I spent eight years in the halls of St. Francis DeSales Catholic School, from 1st through 8th grades. All of my siblings were also educated at DeSales, with my oldest brother graduating from there; the last senior class to do so before the high school closed forever. The building some of my older siblings attended remains a picture in my memory, being torn down when I was in lower elementary. The building I attended still houses the school today.
The sign that currently welcomes students and visitors looks like this:
When I visit the school these days, it looks so small. I could take you down the hall and tell you which room I was in for each grade. It was a big deal when we reached 5th grade. We got to be upstairs with the big kids, and not just for music class or to go to the Library.
Next thing we knew, my 30 classmates and I were having our 8th grade graduation photo taken on the steps of the church, located adjacent to the school, with the convent and rectory between the two. Most of us headed off to the same local public high school.
My Catholic school days included a dress code that had me wearing polyester pant suits, mass every Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and nuns in habits as classroom teachers. We went to confession regularly, never missed a Holy Day of Obligation, and dreaded Holy Week because of the time we had to spend in church. Except for Easter Sunday. I have always loved the joyful feel and hymns on Easter.
Our parents made sure that we always made it to church. No excuses. Until we were on our own, making our own choices. Today, I appreciate numerous aspects of my early education and religious upbringing. For years though, I had mixed feelings about it all and kept a distance much of the time.
In recovery from alcoholism, exploring spirituality in new ways had me circling back to my formative years. I started finding comfort and strength in prayers, and allowed myself to loosen up the ritualistic–on knees and hands folded–method of praying that had been ingrained in me.
Thirty years after leaving DeSales School, I heard the Prayer of St. Francis DeSales in the halls of the Catholic school I had been working at for several years. (I wasn’t looking for a job in a Catholic school, rather just looking for a job and it ended up being in a Catholic school.)
Our principal was reading the prayer over the PA during morning announcements. It caught my ear because the content really resonated with me. When I delved further, I discovered the prayer was attributed to none other than St. Francis DeSales. I don’t recall ever hearing it until that day. It struck a chord and is now a prayer I say regularly. It has been shared with others, especially my sisters, and now I have it memorized and include it in my daily meditation and prayer time.
Late bloomer and slow learner that I am, the seeds planted at St. Francis DeSales School took time to mature and grow. I heard this prayer when I was ready to hear it, when I was most likely to make it part of my life and faith. Funny how life works and how the Great Spirit has impeccable timing when it comes to crucial messages and the work of messengers.
Here is “The Prayer of St. Francis DeSales” and the words I find so very helpful:
Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life with fear. Rather, look to them with full confidence as they arise. God has guided you thus far in life. If you hold fast to God’s hand, you will be led safely through all trials. Whenever you cannot stand, God will carry you lovingly in his arms.
Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same eternal father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day of your life. Either God will shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace then, and put aside all useless thoughts, all vain dreads and all anxious imaginations. Amen.
On a recent visit home, I paid a little more attention to where I might find likenesses of my little school’s patron saint. I walked right past this one below many, many times as a student and never really noticed it. It sits between the convent, now a daycare center, and the rectory, which is in the process of being torn down. St. Francis DeSales stands tall and looks to be teaching. The name St. Francis DeSales was a presence in my life for many years without really impacting me. Today, his words are a true presence and a gift in my daily recovery. For that I am very grateful.