Warm greetings from Zuni where we transition between snow and ice to bright sunshine on a daily basis! It adds to the excitement of waking up to a new day with all the blessings that it will bring. Indeed every day has its own form of blessing when we look back and consider the laughter of that day. Being surrounded with the vitality of so many young people there is never a shortage of mirth.
Our January ended with a visit to the school by our bishop, James Wall. He normally tries to make at least one visit every year but of course with the Covid restrictions of the last two years his visits had to be cancelled. In fact I was a little concerned when the chancellor of the diocese e-mailed me to let me know that he could not accompany the Bishop. The chancellor is a retired medical doctor and when Covid infiltrated his home he naturally went into isolation. Thankfully Bishop Wall was not affected and his arrival had all the students excited and a little awe struck …at least for a short time.
The Bishop celebrated the Wednesday “All School Mass”. I must say that our Altar Servers from the school were rather magnificent in the dignity with which they served while coping with the unusual such as handling incense, miter and crozier. The students were enthralled as Bishop spoke of ‘prayer and worship’ in his homily. The students made intercessory prayers in English and Zuni, praying for the world and all the friends who make our school possible. Needless to say the beauty of our worship found its expression as the kindergarteners mimed the hymn “like a sunflower” as a meditation after Holy Communion. Their hands were raised to the heavens in an exquisite prayer and through my watery eyes I noticed several students in the congregation making the same gesture. Clearly the Holy Spirit was at work.
That sense of awe quickly disappeared as the bishop and Sr. Marsha toured the class rooms and the cafeteria. He mentioned to the Kindergarteners how beautifully they had prayed and asked if they had practiced. One young lad said “of course we did – twice”. Laughter pervaded the cafeteria and all the bishop could say was “what characters”! Bishop made a special point of thanking the teachers and all the staff for their dedication, hard work and care of the students.
It is true that every student is a unique character. Regularly I would notice some word or action that would bring a smile to my face (behind the ever present mask) and I would thank the Lord for giving me the privilege of being among such wonderful children and staff.
Quickly following the bishop’s visit we had Catholic Schools Week. In my last letter I mentioned that we had hoped to ‘live stream’ some of our activities. Sadly that was not possible. Because of an upsurge in the virus spread we had to confine ourselves to class room activities. However that did not diminish the determination of all to mark the week as a time for frivolity and rejoicing in our school identity. Each class chose a movie; had crazy hair day; pajama day; dress up and dress down days. One pre-k student came resplendent in a sparkling waist coat, bow tie and light flashing shoes. Honestly I did not know what was going to happen next. Again needless to say the faculty threw themselves into creating a laughter filled week.
One item on our usual program that we all missed was the student faculty basketball game. 8th grade were particularly disappointed at not being able to demonstrate the prowess. Although I must confess the faculty usually makes a great show for the occasion. Mind you, I suspect there was a sigh of relief from several of the teachers!
Another event that is sorely missed by school and indeed the whole community is our monthly school bingo. This has always been a fun event well supported by locals and of course has been a good fundraising event. But naturally we have been unable to hold it for almost two years now. I am regularly asked when it will start up again and there is always disappointment when I say not just yet. I have even had requests that I call the numbers in my Scottish way. Many enjoy my quips between numbers using distinctly Scottish expressions. A little bit of fun makes a whole lot of difference.
Although we are coping well with handling the latest manifestation of the virus it still presents challenges. Everyone entering the premises has a temperature check which is still a great indicator of possible infection. But of course it can take several days before symptoms manifest themselves. Through no fault of their own, some students pick up the virus, come to school, and later show symptoms. The result is that the whole class goes into isolation including teachers.
We have had four such incidences this year. Thankfully there have been no serious consequences and all have returned safe and well. During their isolation students receive study packages for work at home with the caveat that they will be tested on their return to school. Again thankfully the students have been diligent in keeping up with their work. The process does still cause disruption to the whole school. When a grade has been missing I notice that there has been a quieter air for example around the cafeteria. While there is no anxiety among the students, they do take their protocols seriously. As I have mentioned previously the little ones make a game of it, counting off the one foot squares linoleum tiles on floors to make sure they keep their distance from each other.
Teaching time is also reduced as we close school early, usually on Fridays. The intercom resounds with the message “exit the buildings as ‘Fogging” commencing” and every inch of the buildings is disinfected and cleaned. It is not a pleasant process since the air becomes filled with chemicals and remains that way for several hours. Our custodial and maintenance people look like actors in a science fiction movie as they vest in respirators and protective clothing. As I am sure everyone does, we long for this to come to an end but until it does we will do everything possible to keep St. Anthony’s as a safe haven.
Academically we move forward at an alarming pace. Only three months remain of the school year. Students were required to take a regular on line “star” testing. Just as they were due to start local workmen cut through the internet cable in town. Students were naturally “disappointed” and even more so when they had to take the test the next day! This has been a quiet, regular sort of month yet filled with unique moments that only young people can bring into being. Notwithstanding technical issues, ‘fogging’, virus or fun times, lessons continue unabated and students grow in knowledge, spirit and joy day by day.
Thank you for making the blessing of St. Anthony’s possible.
Sincerely, Fr. Patrick McGuire
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