Feast of St. Francis Xavier
Yesterday was a day to give special thanks for the gift of the faculty and staff of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.
Our school community gathered to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, patron of the Xaverian Brothers. As is our tradition, at the end of this Mass we recognized employees celebrating 5, 10, 15, all the way to 40 years of service to Good Counsel. After that, we presented the Theodore James Ryken Award. The award is made in each of the thirteen Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools to "an adult member of the school community who by her or his commitment and dedication lives the mission of the Xaverian charism." This year's honoree is Walter Tombini of our Maintenance Department.
Born in Argentina, Walter had a professional soccer career in his homeland, as well as Guatemala and El Salvador, before arriving in the US to play for the Washington Diplomats in 1986. When his pro career was over, Walter found his way to our facilities staff where he has been a tower of strength for almost 30 years. Both my colleagues and the many students who have played in our soccer program over the years can attest to the kindness and humility of Walter. Athletic Director Pat Bates says, "He will do anything you ask him." Dean of Students Ana Lopez says it, too: "There's nothing that's asked of him that he's not willing to do."
Mr. Bates recalls an example of Walter's humility. Walter would occasionally join in for soccer during Mr. Bates' Team Sports class. Walter would never shoot the ball himself. He was only interested in passing the ball and setting students up for a shot. Once, when another staff member joined in and seemed to want to run students over and light up the scoreboard, Walter kicked him off the team.
Our Building Services Manager Jorge Gonzalez describes Walter as "a person of trust, with a big heart, ready to help anyone who is in need, even if that person is unknown to him."
Walter loves to shake hands. If you've ever had the pleasure, you can probably recall how tiny your hand seems when Walter's giant mitt wraps around it.
However, at heart, Walter is really more of a hugger. Girls Varsity Soccer Coach Jim Bruno recalls: "Earlier this year when we beat St. John's he was so excited, he grabbed me and gave me a hug that I thought broke a few of my ribs."
I shared with the students a story from three years ago when Pope Francis was visiting DC. I invited Walter to accompany a group of students to greet his countryman, the Holy Father. Walter was overcome with the thought that he might get to see Pope Francis up close. That got me a rib-cracking hug.
Walter got what he wanted. Pictures of the Walter & Francis moment outside the Vatican Embassy appeared in newspapers across the world. We made a short video titled, Walter Tombini – The who hugged the Pope in which Walter tells his story. He is not entirely accurate. He refers to Pope Francis giving him the hug. The video evidence suggests it was the other way round as Walter pulls the Holy Father in tight to him and holds on for five seconds before giving Francis a kiss on the cheek.
On this day when we remember the Church's great missionary saint, we are delighted to recognize one person in a special way. As I reflect on how Walter embodies the core Xaverian values of simplicity, humility, compassion, zeal and trust, I am also reminded that he has plenty of company. Our Lady of Good Counsel High School is built on the talent and commitment of my colleagues who in the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life deliver on our mission: We inspire our students to excel, serve, and love.
As you read this letter perhaps an influential teacher, coach, director, or mentor has come to mind. I encourage you to offer a prayer of thanks today for these modern-day missionaries who, like Francis Xavier, have played a role in helping us to go and set the world on fire.
Paul G. Barker, Ed.D.