I had the wonderful experience of seeing The Providence Effect a few days ago. It is about Providence St. Mel High School on the west side of Chicago. The creator of the school is Mr. Paul Adams. He says that when the schools, Providence High School and St. Mel High School, were to be closed by the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1969, he decided to merge and maintain the names because of their long and rich tradition in the city. He went to the Sisters of Providence and asked if he could rent their building to house his new school there. The Superior General said no, but that she would sell it to him. He thanked her but said he did not have the money and she answered, “I know, but you will.” That was a lady who was not held back by the facts. She was right.
The Provincial of the Jesuits of the Chicago Province said that when he was proposing the foundation of a new school (which was later to become Cristo Rey Jesuit High School) in the Pilsen area of Chicago, his official advisors pretty much opposed the idea. It was just too much risk; there is a severe manpower shortage; everyone else is moving out of the Pilsen area. He heard their advice and pushed ahead anyway because, he says, he was convinced that the idea was from the Holy Spirit.
When one of the original administrators of the same school was being interviewed by a rather skeptical reporter on a local radio station before the school opened, the reporter asked “Tell me, Father, what kind of chance do you think the school has of succeeding?” The priest answered without losing a beat, “Oh, I think about 110%!”
There is a fine line between “the facts” and our ability to dream. The school depicted in The Providence Effect is successful precisely because Mr. Adams refuses to submit to the majority opinion that says that “these kids have no future.” It helps to have a little dose of naivete in our following the lead of the Holy Spirit. Some years ago Walter Brueggemann, a theologian, asked if we Christians had “lost our ability to dream of an alternative.” Great question. May it not be true. May we be consummate dreamers; may we get better every day, by the grace of God.