Good people get a lot done.
That is a theme that ran throughout my columns in 2017 and inspired me, as we turn toward 2018, to look back at four of the people we met through Faith Matters this year.
Everyone loves the underdog coming out on top. And Marist High School fits the bill.
Last spring, it looked bleak for the Bayonne's school future. Then people rallied, and the Marist Brothers, who own the school, had a change of heart. Now, they are looking at creative ways to make the surrounding property financially support the school's future.
There are surely many people to thank for this new chapter in Marist's history, but none more than Alice Miesnik, the head of school, who also took on the role of president to save money. At the helm, Miesnik is the heart of Marist's resurgence.
I spent four happy years there as a teacher before I entered seminary and I admire the Marists. Sadly, there are only a handful left. But their charism of concern for forming young lives is in the hands of many laypeople like Miesnik who's tough, tender -- and in charge. She's making Marist cutting-edge Catholic.
Now, Marist students can earn college credits through an alliance with Hudson County Community College. Miesnik is the down payment on Marist's future.
If you watch, CBS's "Blue Bloods" and admire Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck, you'll get the comparison with Joseph Cardinal Tobinclosing in on his first year as archbishop of Newark. They are both oversized men with convictions of conscience and head large institutions.
Tobin is unlike any religious figure you have ever known. He is smart as a whip, look-you-in-the-eye kind of personable, polylingual, energetic and the pope's man in the States. He told the College of Deans, which he has resurrected, that he desires nothing less than a "pastoral conversion" of the archdiocese. He has visited every deanery in four counties, met with clergy for a no-holds-barred discussion and allowed laypeople to ask him anything in a town hall.
He's genuinely humble and patient.
Visiting an elderly, ill priest, who could not sit erect, Tobin bent down on the floor to ask for his blessing.
He's just getting started, and great things are coming to make the church meaningful in the world and the lives of people. And, best of all, he's progressive in many ways.
If P.T. Barnum were a clergyman, he would be Pastor Gary Grindeland of Bayonne's Grace Lutheran Church. Grindeland is also dean of the 26 Gateway Mission Churches in northern and central New Jersey and hosted its 500th anniversary celebrationof the posting of Martin Luther's 500 Theses and did it up big, just like Luther's prominence in the public square of his day.
When you pass Grindeland's church on Avenue C, there is always some eye-catching, colorful construction on the front lawn. Recently, there was a replica of Wittenberg's Castle Church, where Luther made history. And at the celebration, "Martin Luther" made an appearance and reminded people why he was a thorn in the side of 16th-century Catholicism.
Seventeen-year-old Beyza Anil's smile caught my eye. But it was her brains that impressed me.
"I am a feminist," she said, extolling the virtues of Muslim women.
And at that moment, I understood how she and her young sisters in school had a lot in common with Catholic Sisters. They, too, covered their heads and bodies and were thought to be subservient to the clergy who ran the church. But clothes did not make the women; their will and desire did.
The girls at Al-Ghazaly High School in Wayne wear the hijab and look so much alike. They know that prejudice is out there but they know their commitment to American values and ideals is genuine.
They succeed in school, aim high and go on to the best universities. And when you meet them and talk with them, as I did, you know that these teenagers are no different from those of other faiths and nationalities and languages. But their grappling with acclimation into American culture and society will shape the next generation of Muslims.
The goodness in the lives of Miesnik, Tobin, Grindeland and Anil bless us all in 2018.