Each November brings familiar joys. Some are work-related; the talents of our students and staff in the musical (this year’s rendition of All Shook Up was incredible), the school spirit and sheer fun experienced during Turkey Bowl, feeling new energy and excitement pulsing through the building at Open House. 

Others are personal. Thanksgiving with my family in St. Louis is marked by the chaos of too many cousins in a too-small space, the tastes and smells and sounds of like an overture of themes summing up my childhood. The next day we play in the ADATIST, the Annnual-Day-After-Thanksgiving-Invitational-Soccer-Tournament, the misleading name of the pickup soccer game my dad and his friends started forty years ago whose MVP is awarded a trophy made of a hubcap glued atop a washing machine agitator. Last year, the birth of our son Joey on November 11th added a new reason to celebrate, and watching him shove handfuls of cake into his pudgy, smiling mouth a few weeks ago was yet another high point for the Rapps.

That Thanksgiving is the holiday in this month is fitting, because of all the things I’m thankful for, the moments punctuating this month exemplify those things that rest atop the list: the faith I received from my parents, the joys of family life, and the gift of being a part of a community as enriching and life-giving as St. James Academy. 

But this November’s joys were accompanied by sadness at the passing of a man I am proud to have called a colleague, friend, and mentor: Mark Huppe. 

If you attended his services, you heard tributes from so many who knew and loved him more intimately than I, so an attempt to add to that record would be futile. 

But as I sat down to write about this past month, his passing weighed heavily on my mind. I started reflecting on what I would want our kids to have learned from him. Being the third school year since his retirement, many of our current students don’t have personal experiences with Mr. Huppe. That fact bounced against the other images from this month in my heart and mind, and I ended up identifying a few key things I am thankful to have learned from Mark that I would hope our students would as well. 

The first is that making faith and family your priorities does not destine one to a dull life. 

The refrain repeating in each of the tributes to Mark’s life was his emphasis on faith and family, the same message he himself delivered in his 2021 graduation speech. Our current culture, however, both directly and indirectly, tells our students that having a family is an obstacle to achieving personal fulfillment and that organized religion is mostly just a remnant of past superstitions and power grabs. What logically follows from this is that the easiest way to be repressed, bored, and frustrated with life is to have a large family and be a part of organized religion. 

And yet, it was the life of a man married to one woman for forty-plus years, father of seven children, and lifelong employee of the Catholic Church that filled a gymnasium with 2,000 people upon his death. It was stories of that life that had people across at least three generations from every conceivable background laughing and crying, experiencing both genuine joy and sorrow for two hours. It was the palpable weight of his memory settling on that room that made every man there, from his sons to the one writing this letter, stop and look inside to see if his life could measure up to the greatness they were witnessing. So much for repressed and frustrated. 

The second is that the sign of a life well-lived is not just having a great retirement.

So many have talked of the tragedy of Mark’s illness coming so soon after retiring, and there is certainly truth in that. But what Mark showed us all is that life, life to the full, is offered to us now. We are not meant to wait. We are not meant to simply endure or get through high school or our job or the early days of our family life, always looking forward to some future happiness or peace. 

It is precisely those moments that Mark embraced so fully, and precisely that embrace that made the end of his earthly life not a tragedy for what he did not get to experience but an unabashed celebration of what he did, what we each could experience if we look at life the way Mark did. It was the shirtless living room wrestling matches and passing hallway conversations with students and nicknames for basketball players and jokes with hospice nurses and family dinners and daily walks that he embraced, that he didn’t just simply “get through”, and it reminds us that these things are the marrow running through the bones of each of our lives.

The last is that the appropriate Christian attitude towards death is one of laughter. If you read Mark’s Caringbridge, you likely remember several of the posts that made you laugh, but the one on October 16th, just one month before his passing, left me laughing hysterically and shaking my head at the same time. In it he lists the ten things he predicted his wife Maureen would do within ten days of his death, things like giving away his car that she hates and putting in an inground pool, complete with “flat-bellied pool boy” working there three days a week. 

At first, his irreverence towards his own mortality is almost off putting, especially since other posts make it clear he did have real fears and worries about his last days. But being able to laugh at your own death is so Christian. If Jesus is who He says He is, death has no power over us. It does not have the final say. As the funeral liturgy says, “life is changed, not ended.” Faith in Jesus’ victory allows us to laugh in the face of what others fear most.

I learned far more than this from Mark, and may share more at another time. But if our students walked out of St. James knowing that prioritizing faith and family leads to fulfillment, that we are called to embrace the life God offers us now and not in some unreal idealized future, and that our Christian faith means death can be approached with both courage and humor, then I think our job will have been accomplished, and Mark’s legacy honored. Let us make that our prayer for our students and our children as we enter the Advent season.

Your brother in Christ, 

Shane