Sister Catherine Phelps, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Fr. (John) Burkhard, Fr. (Leo) Larrivee, parents, friends and alumni of Trinity School, members of the board, faculty, and staff, our wonderful students, and all dear friends in Christ Jesus:
It is a pleasure for me to offer this Holy Mass with you and for you as we observe the 75th anniversary of Trinity School. Way back in the 1930’s, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur purchased 170 acres, with buildings, here in Howard County, for the princely sum of $40,000. Even in 1933 dollars, that was the deal of the half-century! But what the Sisters did with the land and the existing school buildings is an even better “deal” (if I may use that word) for countless families. In 1934 the Sisters opened a junior high and high school for girls, and in 1941 opened an elementary school then known as the Julie Billiart Country Day School. In 1958, the school began to take on the name Trinity and by 1972 the high school closed and it became an elementary school.
Many of you present here this afternoon have taken part in strategic efforts not only to preserve Trinity School but to ensure its future health and vitality, a vitality evinced by a current enrollment of 380 students. This included many improvements to the physical plant designed to strengthen the educational efficacy of the school and a 2001 decision of the Board of Trustees to purchase the school from the Sisters while, at the same time, remaining affiliated with the Sisters of N D de Namur. (I’m wondering if the purchase price exceeded $ 40,000!) In 2002 the new middle school building opened and in 2004 the facilities for the kindergarten students were improved, and now there is a thriving pre-school and pre-kindergarten, though I will freely confess I’m glad those things didn’t exist when I was a kid!
So it is a story of continuity, evolution, and progress, a story of touching young minds and hearts with the light and joy of the Gospel, opening them up to the God of Love, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a story of equipping generations to be people of virtue, people of service, people who embrace their God-given vocation, who use their talents to mend and improve a broken world while setting their sights on the world that is come. I came today to say thank you and congratulations and especially to recognize the leadership and hard work of Sr. Catherine Phelps! And let me express as well our common thanks to the staff and teachers at Trinity and to our wonderful students who are with us this afternoon!
II. Light from the Gospel
Now let us turn to today’s Scripture readings to discover anew in what spirit we should be giving thanks to the Lord and in what spirit we should continue striving to form the young people entrusted to the care of Trinity School.
The Gospel just proclaimed tells the famous story of two people in the temple area. One was a Pharisee, the other a publican or a tax collector. The Pharisee came into these sacred precincts to have a word with the Lord. He wanted to remind God how good he (the Pharisee) really was. Not letting the Lord get a word in edgewise, the Pharisee began to catalogue for the Lord his pious practices: fasting twice a week, paying tithes, the wearisome list goes on. I don’t suppose an eternal God yawns, but this pharisaical prayer might have done it! But what came next probably got God’s attention – when the Pharisee compared himself to the tax collector (in the last pew, as it were) who was acknowledging his sins and asking for the Lord’s mercy. Jesus tells us that God did not hear the Pharisee’s prayer but did listen to the tax collector, forgave him, and sent him home. Presumably, the Pharisee continued on his self-righteous course and the tax collector stopped cheating and extorting people but instead treated them fairly and even charitably.
What might that Gospel story have to do with us as we celebrate the accomplishments of these last 75 years here at Trinity and as we reflect on the mission of the school heading into the future? Quite a lot, actually, but I’ll give you only the Cliffs notes.
III. Accepting Today’s Gospel in the Spirit of Sr. Julie Billiart
For one thing, when we celebrate an anniversary, it’s only natural that we catalogue our accomplishments and even compare this school to its competition. And while it’s natural to do this, we don’t want to do so in the spirit of braggadocio that made the Pharisee so insufferable. Instead, let us do so in the spirit of St. Julie Billiart, who founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in whose spirit this school continues its mission.
St. Julie had a palpable sense of the goodness and nearness of God. Whatever the odds or obstacles, she trusted in the Lord’s goodness and she radiated that trust to her sisters and all those whose lives she touched. “The good God is so good! Oh, how good he is,” she used to say, and again, “Everything begun by God’s will and marked by the Cross goes well.” So like St. Julie, we bundle up all the blessings of these past 75 years and in this Mass we give the good God the glory, we thank the Lord for accomplishing in us, through us, and among us more than we deserve. Unlike the Pharisee, we do not claim bragging rights but in Christ we can say, “it is right to give God thanks and praise” while, like the tax collector, we can ask for the Lord’s mercy for our shortcomings.
And isn’t this the spirit in which we seek to form our young people? In a world where Pharisaical bragging is the norm, where invidious comparisons rule the day, in a world where people are judged harshly and relentlessly, aren’t we seeking to form new generations of young people who trust in the goodness and mercy of the Lord, even in time of trouble? Aren’t we forming new generations who try to imitate God’s mercy and goodness, and understand how to find reconciliation and peace with God and others? Those formed in this way do not have to create a good image for themselves; rather, they are good from the inside out and they are truly open to the authentic blessings God wishes to give them. They are also inclined to spend themselves in service to others. Such people are badly needed in a culture that permits everything & forgives nothing.
So let us bless the Lord at all times, his praise ever on our tongue! (cf. Ps. 34). We give the Lord thanks for all those who have gone before us, who have set Trinity school on solid spiritual foundations and we give thanks for all the ways it has grown and developed through the years. In that same spirit of praise and thanksgiving we humbly ask that God’s blessing may accompany the Trinity School family for years to come to the glory of God’s name. God bless you and keep you always in his love!