By Sister Jean McGrath
I have always been a fan of books and articles about organizational skills. Key word here is FAN, not proponent since my efforts to have an organized desk, an efficient filing system, or color coded closet fall far short of feng shui or the popular best seller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Condo.
Never has this been more true than in the last few months since I left my long time ministry as principal of a Catholic Elementary School in Chicago. Thirty one years of accumulated “memorabilia” had to be sorted, prioritized, and PURGED.
I was thrilled to go to Office Depot and find colorful new file folders and fine line markers to support the task. I should have gone to the local camping outlet store to learn how to set a campfire in the backyard and safely ignite years of saved articles, newsletters, budget worksheets, and “to be read later” or “important to save” documents stuffed in bulging file drawers.
I prayed for detachment, simplicity and a powerful paper shredder.
Tough as the task has been, I have had some wonderful reflective moments during the purge. On a yellowed piece of paper, I found the hand-written payroll from 1986 when a gifted kindergarten teacher with thirty years of experience at the time made an annual salary of $19,000. (I should add that she taught for an additional fifteen years and never complained.) She was then and remains for me now a model of dedication, commitment, and true believer in the potential of each child whom she taught.I desperately wanted to save the theological reflection of a first grader on his St. Patrick’s Day reflection on the meaning of the Trinity or the very tender letter I saved from a three-year old pre-schooler who told me I was the best principal she had ever had. Her limited experience of other principals did not diminish my gratitude.In the “legal issues” file there was the police report we needed to make when one of our fifth graders DROVE to school as a reward his mother gave him for passing a science test.
The prayer service folder was especially poignant. Funeral booklets for a graduate killed in Afghanistan, another for a father and police officer shot and killed in the line of duty, a third for a young mother who months before her death asked me to “keep an eye on the kids” if the chemotherapy did not work.
The prayer service files also held wonderful reminders of beautiful celebrations for First Reconciliations, First Communions, Confirmations and Graduations. How privileged I was to be part of those key moments in the faith development of so many children. How privileged I was to watch so many children grow in “age, wisdom, and grace”.One of the gifted “organizational experts” I have consulted suggests taking a picture of those things which you need to remember. He does not mention how to organize the scores of pictures that result. Obviously this is not the solution for me.
Two months after officially leaving my ministry, I am still purging. The piles are definitely diminishing, but there is much yet to be done. I am comforted with the thought that perhaps the purge is a metaphor for all of life’s transitions; I am aware that I must “let go”, but also need to know there is yet much to be accomplished.
Meanwhile, I am going to read the sequel to Condi’s book aptly titled, Spark Joy, and hope the inexpensive shredder I purchased for the task continues to hum.
About the Author
Sister Jean McGrath recently retired as the principal at St. John Fisher School in Chicago and enjoys a good book, a good conversation, and a great bargain.