All-School Blog

On compassion

"What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis and that what has been going on in the United States over the period of the last three years, the division, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the division whether it's between black and white, between the poor and the more affluent or between age groups or over the war in ....that we can start to work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country."

Alas, this fine oratory is not drawn from today's political discourse. The missing word is "Vietnam" and the speaker, more than 50 years ago, is Robert F. Kennedy in his last speech before his assassination. A Doonesbury comic strip featured in the Washington Post two Sundays ago offered a more jaundiced view of not-so-compassionate times. The characters in the comic are unfamiliar with notions of "service" and the "common good."

In these times, Good Counsel's special emphasis on the Xaverian Brothers' core value of COMPASSION seems counter-cultural.

What exactly is compassion? In a 2003 Commencement address at Georgetown University, Dr. Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago shared what Aristotle argued long ago, that human compassion standardly requires three thoughts: 1) that a destructive or painful thing has happened to someone else; 2) that this was not (or not entirely) the person's own fault; and 3) that we recognize that we are vulnerable in similar ways.

Feelings of compassion can exhaust us. When we see the suffering of someone dealing with accident, illness, disease, death, or natural disaster, it's natural to feel care, concern, sympathy, empathy, even distress. The devastation caused by Hurricane Florence is a good recent example. When such events occur close to us, our feelings are more intense. We see how easily misfortune might have fallen on us.

We began the year by giving each student a "Compassion" bracelet. Now, halfway through the first quarter, it's good to see the bracelets, handmade by our friends from Las Delicias in El Salvador, are still being worn by many. Of course, while a bracelet may be a helpful reminder, on its own it does not make anyone more compassionate.

Our focus on compassion aims to teach our students to understand their capacity to not just feel compassion but to also act compassionately. There is no shortage of undeserved suffering in the world to help us in that task. Already this year, freshmen have participated in retreats that emphasize service to poor children in Silver Spring. A critical component of those retreats is when students, having returned to campus, spend time processing the experience. Seniors go in small groups to Our Daily Bread in Baltimore where they serve lunch to the poor of the city. Pierre-Louis Joizel, Principal of St Gabriel's in Fontaine, Haiti, spoke last week to student groups about the challenges of running a school in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. These are all opportunities for students to experience feelings of care and concern as well as come to a deeper appreciation of the fact that human life is full of difficult situations that do not have simple solutions.

I observed an especially impactful presentation just over a week ago when Mr. Michael Welch, a member of our Board of Directors, spent the morning speaking about his life at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the poorest place in America. There are many things – the harsh climate, the lack of jobs, the scourge of alcoholism, the high rate of suicide – that are challenging, even discouraging about life on the reservation. Mr. Welch offered his counter-cultural point of view, explaining to students that there's no place he would rather live.

Mr. Welch brought to life the suffering experienced in a place far from Olney, one that few of our students will ever visit. He spurred students to think about weakness and vulnerability as things we hold in common. Our Catholic faith teaches us that all human beings have equal worth. Do we really believe that? I asked Mr. Welch about school groups visiting the reservation. Are they an imposition? A burden? What was interesting was his question in response: Could we come together as equals, acknowledging we all have weaknesses, needs, fears? Anything less than equal terms would only add to feelings of exclusion, shame, and humiliation.

At Good Counsel, we are blessed to be able to facilitate contact for students with people on the margins. The good we do in our many service opportunities is undeniable. Our challenge is to help students understand that acting with compassion by "being with" typically involves a more profound commitment than "giving to" or "doing for." As Catholic educators, our job is to provide language that helps students overcome their fears, encourage the critical thinking that will help them understand what they see, and motivate them to action for justice in our world.

Suffering and marginalization are not all 30 miles away in Baltimore or 1,500 miles away in Pine Ridge, or 3,000 miles away in Las Delicias. Here at home, if we pay attention, we can be a community alert to the suffering of others: students dealing with crippling anxiety; families in financial distress; teachers struggling with care of aging parents. In the spirit of paying attention, I hope students will continue to wear their bracelet all year as a visual cue to choose the path of COMPASSION, to feel and to act for others.

Fueled by compassion, great things are possible. Our Good Counsel mission is to inspire students to excel, serve, and love. Half a century on, may our students' open eyes, ears, and hearts used in service of the common good help bring to fulfillment RFK's vision of a "great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country."

Read more about All-School Blog: Dr. Paul Barker on Compassion

On darts and 60

[The following is an adaptation of remarks by Dr. Paul Barker at the Mass for the Opening of School and 60th Anniversary of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School}

Today is about gratitude. We are grateful for the presence of so many guests this morning – alumni, former faculty and staff, friends. Students, in a majority of cases our guests' connection to Good Counsel goes back to long before any of you were born. I offer a special thank you to the alumni priests who have joined us this morning, spanning 40 years of our school history. Fr. Bob Lawton, Class of '65 is our oldest. Our homilist, Fr. Kevin Fields, Class of '04, is our youngest, ordained in June.

Thank you, too, to my predecessor, Good Counsel's longest-serving President, Mr. Art Raimo, who has joined us this morning from the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, Florida. Also with us are three past principals, Mr. Barry Fitzpatrick, Mr. Charles Dusterhoff, and our Athletic Director Mr. Pat Bates, Class of 1970. Also former Assistant Principal Gail Donahue. From the Xaverian Brothers Sponsored School Network are Executive Director Dr. Patrick Slattery and Formation Director Mr. Ben Horgan. From fellow XBSS school, St. Mary's Ryken, is President Mrs. Mary Joy Hurlburt. Our Board Chair Mr. Phil Mantua, Class of 1976, is here, as is immediate past Chair, Mrs. Rita O'Donnell. Xaverian Brother Mike McCarthy of the Class of 1962 is with us; Brother Mike was a freshman on the day we opened.

On this diamond anniversary, we owe the greatest debt of gratitude to those who founded this school. We give thanks for the twelve Xaverian Brothers and one lay teacher of 1958 who, under the leadership of Br. Mark McCarthy, started what we hold in trust today.

Some of you may be wondering why the big fuss about 60. Fifty? I get it. One hundred? Of course. And, by the way, our centenary is September 8, 2058. Students, not sure I'll make it but you can get it on your calendar now.

Why 60? Well, 60 is a number of significance. 60 seconds in a minute - a lot of time if you're only up by a point in a basketball game and not much at all if you still have five more problems on a math quiz. And just the right amount of time to slow down, be still, and pray in the midst of a busy day. 60 minutes in an hour. How fast can you get from zero to 60?

I invite you to think about a little less obvious 60. Maybe you have noticed how popular the sport of darts is in the UK and Europe. I stumble across it from time to time on some of the cable sports channels; huge, raucous crowds cheering on burly guys throwing tiny spears at a circle less than 8 feet away. Darts is a game most of us have played at least once. As we celebrate turning 60, think darts, particularly what it takes to throw the highest score with a single dart. It's not a bullseye; that scores 50. It's triple 20 for a score of 60. At Good Counsel, we have "made our 60" courtesy of year upon year of the steady hand, the keen eye, the true aim, and the occasional bit of luck. The steady hand that guided us through the turbulent 1960s, the steep decline in the number of Brothers, and the recessions of the 1980s and 2000s. The keen eye that saw the need to welcome girls in 1988 and move from Wheaton to Olney in 2007. The true aim that recognizes that what sets us apart is faithfulness to the approach to education handed down to us by the Xaverian Brothers.

Brothers like Mark McCarthy, Charles Borromeo, Bonaventure Scully, and Barry Fitzpatrick set the early direction for our school as a learning community committed to innovation. In the mid-80's, the Brothers turned leadership over to laymen. Mike Murphy, Charles Dusterhoff, Pat Bates, Art Raimo, Jack Graham, and Tom Campbell have exercised the leadership that has helped Good Counsel establish the reputation for excellence it has today. The real work, of course, gets done by amazing faculty and staff, many of whom have devoted a working life to this school – names like Kolar, Burns, Seel, Essig, Dalphonse. In the common, ordinary, everyday routine of a school day my colleagues bring to life the motto of the Xaverian Brothers: In harmony, small things grow.

And how we have grown. Who among Brother Mike and 256 other students there when the doors opened for the very first time on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton on September 8, 1958, could have imagined that Our Lady of Good Counsel High School would ever become the largest private high school in Maryland with 1,277 students and 12,235 alumni.

Students, you will continue to hear about 60 throughout this year. You've already looked fabulous making a human "60" for the drone photo a week and a half ago. The 60thanniversary logo is on the back of your t-shirt and the new banners on the driveway. Today, we look back. Throughout this school year, whenever you see and hear about Good Counsel at 60, remember the game of darts and let "60" inspire you to look forward. Think 60. Every 60 seconds, every 60 minutes, how steady is my hand, how keen is my eye, how true is my aim in the quest to become my best self as a GC Falcon?

Each one of us present here today is part of a 60-year story. Our collective hope, on this special day, is that Our Lady of Good Counsel High School will continue to be a community firm in its commitment to inspire young people to excel, serve, and love – today, tomorrow, and for the next 60 years. May God bless us all.

Read more about 60th Anniversary Remarks by Dr. Paul Barker

Graduation address to Class of 2018 by President Dr. Paul Barker

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – May 24, 2018

Present with us today are members of the Class of 1968, our newest Golden Falcons, still bonded to Good Counsel fifty years after their graduation. Graduates, before you try to imagine being a Golden Falcon yourself in 2068, reflect a moment on the year these men graduated. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gunned down on the balcony of a Memphis motel. Days of riots in DC ensue, as close as two miles from here. Robert Kennedy shot in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel. Student protests about an unpopular war in Vietnam. Extraordinary times. Today, these men see you, in all your promise, and dream of five decades ago when they were just like you. Thank you, Class of '68. We are honored by your presence.

Back in November, I was visiting alumni in Tampa, Florida. Between appointments, I had a couple of hours to kill. I love second-hand bookstores and found one in a strip mall. It did not look promising, but I asked. Any New Zealand fiction? No. Any horse racing? No. Any South Polar exploration? Well, yes, we have a 1914 first edition of Scott's Final Expedition.

I know, I know, a bit of a nerd. So, who is Captain Scott? Only one of the bravest explorers of the 20th Century. In 1912, Scott and four companions sought to be the first men to reach the South Pole. They did so on foot, man-hauling everything they needed. They reached the Pole only to find their Norwegian rivals had beaten them by a few weeks. Then, on the return journey, Scott's team perished one by one. After a trek of more than 1,500 miles and only 11 miles from safety, marooned in their tent by a days-long blizzard, Scott was the last of his party to succumb. I read about this story when I was in middle school. I have been inspired ever since by its example of heroism, hardihood and endurance.

So, back to the book. I opened it and noticed it was inscribed: This work is presented to my son Julius F. Stone Jr. in the confident hope that he, if ever placed in the difficult and responsible position of leadership, will meet that requirement as nobly and as completely as did Captain Scott. Julius F. Stone. June 20th, 1914.

Go to Google. I learned that Julius Stone was an Ohio industrialist. The book was inscribed to his 13-year-old son. Stone wanted him to be inspired. We can relate. We look at you today filled with "confident hope" about who you are and what you can become and pray that you, too, with open hearts and minds, may be inspired.

Back to that book again. On its own, the inscription would have been a lovely touch, sweet, but otherwise unmemorable. But there was a second entry in the same cursive script, dated April 18th, 1933. Julius F. Stone wrote again, to his now 32-year-old son: After hugging this fond delusion for almost twenty years I here regretfully record the fact that he has made a complete failure of all his opportunities.

Whoa! What had Julius Jr. done to merit getting crushed like this 19 years after Dad's expression of "confident hope"? Go to Google. At 32, Julius Jr., this "complete failure," had earned a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Harvard. He had made a fortune in the stock market. In 1933, the country was still in the grips of the Great Depression. Julius had indeed been in the "difficult and responsible position of leadership" as federal relief administrator for Florida. He is credited with almost single-handedly turning Key West from a poverty-stricken outpost into the lively tourist magnet it is today. Oh, and four years later, he was back at Harvard completing a law degree. We'll never know why Julius judged Julius Jr. so harshly.

My takeaway is simple. We – your parents, your teachers – will always share what has inspired us, because we cherish the hope it will inspire you, too. It's what we do. We want you to be inspired. Experience tells us it is ultimately not ours to determine what is going to light your fire. Today, rather than dictate your inspiration, we look forward in the "confident hope" that your Good Counsel education has you well-prepared in the truest sense, as loving good persons, who, even alone, can make a difference. We believe you can be inspiring.

Your day to be inspiring to the world might be years away. I note from the yearbook that TJ and Keelin were voted Most Likely to Become President, and that could take a while. Some of you are inspiring today. We have just heard the extraordinary Rhiannan. We have just honored Frank who came from the other side of the world to excel, serve and love as a Falcon. We have seen how Kyle raised huge dollars for the fight against cancer. We have been shown by Caterina and Quincy how to mobilize on issues facing our society. And we have watched so many of you on the stage, the field, the court and just know there are 5th and 6th graders out there who want to be you. Be inspiring.

In what "difficult and responsible position of leadership" will you be placed? We have no idea. We end this Mass and Commencement four days after the feast of Pentecost – the commemoration of the divine moment that inspired the Church into existence – with a prayer that expresses our "confident hope": Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.

Be inspired. Be inspiring. God speed, Class of 2018.

Read more about All-School Blog: Dr. Paul Barker's Graduation Address

By Dr. Paul Barker

A photo from February 2013 made me smile this weekend. The picture is of three seniors and me, all lookin' swell in our bow ties.

The occasion was a National Letter of Intent signing breakfast, something we celebrate a few times each year. We recognize athletic gifts, years of preparation and dedication, and the support of family, coaches, teachers, and peers that have resulted in a college athletic opportunity. Moms and Dads can't get enough of the picture taking on such a proud day. Honor, prestige, and, mercifully, financial relief.

What athletic potential will yield in four or five years is, of course, unknowable at the time of signing. Student-athletes head to college wondering: Did I pick the right school? Will my skills measure up? Will I stay injury-free? Will the coach and I get along? Will our team be a winner? Will I get a chance to lead? Will I be able to manage the workload?

We are now at the time of year when each senior is asking similar questions. Days remaining at Good Counsel are few; students know the tally. Many things vie for attention. Prom is in the rear-view mirror. IB exams started last Friday, and AP exams are just around the corner. Senior Retreat is at the end of this week. Playoffs draw near for spring athletes. Maybe there's even been a family conversation about where to go for lunch after graduation.

And by tomorrow, students pondering multiple acceptances must decide which college it's going to be. It's time for movin' on. And, no matter how well we prepare, none of us knows just how it's all going to turn out.

The NFL draft was held this past weekend. That's what made me smile. For three Falcons, five years on from graduation, things have turned out very well.

In the photo, Kendall Fuller is on the left. Kendall went to Virginia Tech, was drafted two years ago by the Redskins, and was recently traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Next is Andre Levrone who played at Virginia and was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens. And, on the right is Dorian O'Daniel, winner of a College Football National Championship while at Clemson, and drafted with Pick #100 by the Chiefs.

Back in 2013, these young men were undeniably full of promise. Still, knowing how many things have to go right if you're going to make it to the top, you would have gotten long odds on all three of this bow tie brigade making it to the pros. They made it!

As we bring this year to a close, I pray for the unknowable futures of the Class of 2018. And I hope that some years down the road I will look at photos from their GC days that make me smile in recognition of dreams fulfilled.

Read more about All-School Blog: On A Photo from 2013

On being a safe place

I am tremendously encouraged by the coming together of student voices across the country to provide a powerful spur for meaningful action from government.

Here at Good Counsel, students Helton Rodriguez and Caterina Ieronimo were quick to step forward with ideas about how our community could respond to this latest national tragedy. Teach-ins have already taken place. Talon journalist Alexia Ayuk secured an interview with Senator Van Hollen to ask tough questions about legislative action. In solidarity, we will participate in next Wednesday's National Walk Out in a way that reflects our most deeply held values and our Catholic identity. Unless the weather interferes, we plan to walk out to our recently completed grotto. There, we will spend 17 minutes in a prayer service for peace.

In the aftermath of Parkland, I suspect every school is taking a hard look at its security procedures. We are. Our students felt Parkland keenly. Their seriousness was evident when we held a lockdown drill last week. I walked much of the building; you could have heard a pin drop. Our practices have been analyzed by a senior Montgomery County Police officer and he has made a number of suggestions that reflect the latest police thinking about school security. There's more to come on that.

Yet for all the adjustments to align with best practices for a safe school environment, those of us who are in schools every day realize the near impossibility of making our schools impregnable. We are a school, not a fortress.

Our reaction to school violence is visceral. There are other less visible threats to maintaining a safe and secure school. We live in a state where it seems legal recreational use of marijuana is not far away from becoming a reality. The old stereotype of students smoking in the bathroom seems like an almost quaint throwback. Today, there are multiple threats that exist below the radar – opioid painkillers, small and odorless vaping devices, edibles that are indistinguishable from any other cookie or brownie.

And, earlier this week, the National Association of Independent Schools published Prevention and Response: Recommendations for Independent School Leaders from the Independent School Task Force on Educator Sexual Misconduct. The document, developed over the past 18 months, is a powerful call for every school to be vigilant and have clear expectations, sound policy and procedure, and consistent training in the effort to protect students from harassment, abuse and other forms of misconduct.

Year in and year out, surveys of parents come up with the same three reasons why families choose Catholic schools: rigorous academics, values, and safety. Our families trust us to deliver on all three.

My colleague, Principal Tom Campbell wrote a letter to the community recently in which he addressed some of these same issues and provided valuable resources.

I write this letter to reiterate the commitment we make at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School to meet your fundamental expectation that we will do our utmost every day to maintain a safe, secure and healthy environment for all our students. Only in such a context can we carry out our mission: to inspire our students to excel, serve, and love.

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