence, a 1966 novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. That choice would be pretty obscure if it weren't for the fact that famed director Martin Scorsese has adapted the novel for the screen and the movie is to be released around Christmas, in time to be considered for next year's Oscars. Silence is the story of two Jesuit missionaries sent on a dangerous mission to Japan in 1638. They follow in the footsteps of Francis to investigate reports that Fr. Cristovao Ferreira has renounced his Catholic faith after undergoing torture. The young priests cannot believe it possible that their beloved mentor and fellow Jesuit could have apostatized. What follows is a story of capture and cruelty and the sternest examination of faith. I recommend the book and am eager to see the film.

I re-read Silence over the Thanksgiving break and its strong link to Francis Xavier made me wonder what we, as a school community that is proud to call itself Xaverian, draw from his example 464 years after his death. What might it mean for a student, teacher, staff member, administrator, alumnus, parent in the early 21st Century to "set the world on fire?"

That's a tough question and theologians would, no doubt, be able to write volumes in response. Within the limitations of a blog posting, I offer this brief observation.

This is a year where we have chosen the spiritual value of humility for special emphasis at Good Counsel. We can take a step towards setting the world on fire when we are mindful of our graced and sinful humanity. It is central to the Good Counsel mission to inspire students to excel but we know that achieving excellence is seldom easy. When we embrace humility, we develop a deeper understanding of what it is to be human. We appreciate that each person we meet is, just like us, a unique combination of gifts, talents and triumphs, but also weaknesses, limitations, and failures. We draw comfort from the fact that Jesus himself experienced weakness, hardship, desolation, suffering, and betrayal; he shares our needs and sorrows. One of my colleagues, Religion teacher Dino Remedios says it this way: "Jesus not only shares in our suffering and hardship of life but meets us there and lifts us up from that very brokenness to the Father who loves us and has a plan for us. In other words, God meets us where we're at but because He loves us, He doesn't leave us there! It is precisely humility that allows me to be receptive to the infinite mercy of God and to be merciful like God."

Perhaps, when we develop a deeper grasp of humility, we are better able to feel with others and, when we need to, to walk with others. It is easy to imagine how much better daily life would be, how much better our school would be, if each of us could let go of the unhealthy judging of others that impedes human relationships and paralyzes the building of community. Humility can lead us to the love of God and the God of love; it has the power to set the world on fire.

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"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Philippians 2:5-11

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