Frodo Baggins was a most unlikely traveler. Though his uncle Bilbo attained fame for his own adventures, life in the Shire celebrated simple pleasures, family life and, above all else, predictability.
Like his fellow hobbits, Frodo deeply loved the Shire. It was this love that drove him on a most uncertain journey, one that perhaps even Bilbo would have hesitated to pursue. Frodo set out to save the Shire, and he did not go alone. As he and his companions neared the border of the Shire, they paused in fear, realizing that they were indeed charting off the only map they had ever known. Drawing on a familiar voice, Frodo told his friends what Bilbo had once told him, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. … You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for as long as I can remember. Having lived through the Great War, Tolkien’s battle for Middle Earth resembles greatly his own experience, explored in ways that showcase the power of fantasy to reflect on real life in new and insightful ways.
On March 11, 2020, the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. It has spread rapidly and at great cost to all nations and peoples of the world. Ready or not, we have adjusted and changed our patterns of life, seeking to slow the spread of the virus, to save lives of friends and strangers alike. We have drawn ourselves closer to home, deeper into our communities, and taken new and unprecedented steps to protect one another. I hear Frodo’s words in the steps to return to work and school. So many preparations and plans have been made, and yet we cannot truly know where we might be swept off to.
It has been a privilege to share in the work of our Catholic schools in preparation for the 2020-2021 school year. From the very start of this pandemic, principals have gathered online for weekly prayer, sharing and support. Together, we have learned new ways of instructing students, building communities and partnering with families. We have reflected on successes and challenges. Our work is blessed with new knowledge, wisdom and commitment to our educational ministry, building on our experiences in this pandemic.
Our Catholic schools have built for the future with action plans supported by guidance by top medical and educational experts. They have focused attention on operational practices, health and well-being, curriculum, instruction and building faith-filled communities. I especially thank parents for communicating with our school leaders along the way. We cannot move forward without you.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, our schools will continue to need your care and support. It has been so empowering to hear parents and parish members affirm the deep value of our Catholic schools. Indeed, all schools seek to be places of learning. All strive to support building stronger communities. Catholic education calls us to do something further — to build a whole learning experience that awakens a love of God through discovery of who we are each called to be.
The pandemic has not diminished this mission. It has re-awakened it. Our schools are ready for the journey ahead, and we ask you to walk with us. Help us to build the kingdom of God with your prayers, gifts, patience, wisdom and, most of all, the blessings of your children.
DAVID FREMO is superintendent of Catholic schools and director of Catholic Education Ministries for the Diocese of St. Cloud.