As we approach Thanksgiving, I am aware of the founding charisms from the Christian Brothers and School Sisters of Notre Dame. More than anything else, these charisms invite us to keep God’s presence at the top of our minds and call on us to love one another. This is at the core of what Totino-Grace offers.
What Makes Catholic Schools Different?, January 2020
Brother Tom Geraghty was my first principal in my first teaching assignment. At the time, I was living community with four other Lasallian Volunteer teachers and five Christian Brothers at St. Joseph High School in Greenville, Mississippi. Just before my first day in the classroom, Brother Tom took me aside and said, "Craig, as a teacher, you will be Jesus to these students." No one had ever told me that I would be looked upon as Jesus before. What did Brother Tom mean? How should I act? What should I say? Brother Tom's words moved me. I felt beyond myself, like I was part of something big, real, and worthy. They made me want to inspire my students.
As a young teacher, it was clear to me that Catholic schools deeply invest in their students. Not only is there a high academic bar, but there is something greater going on. Catholic schools are different from their public school counterparts because they teach students to be on the lookout for the purpose God has for them.
I recently heard one of our teachers at Totino-Grace ask her students, "What has Totino-Grace taught you about acting like Jesus?" She went on to question the students before her:
- Do you pray?
- Do you forgive?
- Do you listen?
- Do you care about others and try to serve them?
This teacher really had the students thinking about their lives: Were they living purposefully? Would others recognize Jesus in their actions?
Being part of a Totino-Grace means being part of a community. My hope is that every one of our students feels welcome and known. Totino-Grace is intentional in trying to create an atmosphere where our students feel valued, that they know they really matter. Our students like coming to school precisely because of how they feel when they are here. If young people feel capable, if they feel loved, if they know God, they are being teed up for success.
This week is Catholic Schools Week across the nation. The theme for the week is: "Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed." Let's challenge ourselves to mindfully be Jesus to others.
I am because we are. That’s TG.
Live Jesus in our hearts. Forever!
Dr. Craig W. Junker, President
Without a doubt, the first message we want our students to understand at TG is that they matter. Their voice counts. How our students feel about themselves, their classmates, and their teachers is foremost on our minds -- at all times. Perhaps this is why our students like coming to school -- because they feel respected. This may not seem so remarkable, but what we emphasize at TG is not always experienced at other high schools.
In my 20 years of academic leadership, I have given significant consideration to how schools can best help young people to succeed. While recognizing there are various factors, I consistently return to a mindset of service as a key differentiator. What our students soon realize is acting from a mindset of service not only benefits others, it serves the person conducting acts of generosity and care by providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Our service immersion trips are transformative, life changing experiences. Our Eagles today are working toward a better future for themselves and others.
The first days at a new school can be daunting for any student but especially students who don't know many of their classmates, which is why Totino-Grace handles these initial days with great purpose. Orientation Day ends when the students file into the gymnasium for a final reflection. As the students enter, every TG teacher and staff member is lined up near the entrance and enthusiastically applauds the students as they take a seat on the bleachers. Clearly, the students don't know this will happen until it is taking place, and their expressions are priceless. They see that they are cared about by all adults in our building. This tradition is our way of welcoming our students to our school community. This ritual also signifies to students that Totino-Grace is a different type of school, one that will invest in them in a very deep and personal manner.
In 1966, our school was founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the De La Salle Christian Brothers. We continue to remember with gratitude the ministry and sacrifice of the brothers and sisters in beginning our school and forming the strong, vibrant faith community that is Totino-Grace.