Jenny Bruns: Xavier Day 2017 and Ut Omnes Unum Sint

November 30, 2017

Jenny Bruns is a graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati and Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.

When one drives up the road leading to Xavier High School, one comes across a sign that beckons “Ut Omnes Unum Sint.”  This phrase is ubiquitous on campus, and most commonly heard in the Xavier Welcome Song.  Taken from John 17:21, this Latin phrase meaning “that all may be one” was chosen as the school’s motto since the doors opened on Mabuchi Hill in 1952.  Xavier High School is home to students from all over the Pacific, and transforms them into competent, conscientious, and compassionate leaders.  Each student brings to Xavier his or her own language, dances, and cultural norms.  This, in turn, transforms Xavier into a diverse learning environment and collective family.  Ut onmes unum sint could not be a more perfect phrase to represent the life and mission of St. Francis Xavier, whose feast we celebrate at school this Friday (two days early due to his feast falling on a Sunday this year).

St. Francis Xavier embodied the notion of unity in diversity in his missionary work.  St. Ignatius asked him to embark on a journey that led him to India, Japan, and the doorsteps of China.  He baptized thousands into the faith.  He was successful because of his ability to become one with those he served.  He allowed their differences to unite rather than divide.  He is known for his skill of inculturation and his passion for learning the cultures he encountered and integrating himself into them.  It is only fitting that this diverse school carries his namesake.

Throughout the world, one can find many other schools named after Saint Francis Xavier.  Some of these include Xavier University—Ateneo de Cagayan in the Philippines, Colegio Javier in Ecuador, and my alma mater, Xavier University in Cincinnati, where I first learned of the life of St. Francis Xavier.  It was there that I began to truly discover the value of the uniqueness of others, the importance of celebrating diversity and the beauty of finding unity in our differences and commonalities.  I see the same spirit of St. Francis Xavier alive and present here at Xavier High School Micronesia—miles away from the Xavier in Cincinnati, yet united in the footsteps of the patron saint of the missions.

December 3rd is a day to celebrate and commemorate the mission work and life of Saint Francis Xavier.  We will join many schools throughout the world in solidarity through prayer, reflection, and, in our case, friendly competition.  Island games, including long jumping, human pyramids, coconut husking, basket weaving, and relay races are among crowd favorites. The freshmen pair up with the seniors to try to claim victory over the juniors and sophomores, with each team challenging the other to cheer battles and dance offs. It is a day filled with laughter, companionship, and school spirit.  This is the essence of kinship, and one that is truly enriched through our diversity.

Just like we begin every school day, Xavier Day will begin with the raising of seven flags, each representing the respective districts from where we draw our students.  This not only represents pride is our home isles, but represents unity—standing tall and firm—together.  Xavier Day serves as a reminder and a celebration that we on Mabuchi Hill live out our pride, and that all may be one.

Saint Francis Xavier, pray for us.

Summer 2017 Highlights

September 25, 2017

Rita Mae Keller at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Rita Mae Keller, Class of 2019

Attending the Junior Statesman Program at Princeton University was a great privilege, despite the sleepless nights because of presentations, debates, essays, and tests that came one after the other.  Some of the privileges were excursions we made away from Princeton’s beautiful campus.  We visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, as well as the United Nations Headquarters and National September 11 Museum in New York City.

It was a blessing to be a part of JSA as I was able to study at a world class university, and visit places I never dreamed I’d ever go. Being surrounded by fellow high school students and college professors from all over the world not only gave me the chance to learn about the world we live in, but it  also gave me the chance to learn about the way modern society developed.   I saw many historical landmarks that tell the stories from points of view other than my own. Being at JSA with students from outside of Micronesia created an intellectually stimulating, diverse, and enjoyable community.  I will be forever grateful for the friendship, experiences, and knowledge I gained at Princeton last summer.

 

Kedul Andreas at Princeton University.

Kedul Andreas, Class of 2019

Even though I received a full scholarship to attend the Junior Statesman Summer School Program at Princeton University, the notion that I’d be leaving Micronesia for the summer had me a bit upset.  I was afraid I would not have enough time to enjoy my summer vacation.  My attitude changed when I arrived on Princeton’s campus.  JSA instead turned out to be the highlight of my summer “vacation.”

The forty-page readings, presentations, research papers, debates, and many other things challenged us a great deal.  Admittedly, the workload sometimes felt overwhelming.  Because of the people that were there with me, though, I completed all my assignments and turned them in on time.  I learned a great deal last summer, and I enjoyed the challenge.

The experience at Princeton gave me a taste of what college life could be like, and because of that experience, I feel like I am a little more prepared for what college might have in store.  Even though I wasn’t sure I had made right the decision to go, the hardest part of the program was leaving.  Princeton had become my home. I will never forget the challenges and fun times which made it one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

 

 

Chloe Arnold aboard the exploratory vessel “Ocean Endeavor.”

Chloe Arnold, Class of 2018

The Students on Ice expedition to the Arctic was a dream come true for me.  It taught me to get out of my comfort zone and experience new things.

I was given the chance to learn more about the impacts of climate change.  I knew about the effects of climate change on the Pacific, but I was not aware of how it also affects life in the Arctic.  Being concerned with climate change, this expedition gave me the opportunity to learn about it firsthand.  I hope that the experience will inspire others to help prevent further damage to our planet.

Every day on the expedition was a new day of learning.  We did not just stay at sea; we also went on land excursions. I witnessed an announcement of a new marine conservation area, and joined several Isuma (Inuit) workshops.  These workshops included art, writing, and handicrafts. There were also workshops on the history of the people in the Arctic, as well as the flora and fauna there. I was able to learn about how difficult the colonial period was for the Inuit people. Families were separated because of disease and poor treatment by Europeans, and yet they held onto their culture.  The science workshops taught us about the living organisms in the North Pole.  I was able to see the animals that live there, and I learned about the migration of new species into the Arctic ocean.

This program was astonishing. The many different opportunities it offered truly shaped all of the participants and helped us think about our goals for the future. I met so many wonderful students from all over the world. We were all from different countries and yet we had a great deal in common. I gained a great deal of knowledge on climate change and the life and history of the Arctic. This was indeed an experience of a lifetime.

 

Karen Ehems holding a piece of ice in the Arctic.

 

Karen Neva Ehmens, Class of 2018

Imagine three Micronesian teenage students walking on ice and swimming in the Arctic.  Perhaps it seems impossible but it is possible!  In fact, I was one of three islanders to do so over the summer.

Students on Ice is a program that recruits students from all over the world to participate in an expedition in the Arctic and in Antarctica.  This summer, I was selected to participate, with two other Micronesians, in an expedition in the Arctic. The Arctic expedition consists of going up to Resolute Bay in northern Canada by plane, then boarding the expedition ship “Ocean Endeavour,” and exploring the Canadian Arctic and Greenland.

This trip was powerful and life-changing.  I learned a great deal of information about Inuit life, climate change, and even my own mental health and wellness.  This learning experience helped me see the world with a better perspective and to be less judgmental.  There are many people in this world who see things differently than I might.

I also learned about science and biology, reconciliation, Inuit history, and cultures of other countries.  Just by sitting with someone at the dining room table or another part of the ship, I learned so much.  As one of the girls I met said, “Staying on this ship is like staying with a bunch of encyclopedias. When I don’t know something, I just look to my right and someone is going to know at least a little about it.”

This trip was the best experience of my life and I recommend anyone else who has a similar opportunity to take advantage of it.  It’s worth it.

 

From the President: September 2017

September 1, 2017

 

 

 

Back in my teaching days, I loved teaching freshmen.  I loved watching them arrive at the end of the summer, full of trepidation.  I loved watching them grow accustomed to life at a Jesuit high school, and seeing that nervousness slowly fade away.  I loved watching them come to realize how talented they were and obliterate whatever narrow self-image they may have concocted about themselves before their arrival.  I enjoyed seeing them after Christmas break, flabbergasted that a young teen could grow so much over two weeks’ time.  I loved checking in with them after that first year, as well, and watching young people begin to make the transformation into adulthood.

On the first day of school, one of my favorite things to do between the time freshmen were funneling in to my classroom and before our first class together was underway, was to blast Earth, Wind, and Fire’s 1978 hit, “September.”  There were, of course, almost no freshmen who had ever heard that song—their own parents were probably not yet in high school when it was topping the charts.  (I wasn’t even alive myself.)  I don’t know why I started playing that song on the first day of classes, other than to lower their anxiety level, hopefully.  Since then, though, even when I returned to school as a student again, that song has made me think of the beginning of a new school year.

Last week, I found myself humming “September” in my office, as one load of kids after another made its way off different United flights (or the new Air New Niugini flights from the east), and lugged their possessions to school or to their sponsors’ houses.  It struck me that I knew very few lyrics to the song, so I looked them up.  I found the words to open the second verse apropos to annual repopulation of Mabuchi Hill:

“My thoughts are with you

Holding hands with your heart to see you.”

And then the opening of verse three:

“The bell was ringing

Our souls were singing.”

It was great to see so many smiling faces as students returned to see one another.  There is a great distance between these islands we call home.  This summer, some students went even farther away than the Rock Islands, Nan Madol, or Ebeye.  Senior Trey Techitong spent his summer at Stanford University in California completing the Junior Statesmen of America summer school program.  Juniors Rita Keller and Kedul Andreas braved the wilds of New Jersey, as they attended the same program at Princeton University.  When I asked Rita, who is from Pohnpei, what she thought of New York City during her trip there, she said, “Father, it was even better than the movies.” Not to be outdone, Karen Ehmes and Chloe Arnold spent their summer in the Artic as part of the Coral and Ice Exchange Program to see how global warming is affecting our beloved Pacific as well as the polar ice caps.  Even as we were seemingly all over the globe this summer, our thoughts were with one another.  It’s nice to witness the students holding hands and happy to see one another again.  “May it last,” I keep telling myself.

And now the school bell on the roof is ringing again—from the first bell in the morning until lights out at night.  The campus is filled with the familiar songs that anyone who has spent time here knows by heart.  Mr. Naoki Ochi, S.J., this year’s choir master, is trying to teach this generation of Xavierites some new tunes, and it was nice to hear some of them at the Mass of the Holy Spirit this last Wednesday.  Our souls are singing, indeed.  What a wonderful sound.

As you and/or your loved ones return to school this September, please know you are in our prayers.  Our thoughts are with you.  If we haven’t seen one another in a while, we’re looking forward to the next time.  As the school bells ring, please know that the souls of Xavier High School are singing loudly for you during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Thank you, as always, for your support for us.

For Xavier,

 

 

Fr. Dennis M. Baker, S.J.

From the Director: Easter 2017

May 24, 2017

 

Fr. Baker, S.J., sitting atop a new Ford 550 flatbed truck, acquired through a generous donation from the Aja and Pat Stokes Foundation.

 

Feast of the Ascension, 2017

Dear Friends of Xavier,

Greetings from Mabuchi Hill.

My colleague and friend, Mr. Jack Raslowsky, the president of the “other” Xavier—Xavier High School in New York City—wrote in his Easter message to his community that he is often unsure of when to pen his Easter missive.  With Lent and the Easter season lasting so long, there are plenty of opportunities.  I share Jack’s sentiment that finding the exact time for an Easter message can be a challenge, but I think I have found a time suitable for us this year:  the feast of the Ascension.

Other than describing Jesus’ physical body moving to heaven, the Ascension also lets us know that the season of Easter is almost complete; only ten days remain until Pentecost, which will bring this holy season to a close.  In many ways, we find ourselves here at Xavier at a somewhat analogous point in the school year.  Tomorrow marks the last day of classes, and final exams will begin on Monday.  After that, it will be on to the senior retreat, the awards ceremony, the baccalaureate Mass, and, finally, graduation.  We’re close to the end, but there is much that will happen between now and then, just as I am sure much happened to those disciples between witnessing the Ascension and the appearance of the tongues of fire at Pentecost.

There is so much to report, but here is just some of the good news worthy of sharing lately:

 

  • The inaugural Easter Appeal was a great success. Thank you to everyone who donated to such a worthwhile cause.  As you know, we set the goal at $12,000 to update the classrooms with projectors, screens, and speakers.  With your generosity, we surpassed our goal, and finished the appeal with $12,576.11.  We’ve already ordered much of the equipment and hardware.  Wylly Suhendra, S.J., a Jesuit scholastic from the Indonesian Province, will work with our maintenance crew this summer to have everything installed and running smoothly for the 2017-2018 school year and beyond.

 

  • Speaking of donations, we will close our fiscal year having received $260,746.73 in gifts.  I’ve found people’s generosity this year completely staggering.  We’ve purchased two desperately needed trucks, in addition to lots of other, smaller supplies that we simply could not afford in the past.  We were able to make several off-island retreats with students and faculty, and we were able to hold a school picnic on the island of Pisiwe.  Without the generosity of so many, we simply would have had to do without many things this year, and that would have been tragic.  What we’ve experienced instead has been deep joy, and a fostering of our great Xavier community spirit.

 

  • On the college front, 95.5% (43 of 45 students) of the Class of 2017 was accepted into four-year colleges in the United States. As a group, the class was awarded $3,925,695 dollars in merit-based aid and scholarships, and many more dollars in other kinds of financial aid.  The generosity of so many continues well after our students are done at Xavier.

 

As we approach the end of the Easter season and simultaneously draw nearer to the joyous events surrounding graduation, I find myself filled with gratitude.  Gratitude is an emotion that is deeply engrained in Ignatian spirituality, for Ignatius knew that gratitude is an authentic emotion.  I am grateful for the incredible generosity shown to us in providing such tremendous financial support.  I’m grateful to the colleges and universities who have shown themselves exceedingly willing to take chances on our very deserving students.  I’m grateful for our tireless faculty who give so much to our students, knowing that their reward lies not in riches, honor, or pride, but in the unbreakable bonds they’ve formed with the students and with one another.  I’m grateful for the staff and other workers who toil without much rest.  I’m grateful that God’s presence and loving plan for the world is alive and well here.  This is a great place because of the love shown to us from around the world.

Happy Easter.  Thank you for all you do for us.

For Xavier,

 

 

Rev. Dennis M. Baker, S.J.

 

Professor David Campion: Traversing the Globe, from Xavier to Xavier

April 30, 2017

Left to right: Fr. Tom Benz, S.J., Professor David Campion, Mr. Martin Carl.

It is the start of the school day at Xavier High School and the bell has rung calling students to morning assembly.  After an opening prayer and the day’s announcements, the faculty and students adjourn to their classrooms to begin an intense series of hour-long classes across a range of subjects including world history, pre-calculus, religion, physics, and literature.  When classes conclude in the afternoon, the day continues with extra-curricular projects, intramural basketball games, and campus ministry activities.  Each day the Jesuit and lay faculty of Xavier dedicate themselves to their students, leading them through the rigorous study of the arts, humanities and sciences, preparing them for academic success at the college level, instilling in them the values of teamwork and fairness on the playing field, and—most importantly—helping them develop into conscientious “men and women for others.”

This is Xavier High School in Chuuk, Micronesia.  It is a testament to the missionary zeal of the school’s namesake that such a thriving Jesuit apostolate exists in so remote a location.  Micronesia, located within the Caroline Islands—a sparsely populated scattering of island groups spread across 1,500 miles in the Western Pacific yet practically invisible on a world map.  The school’s location on a breezy, palm-fringed hilltop overlooking the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean could hardly be further from the concrete and glass canyon of Sixteenth Street in the heart of Gotham where I was once a Xavier student.  Yet in many ways the similarities between the two Xaviers are as striking as the contrasts.

I came to Xavier Micronesia this spring while on sabbatical from my college to immerse myself in some meaningful volunteer work, to reflect upon my own career as an educator, to experience an unfamiliar part of the world, and—above all—to reconnect with the tradition of Jesuit secondary education that formed me as a student, a teacher, and a person.  That this opportunity came only weeks before my 30-year reunion at Xavier New York seemed especially well timed.

During my two weeks at Xavier Micronesia I gave lectures in history classes, held college advising sessions for seniors and a faculty development workshop, and participated in a variety of extra curricular activities.  Throughout the experience I was constantly impressed by the commitment of the faculty, the enthusiasm and drive of the students, the verdant beauty of the location, and the formidable challenges in delivering a top-quality education in so isolated a setting.

Xavier High School has an impressive if unlikely history.  Founded by American Jesuits in 1952, the school is housed in a former WWII-era Japanese communication center that was miraculously spared destruction during the Pacific campaigns and was later given over to the New York Province of the Society of Jesus.  In the past half-century the two Xaviers are perhaps most closely connected by the individual Jesuits who have given years of service to both schools.  Xavier Micronesia, a co-ed, residential institution, it is widely considered among the best secondary schools in the Western Pacific.  It admits the top students from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau—three recently independent countries that were once US trust territories.  The faculty draws from a diverse mix of laypeople, priests, and scholastics from the United States, Micronesia, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, and Japan.  Many of the lay teachers are recent college graduates only a few years older than their students.

There were many instances during my stay at Xavier Micronesia that seemed to transport me back to my own days as a Xavier student: the blur of school uniforms during the rush between classes, the student Masses, the glass display cases housing dozens of shiny athletic trophies, the palpable anxiety before a standardized test for college admission, the rigorous review of equations in a math class, the animated lunchroom conversations, and the many other moments of excitement, contemplation, humor, controlled chaos, and hard work that make up each day.

Yet the differences could also be quite stark.  In my time at Xavier New York my fellow students and I often noted the subtle distinctions among us depending on which of the five boroughs or New Jersey we hailed from.  At Xavier Micronesia, however, most students leave home from islands that are hundreds of miles away, with their own distinct cultures and languages.  Even a journey to the Mortlock Islands, located within the same state as Xavier, takes over 24 hours by boat.  Xavier Micronesia, situated in an isolated and developing country, also faces basic supply and infrastructure issues that most New Yorkers could hardly imagine.  A poorly maintained road and unreliable power grid are a constant challenge added to which is the risk of destructive typhoons that sweep through the region periodically.

While some of the challenges faced by Xavier Micronesia are unique to its circumstances, others it shares with its New York counterpart.  Foremost is the never-ending task of raising sufficient funds to repair, renovate, or replace an aging physical plant, pay for supplies, keep up with technological innovation, and ensure that a Xavier education remains affordable for students from families with limited resources.  All students at Xavier Micronesia receive financial support to cover the cost of their education.  Graduating seniors also require generous financial aid to attend the US colleges and universities to which they are regularly admitted.  Like Xavier New York, this list includes the top Jesuit colleges and universities across the country, other state and private schools, and the service academies.  Indeed, it is an annual source of pride and excitement both in Micronesia and New York each spring when acceptance letters are received by Xavier students and the news spreads on campus.  Yet it is also an unfortunate reality that each year some deserving Xavier students in Micronesia are unable to accept their college admission because of financial limitations.

My two weeks at Xavier went by quickly and—though it is a cliché to say it—I gained at least as much from the experience as I contributed.  It was a pleasure to get to know the sons and daughters of Xavier in Micronesia and their dedicated teachers, coaches, and administrators.  My daily contact with all of them often brought me back to my own days as a Xavier student three decades ago and on the other side of the world.  Most of all, my time at Xavier was a salient reminder of the transformative and lasting effect of a Jesuit education.

David Campion, who graduated from Xavier High School (NYC) in 1987, is the Pamplin Associate Professor of History at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

To donate to Xavier Micronesia, use this link:  www.jesuitseast.org/SupportXavierChuuk

Stan Kostka, ’17: My Trip to Guam

April 10, 2017

Stan Kostka, ’17 in a race on Guam in March.

 

Track is one of my great passions. I am happy when I am running.  Running has also helped me as an individual to relieve stress, and maintain a healthy body. I recently competed in a track meet one Guam to promote a drug free lifestyle.  As a senior, I want to set a good example for other Xavier students.  I want to show my classmates that we are capable of many things.  I want to be part of a healthy community and also promote a drug free life.  I believe going to Guam taught me many life lessons, especially about life after Xavier.

 

It was my first time on Guam, so I was really nervous, but also excited. Landing on Guam was smoother than landing on Chuuk.  The team and coaches gave us a very warm welcome.  I was reminded of how we welcome visitors or leaders to Xavier.  The first night consisted of introductions. I introduced myself and said that I was from Xavier. I thought that the other athletes wouldn’t know about Xavier but, to my surprise, many had heard of us. They were excited to hear more about Xavier and Chuuk.

 

After our dinner, we went to the home of the families who were hosting us for the  meet.  Our hosts were extremely generous and hospitable.  The next day they took us to the mall and some other stores. After shopping, we all gathered for the opening at the sport complex. We spoke with leaders of the committee, Guam leaders, sponsors, and coaches. They talked about how drugs affect us, the relationship between FSM citizens and Chamorros, and how much they believe that we can be successful. There were also local dances and songs for the athletes and everyone else gathered. We had a lot of fun with them and I will never forget it.

 

We had a great rest the night before the meet.  We awoke to a beautiful day as people were getting ready for the races.  Before warming up, I told my team that we needed to pray. The event started with 60m dash, 100m dash, 200m dash, 400m dash, and then the long distance races. I joined the 18-and-under races and I was blessed enough to win several of the races in which I competed. I also took fourth in the 100m dash. I was disappointed in finishing fourth in that race, and I really hate losing, but it helps to motivate me to I will train harder for future meets.

 

My Xavier education has given me great opportunities and shaped me. I wouldn’t have been on Guam competing if I didn’t have help from Xavier.  Asking Fr. Baker, S.J. for the funds to travel to complete seemed hard, as I know money is tight at our school. I also know, though, that he wants us to experience more of what the world has to offer beyond Mabuchi Hill.  I was glad I didn’t let my apprehension keep me for asking for help.

 

Xavier is a great school because it helps us become a better people. Xavier challenges students to consider the world beyond what we know and are comfortable with.  Because of this, Xavier is a place that builds leaders for Micronesia and the world. I have been blessed to be a Xavier student, and I will miss the school, my classmates, and teachers after graduation.

 

Very soon, I will leave Xavier and continue onto college. While I am somewhat apprehensive about life after high school, I feel ready to use my Xavier education to change the world.  Being able to compete in a track meet on Guam is only one example of the many ways Xavier has prepared me for a bright future.

Fr. Joe Marina, S.J.: On the Road with the Lord

February 20, 2017

The road.

 

I had never heard of Chuuk before joining the Jesuits in 2004.  And, if someone had asked me to point to the Federated States of Micronesia on a world map, my finger probably would have landed on a spot somewhere between Thailand and Malaysia.  But now the names of those places and their locations have been burned into my mind and heart.  I will never forget them.

My journey to Micronesia began on the morning of January 2, 2017.  Over the course of nearly 34 hours, I flew from Syracuse to Chicago to Tokyo to Guam and, finally, landed in Chuuk around 4:00 p.m. on January 4th.  The voyage seemed endless, especially for a nervous flyer like me!

As my plane came in for a landing, I was struck by the beauty of the Chuuk Lagoon, a round robin of small islands surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see.  We deplaned at the edge of the airport’s singular runway where I was greeted by the sight of something more familiar—Fr. Dennis Baker, S.J. standing by a fence—one Jesuit waiting for another, as has happened thousands of times since the founding of the Society of Jesus.

I would be on the island of Weno for one week and three purposes:  to lead the faculty of Xavier High School in a retreat, to interact with students and coach the seniors as they prepare for college, and to spend time in prayer and community with my brothers, in this special place so far from home.  What I didn’t realize was that God had brought me here for a fourth purpose—to encounter His love yet again through a very new and different experience.

I suppose that most people notice the same things when they visit this sacred island:  its breathtaking natural beauty, the genuine kindness and warmth of its people, its biting systemic poverty, the impact of Xavier High School, and, of course, “the road.”

The lushness of Chuuk is unparalleled in comparison to anyplace I’ve seen, including Jamaica and Dominica.  Palm trees, papaya, and all kinds of brush grow everywhere.  Saplings seem to sprout from anything, including fallen trees.  And the water calls out to you from every angle, tempting you to enter it and cool yourself from the enduring heat and humidity.  Most houses on Weno are small and weather beaten, some without windows or doors. In the absence of television and internet, people spend time with each other, often near “the road.”

The students of Xavier High School are, in many ways, like the kids you might find at any co-ed Jesuit high school—energized, bright, funny, gregarious, and sponge-like.  But they smile a lot more often and they even sing!  Yes, they sing with the voices of angels in fact.  It’s part of their lives and their culture.  They sing at Mass; they sing to welcome visitors; they sing to celebrate just about anything.  And with smiles that light up the world.  It was so easy for me to see the face of God in theirs.

I was surprised by the youth of Xavier’s faculty.  Some work for a humble stipend, while others belong to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  For a change, Dennis is one of the older folks on campus!  And these young teachers do their jobs without the creature comforts of American schools, without air conditioning, high-speed internet, or the latest innovative pedagogies.  They take cold showers every morning and eat whatever is served to them. And still, their smiles nearly rival those of the students, as they do the work of the Lord and advance the Jesuit mission.

Fr. Marina, S.J. (L) and Fr. Tran, S.J. (R) at Blue Lagoon at the conclusion of the faculty retreat.

As for the Jesuits themselves, they are before anything else, missionaries. That was the intention of Ignatius the Pilgrim. It was the life of Francis Xavier, Apostle to the Indies.  And it has been the experience of countless Jesuits throughout the last five centuries. In a very real way, every place we land is mission territory.  But it takes a special man and a lot of grace to accept the missionary assignments that are spelled with a capital “M.”  My present assignment as provost and academic vice president at Le Moyne College is very challenging.  But I have my hot shower every day and my high-speed internet.  I control my own heating and air conditioning and eat what I choose.  I have all of that and so much more.

But what about the road?  Well, the road is simply that.  It’s a mostly unpaved thoroughfare that stretches from one side of the island to the other.  It passes the airport, the harbor, a barber shop which doubles as a tailor (which closes for long lunches every afternoon), and the few hotels that attract tourists interested in wreck diving.  The road passes simple dress shops and food stores, a Mormon compound, the post office and hospital.  It moves through the lives of God’s people, most of whom are very poor.  But visitors remember the road mostly because of its awful conditions and the damage it causes!  I have never seen a road like this, anywhere.  To say it is plagued by potholes would be a terrible understatement.  The road is essentially a series of ditches strung together for several miles and it is not for the timid of heart.  It even makes walking a hazard.  Traversing the road is like passing through a dry river bed and it made an impression that I’m sure I’ll remember forever.  One can only imagine how much the quality of life on Chuuk might be improved if its people were given a better road.  That’s one of the goals of the high school—to improve the road near Xavier—and I pray for its success.

To whomever may be reading this, let me assure you that Xavier High School is doing God’s work and doing it well.  The school stands on holy ground and the Spirit moves across its campus, every minute of the day.  St. Ignatius said that, for Jesuits, our community is “the road.” He meant to remind us that all Jesuits are missionaries, in one way or another.  That is certainly true for Dennis, Tom Benz, Wylly Suhendra, Ardi Jatmiko, and Naoki Ochi who make up the Jesuit community on Chuuk.  It is true for the students, faculty, and staff as well.  I spent all of one week in Micronesia and I will never be the same again.  I can only imagine what it must mean to Dennis and everyone who stays there longer.  Kinisou chapur, Lord.  Thank you for being with me, on the road.

From the Director: Advent 2016

December 9, 2016

From L to R: C.J. Skilling, '17; Fr. Baker, S.J.; Rongel Marcel, '17.

From left to right: C.J. Skilling, ’17; Fr. Baker, S.J.; Rongel Marcil, ’17.

“Silent Night, Holy night.  All is calm, all is bright.”

As I stealthily opened the door to the back of the student center yesterday morning, those are the words I heard as assembly was drawn to a close with this familiar Advent and Christmas song.  The students sang it in a near-whisper, with a perfect, unpracticed harmony.  As someone who saves his singing for the tiles in the shower or for karaoke, Micronesians’ ability to sing so beautifully has always amazed me.  As a good Jesuit friend of mine once said, “There are no coincidences if you’re Catholic,” so it should come as no surprise that Franz Xaver was name of the Austrian composer of the music for the 1818 tune first called Stille Nacht.  I imagine plenty of islanders sung it in its original language during this time of year during the German Period of Micronesian history.

I was struck by the seemingly contradictory nature of that song at that particular time of day yesterday.  It wasn’t nighttime; it was nearly nine o’clock in the morning.  All is not calm when the school day begins here; the campus is instead an exciting flurry of activity and sounds of all kinds.

Things on Mabuchi Hill are indeed holy and bright, though.  I marvel at the holiness of the girls as they sacrifice so much to get to and from school every day.  They have many early mornings and late evenings.  I’m excited by the hopeful disposition of the seniors as they begin the crunch of college applications with the help of Jesuit Volunteer Ms. Samantha Happ.  The seniors are readying themselves for bright futures after graduation and beyond.  I’m called to a greater holiness by my colleagues in education, as they glowingly help one another with all types of tasks—covering a fellow teacher’s absence, exchanging ideas, and collaborating across curricula.  I’m joyful for the help of Nanet Balaod, Inta Welle, and Cristine Denola, who run the business office smoothly, without complaint, and with plenty of laughter for me when I make a mistake, which is often enough.  I beamed with joy when Principal Martin Carl returned to us after attending a meeting in the Washington, D.C. area for principals of Jesuit high schools.  The only person happier was Joan, Martin’s wife, who is also Xavier’s nurse and registrar.  Ranulfo Gaputan is currently overseeing the renovation of two houses as well as the bathroom next to the faculty kitchen.  (If you’ve been here even briefly in the last ten years, you know how desperately that bathroom needed an overhaul.)  Ranulfo and his crew are some of the hardest working craftsmen I’ve ever seen, and they do their work with smiles on their faces, and without the slightest grumble.  They are holy and bright, indeed.

The Incarnation of the Lord is paradoxical, and perhaps on the surface it might seem as contradictory as singing “Silent Night” in the morning to start a school day.  Nativity scenes around the world display our God as a helpless baby born into a foreign occupied Middle East to a simple Jewish couple who was far from wealthy.  At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense.  But that Nativity scene reminds me that God’s ways are not our ways, and my arrogant notions of how God should go about the business of salvation probably needs some further reflection.  The Nativity reminds me that things are not always what they appear to be, and God can surprise us at nearly every turn if, paradoxically, we’re looking for God at work.  It is no secret that life can be hard here, and we sometimes must make due with very little.  At the same time, though, God is so obviously at work at Xavier, and that is a wonderful gift to all who know and love this place.

It is our prayer that the Son of God—love’s pure light—radiantly beam upon you and those you love this Advent and this Christmas.  Please know that you are in our prayers.

As always, thank you for your support of Xavier High School in Micronesia.

For Xavier,

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Rev. Dennis M. Baker, S.J.

 

Merkii Toluk on Xavier Day, 2016

December 2, 2016

Merkii Toluk, class of 2019

Merkii Toluk, class of 2019

It is that time of the year again: the spirit of Saint Francis Xavier is about to be on full display on Mabuchi Hill.  It is no secret that this is one of Xavier High School’s favorite traditions. Xavier Day brings the whole school together with the amity (or maybe even enmity!) between the classes, the competitions, and the undying Xavier spirit.

What does Xavier Day mean to each class?  This day is when students show off their diverse set of skills either individually or as a group. Those wide-eyed freshmen will be all nerves because this will be their first Xavier Day and they are the youngest and least experienced.  They are also filled with excitement because the spirit of Xavier High School has slowly crept inside of them and has begun to burn brightly within them over the past four months. They are new, so their talents remain mostly unknown to the rest of us. They aim to mark themselves as standouts among the older classes.

Sophomores are no longer the youngest in the school. They don’t have the seniors to guide them on Xavier Day, as they did last year.  Seeing the new freshmen being cared for by the seniors might make last year’s Xavier Day memories come rushing back.

For the juniors, this will be the first time being the leaders of their group, as they will be charged with leading their team comprised of second and third year students. It is their time to shine and to show that they have the experience and ability to lead both classes.

As for the seniors, it is their last year so the thing they want the most out of this Xavier Day is to have fun and make memories.  Winning would also be nice for them and the freshmen they will lead!

Psalm 150:4-6 says, “Praise God with drum and dance! Praise God with strings and pipe! Praise God with loud cymbals! Let every living thing praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” The Psalmist might as well be describing Xavier Day, because these are the sounds of Xavier Day.  People will be dancing. Ukuleles and whistles will enliven everyone’s spirits. Everybody will be looking for things that they can bang together to make the loudest sounds.

The spirit that the Xavierites show is so infectious that it will get the Sapukians running up the hill and cheering for the winning team. Saint Francis Xavier travelled around the world to different places creating strong bonds with people and the places just like how Xavierites create bonds between the themselves and the Sapukians. When he traveled to Japan, he adapted to the local customs, just as Xavierites adapt to one another even though we come from different islands, backgrounds, and cultures. This is what Xavier Day brings: the spirit of Saint Francis Xavier. The spirit of love, companionship, and happiness.  Yes, there are very competitive games and events over the course of the two days, but this celebration is more than just running and competing. It is about bringing the whole school and the community–including Sapuk–together in a celebration of companionship.

Xavier Day is here, and everyone should keep in mind why we have this special celebration every year in the beginning of December. It is to strengthen the bond with one another, compete with each other in a friendly manner, and to live the way Saint Francis Xavier lived his life.  Xavier Day is a day full of spirit and love for one another—a spirit of love given to us by the memory of Saint Francis Xavier burning deep within us.

 

Professor Susan Whitelock: Throwing off the Bowlines

November 10, 2016

 

Professor Susan Whitelock of Eastern Oregon University.

Professor Susan Whitelock of Eastern Oregon University.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

– Mark Twain

I met my first student from Micronesia in 1991, twenty-five years ago, at Eastern Oregon University.  Since then I have met many more Pacific Islander students, and among them have been several graduates from Xavier High School. These Xavier alumni have been some of my best students at Eastern, and they made me yearn to see their islands and their school.
So on sabbatical from Eastern this semester, I sailed away from my safe harbor in La Grande, Oregon and arrived in Chuuk on August 11th to teach Junior and Senior English. Here three months now, I can say that I, too, have been a student, and that the students, fellow teachers, and the Xavier staff have been my traditional navigators, helping me to see and navigate the world in a new way.

Yes, I have taught my students about academic research, how to write a persuasive essay, and how to write a rhetorical analysis. I have prepared them for the ACT and SAT (I hope).

But these lessons are unimportant compared to the lessons I have learned from those around me: that the young Jesuit Volunteers who have come here to teach are some of the most caring, creative, dedicated, hardworking people I have ever met and they give me hope for the future; that from the kitchen staff to the groundskeepers, from the housekeepers to the drivers, from the teachers to the administrators, this is a school that cares about the whole student—mind, body, heart, and soul—and that our main role is to love them, not just to teach them; that I am immersed in a culture whose center of gravity is respect, grace, and generosity which cannot be destroyed by the challenges of poverty, climate change, and westernization.

So on the days when I am teaching and the heat is wilting me more than usual, and a student, unasked, brings a fan to my desk, plugs it in, and sets it to blow directly on me, or when another student takes the chair I am carrying out of my hands to carry it for me, or when the woman sitting next to me fanning herself in church starts fanning in my direction so I benefit, I feel my dragging sail billow.

Or when, after the students have sat for hours taking their SAT exam on a hot Saturday morning, and then break into cheers when it is over and bring out the ukulele to celebrate; or when students perform their fire dance as if twirling fire is like breathing; or when they create decorations of palm leaves to welcome visitors, weaving spectacular creations; or when the girls arrive on the bus at 7:30 a.m. cheering loudly for the day to come, some of them having had to get up before 5:00 a.m. to get the bus but are still full of spirit, I know I have traveled to the right place, a place where the best of Pacific Island cultural traditions are woven together with Jesuit values to create a very special school.

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