As summer winds down, the first day of the 18th school year for St. James Academy lingers just over the horizon! I write this on July 25th, the feast of St. James the Greater, and I wanted to share some thoughts related to our patron as we prepare our minds and hearts to start anew this fall.
On a personal level, St. James has been pursuing me my whole life. James is a family name for the Rapps; I have a grandfather, uncle, and cousin on my dad’s side each named James, and it is my son Noah’s middle name as well. I attended St. James the Greater parish and school throughout my childhood, and my entire professional career has been spent at the school founded by James Keleher and dedicated to the apostle and son of thunder for whom he was named.
I want to tell the story of these two communities.
The first is the one with which you are already familiar. Our St. James Academy community is the fruit of decades of prayers and planning by many people, most of whom you will never meet or know, the fruit of a tree watered by the sweat and tears of thousands of families who have sacrificed time and money and other opportunities to help nurse a newly-planted sapling on the western edge of Johnson County.
It is a fruit that has grown from roots deeply and intentionally planted in the soil of the Church from which it pulls the life and energy it needs to thrive.
It is the fruit made possible by a firm trunk of committed visionaries and patrons, fruit held delicately aloft by the limbs of teachers and parents through storms and sunshine alike.
It is a springtime of sorts here. We have a waiting list to attend, incredible teachers searching us out to work here, a combination of committed families who have been here for years with new arrivals committed to our future, and exciting opportunities to grow and develop our campus underway (with more on the horizon!). The produce is ripe, and it is so exciting to be a part of its growth.
But it is not the same for the St. James I grew up in.
If we are enjoying a spring, they are suffering a cold winter. My childhood memories of a solid school anchoring a strong church community, mostly-full Masses and lively parish events, generational commitment from families (four generations of my family were both members of the parish and attendees at the school) seem distant at best as I look at the current reality.
When visiting my folks earlier this month, we went to 9:30 am Mass (now the only offering on Sundays). We parked in front of the now-closed school, walked across the street and up the stairs to enter the still stunningly-beautiful yet now mostly-empty church.
As I sat in Mass, I counted 44 people in attendance (other than my family of seven), which included the priest, musicians, and server. There were only two families (other than mine) with school-aged children there, and perhaps three other individuals under the age of fifty in attendance.
It is a portrait of a dying church, a not unfamiliar sight across our country and beyond.
As I look towards another school year and reflect on our patron, I can’t help but think of the dichotomy of these two places, each so dear to me personally. The same heart that swells with pride for what God has seen fit to do here in Lenexa also aches for the decomposition of my first spiritual home in St. Louis.
What I hope to communicate to each of you, and what I hope to remind myself of, is just how fragile what we have here is. The Church is, at its heart, a fortress within a spiritual battle, and it is a battle that is possible to lose. While we know and can never forget that Jesus has won the war and definitively defeated sin, death, and demons, we must also remember that the Enemy’s greatest desire is to cause as many casualties as possible while he retreats. He is still the ruler of this world, and until the end times when he is expelled for good and a new heavens and a new earth is established, the battle will rage on. The winner has been determined, but who will stand with Him when He’s crowned is not.
Growing up, I had a church community. We had the sacraments. We had good priests. We had great families.
One generation later, that church is dying.
What our parish didn’t have when I was growing up was a sense of mission. We didn’t have the understanding that there was something real at stake, something that could be lost, something that we were charged with not only protecting but also nurturing and growing. We were supposed to take that ripe fruit, break it open, and scatter the seeds as far as we could.
But we didn’t.
The success of St. James Academy thus far has been predicated on a commitment to sowing the seed of the Gospel. We have seen better-than-expected enrollment, achievements in academics and athletics and the arts, and successes for our graduates precisely because of, not in spite of, this clarity of mission and purpose.
Tradition holds that after the Ascension, James the Greater traveled to Spain to evangelize the Iberian peninsula, but he was unsuccessful at first. The profile of St. James in this month’s Magnificat says, “A discouraged James prayed for help…Our Lady, though living in the Holy Land, appeared to him.”
If we want the fruit of the last 18 years to last, if we want it to be the source of the seeds which will sprout new life here in Kansas and beyond, we must stay rooted. We must remember that this is God’s project, not ours, and that we are called not to be successful, but faithful. We must pray, like James, with unceasing gratitude in these good times and be strengthened for what challenges may come. We must turn to our Lady and ask her to bring us closer to her Son Jesus, so that as we pursue excellence in every area of our school, it can be for His glory, not ours, and for his ends, not our own. His kingdom come; His will be done.
I am so excited to begin another year at this place I love so dearly. I feel the fire of our patron, his zeal and vigor, burning quietly in my heart as I think about the wonderful young people who will return to our building so soon. And I place this school, its families and its staff, in the hands of Mary, she who was steadfast through the glories of her Son’s life and resurrection as well as the trials of his passion and death. I ask you to do the same!
Let us all pray for another great year at the Academy, and more importantly, for continued commitment to our mission of passing on the faith to the next generation. St. James, pray for us!
Your brother in Christ,