President's letter to the Prep Community for the 2018-19 school year
We have been working hard this summer to prepare for another great academic year. Facilities have been renovated, classrooms cleaned, technology updated, and curricula enhanced. We are excited to welcome our new Principal, Dr. Thomas de Quesada, who comes from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami. With extensive experience in global studies, student affairs, and Jesuit education, Dr. de Quesada arrives with many proven ideas to improve school culture and student supervision.
Most importantly, we have been reflecting on ways to authentically live out our mission of Jesuit education in challenging times. Prep's Vision Statement lays out the ideal:
Fairfield College Preparatory School strives to be a reflective community of faith, in which students revere their relationship with God and with one another. We are committed to graduating transformational leaders who will respond to global and ecological challenges in an interconnected world marked by profound change.
While preparing global leaders, we must first celebrate local diversity. At Fairfield Prep, we are pleased to welcome 25% students of color, with socioeconomic diversity extending well beyond that due to the success of our SEED Program (Students for Educational Excellence through Diversity). One third of Prep students self-identify as non-Catholic, which includes other Christian denominations, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and no affiliation. We are blessed to have talented families from many communities and backgrounds. It is vital that we foster good relations with our neighbors and appreciate the blessings in our midst. There is much that we can learn from one another through respectful discussions and heartfelt friendships.
And so, to cultivate greater respect for religious and cultural diversity, we at Fairfield Prep have undertaken the following initiatives:
- Our leadership team met with Ms. Marji Lipshez-Shapiro of the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Michael Friedman of Temple Israel in Westport, Rabbi Marcelo Kormis of Beth El in Fairfield, Rabbi James Prosnit of B'nai Israel in Bridgeport, and Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue in Westport in June. We developed a preliminary educational plan and will continue to discuss ways to address anti-Semitism.
- I attended Shabbat services at Beth El and B'nai Israel, where Rabbis Kormis and Prosnit allowed me to address their congregations. I hope to do the same at The Conservative Synagogue and Temple Israel this fall. It has been helpful to hear their concerns and hopes.
- Rabbi Prosnit has graciously accepted my invitation to celebrate our school Thanksgiving liturgy on November 19 in Alumni Hall at 11:20 a.m. All are welcome to attend!
- Prep's Mission Leadership Team (17 administrators) will read and discuss The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal. Set in the context of the Holocaust, it is a fascinating anthology of distinct perspectives on forgiveness and reconciliation by some of the world's great contemporary wisdom figures. I highly recommend this book for those interested in interfaith dialogue.
- Prep's leadership team has met on numerous occasions with Ms. Lipshez-Shapiro to evaluate and update our academic curriculum. We found that we need to be more intentional in Holocaust Education, the dangers of anti-Semitism, the many faces of genocide, and in how we might eradicate all manifestations of hate and bias. She will facilitate upcoming faculty professional development.
- I have been meeting with Prof. Ellen Umansky, Director of Fairfield University's Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, who offers this tremendous resource on our campus.
- Student community period assemblies are being planned around the themes of tolerance and dialogue, religious diversity, and leadership.
- Prep students perform countless hours of community service as a graduation requirement, many of them at agencies like Jewish Senior Services. We are committed to placing students in ways that lead to personal growth on many levels.
Our students will certainly benefit from these efforts in coming to understand better the Jewish foundations of Christianity, as well as the complexity of Jewish-Christian relations throughout history. Most importantly, we hope that our focus this year will lead to a fuller appreciation of all faith traditions. The Catholic Church has exhorted her followers:
Through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men (Nostra Aetate, 2).
From its founding in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, members of the Society of Jesus ("Jesuits") have traveled to distant lands, actively engaged diverse cultures, and promoted the good they encountered. Ignatian spirituality optimistically believes that all things can lead us to the love of our Creator if we are open to God's plans.
Jesuits talk about, "Finding God in All Things" and "A Faith That Does Justice." Indeed, the latest General Congregation wrote a document entitled, "Companions in a Ministry of Reconciliation and Justice" (GC 36, Decree 1). In unexpected ways, we at Fairfield Prep find ourselves positioned to be such companions with other people of good will. May the Lord bless us on our journey together towards reconciliation and justice.
Rev. Thomas M. Simisky, S.J.