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St. Joseph Academy 150th Anniversary - Closing Remarks, Br Patrick McNamara

 

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15/02/2016: United States

 

400 guests attended the St. Joseph Academy 150th Anniversary Mass on Tuesday evening February 9th. Bishop Daniel Flores celebrated the Mass and Br. Patrick McNamara represented the Marist Brothers in his closing remarks.

St Joseph Academy is a Catholic high school in the Diocese of St. Augustine.

 

 Closing Remarks  - Br Patrick McNamara

150th Anniversary Mass, St. Joseph Academy, Brownsville, Texas February 9, 2016 

Good Evening, dear Brother Bishop Flores, Con-celebrants Rev. Amador, Rev. Burt and Brother Priests, Deacon John, dear Sisters, and Members of the School Board of Directors, Mr. Motyl, our Interim President, Mrs. Trott, our Principal, faculty and staff, parents and students, all dear friends of SJA:  

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord for the Lord has looked kindly on his lowly servant.” 

All of us in the Marist Mission have these words inscribed on our hearts….Mary’s words, giving credit where credit is due…to the Lord God who has smiled on us. Your beautiful student choir sang these words for us tonight. 

 

1865 to the Present, 150 years. THE SPIRIT LIVES ON!   

I bring greetings to you from Brothers and Friends who have shared your story from around the country who send you their hearts and prayers as you celebrate this 150th.  How they wish they could be here tonight.  Trust me, I am probably the least among the Brothers to represent them, although I have been a Board member here, I never have had the chance to be part of the living story here at SJA. I asked many of the Brothers who have served here to tell me some of their fondest memories of St. Joe’s. Be certain, I speak tonight only from the Brothers’ view on this world. There are so many of you, wonderful and generous Lay Men and Women, Board members, Architects, Builders, Clergy, Sisters , you have your own stories on this remarkable 150 years. Please know that our good Mother Mary will hold your stories forever in her heart.  Thank you. 

SJA opened and closed a number of times since its first “founding” date in the 1850s.  In 1906, The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) requested us to come. We owe a great debt of gratitude to them as well as the Sisters who welcomed us to town. We thank our local Church leaders and clergy for their welcome and support over the years. In 1906, we reopened the school and that SJA became a fixture of permanence for the Catholic community in Brownsville.   

Who were these early sons of St. Marcellin Champagnat? They were (and will continue to be until the present day) men with different talents and abilities, graces and weaknesses. At first, like all of our grandparents and abuelos, they raised their own chickens and gardens. They built their own buildings. These re- founding Marist Brothers were themselves exiles, refugees who were expelled from Mexico during the religious suppressions of the revolution (echoes of the Brother’s expulsion from France).

These were men on a mission…’to make Jesus Christ known and loved among young people’- the same mission that Marists around the world embrace today. The worked hard and creatively used the gifts they possessed. They had success and built two new buildings to accommodate the new students. They also bought more property across the street. Then it became necessary to expand even more and they purchased more property in 1942 where the present school is located. They built this complex in 1957. Additions have been made several times.

A brother recounts, “My first contact with the Marist Brothers at St Joe was in 1937. These teachers were curious. All were "Brothers! The Director, Bro. Paul Allemond, turned out to be my English teacher. Other teachers were truly international: French, Spanish, Swiss, Cuban, and Mexican along with several American Brothers. There also were a number of young Brothers studying along with us. They were here to escape from the Mexican persecution of Catholic churches and schools. Once things quieted down in Mexico they returned to their schools. I am in awe of the courage of those brothers whose zeal for our mission was undiminished by the hardships they experienced.”

SJA reinvented itself again and again, response to changing circumstances, reading the signs of the times:

  • Starting in 1906 as an all-boys school grades 1-12 in downtown Brownsville (the hallowed “Elizabeth Street building).
  • Moving to Rio Viejo (anticipating the growth of the city in that direction, but at the time it seemed like a risky move to the middle of nowhere).
  • Dropping the elementary grades when it seemed that this could best be handled by the parish schools.
  • Instituting the Montagne Project and partnership with the Guadalupe RMS

– to ensure access to SJA for poor children.

  • Providing a separate and self-contained facility to better meet the needs of the Middle Division students.
  • Developing a strong Marist Youth program; you have had great dedication Campus Ministry. In addition, for years, a group of students and faculty traveled to Mexico each Holy Week to work among the very poor.

In Mary’s words, “God has filled the hungry with good things…” I know we Marist Brothers are so proud of you for your love for the needy among us in this world. Not only, your administration, faculty, staff have sacrificed and given so much of yourselves to fill the intellectual hunger of students and to prepare them for the banquet of life in this world and in the next, you take priority in accomplishing your mission:

  • Providing religious and moral formation and a college preparatory education in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church; to form young men and women who will succeed in university studies, who know and love  Jesus, and who actively participate in the worship and mission of the  Church, including the Church’s preferential option for the poor.

And, through it all, “God came to the help of his servants, and kept his promise”

God has always been helpful to the Marist Brothers and the St Joe Family.  There is not enough time tonight to recall all the incidents. But, listening to my brothers from around the country, I want to mention a few which might resemble history:

Some remember the legends of “La Leona”, a nick name for Brother William Menn. Brother William Menn helped St. Joe get its Mascot the "Bloodhounds". After a game against Brownsville High, St. Joe was mocked because we didn't have a mascot and so they gave us the names "saints"--mocking us as ‘ goody goodies’. Brother William appointed a committee of students and helped them come up with the name Bloodhounds because they, like the Bloodhounds, were strong, persevering, loyal and true.

St. Joe owes so much to a man who sits here among us tonight to the leadership of Brother Frank Garza throughout his many years as Principal, teacher, and member of the family. His dedication and leadership took the bloodhounds through many hard times and challenges   Along with Brother Kevin Brogan, who

was an outstanding assistant principal, Frank worked tirelessly to ensure the future of the school, at times at a high personal price. Frank never looked to his own interests but what would best serve the school community. He worked long hours, strove to ensure the Marist and Catholic character of the school, raised funds and did everything he could to put the school on a sound financial basis

Following Brother Frank Garza as Principal, Brother Tom Delaney, Hermano Director, arrived. Tom related, “My first day in Brownsville I walked to school and it was 104 degrees. I couldn’t believe it. Why did I come here? What am I doing here? “A Gringo from el norte!” But, Then I walked to football field, team and coaches….Joe Pena, Meme Garza, and Kevin Dixon, and the team. Their warm welcome overcame the heat, and then I was so touched by the welcome of the St. Joe Family.”

“I remember one time, a problem developed with lights on the scoreboard. I asked, ‘Who changes the lightbulbs in the scoreboard?’ ‘Br. Garza did’ said Don Pepe from maintenance. ‘Well, I am from NJ,’ I said, I do not change lightbulbs.’ But I was so sad when I had to leave for family matters.”

Br. Stephen Bernard, (Leo Shea), told me that often the money was tight so the brothers had to think of a creative plan that he, Br. Justine, and Br. Dom needed to raise money to buy a community station wagon. They decided to run a summer bus trip for students across the USA to the NY WORLD’s Fair in 1965. So into a school bus, 8 brothers, and 30 brave students, including a priest and a deacon on this altar tonight, ( Fr. Amador, and Deacon John) drove from Brownsville to NY, and back, relying on the charity of religious houses across the country. It was quite an adventure. They got the station wagon, and a memory that lasts 50 years.

Apparently, funding was also a problem when Hurricane Buela in 1967 blew off the crosses and crown on top of the statues in front of the school. For years, alums kept asking for its replacement but for many reasons, the replacement was never done. However, finally, in the late 1990’s, many came to see the restoration. Clearly, it was not the crown and crosses by themselves that mattered, but what they symbolized. For so many, they symbolized the love and care of the Marist Brothers who care for their students like St Joseph cared for Jesus,   Brother Paul was there with Br. John at the time, to lead the ceremony.

And, doesn’t Br. Paul represent some of the best of who the Marist Brothers are? Dedicated, prayerful, hard-working and loyal and most often hidden and unknown.

In the recent years, we recognize and are grateful to the brothers and lay leaders who have accepted the challenge and made very significant and beautiful improvements to the facilities and academic programs at SJA. You recent leaders have always insured that the sharing of the Marist Brothers’ charism with the lay faculty and staff is a priority for the future. The Marist Brothers are most grateful to our present administration, Mr. Michael Motyl and Mrs. Lori Trott and as well as Mr. John Cowen, Chair, and the members of our Board of Directors and its committees. Thank you for your vision and hard work. And, many thanks for all you do to keep the Spirit of 1865 alive!

I would be remiss not to spend closing moments on the real reason the brothers love St. Joseph Academy so much, ‘the students’. Students have come many parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley as well as from Mexico. Alumni include 5 Marist Brothers, 4 Jesuits, 3 Diocesan priests, a former mayor of Denver, former ambassador to Mexico, 2 Brownsville mayors, Federal, State, County, and City Officials, doctors, lawyers, superintendents, as well as just some great ordinary people.

 

Each brother repeated:

“I honestly can tell you that the students were the finest and most cooperative I had ever met.”

“It is the school where I have the most contacts among the alumni. I always felt the deep connection and love between the brothers and the people of Brownsville-Matamoros.”

“The kids were one of the most creative and warm people I ever worked with. You can give them a project to do or have them work on a theme for liturgy they would come up with wonderful ideas and skits. They always waited for the last minute - they would have me pulling my hair out because the event was a week away and nothing was done. I would loss it and they would calm me down saying you know we'll have it done on time. They would and it would turn out beautifully.”

Meme Garza, graduate and long time staff member once wrote, "it is a very nurturing environment and that nurturing environment has come from the Marist Brothers for many, many years. St. Joe has taught generations to be "the best they can be" and has produced the very best- lawyers, doctors, teachers, and priests, law enforcement persons, elected local, state, and federal officials.”

“The Marist Brothers nurtured them and fostered qualities of leadership in them. The Marist Brothers cared deeply about the students, expected much from them, and gave much. They, like Mary, showed Christ to their students year after year.”

God has done great things for us! May the Spirit of 1865 continue to grow in new and exciting ways in Marist and Catholic education.

In the name of the Marist Brothers, Province of the United States, please accept our congratulations and thanks.

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