I dropped my son off at preschool on Tuesday morning, and as I watched him walk from the car to the schoolhouse door, I made a mental note of the little wisp of golden blond hair rising like an antenna off the top of his head. I waited for him to turn and smile at me with his half-moon eyes as he always does, and he did, and I waved, and he waved back. Then he strode on, grinning with confidence under his giant empty red turtleshell of a backpack. He gave a leaping high-five to the teacher at the door. Then he disappeared.
This is his second year of preschool. We are back in our routine.
Part of that routine is a little prayer I say for him at this moment each day. It begins, “God, I love that kid.” Then, wondering if I’d just uttered blasphemy or prayer, I continue with the latter, and ask that he be safe and happy and work through any conflict and learn new things and, whatever else happens, never completely lose that unique blend of joy, awe, innocence and wonder that distinguish him in my mind from among his brothers and sisters. The words are always different, the intentions always the same. And I drive on.
I nearly forgot to visit the Grotto on my way to Grace Hall. Driving by the Grotto is part of my routine. Parking and getting out is not. On Tuesday, my head was racing through a highlight film of the morning – the cranky, demanding toddler, the wet bed, the missing cell phone, the older brother already (legitimately!) home sick on the second day of his school year. What pulled me out of all this was the large red sign at the crosswalk linking the Grotto and St. Mary’s Lake yelling “Stop!”
Then I remembered the invitation I received late last week from Angie Appleby Purcell ’97M.Div. Angie runs the spirituality program at the Alumni Association probably best known as FaithND. The email summoned faculty, staff and local alumni to the Grotto to pray a rosary for students and teachers everywhere. It also invited people to submit prayers for the students and teachers in their lives.
In less than a week, some 2,800 prayer intentions rolled in.
Now, if you’ve ever wondered — as I have — whether such emailed requests are ever literally prayed at the Grotto, let me be your witness: They are. I was there at 8:30, Mary peering down over my right shoulder, candles flickering in all those iron racks beneath the ivy and the first classes of the 2015-16 academic year just begun.
Some faces were familiar, but most weren’t, so we introduced ourselves, the 20 of us, standing in a ring in that sacred grove. Over the sounds of a buzzing street sweeper tidying up the parking lot outside the ACE building, I learned that I would be praying with colleagues from admissions, the Haiti program, alumni, development, the budget office.
Father Mark DeMott, CSC, ’02, ’07M.Div., back on campus to study Latin after two years in campus ministry at the University of Portland, recalled the first day of his freshman year and led us. Naturally we contemplated the Joyful Mysteries — those stories of the conception, birth and childhood of Christ that remind us that Mary herself was once a proud worried parent, anxious about God’s plan for her child, too.
Living reminders of the beneficiaries of our prayer entered and exited this spiritual stage. A young woman with a stuffed backpack lit a candle and knelt to pray. An older student, cross around his neck, sat on a bench with his coffee and prayer book. Joggers, mostly female, met quietly and set off for the lake path or, flush with exercise, checked in with their mother before heading back to their halls.
When we finished, Angie passed out sheets printed with every prayer she received. I took two pages, knelt before the cave, and offered each word. Line by line, pride, vulnerability, peace and joy floated off the paper like morning mist. So many calls for safety, for success, for growth. Some addressed God, others Mary, some me, an unknown and unworthy intercessor.
“Mary, most holy Mother of God, please watch over my sons . . . and my daughters . . . as they embark on a new year. May they work hard and make responsible choices. Amen.”
“Blessed Mother, help [Jeff] succeed on every level with his math course.”
“Dear God, please watch over [Molly]. Keep her safe. Enable her to take full advantage of this opportunity to grow intellectually, spiritually and socially. . . .”
“For my students and my teaching.”
“A prayer for the new empty nesters left at home would be appreciated, too.”
A few intentions read only, “Hail Mary.” One commanded, “Memorare,” forcing me when I reached my cubicle in Grace to look up a prayer I hadn’t recited in years. It was prayed. Count on it.
As I sat at my desk, waiting for my computer to waken, ready to get back to routine, I found myself thinking about that wisp of sunlit hair and the little boy on whose head it rests. I realized with gratitude that so many besides me are now praying for him, too.
John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.