From the Headmaster

Message in a Bottle

Alfred F. Dugan III

One hundred eighty-five messages in a bottle were released at sea. Divinely, they were discovered and answered…
Just over a week ago I was notified that I had a package waiting for me at the Front Desk. Later that day, I went to retrieve whatever might have been sent, having little to no expectations of grandeur. I was not anticipating anything special - it was not my birthday nor a holiday, and often I receive packages with creative methods of getting me to purchase something for our school. This cardboard package was larger than normal, almost 3' x 3'. With intrigue, I grabbed a pair of scissors and began to slice open the packing tape that sealed the box. To my surprise, there was a red and white striped lifebuoy (lifesaver, life preserver…think SS Minnow) adorned with nautical rope. I took the buoy out of the box and turned it over, only to discover that it read “REBECCA – March 21, 1818.” I was moved as beautiful memories washed over me of last year’s Bicentennial celebration of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne’s journey across the Atlantic in a ship named REBECCA to found Sacred Heart education in the Americas. A lifebuoy from the REBECCA... How wonderful… How curious...
Then I picked up the card that accompanied the lifebuoy. A handwritten note, penned in sweet script, stated the following:

Dear Rik,

My memory of your boys building the REBECCA has stayed with me since the Busy Persons Retreat. Someone sent this to our community at Avila this year and we cherished all that it suggests as we celebrated St. Philippine’s coming to America. Now, I think it should be near your PASH REBECCA. I hope you enjoy its meaning. We pray for all who carry the fate of our educational ministry and so you are mentioned at prayer. May this year be filled with blessings of love, truth and goodness…

Sr. Meg Canty, RSCJ
With chills I paused, breathed, and reread the note. Last spring, Sr. Meg Canty, RSCJ, spent one week on our campus (along with Sr. Jane O’Shaughnessy, RSCJ) as a spiritual companion to our faculty and staff as part of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools Busy Persons Retreat. With her joyful soul, calming wisdom and smiling heart, Sr. Meg lifted our community in a most powerful way. She was on campus at the very same time that the young men of the Class of 2023 (our then Grade 4) were building their replica of the REBECCA. Named SOAR (decided upon with Hawk pride after a vote was taken among the young boatbuilders), the seaworthy vessel was created entirely by our boys’ hands, sailed nobly in Mercer Lake and now proudly is on display at the entrance to our William E. Simon Chapel Library. I remember how moved Sr. Meg was by the whole endeavor – our boys building a boat that they designed and would soon sail, knowing that it was inspired by our pioneer foundress as a homage to the REBECCA, a profound symbol of our Sacred Heart roots that give us wings.
So six months later, Sr. Meg sent us a lifebuoy that she and her fellow RSCJ had prayed over in heartfelt tribute to Philippine. I was instantly honored to think that this relic, now residing with SOAR, would become part of Princeton Academy’s story.
And then it hit me… Our messages in a bottle were answered.
You see, on the first day of school this year every student and educator placed a message in a bottle, literally, with an intention for the year. The bottles were placed in SOAR and we all imagined our messages in a bottle being cast out to sea or up to God. Lo and behold, the bottles were found and the intentions were answered. We were thrown a lifebuoy, a loving assurance, and who among us does not need that?
I shared this moment with all of our boys and educators at our Founders Day Friday Thank Yous and then presented them with the buoy. They got it and so deeply appreciated the moment. They understood that their message in a bottle had been answered, that their hopes and intentions were heard and responded to. As I told the boys on that morning, we are all cared for and buoyed as children of the Sacred Heart.
Divine providence abounds at Princeton Academy, and this God wink (;) is a perfect example. I encourage you to interpret the beautiful symbolism of this moment for yourself in whatever way feels best. Who among us does not need a buoy? Who can we, in turn, throw a buoy to? Quite simply, my wish is that the symbol of this buoy provides each and every one of us with hope.
One hundred eighty-five messages in bottles were released at sea. Divinely, they were discovered and answered…

Click here to view the September 2019 issue of Princeton Magazine to learn more about the Princeton AcademyGrade 4 Boat Building Project

  • Founders Day
  • sacred heart

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