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A Flooded Cafeteria—and a Core Truth

Yesterday, as the rains from Hurricane Ida abated, Miguel Ramos sprang into action before 5 a.m. In the ever-vibrant Partnership van, then on foot, and eventually even using a boat, he did what he does almost every day: He worked to ensure that each Partnership school building functions well for students, teachers, and learning. He was joined in that effort by our colleague George Grenier, and by staff at each of our New York schools.

Indeed, just a few hours after Miguel jumped into action, teachers and staff at St. Athanasius in the Bronx gathered for what was supposed to be a pre-service day of meetings to prepare for the start of the school year on Tuesday. Before they resumed their scheduled activities, this is what they—along with a faculty spouse enlisted to help out—could be found doing: working together to swab out the gym and cafeteria.

Ida swept through New York on the day that Pope Francis had declared as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and just two days before a long holiday weekend in honor of labor. Prayer for creation and Labor Day may only seem to have in common that nice weather makes both more pleasant—but they both point us to a truth at the heart of our schools.

“Work is more than a way to make a living,” the U.S. Catholic bishops explain; “it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.” Indeed, the dignity of work is one of seven core facets of what has come to be known as Catholic Social Teaching. In the disruptions of the last year and a half we can find reminders that all of us exist in a web of workers, often unseen, who make a fundamental difference in our lives. And if we do nothing else on Monday, perhaps we take a moment simply to wonder at and be grateful for that web—for every morning our children arrive in classrooms cleaned to shining the night before by unseen hands, for every meal they eat prepared by those whose names we might never know, for every time they wash their hands at faucet fixed by someone climbing into the Partnership van well before dawn.

Care for creation happens to be one of the other tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, and the why behind it is key: “We are called to protect people and the planet,” the bishops explain, “because we are “living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation.”

The beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking truth at the core of the dignity of work, care for creation, and Catholic schools is this: None of us is alone. It is impossible for us to live outside of relationships, and only through them do we even become our fullest selves. We learn, grow, struggle, and believe, all within relationships—with those we love, those who test us, those who labor on our behalf and alongside us; with the creation that even now provides the air in our lungs; and with God.

Manhattan may be an island—but none of us are, as Catholic poet John Donne reflected four hundred years ago. And this week, Miguel Ramos and others—who might even work during Labor Day Weekend to make our New York schools ready for students’ first day—are all living out the consolation of our faith that can only be found in work that binds us to others in service.

More storms will undoubtedly come our children’s way, but we know they can weather them—can even contribute one day to solutions for them—in part because they are surrounded now by a web of relationships. As we pray for the success of this school year, may we pray that our children are strengthened by their participation in all the relationships they encounter in our schools—with peers, teachers, staff, and those of us behind the scenes; with their work, and with the natural environment; and with God.