When the Brothers first arrived, the Moraga Valley was empty save for the rain-soaked mud that covered their shoes up to their ankles. It was good earth that they found here, as our current landscape of trees, grass and shrubs reveals.
The Brothers set about planting and nourishing the greenery that frames our work of education. Some of the beautiful oaks and sequoias bear the memory of Brothers Dennis Goodman and Brendan Kneale, our inveterate Johnny Appleseeds. There was careful tilling of the soil by the Brothers and their colleagues, most recently Robert Kennedy and Alfredo Gonzalez.
How many Saint Mary's men and women have gone lost in thought with a book beside them in the green swards of the campus or under the poplars' shade? How many have been renewed in winter and spring by the verdant hills, white clouds and crisp blue skies above, and thought about life's romance? How many have felt the long summer and warm expanse of autumn as they set out into the brown hills, and along the way reflected on life's immensity?
The hills bend forward in an embrace of our valley like the arms of a mother. We see the valley's nurturing influence in the deer, raccoon and squirrel, and hear it in the birds that echo the sound of our bells. Fog, like the mantle of the alma mater, keeps our sapling redwoods warm and moist. The College is a garden to those who know where to look and how to see.
God favors gardens and delights to be found in them, as does Our Lady, the Blessed Mother. Who better than Mary to give her name to our valley? If our campus is a garden, then Mary is the gardener. She is to be found everywhere, from Father Moss's Lady of the Oaks to Della Robbia's Madonna, and in our Chapel, where centuries-old images made with faithful love and filial devotion beckon the visitor in manifold ways to stop and remember Our Lady and to ask the favor of her prayers.
It is no wonder the success of the educational endeavor at Saint Mary's. The Brothers and their colleagues have toiled at more than landscape. The soil of Lasallian pedagogy has produced fine men and women for generations. Like good gardeners, it is not ours to boast of having made our students. The soil and seed are God's doing. We are only the cultivators, charged with faithful stewardship.
Saint La Salle's teaching philosophy has had a happy home here. His philosophy is consonant with the nature's creed. It delights in the multiplicity of species. One size does not fit all and there is no cloning in this valley. We do not seek to force the perfect plant or reduce the pool of students to those that please our eye only. In the light of the Gospel, we do not break off the bruised and broken reed. We seek to turn all our students toward the light of truth so that they may reach for the heavens.
In all our dealings with students, we act with the knowledge of the innate goodness of those entrusted to our care. God, the great gardener giddy at the world newly made, could not say it enough, "It is good." Nor can we: "She is good" and "He is good." We live up to our highest calling when we confirm our students in their goodness and help them release their innate potential for knowledge and self-development.
The heart of what it means to be Lasallian is to educate as an act of justice. The only way to do so is to be mindful that we are only junior partners in God's work. Even so, we imitate as best we can the divine largess and universal reach of the creator. Saint La Salle, in meditations he wrote for his Brother teachers at the school year's end when they gathered with him for retreat, used images of nature and the soil to bring these points home to his disciples.
When we smell the rich fragrance of the junipers, lilacs and magnolias of our campus, we are reminded of Saint La Salle's First Meditation for the Time of Retreat, where he spoke of God diffusing the fragrance of his knowledge throughout the world by human ministers. It is humbling and also a goad to excellence to think that students are attracted to us by the fragrance of our learning and education model. In his Fourth Meditation for the Time of Retreat, Saint La Salle urged us, "Be convinced of what St. Paul says, that you plant and water the seed, but it is God through Jesus Christ who makes it grow, that he is the one who brings your work to fulfillment."
The planting and watering is the environment we create in the classroom and our discourse in and out of class? The Holy Founder, in his Thirteenth Meditation for the Time of Retreat, instructed his Brothers to think of themselves as cultivators of a field that God had planted: "You are co-workers with God in his work, says St. Paul, and the souls of the children whom you teach are the field that he cultivates through your labors." When we recognize the educational soil of our work is the very souls of our students, we approach our students with awe and respect, and give consideration to our actions and words as teachers.
The Lasallian professor is more than an expert in a chosen discipline. She thinks long on what to say to her students and how to lead them to a grasp of her discipline. This is why Saint La Salle called his teachers "masters" and their students "disciples." We are with our students for the long term. Even after they leave us, they remain our disciples. They bear the influence of the master's hand wherever they go. We shape them as much as a master crafter shapes the masterwork or a gardener shapes and prunes the vine. To learn well the craft of teaching is an act of justice. As good stewards, we can do no less.
In his final and Sixteenth Meditation for the Time of Retreat, Saint La Salle imagined a great reunion in heaven between teacher and students. "Oh, what joy a Brother of the Christian Schools will have when he sees a great number of students in possession of eternal happiness, for which they are indebted to him by the grace of Jesus Christ! What a sharing of joy there will be between the teacher and his disciples!"
It strikes me that this business of heaven is more a matter of lifting the veil. With God's vision, we would see at once all the students who have passed before us and all our work for good and ill, the good an offering to God and the failings made up by divine mercy. Heaven would be here, our garden become paradise regained.
But then God gives daily reminders here in Moraga of what lies just beyond our scope. Our Lady of the Valley points the way. She is our mother and teacher and our seat of wisdom.