Sunday, September 14, 2008
Good and Faithful Servant
On Friday, JPII learned that Carol Cassidy, its National Arts Honor Society advisor, died of injuries received from an accident earlier that week. This is Mr. Weber's address to students on Monday, September 15, 2008.
On my third day as new headmaster in June, a woman whom I did not know asked me for permission to paint the walls of our fine arts complex. It was an impressive presentation; she had sketches for each wall. “No”, I said as politely as I could. “I did that once at my old school. Painted walls look good for about a month, then they begin to smear and smudge, and they become hard to paint over.”
About three weeks later, the same woman scheduled another appointment. “I’d like to get my art students to paint the windows of this school”, she said. I looked through her sketches. “No”, I said as kindly as I could, but feeling a bit guilty for saying no a second time. “Painted windows only look good from one side of the windows, and like the walls, it’s difficult to remove. I am sorry.”
Two weeks ago, undeterred, she met with me again. “Mr. Weber, there is transparent vinyl that can be laid over windows and painted upon. Please let my students use them to decorate the windows, and when you get tired of it, we can simply remove the vinyl”. As she had met all my objections, it was impossible for me to say no. “OK”, I said, "but let’s limit this to the glass windows between the cafeteria and the fine arts hallway”. “Thank you”, she said, and as she left my office, I smiled to myself with admiration, and wondered what this plucky woman would bring me next.
This was Carol Cassidy at her best: committed to her art honor society students and finding them meaningful projects to do, committed to making Pope John Paul II High School look beautiful, committed to JPII’s administration—even the new guy— and committed to the faculty and staff.
And suddenly, inexplicably, she is gone.
Since we received news of the accident and I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Cassidy’s sisters, friends and colleagues, I’ve learned a lot more about her. I learned that when JPII was merely a pile of dirt with a trailer out front, and before there were any faculty, that she and Mr. Broekman were a team: while he brought guests and prospective parents to sell them on the dream, Ms. Cassidy worked behind the scenes as hostess, preparing receptions, decorating tables, making people feel welcomed.
I’ve learned that before Ms. Cassidy had an aneurism which side-lined her to a less hectic life 18 years ago, she was a high level hotel efficiency expert, and traveled extensively around this country and Europe, hotel to hotel, and that she enjoyed this jet-set life, which accounts for why she never married. Though her original home was on the east coast, she came to Nashville to work with the Opryland hotel, and because she was Catholic and was active at Our Lady of the Lake, after the aneurism, she decided to dedicate herself to help get JPII started.
In times of grief and loss like now, it is part of our Christian tradition to find consolation and understanding through Scripture. I call to mind two verses in particular.
The first is “Stay awake!” says Jesus, “For you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13).
It was a day like any other day at JPII when we received news that Mrs. Cassidy had been airlifted to Vanderbilt hospital. No one could have anticipated this; we don’t think of such things. One of the great temptations of being a teenager is to dismiss death as something that happens to old people. “I’ve got lots of time”, you may tell yourself, “to get my life together”.
Maybe, but maybe not. In the same junior class trip that I mentioned already about the bully getting on the bus without enough seats, there was a classmate named Pat who was not allowed to go on the trip for reasons of discipline. He was “crazy” we used to call him, but of course, we knew the truth was deeper: he had a drinking problem. On the third day of the trip, we got news that Pat had been drinking and driven into a tree at 110 miles per hour. He was killed instantly. His girlfriend, on the trip with us, was inconsolable. We canceled the trip instantly and came home—imagine a 600 mile bus trip full of juniors without anyone saying a word to each other, with the silence broken only by the occasional sniffles and muffled crying of his girlfriend in the back of the bus. I am sure that God had mercy on Pat, but all of my classmates and I were thinking the same thing: we should have seen that coming, why weren’t we courageous enough to step up and get him help?
We know neither the day nor the hour. If it’s true, as you may be apt to say of older people, that they live in the past, it is also true that when we’re young we live too often in the future, as if we have all the time in the world to get things right with our lives and with God. Let us use occasions like Ms. Cassidy’s sudden passing to remind us, young and old, that our goal should be to live now, appreciative of all that God has blessed us with, willing to examine our lives and challenge ourselves and our classmates to be the people God has called us to be.
The second Scripture verse reflects both our Christian faith and recalls the circumstances of Ms. Cassidy’s life. When Ms. Cassidy had her aneurism 18 years ago, it forced her to give up an exciting life that she very much enjoyed. Rather than mope or feel sorry for herself, she redirected her life to helping students and staff here at JPII.
One day, may we all hear the words of Jesus that our faith tells us Ms. Cassidy heard on Friday, the day she passed:
Well done, good and faithful servant… Come now and enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:23)