by Father Mark Goldasich
Father Brian Cavanaugh, TOR, is one of my favorite storytellers. The following is about an encounter he once had: Shortly after midterm exams, I asked a student how her tests had gone. She said they were not too tough . . . except for one professor’s. “Her tests are impossible to pass,” she said. “I have to study so much harder for her tests just to keep up my grades.”
“But,” I asked, “do you learn more from all that studying for her tests, or from the teachers that are not so difficult?”
“Well, I do seem to understand her course better,” she admitted. “But does she have to be so tough?”
I then asked her if she had ever sharpened a knife.
“Yes, once” she answered, “on a family camping trip.”
“Did you use a stone or a towel?” I asked.
“What?” she said. “You can’t sharpen a knife on a towel.”
“Exactly!” I answered. “A knife can only be sharpened on a hard surface so that it will be sharp enough to fulfill its purpose. Students, too, are sharpened on the hard surfaces of good teachers and parents, so that they will be sharp enough to ‘cut it’ in life and fulfill their life purpose.” (Adapted from Father Brian’s “Sower’s Seeds That Nurture Family Values.”)
Two of my important “stones” recently died within days of one another — one on April 26; the other on the 30th. Both shepherded me at critical times of my life. Both were demanding, but compassionate. Both were teachers and examples.
Two good friends of mine, Dan and Wendy, captured the essence of one of these “stones,” saying: “He was a teacher who always knew his students were capable of far more than they could imagine. He made us believe, and gave us the gift that lasts a lifetime.” These words apply as well to my other stone.
Who were these exceptional teachers? One was Don Lipovac; the other, Sister Daniel Kaizar. Don taught me from the fifth grade through high school how to play the tamburitza (a Balkan stringed instrument), read music, sing and dance.
Sister Daniel was my second-grade teacher who prepared me for my first confession and Communion. Don died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 79; Sister Daniel died after a long illness, having been a School Sister of St. Francis of Christ the King for 72 years.
Both drilled the basics into me, which, at the time, seemed tedious. But they succeeded in making the faith in one case, and music in the other, second nature to me. Both taught that progress comes only with practice.
I had the honor of celebrating Don’s funeral at Holy Family Parish in Kansas City, Kan. The Mass featured both organ and tamburitza music — fitting, as Don played the organ at the parish and, of course, instructed many young tamburitzans.
Although we were tearful leaving the cemetery, that was not the end of the story. For the funeral dinner, we gathered at Father Mejak Hall. Soon, the place was filled with the sounds of tamburitza and accordion music. And, when people finished eating, they got up to dance. What an appropriate tribute to the man described as the “polka king“ of KCK.
Unfortunately, I could only be at Sister Daniel’s funeral in spirit. But she was remembered fondly this past Sunday as 32 girls and boys received their first Communion in Tonganoxie. From my first time in May 1963 until now, I’ve received Communion some 18,600 times. But I’ll never forget my first. Sister Daniel instilled in us how important it was to be and look our best, as a sign of respect for Jesus, whom we were going to receive. She encouraged us to be as excited each time we received Communion as at our first time. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
May 5-9 was Teacher Appreciation Week. Over the years, I did thank Don, although inadequately, for the big influence that he played in my life. Sadly, I don’t think I ever did the same with Sister Daniel. Don’t let that happen to you. Take time in the next few days to look up some former teachers and thank them in some way.
And, for Pete’s sake, don’t forget this weekend to treat with the utmost gratitude and respect the biggest “stone” in all our lives: Mom!