The Rev. James LaMacchia arrived at St. Mark’s School in the autumn of 1998, and for 14 years he has served as Associate Chaplain, Religious Studies teacher, and advisor to the St. Mark’s Society. This summer, Father LaMacchia is retiring from teaching and leaving St. Mark’s. He will be remembered, noted Eric Danielson ’14 in a recent issue of the St. Marker, for “his passion for teaching and emphasis on individual growth.”
As Associate Chaplain, Father LaMacchia was deeply involved in the Chapel program and the religious life of the School. He also would take part in conducting a weekly Eucharist in the Chapel. He celebrated his final St. Mark’s Eucharist on Wednesday afternoon, May 30. Shortly before Prize Day, a group of St. Mark’s art students had designed and crafted a beautiful new frontal for the altar in Belmont Chapel. The colorful patchwork creation was in place for Father LaMacchia’s final service.
Father LaMacchia held the Martin S. Fenton Sr Chair in the Humanities at St. Mark’s. In addition to teaching the required “Judaism, Christianity, & Islam” course, he taught a number of elective courses: “Ethics & Morality”, “The Holocaust & Modern Genocide”, “Eastern Religious Thought”, “The New Testament”, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, and “Buddhist Meditation/Christian Contemplation” among them. Students were “regularly engaged in enriching debate” while in Father LaMacchia’s classes, “tackling even the most controversial subjects under his gentle and expert guidance.”
While retired from teaching, Father LaMacchia will continue as a part-time priest. His long-term goal, however, is to move to Jerusalem and work with the Palestinian Christian community there.
In mid-June, Father LaMacchia will attend the 8th International Conference on Holocaust Education sponsored by the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Israel. The theme of this year’s conference is “Telling the Story; Teaching the Core: Holocaust Education in the 21st Century.” Father LaMacchia will appear on a panel of educators from the United States, Germany, Canada, and Scotland, addressing “the challenges of teaching the Holocaust at University and Secondary Level institutions.”
“Many U.S. secondary schools only offer a unit on the Shoah scattered among such courses as American History or World Literature,” notes Father LaMacchia. “Most educators and students find that this is too fragmented and just not enough to convey even a basic understanding of the complexity and extent of this signal event in modern history. I urge teachers—especially in independent schools—to develop elective courses on the Shoah and its seminal connection to the continuing horror of genocide in the modern world.” He understands the difficulties of teaching this complex material when faced with the ever-increasing demands of a modern academic schedule. “Because we are pressed for time in an ever-expanding curriculum,” he says, “we educators must take the time to present the complex social, political, economic, and cultural factors and events that led to the Shoah. It is too easy to dismiss the Shoah as an idiosyncratic outburst of ‘evil’ in the now distant past. If students are to make the appropriate and vital connections between then and now, our Shoah curricula must make credible strides toward making the incomprehensible at least somewhat comprehensible through careful exploration of the roots of the Shoah in modern western history, politics, and thought.” Father LaMacchia also encourages educators to make use of a variety of tools when approaching the task of teaching the Holocaust at the high school level. “My students have found survivor testimony especially compelling,” he reports. “It allows them to connect the history to the real people whose lives were affected by the events of the Shoah. The resources in this area provided by IWitness and the Echoes & Reflections curriculum have been invaluable in the classroom. High-school students are especially moved by memoirs written by other teens as well. Of the many films and documentaries available to educators, the film and book Europa, Europa in particular never fail to capture the reality of the Shoah and the peculiar Nazi racism behind the events of 1933-1945. At the conclusion of every Shoah course, my students say that this particular story, together with their viewing of the Triumph of the Will, with commentary, is when ‘they got it’!”
At St. Mark's, Father LaMacchia is equally proud of his work with the St. Mark's Society, helping to direct the School's principal community service outreach activities and opportunities. Each year, he has helped make it possible for more than one hundred St. Markers to be involved in service, while assisting in raising thousands of dollars for worthy causes.
Father LaMacchia is not putting his St. Mark’s connections entirely behind him. He still stays in touch with many of his past students, and this summer he will be officiating at the marriage of one of his former advisees. St. Mark’s, he says, “has been the best and richest experience of my life. I’ve really enjoyed every minute of the time I have been here. I love teaching here; it will be my biggest loss when I leave.” Deeply appreciative and respectful of his colleagues, he also says that “I’ve had great relationships with members of the teaching faculty as well over the years.”