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.

From the Director: November 2016

November 6, 2016

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It’s great to be back on Mabuchi Hill after five weeks of travel.  My autumn trip took me on ten planes, countless trips on trains and subways, over two thousand miles of highway, through four countries, to the campuses of nine colleges, and to ten different cities.  I met with Xavier alumni, former teachers and Jesuit Volunteers, college presidents, brother Jesuits, ambassadors, university and high school trustees, parish priests and their parishioners, business people, classmates, colleagues in Jesuit education, and many, many friends.

As I sit here in my (freshly painted!) office, staring out at the lagoon on this perfect Sunday afternoon, I’m trying to recall all the stops on the trip.  Looking at the calendar for October of 2016, I find myself asking one question over and over: “Dennis, what did you learn while you were away?”  As an educator, I am happy that is the question that crystalizes as I settle back into island life here at school.  The answer to that question became very clear over the course of the trip.  I learned how hard people are rooting for Xavier High School.

Many of the people who support our school have never been anywhere near it, and probably never will be.  They do not wish to be lauded or praised or even thanked for their efforts.  What they want is for Jesuit education to do what it’s always done: transform lives.  People offer Xavier all types of support—much of it financial.  Financial assistance is key, as we are a small school with many different facets of operation and any surplus we have at the end of the financial year is minuscule.  Every dollar counts, and many people were breathtakingly generous in their financial assistance to us during October.  The trip raised over $35,000.  Isn’t that incredible?

While I spent so much time away from Xavier during October, I also heard people say that they’re praying for us.  I heard them say they love seeing the photos on our social media outlets and reading about the lives of our students, faculty, and staff.   I loved the looks on the faces of people who had never heard of us before, as they removed their phones from their pocket or purses, opened Google maps, and found our campus here on Weno.  That encounter was repeated many times, and I always enjoyed the moment when a person continued to zoom out only to see the seemingly endless blue of the Pacific.

The question I heard over and over again during my trip was, “How can I help?”  For some, this meant writing a check for a scholarship, or donating through our new online giving page at the UNE Province website.  For others, it meant connecting me with businesses who might be able to help us.  For my mom (and other family and friends of staff members in the States), it’s meant constant trips to the U.S. Post Office and filling out customs form after customs form in order to mail things to Micronesia that Amazon or other businesses won’t ship here.  For these people and many others, their financial and logistical support comes with emails, texts, and notes in the mail about how they think about us all the time, and that we are at the top of the list of intentions they have when they go to pray.  The level of gratitude I have for the kind of encouragement I encountered during the trip was truly overwhelming, and I was blessed to be able to encounter it in person.  While I often wished I could bring our students with me to each stop to showcase how incredible they are, I now find myself wishing that I could parade all our benefactors in front of the school so everyone could meet one another.  Being the conduit between both collections of people is a privileged place for me, and one I do not take for granted.

If you support Xavier financially or wish to do so in the future, please know how grateful we are, and how central your dollars are to the continuation of Jesuit education in Micronesia.  Please know, also, that we appreciate the prayers, the notes, and the love.  We need those things just as much as the money, if not more so.

Thank you to all of you who support this great school in countless ways.

For Xavier,

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Jesse Joash Reflects on his Summers at Camp Dudley

September 28, 2016

Jesse Joash '18 of the Marshall Islands

Jesse Joash ’18 of the Marshall Islands

I first went to Camp Dudley after graduating from eighth grade in the summer of 2014.  I was chosen to represent my school, Assumption School, which is on the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands.  I became connected to this program through an American teacher at Assumption.  His name is Eric Schildge, and he’s from Cambridge, Massachusetts.  We all call him Mr. Eric.  His wife lived, Carleigh, lived in the Marshalls, as well, and she also has been of great help to me.  Mr. Eric went to Camp Dudley himself from the time he was a kid all the way through his college years.  He fell in love with Camp Dudley and also with Assumption, so he wanted to share his experience of Camp Dudley with students at Assumption.  Mr. Eric asked me if I wanted to give Camp Dudley a try, and I’ve been going there for three summers in a row, with the summer of 2016 being my third.  It was another awesome summer at this lovely place.

Camp Dudley is the oldest continuously operating camp in the United States of America. It started in 1885, and has grown to become a worldwide camp.  Today, there is a kid from every continent who flies all the way from his homeland just to go to this camp.  I happen to be one of them, even though I don’t live on one of the seven continents.

Each summer I’ve gone to Camp Dudley, I’ve traveled about 17 hours (not counting the layovers) from the Marshall Islands all the way to Boston, Massachusetts.  I’ve gone from Majuro, to Honolulu, to Los Angeles, and all the way to Boston.  The previous two times I made the trip alone, but last summer, I had another Micronesian traveling with me, who is also from the Marshall Islands.  He’s an eighth grader now at Assumption, and he also wants to attend Xavier High School next year.

Camp Dudley is located at Westport, New York on Lake Champlain.  It is a leadership development camp, and its mission is to “develop moral, personal, physical, and leadership skills in the spirit of fellowship and fun, enabling boys to lead lives characterized by devotion to others.”  I was a senior camper when I first went to Camp Dudley.  I was an aid (a half-camper, half employee) in 2015.  This past summer, I was an official employee at Camp Dudley, so I had a leadership role.  My job was to look after the kids in my cabin, and to make sure that they were safe.  Being a leader helped me mature quite a bit.  I also had a lot of fun, though: playing games, playing golf on Sundays, and eating good food.  I also learned to become a better person by following the camp’s motto, which is, “The Other Fellow First.”

I’ve learned that being vocal is a very important leadership skill in Western culture.  Coming from the Marshall Islands and attending Xavier High School in Chuuk, I know that being a leader entails putting our words into actions, but we islanders are usually rather reserved in our words. Things are different in Micronesia than they are in the States.  In Micronesia, it is considered very disrespectful to look someone in the eye and talk to him or her, but in America it is considered very disrespectful to not look someone in the eye when he or she is talking to you.  I learned to adapt to another culture while I was in the States.  Over the last three summers, I’ve learned to “code switch” every time I go to camp and then return home to the Marshalls or to Xavier.  Camp Dudley has helped me learn to adapt to different cultures, even though it wasn’t always easy.  I still managed to do it, though, and I’ve learned a great deal about myself and other people, too.  I’ve become more self-aware, and I’ve grown to become a better person from my experiences there.  I’ve made many good friends at Camp Dudley, and I still communicate with them during the school year using social media.

Each summer, Camp Dudley fills up with very nice and friendly people.  It is a place where young people can feel safe to try something new, and just to be who they are without the fear of being judged.  It is a diverse and inclusive environment and everyone is welcomed regardless of his religion, sexuality, race, or anything else.  There is a very positive energy flowing around Camp Dudley, and there is no such thing as a bad day at camp.  Just like Xavier High School, Camp Dudley shapes and molds young people to become better citizens and leaders for their communities in the present and in the future.

Shannon Marcoux: Beginning to Understand

September 18, 2016

Jesuit Volunteer Shannon Marcoux

Jesuit Volunteer Shannon Marcoux

As I celebrate a month and a half in Chuuk and my first few days in the classroom, I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for the experience of being a Xavier teacher in ways I could not have anticipated before making the long trek here.  I was fairly apprehensive about the idea of being on the other side of the desk, as I have no formal teaching background.  The students quickly have assuaged (one of my literature classes’ vocabulary words for this week) my fears with their enthusiasm, understanding, and genuine desire to learn.  In the short time that I’ve known these young people, they have displayed a balanced combination of humor and motivation that I don’t remember from my own high school days.  They have made teaching fun and lesson planning feel completely worth the time and energy.

I thought I had worked on diverse staffs during college, but those were nothing when compared diversity of ethnicity and experience that the Xavier faculty and staff possesses. Working and living with people from all over the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and Micronesia has been a learning experience unlike anything I could have had back home.  I know that I will not fully understand or appreciate the uniqueness of this work environment until years from now.

In my brief experience teaching, I have already come to love the look of pure confusion that sets in when a student has his or her preconceptions challenged and he or she begins to think about something in a new way.  Having spent about six weeks in Chuuk before classes started, I was able to feel this same confusion many times myself as I encountered different aspects of Chuukese culture.  With every new fact I learn about society here, I become increasingly aware of how much I still have to learn.  Even after my two years in Chuuk, I doubt I will have done much other than brush the surface of this incredibly complex culture.  Before I came to Chuuk, past visitors told me about the communal nature of the people here, the emphasis placed on family, and the willingness to slow down and enjoy the sunset or the stars.  Words did not do any of these things justice—there was no way I was going to understand these things, even slightly, until I got here.  Even after a month and a half, I’m only beginning to understand them.

From the Director: September, 2016

September 9, 2016

Fr. Dennis Baker, S.J. blesses senior Tina Ambuyoc to start the school year at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Wednesday, September 7th.

Fr. Dennis Baker, S.J. blesses senior Tina Ambuyoc to start the school year at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Wednesday, September 7th.

“Finally.”

That is the thought that crosses my mind so frequently these days.  It comes to me even now as I hear the voices of students after so many weeks punctuated by the hammering of nails and sawing of wood.  There was plenty of work done on the physical plant over the past month, and it continues:  further Typhoon Maysak repairs, a total refurbishing of the former JV house, improvements on the infirmary, and other needed rehabilitations.  Such work was and is imperative, of course, but we can never forget the purpose for all of this work.  The purpose of anything we do here is to continue to be the finest high school in the Pacific, and in so doing, help people grow closer to God.

Indeed, the sounds proper to a school finally have arrived, and those sounds have transformed a lonely campus construction site into a school teeming with life once again.

The sounds of prayer at daily Mass enliven the chapel.  Those prayers are followed by the unmistakable murmur of teenage voices and laughter that signal the wait for morning announcements in the Student Center.  The familiar gong of the school bell is known quite well to all of us, as it is rung repeatedly throughout the day.  The sound of basketballs bouncing in the gym and on the outdoor court, and bare feet gliding over the grass on the field remind us of the global appeal of athletics, especially in schools.  I wonder if people on the nearby islands of Tonoas and Fefen heard the boys practicing the music for the Mass of the Holy Spirit, as their powerful voices shook the louvers in the Student Center a few times on Monday and Tuesday night.

The most important sound around here, of course, is the sound of students learning.  Just today, Sir Rovan had his sophomores out of the classroom buildings and over to the rec shed to see the importance of observation in the study of science.  The sounds of students’ voices coming through the windows of the Director’s Office were truly a gift.  It’s hard to miss the booming voice of new teacher Mr. Will Clemens talking excitedly about the important insights of art in understanding the history of civilization.  The soft, dulcet tones of Mrs. Susan Whitelock’s voice (on loan to us from Eastern Oregon University) fill her classroom with constant encouragement for students to speak up for themselves–even using Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha Fierce, as a helpful example.  The sound of Mr. Ean Tierney’s piece of chalk striking the chalkboard with force and passion is inspiring, as well.  The utter silence of the Study Hall during First Study in the evening is a reminder of the work and focus it takes to succeed at this school.

These are just a few examples, of course, for each part of this campus is now joyfully overrun with the sounds of a Jesuit secondary school in full swing, even after only a few days.  These are welcomed sounds for all of us, and the excitement here is truly something to celebrate.

We hope that the sounds of your September are as joyful and holy as the sounds here on Mabuchi Hill—no matter what line of work you may be in, or where you might find yourself on the globe.

Know of our prayers for you.

For Xavier,

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A Benefit for Xavier High School (Micronesia)

August 25, 2016

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If you’re in or around New York City on October 6th, please join Fr. Dennis Baker, S.J. for a reception to celebrate Xavier High School in Micronesia. This event is graciously hosted and supported by the “other Xavier High School” in Manhattan, with all proceeds coming to Mabuchi Hill.

The link below also contains a method to donate to Xavier Micronesia even if you cannot be with Fr. Baker on October 6th.

http://www.xavierhsalumni.org/s/81/social.aspx?sid=81&pgid=3006&gid=1&cid=6614&ecid=6614&post_id=0

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From the Director: July 1, 2016

July 1, 2016

Dennis_Baker-3

The first time I heard about Xavier High School in Micronesia was in 1996. I was a sophomore at Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York.  I was in Algebra II/Trigonometry class, and Fr. Rich Zanoni, S.J. was my teacher.  Fr. Zanoni cancelled class one very cold winter day to show us his photos from his time as principal of Xavier from 1976 to 1979.  I remember being captivated completely by this place once called Truk on the screen in front of me.  It would have been impossible for me to know that I’d be sent there, less than ten years later, in my second year as a Jesuit.  When I arrived, I learned everyone was using the more appropriate name of Chuuk.  When I left Xavier after my six-month assignment was complete, it would have been impossible for me to know that I’d return in exactly ten years as the Director of the school.  I always hoped I return to Micronesia someday, but I never expected it to be this soon or in this capacity.

On my first day as Director, the overwhelming emotion I feel is gratitude.  I am especially grateful for the help Fr. Bob Pecoraro, S.J. has been to me in this time of transition.  Micronesia is holy ground, surrounded by holy water.  I have had profound experiences of God’s love for me and for the world during my time there, and I draw upon such moments quite often, as if they were a kind of spiritual well. Today, I hear God’s voice softly calling me back to the Pacific and that voice elicits in me an excitement that is difficult to describe.  I think about Xavier all day long.  Micronesia is a place that has meant a great deal to me in my life, because it has cultivated within me a more robust view of the Church, the Society of Jesus, Jesuit education, and the world.  I look forward with tremendous excitement and hope for the new things I will learn there, the people who are about to come into my life, and the new ways God will reveal the kind of love that is unique to God alone.

Finally, the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J. has said that “depth of thought and imagination are distinguishing marks of the Ignatian tradition.”  As a Jesuit institution, we share in that vision of depth for our school.  There are many stories in the Gospels that involve maritime themes and adventures.  A close Jesuit friend of mine and I share a fondness for verse four from chapter five of Luke’s Gospel, in which we find Jesus in a boat with his friends.  It reads, “When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’”  Micronesia is home to one of the deepest parts of the ocean–the Mariana Trench.  Perhaps it is not a small coincidence that God’s love feels so deep there, as well.

Please be assured of my prayers for Xavier as I prepare for my arrival on Mabuchi Hill later this month.

For Xavier,

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Fr. Dennis M. Baker, S.J.

New Xavier Director: Fr. Dennis M. Baker, SJ

March 25, 2016

Hoops-Priest

Photo: Xavier High School, Manhattan

March 23, 2016

Dear Friends and Families of Xavier,

I write with important news. Very Rev. John J. Cecero, S.J., Provincial Superior of the United States Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, has appointed Fr. Dennis M. Baker, S.J. as the next Director of Xavier High School, Chuuk. Fr. Baker’s term will begin on July 1, 2016.

Our current Director, Fr. Robert J. Pecoraro, S.J., will step down at that time for reasons of health. His service to Xavier began in 2014 and has been especially noteworthy with regard to financial leadership, teacher recruitment, and the identification of scholarship opportunities for our graduating seniors. We will miss him a great deal, and he has assured me of his continued prayers and his commitment to Xavier and its mission in the years to come.

Fr. Baker completed his undergraduate study at Fordham University in 2002. He holds a master of science degree in criminal justice administration from Niagara University, a master of arts in philosophy from Fordham University, and a master of divinity from Boston College. In May, he will complete a master of education degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College through the Klingenstein Center for Private School Leadership.

Fr. Baker has worked at several Jesuit schools in various capacities. Most recently, he taught history at Xavier High School in New York City. He sits on the Board of Trustees at Fairfield University in Connecticut and Regis High School in New York City. He also serves on the Board of Members of the Nativity Middle Schools of New York City.

Fr. Baker returns to Mabuchi Hill after a ten-year hiatus. He first worked at Xavier as a Jesuit novice in 2006, when he spent the second semester of the school year teaching freshman religion. This new position will mark Fr. Baker’s third assignment in Micronesia, as he also worked at Yap Catholic High School’s summer program in 2014.

Please join me in wishing Fr. Pecoraro well and in welcoming Fr. Baker back to Xavier!

Sincerely, and with our prayers for you and your families as the hope and promise of Christ fills our hearts as Easter nears,

Rodney J. Jacob
Chair, Board of Directors

Fr-Dennis-Baker-SJMeet Fr. Dennis M. Baker, SJ

Fr. Dennis M. Baker, SJ, 35, was born and raised in upstate New York. As a student at Canisius High School in Buffalo, Fr. Baker was a dedicated athlete and member of the cross country, baseball and basketball teams. His time at Canisius had a tremendous influence on Fr. Baker because he came to know the Jesuits, and it changed the way he looked at the world. He was impressed by these men who could quote Shakespeare, say Mass and even drive a snowplow while influencing young lives and forming men for others. At Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, Fr. Baker found that the seeds of intellectual curiosity planted at Canisius flowered, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2002. Interested in a career in criminal justice, he went on to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from New York’s Niagara University in Lewiston, while also teaching history at Canisius. He entered the Jesuits in 2004, and as a novice spent six months in Micronesia teaching at Xavier High School in Chuuk. Returning to Fordham, Fr. Baker earned a master’s degree in philosophy in 2009 and was then missioned to Xavier High School in Manhattan, where he taught history and coached basketball and baseball. At the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, he earned a Master of Divinity degree while serving as a deacon at St. Eulalia Parish in Winchester, Massachusetts. He also volunteered at the Franciscan Food Center and served as a clerk for the Archdiocese of Boston’s Marriage Tribunal. A member of the boards of trustees of Fairfield University in Connecticut and Regis High School in Manhattan, Fr. Baker’s lifelong love of sports helped inspire his recent report for the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities on mission, identity and athletics at Jesuit schools. After ordination, Fr. Baker will pursue a master’s in educational leadership. His first Mass as a Jesuit priest will be celebrated at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan. (Photo and bio borrowed from Jesuits.org)

Three New Scholarships Established at Xavier Micronesia

September 3, 2015

Three New Scholarships Established at Xavier Micronesia 

As Xavier begins the 2015-2016 school year, we are happy to announce the creation of three scholarships that will provide full tuition for three Xavier students.

Attorney Clayton M. Lawrence has established the Clayton M. Lawrence Scholarship.

Attorney Lawrence resides in the Federated States of Micronesia and proudly serves the people of Micronesia as the Chief Litigator for the FSM Department of Justice, where he defends and prosecutes civil or criminal actions on behalf of the Micronesian government.

This scholarship provides full tuition for four years to a student meeting the selection criteria.

Xavier freshman Belinda Saimon is the recipient of the Clayton M. Lawrence Scholarship.

The family of the late Fr. Andrew Connolly SJ has established two scholarships in his honor.

Fr. Andrew Connolly SJ taught at Xavier High School on Chuuk during his Regency assignment from 1953-1956.  He returned to Chuuk after his ordination in 1961 and served the people of Chuuk, on the main island of Weno, as well as on many outer islands, until his death in 1993.  He was a beloved priest on Chuuk.  Fr. Connolly was laid to rest in the Jesuit cemetery at Xavier High School.

The Fr. Andrew Connolly Widow’s Scholarship provides full tuition to a student meeting the selection criteria.

Xavier freshman Carlina Samachy is the recipient of the Fr. Andrew Connolly Widow’s Scholarship.

The Fr. Andrew Connolly Scholarship provides full tuition to a student meeting the selection criteria.

Xavier junior Christopher Loyola is the recipient of the Fr. Andrew Connolly Scholarship.

We are grateful for the generosity of our scholarship benefactors.

If you are interested in funding a scholarship at Xavier please contact Fr. Bob Pecoraro SJ, Xavier’s director, at bobpsj@gmail.com .

 

 

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May 3, 2015

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