Author’s Note: All the details of this story are a work of fiction and are meant to illustrate a single lesson near the end.
By Brandon Harvey
There was a private high school that was the ideal school, George MacDonald Academy. The academy had the highest success rate in the state, outstanding facilities, a curriculum that fostered wisdom and virtue in preparation for life, qualified instructors, and award winning extra-curriculars. In the beginning, their ability to stand apart from the alternative came naturally. Yes, they recruited, but the recruitment was more organic and the fruitfulness of these modest recruitment efforts was plentiful.
Over the course of time, other high schools came forth. MacDonald Academy’s enrollment began dropping as the competition’s ability improved for reaching the local families and individuals. In generations past, the citizens of the town knew there was nowhere else to send a student but MacDonald Academy; overtime, an entire generation came of age with some having no experience of MacDonald Academy or its reputation for excellence. Something had to be done to increase the enrollment and the role the academy had in bettering the community of Rem City.
The headmaster called a meeting of all faculty and staff.
Thank you everyone for coming. As you know, we have the best high school in the city. This is not my personal evaluation but an objective fact. Thanks to donors, we are able to allow students to pay for tuition based upon the financial ability of their family and no family is turned away. No other school can compare. Yet, not everyone knows this.
“In the past we have not relied on the need to recruit. Things have changed. We cannot stay in this maintenance mode and not strengthen our presence and reputation in the community in order to tell our story. I am implementing a mandatory summer work season. I will work around your vacations and pay you nearly double for your time. Some of us will be going out to recruit, and others will be supporting the recruitment efforts through office work.
“Further details are in your packets. Your project coordinator is also listed there. I will be leading by example and will spend most of my summer in the different regions of our fair city. Thank you for your commitment. God be with you.”
Headmaster José worked tirelessly. He spoke at churches, in homes, was present for civic events, did interviews on radio and television, started a new social media campaign, and hosted a Q&A as part of the intermission of a local music festival. He had doubled their enrollment goals for the summer. It was easy, because the facts were so appealing for those that were new to the reputation of the academy. He even began conversations, with the support of the Board of Directors, to expand their high school and tutoring abilities to have a presence in the other parts of town.
Headmaster José had delegated much of the normal administrative and routine duties of the summer to others and was rarely back at the academy office. He spent most of this time in the office making copies and checking his calendar. He sadly presumed too much of his delegates.
He took a break from recruiting a week before school to prepare for all the new students and the start of the school year. He had plans to continue habits of getting involved on recruitment throughout the year but knew that he would need to have other team members assist him in that focus too.
Yet, the start of the school year came and went. The new students transferred to other schools after the first day and most of the returning families left too. See, what had happened, and the headmaster had discovered it a week before the start of school but could not remedy the situation in time, is that the school’s routine needs had been neglected for an entire summer.
The school was only being cleaned in a central hub where the workers managed the phones and the social media campaigns, lightbulbs had burned out and not been replaced, water was leaking due to plumbing issues, the band room had a tree penetrating the wall from a thunderstorm, racoons moved in through the large opening in the wall from the tree and had made homes in the brass horns of several marching band tubas, no one ordered textbooks, the bills were not paid and utilities were shut down, mice and ants could be found in most classrooms, snakes could also be found, cockroaches had infested the locker rooms, sporting equipment was not replenished, returning families were not sent a first day notice or school supply list (unless they called and asked), the new hires were not properly trained for an education that emphasized wisdom and virtue, and not all of the new hires had background checks with one being the newly released from prison and infamous Don Jon Jacobson.
After the dust settled from the students leaving after that horrific first day, the headmaster asked his team, “What happened? How did this happen?” A lone janitor raised his hand and offered, with much courage, “Excuse me sir, you told us to focus on going out or helping others go out and recruit. I too focused on my details in my packet and did not have time for the maintenance work.”
To this, the headmaster replied, “I did not say being mission focused means we stop the maintenance. We must do both. Can you imagine what it would be like if a Catholic church solely focused on missionary outreach efforts and not on the upkeep of the buildings and current programs, faithfulness to Church Doctrine, and the celebration of faithful and joy-filled liturgies? People would be walking away and choosing another religion or no religion. They would arrive to a church or new program that did not match what their parishioners were witnessing to. Closeness to Jesus is found in both.” The headmaster’s head bowed with frustration and an acute sense of personal guilt. The meeting concluded.
But not all was lost. The headmaster, at the suggestion of the city, sold the school and purchased a small building that was once a dentist office. With a few teachers and the remaining 40 students who agreed to try the new MacDonald Academy, the school learned a new balance of maintaining the excellence of the school, faithfulness to their standards, community relations, and recruitment. Growth was on the horizon.
Brandon Harvey is married and blessed with four children. He studied undergraduate theology and philosophy at Briar Cliff University and received an MA in Theology from Franciscan University. He works as a Catholic speaker, theological consultant, and writer. He has developed the Home Catechesis Podcast and Vlog resource: www.homecatechesis.com