At the Partnership’s Immaculate Conception School in the South Bronx, you’ll hear one phrase repeated often: “Jesus calls us each by name.”
It is one of the root beliefs the teachers, staff, and administration discerned a few years ago—a core belief that animates and drives the work of the entire school community. Partnership Assistant Superintendent and pied piper for root beliefs Christian Dallavis shared their power to transform a school in detail in a Post last summer.
At Immaculate Conception, the belief that “Jesus calls us each by name” informs Principal Alex Benjamin’s daily routines. Leader of one of the largest schools in the Partnership, she embraces the challenge at the start of the school year of learning every child’s name, calls them by name each day, and—more importantly—devotes time to “learning what makes each of them unique, beautiful, and seen.”
“Jesus calls us each by name” animates teachers’ understanding of their daily work as well. “Each of us is called,” Ms. Benjamin explains, “to do this work. We have been put in this place, to work with these particular kids, in this community—which makes this a sacred space. We are each called to grow here, adults and students.”
This week is a sobering anniversary for the Immaculate Conception community. Librarian Maritza Hernandez passed away suddenly a year ago, on March 8, 2020. Five days later, the school—and all our schools—transitioned to remote learning as coronavirus swept through New York City, with particular devastation in neighborhoods like Immaculate Conception’s. The school transitioned quickly from celebrating the life and mourning the loss of this special individual to grappling with what became a citywide crisis, and then a national and global tragedy.
Many of us have taken to looking back as the one-year anniversaries of altering our lives due to COVID come around on the calendar. We may try to absorb the losses—to take in the magnitude of over half a million American neighbors and loved ones who were with us this time last year and are gone from us now—over 2.5 million worldwide.
When the scale of a problem grows large enough to defy our human imagination, or feels beyond our control or theology, we can too easily revert to a dehumanizing numbness. Even just living in a large city can make people feel unseen and dehumanized; that can also be true for children in families preoccupied by the economic and health challenges of this time. That’s why it is more important than ever that our schools be communities where each child feels, as they say at Immaculate Conception, called each by name, known and seen for who they are.
That’s also why, today, the New York Partnership schools will gather in prayer, and part of our prayer will lift up the names of the individuals we have lost this year. And we will receive the consolation of our faith: that amid the too-often dehumanizing scale of evils like COVID, God calls each of those 2.5 million individuals by name—even when calling them to their final rest.
Our prayer will give us time to reflect on what Immaculate Conception School asks us to consider every day: that Jesus calls each of us, individually, with our own gifts and flaws. We will pray to renew the joy we take in each of the precious individuals we work with and for, and to truly see, peeking above the masks and through the screens, the people who God loves and has brought into our lives.
And we will pray for all those God has called home by name. We will pray: May the soul of Maritza Hernandez, and the souls of all the faithfully departed, rest in peace. Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may a perpetual light shine upon them.