Enter a Lasallian community and you will hear the words "Let us Remember" as the call to prayer. This antiphon is met by the words "we are in the holy presence of God" by all. One outstanding educator, Carol Devincenzi, brought this tradition from Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep—a Lasallian institution on Ellis Street to a Jesuit one in the outer Sunset. For over 20 years now "Let us remember" is how the St. Ignatius College Prep community begins morning prayer, prayer in class, at our liturgies, before games, on immersions and more.
In Judaism, the very act of remembrance IS a prayer. No wonder Jesus said to His disciples "Do this in memory of me" as he broke the bread at the Last Supper. Over 2,000 years later—we remember His life, death and resurrection. In remembering, we truly are in the presence of God.
And I offer these words because on October 16, 2023, a former colleague and friend—Matt Balano died of Esophageal cancer. He was 54 years old. This blog post is but a few examples of what I love to remember about Matt. I hope in some way this remembrance is a worthy prayer.
I shared a classroom for a year with Matt and another good friend, Dan. They taught English and I was in there for the junior Ethics, Morality and Society Justice course. I hated this room. It was a total meat locker. Located in the front corner of the building, I doubt it had any insulation for temperature or sound. This proved to be problematic a lot, but most especially when the school decided to cover the front of the nearly four story building with a banner for the sesquicentennial. For whatever reason, the maintenance crew did this during class time. The sound of drills and directive made it impossible to teach. Rather than yell, I pivoted toward quiet seat work. There was nothing quiet about this.
In Matt, I knew that I had a friend who was always willing to hear me out and let me vent. Any annoying reality was fodder for his astute, dry humor. I can still see myself turning to him with the issues in our shared space. First observation: his posture. Matt always stood tall. He would take in my complaints and respond with no guile or emotion. He was stone faced and would offer a cutting quip or backlash that got me every time. I know this "act" was an extension of his intelligence. He was super smart sans any trace of arrogance or pride. When and if I shared something a little more personal he was able to take it in and offer thoughtful, caring feedback. Matt was a trusted colleague—a true ally.
|With Congressman John Lewis at SI|
Matt and I ended up in different classroom the next year but our paths continued to cross. We had a challenging student in common. I turned to him regularly for advice on how to work best with this young woman. As fate would have it, this student's mother called for a meeting with several of her daughter's teachers. In that conversation, she told Matt that she too was an English major and could go "toe to toe" with him. Ever the professional, Matt was surprised that he might need to do that. I gave back to him what he always gave to me. I listened and in the years since, if it was appropriate, I would remind him that I too could go "toe to toe" with him. This was not always true, but it was always funny.
Yet one year later, I moved into a classroom Matt was leaving. On the back shelf near my new desk, he left a number of books. I boxed up his belongings but I managed to keep a basketball encyclopedia of his. I looked at this "bible" and thought to myself "who knows, I may need to reference this." As soon as Matt unpacked his books, he came back to Room 202 looking for that one. I admitted that I had it. For years, he reminded me of what I tried to keep without asking.
My alibi never waffled, wavered or changed. Matt didn't need this encyclopedia because he was one. He knew all basketball, but most especially Warriors basketball inside and out. It was joy to hear who he knew, what he knew and though we didn't always agree (he came around to Klay Thompson later than I did) he was a true, loyal fan.
This is not an answer for Jeopardy: What is the plural for "Aquarius?" I ask because Matt and I have birthdays that are but a few days apart in February.
|A poster/pic from 2/15/12|
As written by Megan Pryor-Lorentz, "Matt was SI's first Director of Equity and Inclusion. He crafted a formation program for both students and educators helping us to build up our cultural proficiency. He formed students through opportunities like the Latino Summit and the innovative Burning Illusions class he crafted and taught. Matt challenged SI's adult community to dive deeper into professional development for equity and inclusion through the WPC and POCC Conferences. He worked at SI for 16 years."
Truly, Matt championed affinity spaces, celebrated the richness of our diverse community, helped us to own our limits and pushed us to grow. That evening with Dr. Carlos on February 15, 2012 was one of hundreds of offerings he provided to the SI community. What a gift.
|Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchu at SI|
Shared Love and Respect
This might sound surprising, but one of the more arduous tasks and responsibilities I shared with Matt was serving on the hiring committee for the varsity boys basketball head coach. Anyone who has participated on a hiring committee has a sense of the time and effort it demands. It's interesting, engaging and in this case—it was NOT a done deal. We reviewed a lot of applications and conducted informal and formal interviews for a robust number of candidates. However, prior to the grind, we had philosophical and practical conversations about the type of coach we wanted to hire. We debated styles and draws of certain individuals, what we admired in coaches and what we wanted to stay away from. These were passionate pleas.
Matt and I got into it more than once. We did not agree. I remember at one point wanting to excuse myself from the whole process. Matt and I worked through things and to this day, I know I am better because of that. We grew in both love and respect for one another through that experience. We were very honest about that, too.
Every January, the SI faculty is required to attend an overnight retreat. I cherish some of the memories of retreats past with Matt there. I am excited about our 2024 speaker—the poet and theologian Padraig O'Tuama. As I was listening to his words from On Being, I thought of my experience with Matt on that hiring committee.
Agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other. Maybe on some things, but actually, when you look at some people who are friends, you go actually they might disagree really deeply on things, but they’re somehow — I like the phrase “the argument of being alive.” Or in Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne,” “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.” And that is soft and kind language, but it is so robust. That is what we can have with each other.
Matt made an excellent argument of being alive. While we didn't always agree we did understand one other and from that comes love and respect for another person. That is something I want to remember.
One Final Sharing
On September 30, 2023 Matt and Donna Bullock got married. Friends and former colleagues at SI were delighted to share such joyful news, holding that they had the courage and desire to live those vows—for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
In that same interview, Krista Tippet says to O'Tuama, "There’s a lot of lovely and popular spiritual writing about the notion of “here” and “be here now.” I love this.
I'm beginning to think that when we remember, that prayer, is an invitation—a call for our loved ones to "be here now." Matt, you are "here" in our hearts, our memories, and in the legacy you have left through the Office of Equity and Inclusion AND you are in the holy presence of God.
|Matt wrote this tribute to Jim Brown: Rest in power. Rest in peace. Amen.|
all photos above are from Matt's Facebook page. I chose a few pictures from but a few of the powerful, meaningful and memorable events he organized and led at SI.
And because they are fun: two final memories...
- Male teachers were required to wear ties at SI for years. There was however one exception to the rule: the mock turtleneck. Matt's male colleagues were jealous...they said "no one could rock the mock like Balano."
- Matt and I talked Dubs a lot. In a recent text message I told him that I walked out of my dentist's office only to see Warriors former player/turned announcer Festus Ezeli sitting at a table having coffee. Had that been Matt, he would have sat down with "The Fighting Spirit." I say this because I remember Matt ran into Leonardo Barbosa in downtown Oakland one night and started talking to him for a long time. I told him I was surprised the "Brazilian Blur" didn't offer him tickets to a game...