Faith in its Principals
What do you call the annual meeting of high school principals in the Society of Jesus’ Maryland Province? Lately, the answer could be a Royals reunion. Of the five traditional Jesuit high schools in the Province, Scranton alumni head three.
Jason Zazyczny ’94, Tom Every ’98 and Matt Bernard ’99 took varied paths to reach the principal’s office, but all three see themselves as having a unique and sacred trust: Serving as custodians of Jesuit ideals.
Every, principal of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., said, “I found the Jesuits at Scranton. My older sister went there first, and when I visited, I knew she found something unique and different. The sense of community, the educational freedom . . . it’s hard to describe.”
Bernard, principal of Scranton Preparatory School, said he fell in love with Jesuit education at Scranton. “I knew Scranton was for me on accepted students’ day in April of 1995. I had other college tours planned and I canceled them all. There was just something about the culture. I knew I was home before I even got there.”
Zazyczny was familiar with Jesuit education from high school. He is a graduate of the school he now leads, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia. “I went to St. Joe’s more for the ‘prep’ than the Jesuits. But then I went on a Kairos (Greek for ‘the Lord’s time’) retreat, the standard senior retreat for a Jesuit high school.” The experience moved him deeply and he began to notice the Jesuits “living the ideal of being men and women for others.” It was an example he was eager to follow.
At Scranton, all three men formed close bonds with Jesuits on campus. Zazyczny was inspired by the late Joe Simmons, S.J. “He was a different kind of priest,” Zazyczny said. “He told it like it was. He was loving, but direct.”
For Every and Bernard, Brendan Lally, S.J., ’70 played a crucial role in their formation. “When I was an RA, Fr. Lally lived in the room next door,” Bernard said. “ He looked for and found goodness in everyone. He helped me to find God in others.” Every said, “The summer I graduated, I went on a service trip to Mexico with Fr. Lally. That really piqued my interest in the Jesuit way of life. Two years later, I was at St. Joe’s Prep working in development when Fr. Lally called. The co-director of that year’s service trip backed out, and he wanted me to come back and run it.” In a delightful coincidence, Matt Bernard was the director of the trip.
The formative experiences each man had at Scranton influenced him to find ways to serve in the Jesuit mold immediately after graduation. Every spent time in Jesuit Volunteers International and Zazyczny was even in the novitiate for a time. Bernard sums up the pull he felt by saying, “I want to live my life for others. I got that from Scranton.”
As principals, Bernard, Every and Zazyczny focus on forming faculty, “to be attentive to the needs of the student in front of them,” said Zazyczny. “We have to help them to stretch themselves as teachers to prepare our students as future leaders mindful of social justice and service to the marginalized — even in math class!”
Through retreats, days of prayer and other means, Every said the result is the distinct culture of a Jesuit school.
As the number of Jesuits declines, these lay leaders recognize they are serving at a crucial time. “While many of us continue to pray for an increase in vocations, we’ve been reflecting for many years on how we, as lay leaders, will maintain the Jesuit educational ideals in the absence of priests,” said Bernard. Zazyczny said he is not troubled that the responsibility to carry out the Jesuit mission now falls squarely on his shoulders. “That’s what’s beautiful about it,” he said. “It should always be on all of us to continue this sacred mission.”
How they found Scranton, and their careers:
Catholic education has always been a part of Matt Bernard's life; Jesuit education, however, was something he first encountered at The University of Scranton. During his senior year at Don Bosco High School in Ramsey, N.J., he was accepted to several universities, but upon his first visit to Scranton, he knew where he would attend college.
“After that Accepted Students Day, I canceled all of my other campus visits,” he said. “I knew I was where I belonged. There was just something about the culture of Scranton. I knew I was home before I even got there.”
He quickly found a mentor in Rev. Brendan Lalley, S.J., who was then a campus minister. The two formed a friendship that greatly influenced Bernard's life and career. “When I was an RA in Hafey Hall, Fr. Lalley was the dorm counselor. He trained me to lead freshman retreats. Fr. Lalley is so Ignatian, patient and pious. He looks for – and finds – goodness in people, and finds a way to bring it out. He helped me to learn to pray and how to find God in others.”
Thanks to his unique friendship with Fr. Lalley and an enlightening service trip to Ecuador, Bernard came to a decision to dedicate his life to the Jesuit ideal of service. “I want my life lived for others,” he said. “I got that from Scranton. It was there that I made a commitment to work in Jesuit institutions.”
In his current role as principal of Scranton Preparatory School, Bernard finds it important to ensure that cura personalis is the center of Scranton Prep culture. Thanks to his own self-study and impressive experience, he has seen results in the preservation and continued renewal of Jesuit ideals in the school. “We create a family atmosphere; a safe, nurturing environment for the students,” he said.
In addition to his work at Scranton Prep, Bernard also serves Jesuit education on the University level. He is an adjunct faculty member in The University of Scranton’s Counseling Department. “It's so nice to be able to go back. I am honored to teach at Scranton,” he said.
As a graduate of a Catholic high school in Philadelphia, Tom Every always knew he wanted to attend a Catholic university. When he found the Jesuits, however, he knew he found home.
He credits his oldest sister with finding The University of Scranton. It was on a visit to see her that Every fell in love with Scranton and Jesuit education. His sister's choice influenced the entire family: he has four siblings, and all of them eventually chose Scranton.
“While vising my sister, I knew I found something unique and different. The sense of community, the student empowerment, the educational freedom...it's hard to describe. It drew me in. I could see the intentionality behind everything the Jesuits did, the mission to be men and women for others, to live an outwardly directed life."
After he arrived at Scranton, Every grew to appreciate the Jesuit way of teaching. “The Jesuits taught me to not accept things blindly,” he said. “They taught me to wrestle with questions, to come to Christ through that questioning. If you work to find God, you will find God.”
In 2008 Every became dean of students at Gonzaga College High School, Washington, D.C.
He became principal the following year. As principal, Every considers himself a “custodian of Jesuit ideals.” “My job is to help our teachers become intentional in forming students, to help faculty feel formed and infuse Jesuit ideals in all they do,” he said.
Jason Zazyczny is principal of his alma mater, Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia. This circle could not have been completed, however, were it not for his years at The University of Scranton. St. Joseph's Prep introduced Zazyczny to the beauty of the Jesuit vision; Scranton allowed him to make it his own.
Zazyczny said that he has always felt close to the Church. When he went to St. Joseph's Prep, however, his faith intensified. A Kairos (The Lord's Time) retreat he attended profoundly changed him. “It's a four-day retreat loosely based on the Spiritual Exercises,” he said. “It helped me to better understand what Jesuit education was all about.” When he returned to school following the retreat, he had a new appreciation for his Jesuit teachers.
“The retreat had helped give me the foundation – a better understanding of what a vocation might be,” said Zazyczny. This was also around the time that he was considering his options for higher education. A counselor at St. Joe's suggested The University of Scranton.
“I felt at home at Scranton,” he said. “I just got the feeling that I could explore something different at Scranton.” Part of that spirit of exploration stemmed from the fact that his identical twin brother, Justin, would not be going to Scranton. Zazyczny said he and his brother share the deep bond most identical twins enjoy, so parting meant a complete departure from his comfort zone.
When he arrived on campus, Zazyczny knew he had made the right choice. “As an undergraduate, I felt great energy for life. I was in SJLA and got involved in residence life and student government. I also got involved in service and really got to know the Jesuits,” he said. “What I saw was how much variety there was in their lives. Each man was unique and different. They were very real, down-to-earth, but strong in their faith.”
He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Syracuse, N.Y., and spent two years there. Although he left before taking vows, he said. “I continue to follow the call to do God's work as a lay leader in Jesuit education.”
His experiences have given him special insight when it comes to the role he now fulfills as principal at St. Joe's Prep. “My role is to keep the Jesuit mission alive,” he said. “Our mission is to form men for and with others.”