Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
I have taken solace in this passage from Hebrews since three witnesses to God’s presence in our world have passed away recently. Last week, Rich Clark passed away suddenly. I had finally gotten around to contacting Rich to come onto the podcast and had a great conversation with him on Friday, Sep 2nd. I told him before we started, “These usually go 20-30 minutes but if the Spirit leads us, it might take longer.” Boy, did it ever.
In our one hour conversation, Rich recalled his call to leave his comfy job as principal of St. Ignatius HS and heed the call to start a Cristo Rey school. This call came in the form of a mystical experience of God’s presence he felt in a simple chapel in Peru. He knew he needed to do something, anything, because God was disrupting his life. He helped build the 3rd Cristo Rey school in the network and supported the work of many, many more. Then he left St. Martin de Porres HS to establish the Partnership School foothold in Cleveland. He has helped rebuild an impressive foundation of Catholic education in the inner city.
It’s impossible to measure Rich’s impact. Consider how many lives have been changed by his work—students, of course, but families, parents, spouses, children, not to mention faculty/staff and the wider community. If they could line up to thank Rich, that queue would be miles long. As you’ll hear from the podcast, Rich is also refreshingly humble and funny. It’s a strange work of the Spirit to bring us together so close to his passing.
Earlier this summer, former colleague Patricia Thenell passed away. Pat was one of a kind. After her husband passed away unexpectedly in the early 1970s, leaving her a widow with 5 young children, Pat went to work at her husband’s former school, Seattle’s Blanchet HS, and taught theology until her retirement a decade ago. She was determined that students would view theology as a serious subject and was proud that her theology grades sometimes determined who the valedictorian was. Pat was also a vocal supporter of women’s athletics, establishing that the young women competing for the school would not be known as the “Lady Braves” but simply the “Braves” like their male counterparts. She inspired and mentored many young women as a faithful Catholic. Pat’s obituary here. An article about her from 2002 describing her love for sports.
I was privileged to get to know Fr. Bob Perilli soon after I moved to Buffalo. We shared a common interest in family systems therapy and creating a more welcoming church. Here’s A piece in the Buffalo News about Bob’s incredible life and passing. Bob, a therapist and Eudist priest, offered to help with our Pastoral Practices committee. Although retired, he was generous with his time and even came to our May principal meeting to discuss some of the thorny issues that principals are facing now. “Identify your non-negotiables,” he offered, “and don’t compromise on those.” He had a direct but warm approach and had made a significant impact on Buffalo. After all, his leadership toward the AIDS community had removed the stigma and brought God’s mercy and love to so many.
We are stronger church from the work of Rich, Pat, and Bob. I was privileged to know all three witnesses to God’s presence.
This post appears in the September 27th edition of Catholic School Matters