Sunday, June 5, 2011



The straight line that leads history from past through the present to the future gets kind of snarled for me at this time of year.

This is graduation weekend here at Newark Abbey/St. Benedict’s Prep, which also means a lot of alumni anniversary reunions: two on Friday, two on Saturday plus the Alumni Picnic, then on Sunday the graduation of the class of 2011.

Meanwhile, in between telling the old stories on Friday night and Saturday night, Saturday morning we welcomed next year’s freshmen for diagnostic/placement tests -- they are the class of 2014.
So for me right now time is more of a swirl or a salad than a linear progression.


About ten days ago I attended a book signing for Dr. Thomas McCabe’s Miracle on High Street: the Rise, Fall and Resurrection of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J. The presentation and the discussion afterward gave me a new perspective on the events of 1972-1973, when our school closed and then reopened 13 months later.

The insight was this: For the story to turn out as it did required the coming together in one time and place of a unique set of circumstances, each of which was essential to the end result. (I thought of the book The Perfect Storm.) I’ll list just a few of these elements:
1. The social, economic and political unrest in the country and in Newark at the time, especially the Black Power and Civil Rights movements.

2. The presence in Newark Abbey of two opposing points of view: some monks were for remaining in the city while others wanted to pack up the school and monastery and move to the suburbs. If all the monks had been in agreement on the first alternative, we would have tried to gradually transform St. Benedict’s step by step into an ever more African-American school – a thankless and unpromising endeavor. As it was, the division of ideologies in the monastery meant that the gradual-change approach would never be tried. The school was completely shut down instead, thus making it possible to open an entirely new school with a very different racial profile, one which we could never have achieved by gradual evolution in the 1970’s, the age of confrontation.

3. We still had at our disposal all the physical facilities needed for a high school, including science labs, a good library and one of the best auditoriums in the city.

4. The people involved in the reopening of the school proved to be just the right mixture of visionaries, practical problem-solvers, and dedicated and talented teachers. Each one of us brought unique gifts that were essential to making the new operation succeed.

Looking at this list, I realized that if any of these elements had been absent or even substantially different, the “formula” would likely have resulted in failure. The interaction of all of the elements made for a beautiful success story.


During the Easter season the church as been presenting us with daily mass readings from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s account of the earliest days of the church under Peter and Paul. The sacred author wrote Acts as history, but a history in which the Holy Spirit was actively involved.

For example, when Paul and Timothy were on their missionary journey their plans kept getting frustrated; Luke tells us that “they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia” (16:6). We don’t know what the impediment was, but it was serious enough to force them to abandon their plan and go elsewhere. In the very next verse we’re told of yet another frustrating setback: “When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them, so they crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas” (16:7-8).

The constant revision and abandonment of their missionary plans must have tried the faith and the patience of Paul and Timothy, but Luke interprets the story of the setbacks in terms of the Holy Spirit guiding and directing the mission.

While Tom McCabe, writing as an historian, does not refer to the Holy Spirit in his telling of the story of St. Benedict’s Prep, when I look back on my own experiences and see the long list of impossible “coincidences” that made it possible I’m convinced that the most accurate way to tell the story is the way St. Luke would tell it, namely as a history of the Holy Spirit’s continued action in a community of believers to bring about an extremely improbable success in the end.

This busy weekend has helped me to see better how my own life has been blessed by being part of the story of Newark Abbey/St. Benedict’s Prep. It has challenged me, too, to remain as open as I can to the promptings of the Spirit.

Guess who the graduation speaker is this year? No, not the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit has spoken countless times already. The speaker is the author of Miracle on High Street, Dr. Thomas Mc Cabe. He should be fun to listen to as well.

.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,.Next weekend we celebrate Pentecost.
..........I’ll be praying with as much energy as ever,
..............“Come Holy Spirit!”


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