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Community service hat fits Saint James chaplain, teacher

December 04, 2007|By JANET HEIM

SAINT JAMES - When the Rev. Todd FitzGerald applied for the job of chaplain at Saint James School, the Louisiana native admits he was unfamiliar with the concept of an Episcopalian boarding school.

In the three years he's been at Saint James, Father FitzGerald, as he's known to the students, has grown to love the school and Washington County.

"We never thought in a million years God would lead us to Maryland, let alone a boarding school. This certainly feels like a wonderful blessing to be here," FitzGerald said.

His role of chaplain and teacher - he teaches a New Testament class and a history class on developing nations - has grown to include that of community service coordinator, a responsibility he took on this summer.

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"In a school like this, people wear many, many hats. It makes sense for the chaplain to have that role," FitzGerald said.

Saint James students are required to complete 15 hours of community service for each year they attend the school, in addition to their academic and athletic commitments, FitzGerald said.

He said he tries to offer a significant community service project once a month, usually on a Saturday or Sunday.

Other volunteer opportunities include a Rubbish Roundup, volunteering at the Hagerstown Suns Chili Cook-off, Habitat for Humanity projects or the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.

FitzGerald, 38, said he tries to offer students a variety of activities, some environmental, and some working with children, seniors or immigrants.

"High school students are so busy. What we are trying to do is provide opportunities for them to have experiences of doing something for someone else in a meaningful, significant way," FitzGerald said. "Culture pressures them to do well on SATs, athletics and be good artists. It's equally important to teach them to be selfless."

FitzGerald knew he wanted to be in a helping profession, but his call to the ministry was a gradual one. His undergraduate studies in Texas were in English, with a minor in Spanish.

After working as a youth minister in Houston, FitzGerald became disillusioned with the church and didn't think he was cut out for the ministry. He took a job as a bilingual docent at the Houston Children's Museum, but continued to feel a calling to the ministry.

FitzGerald went to seminary in the Chicago area. He said years of discernment led him down this path and to a parish in Texas, where he said he discovered how exciting school ministry could be.

With the encouragement of a mentor, he applied for the job at Saint James School and got it. He and his family - wife, Amy, and 5-year-old daughter Stella - moved here in 2005 and live in a house on campus.

The FitzGeralds are both from Louisiana and attended different high schools. They met at an Episcopalian church camp while in high school and got reacquainted several years later.

Amy FitzGerald is a Spanish tutor and part-time librarian at Saint James School. Stella attends Fountain Rock Elementary School.

"We love it. We love this particular part of Maryland. We love Washington County. It fits where we are in our lives, with a focus on family and faith," said FitzGerald, who likes to garden, hike, read and travel.

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