For all those non-Iowa residents who read this Blog, excuse the obscure references.
My wife and I had dinner the other night with Dr. Jerry Deegan, president of Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. My oldest son went there for a year before we moved, and my second oldest son took some AP classes there. I also worked at Dowling when I was the director of the St. Joe Ed Center, and Jerry was my administrative supervisor and mentor. Our family loved Dowling as a school and I loved Dowling/SJEC as a place to work. It was (and I assume still is!) full of joyful, hard working people who made coming to work a pleasure. There’s a certain depth of character in Iowans, an understated greatness, that my wife and I were happy to have our children grow up surrounded by. Iowa, while like all places being not perfect, really is a well-kept secret and a fabulous place to raise a family.
When we left Iowa, I posted on this Blog some of the things I most appreciated from my years spent living and working there, and among those things I said “I will miss Jerry Deegan, a personal hero, mentor, a man of noble character…”
Visiting with Jerry again last night reminded me of why I said those words, and how much I miss being nearby his office. I would often pop by to talk about this or that problem, share a success story or just shoot the breeze. But whatever the reason for my visit, I always left his presence feeling more clear-headed, stable and confident in whatever it was that I was facing at the time.
Is that not the greatest gift a mentor can offer his protégé?
It’s all about you…
A philosophy professor of mine once said that the greatest joy of a teacher should be found in seeing his student excel and exceed his own level of excellence. Envy and rivalry, he’d say, are symptoms of a sick and narrow soul. Indeed, the people I most admire in life have been those for whom personal success is identified with other’s success. “He must increase, I must decrease.”
In the medieval English-French legend of King Arthur and the Excalibur, Arthur’s wizard-mentor Merlin grows in greatness only inasmuch as he leads Arthur closer to his divinely appointed destiny to be king. A mentor’s éclat, his brilliant success, is to be found in evincing a protégé’s latent nobility, excellence and goodness by means of wisely posed encouragements, challenges and a relentless commitment to love another into fuller existence. The mentor doesn’t seek to mold a protégé into his own image and likeness, but rather seeks to unfold God’s unique image and likeness stamped deep into the heart of each man and woman. As Robert Frost once put it, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” In fact, that’s how I try to look at parenting. On my better days.
For me, that’s Jerry Deegan.
As I honor Jerry in this way, I honor also all those who selflessly give of themselves every day to mentor others into greatness and I honor those many men and women who, from my earliest days, gave of themselves to help me to better resemble the thought God had of me when he created me. May I be judged worthy of their gifts and pass on to others what I myself have received.
I encourage you to also honor those mentors in your life and commend them to the God who placed them along your life’s path.