Building the Bridge as You Walk on It

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The title of Robert E. Quinn’s book published in 2004 is an appropriate title to describe what Catholic school, parish, and (arch) diocesan leaders are going through in these COVID-19 times. We are all striving to build a bridge to the future while living in an ever-changing present while remembering what life was like in the past. However, there is one thing we must do: we must build our bridge. We must.

In August 2005, south Louisiana and the Mississippi gulf coast were devastated by Hurricane Katrina; thousands of lives were uprooted; hundreds of people died; numerous homes were flooded; jobs were lost; businesses stopped functioning; and, the entire city of New Orleans shut down, as a result of the breaks in the levee system. In fact, if you speak to anyone who lives in this area of the gulf coast, we often refer to life in “pre-Katrina” and “post-Katrina” terms.

The area where I live (Pearl River, LA) is separated from New Orleans by Lake Pontchartrain, and the main way to get from where I am into the city is by crossing a 3.2 mile bridge that is called the Twin Spans. When Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on August 29th, the Twin Spans went from being a “twin” to being an “only child.” The west bound section was partially destroyed, and the east bound section was mostly devastated. DOT (Department of Transportation) officials took salvageable pieces from the east bound section and filled in missing parts on the west bound section, and we all converted to two-way traffic going to and coming from New Orleans. I remember there were 8-10 sections of that newly converted bridge that were temporary at best and actually shook as you crossed them in your vehicle. Literally, that bridge was built as we drove on it!

Those two metaphors – the hurricane and the bridge – remind me of these COVID-19 times: our lives were/have been torn up, and we were/are looking for a bridge to cross over that led/will lead to a safe future. We learned a lot in 2005.

At the end of the first paragraph, there in an underlined sentence; we must build our bridge. Granted, we need to depend upon the local, state, federal, and (arch) diocesan officials to give us good, logical guidelines and direction. But, there comes a point in time when we need to join together with members of our faith community and start/continue building our bridge – while we walk on it. From March – May, many have done outstanding jobs of serving – our pastors, principals, presidents, faculty, staff, students, councils, boards, parents, and others. That leadership got us to where we are today. We must continue to move forward.

I would like for you to consider five key components in building your Catholic school/parish symbolic bridge over these challenging waters we now call COVID-19:

1. Solid foundation (Steel pilings, reinforced concrete sections)

  • Your Catholic faith
  • Your mission/vision
  • Quality programs
  • Effective Communication, Marketing, Development, and Stewardship

2. Quality personnel (Engineers, project managers)

  • Your leadership (Pastor, principal, etc.)
  • Your councils and boards
  • Your faculty/staff
  • Your parish staff
  • Your ministry leaders

3. Creative blueprint of overall direction and plan (w/mile markers)

  • Designated Areas that must be addressed in your Plan
  • Identification of challenges at each marker that must be solved along the way
  • Processes that engage more people who will help you build

4. Safety and Security (Guardrails)

  • Guidelines that will assure safety
  • Safety equipment and personnel
  • Technology

5. Inspection and Monitoring

  • Implementation of your Plan
  • Daily/weekly/monthly adjustments to your Plan
  • P-D-S-A Philosophy: Plan – Do – Study – Adjust

While there are many more parts to bridge construction, these five are important to understand as you move forward – NOW. There are wonderful resources to use to build your bridge. ISPD—University of Dayton Summer Institute courses are an example of what you can rely on. However, at the heart of it all is you – the builder. Using resources (five above components) and your community, you have the tools to move forward. Perhaps, “The Old Bridge Builder” poem that I have been using for years will resonate at this time.

An old man traveling a lone highway
Came at the evening cold and gray
To a river that was vast and deep and wide
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim.
The sullen stream held no fears for him.
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” called a fellow traveler near.
“You’re wasting your time in building here.
Your journey will end with the closing day,
And you’ll never again pass this way.
Why, then, do you build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old, gray head,
“Good friend in the path I have come,” he said.
“There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.

“This stream which has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I build this bridge for him.”

May we build our bridges to the future understanding the impact our construction will have on the “fair-haired youths” of today and tomorrow.

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