Lives of Service, Lives of Generosity: Honoring “Men for Others”

BC High 1967 classmates Christoper Small, left, and Tom Burke after Chris received the school's prestigious Saint Ignatius Award.

BC High 1967 classmates Christoper Small, left, and Tom Burke after Chris received the school’s prestigious Saint Ignatius Award.

Today I attended a reception honoring my BC High 1967 classmate Christopher Small, who has been Executive Director of the Italian Home for Children for the past 35 years.

Chris received the St. Ignatius Medal, BC High’s highest alumni award. It goes to graduates who “have exemplified the ideals of the school through high moral character and selfless service to the community.”

Superb choice. Congratulations to Chris, thanks to him for his career as a man for others, and kudos to the school for its wisdom in selecting him.

The Italian Home is one of the most respected and well-run social service agencies in Massachusetts. It is also recognized by the Council on Accreditation (COA). This certifies that the Home meets the highest national standards and delivers the best quality care to its communities. About 100 children are served each day on the Home’s Jamaica Plain campus. Another 20 kids attend programs at its Cranwood Group Home in East Freetown.

In his briefs and gracious acceptance speech before the school’s entire student body, Chris talked about how his experiences at BC High helped him to discern the signs and signals that led him to his life’s work.

“I was always challenged to examine things for what they meant, both in general and in particular for me. Many times, I got a feeling – a feeling for when I was doing my best work, when I was making plans or judgments or decisions. It was the feeling that I was doing the right thing.”

At first, Chris had no thought of a career in social services. He went to BC, majored in physics and math for three years, and aimed to be a scientist. During vacations he worked at IHop. But in the summer following junior year, he got a job working with emotionally disturbed youngsters at the New England home for Little Wanderers.

“It took me a couple of weeks and a handful of experiences with these special kids to give me that feeling. I recognized that I was meant to work with them. At the ripe old age of 20, I was lucky enough to find the work that I was born to do,” he said.

After that summer, Chris didn’t bother finishing his science training at Boston College. Rather he went right into the field and eventually earned a degree in social work at Boston University.
Chris closed his remarks by telling the students that each of them was developing his own version of the feeling.

“I hope you pay attention to what your heart tells you, and to have the courage to let your choices by governed by who you really are, rather than by what you think others think you are. And however successful or influential you aspire to be, your greatest achievements will always involve what happens between you and others. They may be your loved ones, or good friends, or total strangers. But if you put others and their needs first, ahead of your own, it won’t feel like a sacrifice. Think of them as opportunities you’ll encounter unexpectedly, on whatever path you choose.

“Measure wealth not by the things you have but by the things that you have that you would not exchange for money,” he concluded.

Chris was one of three alumni recipients of BC High’s Ignatius Award. The others were mathematician Paul Sally, a Roslindale native and professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago, and Reverend Richard “Doc” Conway of the Boston archdiocese.

Professor Sally, a 1950 BC High graduate who died on December 30, 2013, taught at Chicago for 50 years. He led the University’s Mathematics Project, which developed “Chicago Math” for grade school children.

Father Conway, a Class of 1955 alumnus, grew up in Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury. He worked in many parishes in and around Boston. In 2012 he received the Crime Fighter of the Year award from the Boston Police for his work with the city’s young people.

BC High also honored William A. MacNeill with its Shields Award for his lifetime of service as a teacher, track coach, and vice president of development. A Roxbury native whose family was too poor to send him to BC High, MacNeill enlisted in the Army at age 17. He served in Europe and Korea and graduated from Boston College in 1956. He organized BC High’s first fund raising program in 1971.

I had Bill for history and as a coach in cross country. Later on, when I was in the development business, we’d frequently talk shop. He did a lot, very quietly and unobtrusively, for people and for other worthy causes in addition to BC High. I’m glad that he was among the honorees as well.

It was a good day to be back at the old school, all right!

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