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Onward!


And just like that, we find ourselves at the end of the school year.


The youthful thrill and excitement for summer, the relief of relaxed professional duties, and the quiet that is visited upon bustling halls: each one is long-awaited, hard-won, and, quite frankly, missed after some time passes.


This summer, however, is unlike others. It also marks the retirement of Dr. Thomas Haferd from Saint Paul’s Choir School, the community and mission that he has shepherded for the past six years.


In just those six years, he has served Saint Paul’s in many ways: Tom oversaw an increase in enrollment of 75%, increased fundraising at galas and through the annual fund, secured grants that benefited the student body and faculty, led successful international pilgrimages and performance trips to Mexico, Germany, Austria and Italy, led the school through the pandemic, built up the financial aid model, and spearheaded extensive development of the school’s curriculum.


These achievements make for astounding feats of school leadership, ones for which this school will be grateful for quite some time. Each is an exceptional testament to Tom’s time at Saint Paul’s. That said, if you want to thank an educator like Tom for his service, there is only one way: tell him what he taught you.


Grace


When he works for himself, Tom’s background in engineering takes over. He is detail-oriented, precise, and carries so many factors in his mind at once. If you have ever asked him about the school’s schedule, you will know that he has internalized the minutes of the day, transitions, the number of classes each teacher leads, the order of classes for each student (including their individualized voice and piano lessons), and how each interacts with the other.


As a mentor, Tom has been anything but prescriptive. Any mentee lucky enough to be led by him knows that he will let you solve the problem: I was always allowed to own my victories in earnest, learn from my mistakes, and navigate the spaces in between. When I was ready to talk, he was ready to listen. When he had something to share, I was captivated and ready to reflect. Few people possess the level of grace needed to make learning - a state of constant vulnerability - an act of self-realization and vocation. Tom taught me that.


Humility


Just three days ago, we experienced this year’s Capstone Project for our 8th Grade (unsurprisingly, this is another innovation that thrived under Tom’s tenure). The Capstone Project this year asked our graduates to explore the meaning of a life of service. They studied materials ranging from the letters of Saint Paul to the Hippocratic Oath alongside such friends of the Choir School as Dr. Rob Marier, Tom Carroll, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools, and Dr. Xiaoxin Wu, the Director of Research at Boston College’s Ricci Institute.


Instead, the boys could have simply watched Dr. Haferd throughout the day. They would have noticed how he greeted them in the morning, taught their math class while Mrs. Migacz was on maternity leave, supervised lunch, took on recess duty, coached alongside Mr. Nemec during gym, set up and took down tables and chairs for events, and moved pianos. He also inspired the creation of the very things that serve students most directly: curriculum maps, the advisory program, and student support team meetings. Did you know that while he fundraised for the school and oversaw the most extensive international trips the school has embarked on, he was also serving his community in these humble ways? Whether we knew it or not at the time, we learned humility from Tom.


Charity


No school - nor any organization of people - is ever free from disagreements. In six years, however, during each instance the most charitable voice in the room was always Tom’s. Leaders are often thought of as forceful - they are quick, focused on the organization above all, and bombastic. Tom spent more time reflecting on the human condition and he regularly demonstrated that the answer to any question will be found in the people around him. 


Charity is what underpins the Beatitudes and the person who best lives the Beatitudes by his example is Tom. It is relatively routine to see him believe in the poor of spirit, to bolster the meek, to offer mercy, and to make peace. This, too, we learned from Tom.


Faith and Prudence


Early in the first year that Tom led Saint Paul’s, an obscure book about an extraordinarily obscure saint appeared on his desk. It caught my eye as we were talking about curriculum mapping, the arduous process of documenting a school’s curricula. The book was Saint Lydwine of Schiedam by J.K. Huysmans and Agnes Hastings. If you don’t know, Saint Lydwine is closely associated with neurological disease. Recent events in my family life had me seeking her out. 


There is no logical explanation of how this could have appeared on Tom’s desk, of all places. In retrospect, it is also no surprise. There is no greater man of faith that I know than Tom, whether it is in his weekly rosaries, daily Mass attendance, understanding of the Gospels, or appreciation of the achievements of mankind and wonders of Creation. Moreover, he translates that faith in God into faith in others. When reading the Gospels, one of the plainest examples of charity and prudence is to prepare oneself to believe the best in the people around you (be they lepers, outcasts, or choristers). And what happens when you do that? Regularly, you draw the best out of them. Tom taught me that.




Over the past twelve months, the music department, faculty, administration, and pastor have been engaged in on-and-off conversation about the roles in the choir that entrust leadership to our students. The words to define that quality were hard to come by. Just as we were about to settle for je ne sais quoi, inspiration struck. A member of our team reflected that we need leaders who make others better by their example. To me, it was a flash of realization, because Saint Paul’s Choir School had a leader who did just that, Dr. Haferd. 


Tom, we thank you not only for the improvements you have brought to our school, but, more importantly, we thank you for making our community stronger by your presence and example.


As Tom says, “Onward.”


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Share your thanks with Dr. Haferd here: https://forms.gle/n2mL1TXuZADwp71j7


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