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Father Cavanaugh Faculty Farewell

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Father Cavanaugh has been an integral part of the SSSAS community since 2004 when he came to the school to serve as chaplain. Prior to becoming the chaplain for the school, Father Cavanaugh had served as a parish priest in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Atlanta. 

 In many ways, Father Cavanaugh has been the face of the religion department and the Episcopal identity at SSSAS for 20 years. Whether it has been through chapel service, through his classes, or seeing him in the hallways, the soft-spoken Father Cavanaugh has touched the lives of just about every student and teacher who has been a part of the school. The way chapel exists as we know it today is largely because of Father Cavanaugh, including the tradition of seniors having the opportunity to give a chapel talk.

However, as Father Cavanaugh mentioned in his last chapel service that his time at the school did not exactly start smoothly. “My first impression of Chapel was that I’ve made a huge mistake in coming here.” The role of chaplain at SSSAS has changed dramatically during Father Cavanaugh’s time at the school. He says that his proudest accomplishment at the school has been developing the role of chaplain to be able to create caring and trusting relationships with students that often span beyond religion. 

One of the ways many students have gotten to meet Father Cavanaugh is through his Christian Themes in Film class. While many of the movies shown in the class have rotated throughout the 20 years he has taught the class, Father Cavanaugh says his favorite movie to teach remains Friday Night Lights because it reminds us, “Our value as human beings isn’t just tied to doing something perfectly.” 

This movie is especially impactful for high school students to watch as perfection, whether it be in the classroom, on the field, or in general life often seems to be the expectation. Father Cavanaugh noticed this problem as one of the main causes of stress and anxiety among students and wanted students to know, “That who they (students) are, is great, and who they’ve been made to be is where their power comes from, not from their perfection.”

One of the ways that Father Cavanaugh helped to create an environment where students can be vulnerable and share personal experiences is through chapel talks. Chapel was not always as involved as it is today and it took a few years for the tradition of senior chapel talks to actually take off. This all changed when one senior, a wrestler, gave a chapel talk about the death of his grandfather and the effect that had on him. As Father Cavanaugh said, this was the first time a student had been vulnerable and put themselves out there in front of the entire school, “It was one of those aha moments and people stood up for him for the first time since I’ve been doing this.” 

Another of the most impactful chapel talks came soon after the tradition began. In this chapel talk a student came out as gay in front of the community. He talked about wondering whether God really loved him or not, and there was a definite uncertainty as to how the school would react. The chapel talk actually occurred at the end of the school year as Father Cavanaugh said, “We didn’t know how students would respond to him.” This moment became one of Father Cavanaugh’s proudest moments at SSSAS as he described how the community came together in support. “In that moment I felt really, really proud of the community. And then just the fact that the students every week, for the most part, are willing to share a part of their lives with the community.” These chapel talks have laid the foundation for one of SSSAS signature traditions and a key community-building moment for the school. 

It isn’t just the big community-defining moments that Father Cavanaugh will remember. In fact, his favorite moments are the smaller and more personal moments that are often missed by some, “My favorite moments though, are the moments when I know when I can see change in a student for the better… Anytime we have seen kids here go from a place of confusion and being lost to being found and then being rooted to something that gives them a sense of purpose. Those are my best moments.”

While Father Cavanaugh’s tenure at SSSAS is coming to an end, he is looking towards the future with some exciting plans. He will be doing interim work at different parishes, helping to bridge the gap between priests and helping to prepare the parish for the arrival of a new priest.

Looking back at his time at SSSAS, Father Cavanaugh says he has appreciated finding out about students’ character at SSSAS, a trait that has remained constant since 2004, “In terms of the core of who kids are, that’s not really changed, just incredible human beings. And that’s been present from day one.”

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Jeremy Young, Staff Writer
Jeremy Young: Jeremy is a junior going into his third year on staff for The Voice. He enjoys writing about politics, policy, economics, and sports. In his free time, Jeremy plays baseball and runs cross country. Jeremy is ready to contribute to The Voice staff this 2022-23 year.   

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