Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

24 February 2013

A Nativity Alumnus Gratefully Reflects

Patient Reader,
If anyone from my pre-sacerdotal past (1976-2003) reads my blog, he or she will know that I graduated from Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary High School in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  Recently my alma mater has been experiencing decreased enrollment and financial troubles.  In an effort to assess the current situation with a view to making an informed decision on Nativity's future, Bishop Barres appointed a commission to study and plan for what we pray is a successful future.  His recent letter to the NBVM community is encouraging.  The Development Office has asked alumni to compose testimonial letters that share the good things Nativity has done for them.  With some revisions and amplifications, here is my offering.
St. Clair Catholic: Now a parking lot and a lovely grotto to Our Lady

When I transferred to Saint Clair Catholic Elementary School in seventh grade, I wanted to continue my Catholic education at Nativity, despite the considerable financial sacrifices on the horizon.  Those sacrifices were worth the quality of formation that Nativity would offer.  (Since I first learned of the term “formation” in the seminary, I have preferred it for its comprehensive nature: spiritual, intellectual, athletic, artistic, interpersonal, and emotional.)  Spoiled with two years of daily religion class, regular access to Mass and Reconciliation, and an intimate, caring atmosphere at St. Clair Catholic, Nativity seemed the best option for me.
Our old Band uniform, mercifully saved from the furnace
Mr. Jacobs, Nativity’s Band Director, visited the "feeder schools" to offer music lessons and recruit band members.  Fresh from the decent music program of the Saint Clair Area School District (in whose high school band I was playing—clarinet and then trumpet—since fifth grade), I was eager to become involved with Nativity’s band, and Mr. Jacobs warmly welcomed me.  Thus began a long and nourishing friendship with Mr. Jacobs and dozens of band members and music educators.  In high school I branched out into vocal performance and drama, singing in the chorus and “folk guitar” groups and acting in our annual spring shows.  Music has always had a beneficial influence in terms of the company I enjoy, my relationship with the Lord, and the embrace of my calling.
St. Casimir Parish (1912-2008)
My interest in the priesthood dates back to age five or so.  My parish, Saint Casimir in Saint Clair, had only three priests in the 21 years between Kindergarten and my Ordination.  All of them were stellar examples of holiness and humanity.  Father Jankaitis was our pastor from 1986 until 2008, when the parish merged with the others in town.  “Father J” was happy to serve the Lord and His people, and it showed.  He was always supportive of my family and my vocation.  His dual assignment to Nativity (where he later became principal) further encouraged my enrollment there.  Father J always looked out for me.  His greetings in the hallway, pats on the back, and even his playful banter helped to show me that Catholics in general, and Catholic priests in particular, were a joyful bunch worth joining.

Among the classes of 1993 through 1997, there are (so far) a total of six Catholic or Orthodox priests. Some may claim that faith and devotion are "in the water" in Schuylkill County.  I can say that there are many faithful families, and Nativity's spiritual, academic, and extracurricular formation played a considerable part.
Fr. Jankaitis vesting me upon my ordination to the Priesthood (7 June 2003)
One story about Fr. Jankaitis’ Vocations class stands out.  The day after my mother took me out for some practice driving “up the Burma” (i.e., the Burma Road, which leads eastward out of St. Clair toward Mahanoy City), the first words out of Father’s mouth after the opening prayer were a narration about a really slow driver he trailed up the Burma for a good spell.  I knew the tortoise in his tale, and soon everyone else did!

As a sacristan my job was to take care of the chapel and to help set up the gym for school-wide Masses.  This responsibility further increased my familiarity with divine worship and with the priests at school.  The harder work of dragging out the carpet and pushing the altar was balanced by changing altar linens and setting up the liturgical books.  One day I asked to vacuum the sanctuary while everyone else was enjoying Field Day outside.  (Misplaced priorities!)  I accidentally banged the vacuum into the iron “chi-rho” under the altar, breaking it clear off the altar!  Fortunately my friend John, the head sacristan at the time, was able to take it home and devise a way to re-solder it without great delay.
A window in Nativity's Chapel

From an early age my greatest aspiration was to be older.  I was more comfortable conversing with adults than my own peers.  While I tended to have more friends in the upper classes, I came to recognize the varied gifts and interests of my classmates (especially those I myself did not have) and to share my own with greater confidence.  As a close-knit school community, Nativity’s games, shows, concerts, plays, and other activities brought us together, before, during, and after school, oftentimes many times a week.

I truly enjoyed all my teachers at Nativity.  Father Onushco, Fr. Flanagan, and Fr. Jankaitis gave me a sound foundation in the Catholic faith and a respect for the priest-as-teacher.  (+) Sister Joseph Annetta, S.S.J., Mr. Ward, and Mr. Repella shared their love for the structure, words, and literature of the English language.  Father Braudis (Latin) and Mrs. Schwenk (French) expanded my appreciation for language, which I bring to bear in every aspect of my life.  Mr. Fedoriska and (+) Mr. Norton imparted a love for history and its relevance for the modern world.  Sister Patricia Ash, S.S.J., Ms. Jones, and Sister Paula Gallant, D.C. challenged me to greater appreciation for the intricacy that the Creator instilled in the material realm.  Mrs. Sabol, her husband  “Doc” Sabol, and Mr. Strause shared their facility with numbers and spatial relations, and I continue to appreciate their subject matter, even though at a distance!  Mrs. Bednar helped me to type with two hands (that means a lot, given all the time I spend at the non-musical keyboard).  Coach Shields and Mrs. Weidman were patient with my sluggishness and awkwardness; I hope they’d be happy to know that physical fitness has become a staple in my life.  Although I didn’t have the pleasure of being taught by all the teachers at Nativity during those four years, I respected them and continue to wish them every blessing from above.

The recent concern with Nativity’s enrollment and finances has mobilized her present and past family to take clear steps to insure her future contribution to Catholic education in Schuylkill County.  Grateful for what Nativity has done for me and for what I have been able to do as a student and alumnus, I pray that my Alma Mater will continue to thrive for generations to come as a much-needed stalwart Catholic presence in Schuylkill County.  I pray that alumni, parents, and children alike will commit to whatever sacrifices are necessary.

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