Perhaps you have seen the 1947 movie, “Miracle on 34th Street.” A department-store Santa Claus (Kris Kringle), recruited during a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, claims in fact to be Santa Claus. As the movie unfolds, Kringle’s claim is put to the test – and so are the beliefs and convictions of all those involved in sorting out his situation. In the process, this mysterious man opens the hearts of hard-nosed, skeptical people to lessons of hope and generosity.
A miracle of sorts occurred Aug. 6 on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard here in Baltimore. It was the blessing and opening of the Mother Mary Lange Catholic School. Santa Claus was not involved in the miracle but rather a saintly woman – Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange – for she is the one who inspired and continues to inspire this entire project.
When the idea of building a new Catholic school in West Baltimore was first proposed, more than a few said it was an impossible dream – and to this day, some remain skeptical. Just so, when Mother Lange made her way from Cuba to Baltimore and, as a woman of color, opened a school for young women of color in her modest home in Fells Point, many were skeptical, if not outright opposed. Mother Lange pressed on because she passionately believed in and loved God and she believed in and loved her students. Obstacles such as racism and poverty did not daunt her.
Such faith and love are the secret ingredients of Catholic education. The newly completed Mother Mary Lange Catholic School is truly beautiful. I often speak glowingly of its multimedia library, its playing fields and gym, its maker space, science lab and music room. Yet, a beautiful building is not enough.
This school will take its rightful place among all our Catholic schools because it is destined to be a place of faith and love. It is to be a place where God is believed in and loved, a place where our students are believed in and loved – and taught to overcome cheerfully and persistently the obstacles they too will encounter as they grow towards adulthood.
Mother Lange’s strong and determined faith combined with her passionate love put our assumptions and beliefs to the test. Looking at our Catholic schools as a business model, some would conclude that the whole enterprise is unsustainable. Others might say that the days of making a difference in the lives of our students are over; that there are just too many countervailing influences.
Mother Lange’s wisdom and courage should prompt us to re-examine any lingering doubt we might have about the efficacy of our schools and about the deep desire of our students to attend schools where they can know God’s love, experience respect, make life-long friends, and where they can excel – as students and indeed as persons.
If you visit our schools while they are in session, you will witness small miracles in the making all around you as our heroic and dedicated teachers help their students develop their God-given gifts and talents and introduce them to new worlds of knowledge and skill.
Our young people grow physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually – and most important of all, they are immersed in an atmosphere in which they can encounter the God who is the source of their dignity, creativity and freedom. They are equipped to rise above the fads, and ideologies of right and left, in order to become the young people God intends them to be. We can be confident that God’s will for our young people corresponds with their inmost desires for happiness.
When God works miracles, of course, he works through others. I want to thank the Lord’s co-workers in making these miracles happen – our great educators, our educational leaders, our benefactors, our clergy and religious, and our parents – and most of all our students.
May God bless you as this new academic year begins!
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