It was 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, and Fr. Campbell was ringing the bell that marked the beginning of the school day at Nativity School of Worcester, MA. Nativity is an independent, Jesuit middle school for inner-city boys living in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Worcester, who have few or no options for attending a private school. I was starting my theological field placement there for the next month and a half. I had never taught middle school before; my teaching experience was limited to being Dean of St. George’s College in Kingston, Jamaica for two years or so, and now I dreaded that I would find this difficult placement painful. To my surprise it was great.
The Nativity School of Worcester fosters orderly learning, discipline and personal safety to students who need it most. It is a remarkable place with a mission of providing children of economically disadvantaged families with a first-class Jesuit middle school education, reinforced by character building, sound social values and a strong sense of community, in an extremely challenging intellectual environment.
The school accommodates boys from the fifth through the eight grades, with a rigorous schedule overseen by many caring and loving teachers immersed in the Ignatian tradition. Many of them are graduates of the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross in Worcester itself. The day starts at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 6:30 p.m., including daily individual tutoring and group study and diverse sports activities. The teachers offer sound mentoring to the children, who would not find it otherwise. The students themselves come from all ethnic groups: Latinos, African American, Caucasian and Asian.
My role at the school was quite eclectic. I filled the vacant spot of a teacher who was on leave, but often I also spent time just talking to students and teachers alike, and even preparing hearty Jamaican meals for the many hungry young people: oxtail, jerk chicken and curry goat!
The school offers a remarkable example of community life: there was never a day that was gloomy or uneventful! I was often asked whether I was a Jesuit, since for many students, I was the first black Jesuit they had ever met. It changed their perspective on the Society of Jesus, just as the students taught me that I am never too old to grow and triumph over difficulties. My time at Nativity Worcester has expanded my passion as a Jesuit and my love for education. Truly, the students at Nativity Worcester have made me smile!
I would like to thank Fr. William Campbell, S.J. (Principal) and Fr. James Hayes, S.J. (Rector of the Jesuit Community) for helping me process my experience.
Michael Davidson is completing the second year of his Master of Divinity program and looking forward to returning to full-time ministry in Jamaica.