31-Year-Old Principal Thanks His Mothers
Rapp grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He played four years of soccer and rugby, and met his wife, Megan, while at Benedictine. He graduated in 2008 with degrees in English and Secondary Education. Rapp went on to earn his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Baker University. He taught English and Theology at St. James for seven years before moving into administration. Rapp’s remarks on the day before commencement follow.
Stay Close to Your Mothers
By Shane Rapp || Principal of St. James Academy, Lenexa, Kansas; Benedictine College 2017 Outstanding Young Alumni.
I would like to start by lowering your expectations.
When someone is given an award like this, you might think they have it all together. However, there are too many people in this room who know that is not true in my case for me to pretend like it is.
I mean, just at my table, there’s Brother Leven, who has likely insulted me to over two dozen people in this room already this morning; my father-in-law, who may or may not be privy to a half dozen incredibly stupid decisions I made throughout the 13 years he’s known me; and my wife, who, let’s be honest, if she has a second mimosa there’s no telling what she might say.
And of course, there’s all those of you within the audience who had me as an English teacher at St. James. You know who you are. However, there is one of you I would like to recognize by name. Is David Maddock here? Could you raise your hand, please?
You see, as an educator, all the hard work, long hours, blood, sweat, and tears, is worth it when you hear about the impact you have had on your students. So you can imagine how excited I got four years ago when the graduation speaker at St. James Academy started talking about my class.
And you can also likely imagine my dismay when the one story he chose to share in front of our entire school community was about how one day I bent down to pick something up and ripped the seat of my pants in front of the entire class.
I can’t tell you how excited I was then to be invited to speak at that same young man’s graduation brunch four years later, in front of all three of his friends, and say whatever I darn well please. But we’ll get back to you later David.
My First Family
I think it is only fitting that I get to be here on Mother’s Day weekend. Benedictine is, after all, my alma mater, Latin for “nourishing mother.” And that is exactly what this community has been for me.
God first gave me the gift of faith through my parents, who I am blessed to have with me here today. My dad, through his intellect and his steady presence in my life, inspired wonder and awe in me at a young age by asking and answering the deep questions of my heart and made it easy for me to see God as a Father who is always there for his children. And my mom, Monica, my first alma mater, nourished my heart with a love and devotion for her family through difficult times that was truly inspirational, not altogether unlike her patron saint.
What began in my home in St. Louis really didn’t begin to flourish until my sophomore year here, when the friends I made showed me a new way of life, a life of joy and virtue and commitment to ideals beyond simple selfish desires.
They helped me make my faith my own.
And every time that faith started to wilt, it was nursed back to life by the priests and monks of the Abbey, most especially by my first true spiritual director, Father Bruce Swift, surely now a saint in heaven, whose gentleness and encouragement kept me moving forward as I first began battling the dark sins in my heart while striving to accept the love of Jesus.
Now, almost 10 years after my graduation, many of those same friends continue to feed my spiritual life. Yes, even you Brother Leven … and that is the closest to a compliment you will receive in this speech lest I tempt you to pride.
Just this past Easter weekend, we had a reunion of sorts with our Benedictine group. Megan and I met seven other couples at a park to eat dinner and let our kids play. Of the eight couples, five were marriages of two Benedictine College alums, and of the three spouses that didn’t graduate from Benedictine, two were RDs for the college at one point. We don’t talk about that third guy.
Oh, and within those eight families, counting those in utero, we had 24 collective children at the park that day. It was pretty much the most stereotypically Catholic thing ever.
But those friendships are what sustain me and my family as we live in an increasingly confused world. What were once cultural givens are now battlefields for culture wars; what were once hailed as virtues are now viewed as bigotry. The drama of sin and grace continues to unfold all around us.
Arranging the Details
Which brings me to the other alma mater we have in common: our Mother Mary. She has taught me that what St. Francis de Sales said is so very true: “There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as real strength.” She has taught me that I almost never need to argue people into the faith, but rather invite them gently into a life in which they can see her Son Jesus working through friendship and true love.
My relationship with her has grown over the years to the point where now I try to entrust all of my days to her entirely. The two prayers I say on the way to work every day are both adapted from the writings of Father Gaitley. The first is the short form of his consecration prayer to Mary, and the second is the simplest and most powerful prayer in my life right now: “Mary, arrange the details of my day.”
After all, that’s what a mother does best. She arranges the details.
I used to be amazed when I would call my mom from my dorm at Benedictine telling her that I had lost something and over the phone she could tell me where it was even though she was 250 miles away.
I love watching how my wife braids my daughter’s hair just so, how she invents games to play with our boys, how she remembers to buy all the foods my family loves when they are coming in town, and she keeps electricity running through our house through some voodoo magic she calls “paying the bills.”
God used Benedictine as a mother to me, to arrange the details of my life, to give me the friends I would need to fall in love with the person of Jesus, to give me the wife who would steal my heart and be my helpmate in the absolutely terrifying adventure of trying to raise sweet and joyful children who know the love of Jesus, who know that He is real and that He cares for them, in this world that can seem so very dark at times.
So I sit here with almost all of the most important mothers in my life, my mom, my wife, Benedictine, and our Mother Mary. There is one who is not here. I would be remiss if I did not mention my mother in law at this point, because she and her husband have welcomed me into their family as their son from the moment I started dating their daughter, and the love they have shown me has played such an important role in God’s plan for my life. I will be forever grateful to them.
So all of these mothers have worked to nourish me. They have stoked the hearth of my heart. They have kept a steady flame of peace and joy burning within me. They stir the coals when my love starts to fade. They dampen the flames when I lose control and burn others. They are always there to tend the fire and arrange the kindling in that way only mothers can.
If I could offer one bit of advice, it would be to stay close to your mothers.
Entrust your heart to Mary, and listen to her Son. Pray with Scripture daily. Frequent the sacraments. Listen to those friends that your soon-to-be alma mater has given you and lean on them as you find the plan the Father has for your lives. Don’t try to control everything, but trust, trust that God will arrange the details of your life through the gentle hands of the mothers through which He so often works.
So I ask you to raise your glass. To our alma mater, Benedictine College: may she continue to show her children the way to their Heavenly Father; and to all of you, that you may grow to become the men and women your mother has raised you to be.
Oh yeah. David. I’ve been thinking for a long, long time about what exactly it is I wanted to say about you in front of all these people, and then it finally hit me last night. You sir, are a fine young man, and I’m proud of you. Now don’t you look like a huge jerk to all these people.
Thanks, and congratulations to the Benedictine College class of 2017. Cheers.