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View from Vis: Rene Gavic Reflects on the School Year

Rene Gavic

Over the last few weeks, and per the Sisters' request, I have been leading guided tours of the Monastery building to our Board of Trustees, faculty and staff. No matter how many times I have given these tours, my colleagues and I feel a sense of awe by the sacredness of the space. For decades, the Mendota Heights Monastery has been a sacred space of women who lived in a beautiful community – who built and ran and continue to support a school where children and young women grow in their faith, spirituality and intellect. We have beautiful grounds and numerous academic facilities in which to live that mission. We have this vibrant school with a strong foundation and a keen understanding of our identity. And in time we will have use of this sacred space as an additional component of that foundation. What a tremendous legacy.

The school and Sisters are partnering to explore future uses for the Monastery building. And while the Monastery's closure may feel somewhat new to many of the people in our community, it has, in fact, been part of the Sisters' plan for more than 25 years. The Sisters knew that the closing of the Monastery would be the biggest change to this school in its 146-year history, but we – the laity who remain – know what we are called to do. The Sisters have called us to shepherd this strong, vibrant, academic, independent, Catholic, Salesian school in perpetuity. This knowledge has been and continues to be my source of motivation and inspiration. We are living the Sisters' plan.

But there is sorrow in seeing the Sisters leave their home. There is sadness in knowing that their time living on these grounds has come to an end. The best word I can think to describe this situation is "tender." It strikes me, though, that "tender" is a word that can also describe new life. Newly emerged seedlings, just breaking through the soil and into the elements, are tender. Yet seedlings are the product of all the life that has gone on before them. Seeds exist because they were dropped from the flowers, fruits, vegetables, or trees that lived before them.

In a way, the seeds of this current time in our school's history were planted, nourished and nurtured by this generation of Sisters, and the Sisters who came before them, and the Sisters who migrated from St. Louis, and the Sisters who emigrated from France – where the Visitation Order originated – before them. Each succeeding generation has had tender moments of exploration, discovery, growth, setbacks, and challenges, but we all have been rooted in the Salesian legacy of Saints Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. We might feel tenderness now, but we must – and will – flower and thrive and plant the seeds for succeeding generations.

There was certainly a burst of gratitude at the celebration held in honor of the Sisters on Tuesday, May 21. Thank you to the many, many people who came to Visitation to celebrate the Sisters' history, legacy, living tradition and ways they have lovingly touched our lives over the years. Your presence was a beautiful, tremendous way to honor the Sisters.

ISACS: Another Life Cycle

In an end-of-year recap, I would be remiss if I did not mention Visitation's ongoing work on the Independent Schools Association of Central States (ISACS) reaccreditation process – part of a seven-year cycle of reflection, discussion, changes and improvements. The 2018-2019 school year, year two of the ISACS cycle, afforded the faculty and staff a chance to pause the work we do and reflect objectively on every aspect of our school. We examined those areas that are flourishing and those areas we want to continue to nurture or grow. That is the whole cycle of education: that mindset towards growth. While it's a daunting and important undertaking that we go through every seven years, this reflection is vitally important as we establish our plans and priorities and align with Visitation's larger strategic plan.

The End of the 2018-2019 School Year

There are two more components of tenderness this year for me...

Every year in April, throughout my 31 years of education, I find myself feeling overwhelmed at how fast the year has gone by. All of a sudden, it seems, we are planning graduations for students who seemed to grow up in front of our very eyes. This spring is certainly no different. This past winter was seemingly never-ending, and now, in spite of the bittersweet feelings that come with commencements and the end of the year, we are also in a place of renewal and new beginnings: a new summer, a new school year in the fall, new schools for our graduating boys, collegiate experiences for our graduating seniors, new suggestions from our ISACS visiting team, and now a sense of expansion as we find ways to carry on the living tradition of the Sisters.

The second tender moment for me is my sadness in saying goodbye to Visitation's three retirees: Mary Pat Ferraro, Mary McClure and Kevin Nicol. I have been blessed to count them as colleagues, mentors and friends. We all will miss the ways Mary Pat, Mary and Kevin have faithfully served Visitation and the thousands of students who have been blessed to have them as a teacher or administrator. I wish them great blessings and joy in their retirement.

As we finish out this school year, let me once again thank you for being on this journey with us. I continue to be impressed by how this community has come together to embrace the Sisters and own the responsibility of nurturing the future of this vibrant school. The mission created by the Sisters and lived by both the Sisters and the laity will continue to be our guide in all that we do. Happy summer!