Living the Mission

Living the Mission: An Accidental Educator

Patrick Moore ’03 bypasses law school to start a school of his own

Written by Michelle M. Murphy

When Patrick Moore ’03 was in his fourth year at Holy Cross—finishing his history degree, playing rugby, dabbling in community service—he could never have predicted what the next seven years would hold for him.

Teach? No way.

Become a principal? Never.

Start up a free, private prep school for at-risk boys? Ridiculous.

After all, until the spring of 2003, when he was figuring out what to do for a year before law school, Moore had never set foot in a NativityMiguel school—the Jesuit-based network of 65 tuition-free, private middle schools for at-risk boys and girls located in 27 states and Canada.

Then, someone in the Career Planning Office told him about Nativity Prep in New Bedford, Mass. One visit, he says, and he was hooked: “There was something in the air. It was palpable. Powerful. I knew I had to be part of it.”

Today, after four years as teacher and principal at what he calls “the little miracle” in New Bedford, Moore is beginning his third year as the head of Covenant Preparatory School in Hartford, Conn., a school he started from the ground up in 2007, at the ripe old age of 26. Occupying space in a YWCA building that’s spitting distance from the state capitol, Covenant Prep—named for the signed agreement through which students and parents accept the school’s philosophy and rules—has more than doubled its initial enrollment and staff, and now has eight teachers and 52 boys in grades five through eight. The first class will graduate in June 2011.

Like all NativityMiguel schools, it is staffed with young volunteers from the AmeriCorps program, who receive room, board, health insurance and small monthly stipends. They work 12-to-14 hours per day as teachers, coaches and homework tutors. It is funded completely by private donations. And, though non-denominational, it is rooted solidly in Jesuit traditions. The mission statement asserts, in part: “The value of being a man for others is instilled in every student on a daily basis.”

The program also shares many of the structures and rituals of its sister schools. For instance, the school day begins promptly at 8 a.m., when short-haired boys in dress shirts with tie knots snug in the V of their collars assemble quietly in rows in a large meeting room. After Principal Meara Weaver ’08 calls attendance, reads announcements and leads the Pledge of Allegiance, she points to the word of the day (on a recent day, “altruism”) written in large letters on a white board, along with the definition and an example sentence. As she readies a CD player, she invites an older boy to tell the others about the composer of the classical music they are about to hear. After a group prayer and special intentions, everyone in the room—students, teachers, administrators and three guests—clasps hands in a large circle, reciting the Prayer of St. Francis in unison.

Then, one by one, the boys file past the visitors, shaking hands, making solid eye contact, introducing themselves. It is orderly, matter of fact, yet deeply moving; the eye contact alone is astonishing, especially from preteen boys.

“This is my third year, and it’s really exciting to see the  seventh and eighth graders now,” says Weaver, a native of Albany, N.Y., who majored in psychology, minored in French and Africana Studies, and spent a year studying at the Catholic University of Central Africa in Cameroon. “Three years ago they were unorganized and unfocused, and it’s cool to see how they’re maturing.”

Like many teachers in the NativityMiguel network, Weaver began work a few months after graduation, called to the job from an on-campus meeting with Moore, combined with her own sense of service. “My most meaningful experiences at Holy Cross were volunteering outside the Holy Cross community,” she said.

It seems to have stuck with other Crusaders, too; half the staff at Covenant Prep (along with several volunteers) is from Holy Cross. In addition to Moore and Weaver, the Crusader contingent includes teachers Brigid Cremin ’10, Meghan Dunne ’10 and Katherine Zakreski ’09, as well as Covenant trustee Bill Murray ’94. Moore hopes the ranks will swell via word of mouth and special events like the show-and-tell breakfast he hosted recently for about 15 Holy Cross alumni in the Greater Hartford area.

Moore, who was recently honored by Bank of America with its Local Heroes Award (which came with a $5,000 donation for the school), explains that he found the need to be “a man for others” even before he came to Holy Cross: “My parents have always taught me to be respectful of others and to help others, especially the down and out,” he says. “They always led by example; they are now retired, except for the volunteer work my mother does at Covenant Prep and that my father does at a local hospital. I am the youngest of five; one sister is a social worker, and another is a nurse.”

Still, he concedes, it took a wake-up call from a favorite professor to nudge him into action. “One night in Cool Beans during my senior year, [Associate Professor of history] Stephanie Yuhl was listening to me complain about my personal problems, and she simply asked me what I was going to do about it,” he recalls. “She gave me a tough love speech that night. She was caring, compassionate and made me realize that I can’t just be living for myself all the time. You’ve got to do something for others; to be truly happy, you must give something back.

“It was that type of clear reasoning which made her such a great professor, but it was her kindness which made her a great teacher and friend,” he adds.

So what’s next for this accidental educator and administrator? “I’m not sure what I’ll do in the future,” he said. “I was supposed to go to law school seven years ago, but I haven’t made it there yet. I’m getting married next summer, and I’ll have to start thinking about providing for my own family. This wasn’t what I was planning to do, and I don’t think I’m a career educator. But I still feel that I have more work to do here.”