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‘Letting Him work through us’

May 5, 2021

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Jonathan Monfiletto
Contributing Writer

WATERTOWN – Dan Charlebois has always felt comfortable, “like being at home,” he said, in the Catholic Church and with his Catholic faith.

“It’s who I am,” he said of his faith. “It’s my foundation. It guides me. It gives me a lot of hope as well, so I find joy even when times are tough. This past year has been very, very, very challenging, but deep down inside there’s a joy and a hope knowing ultimately God’s got it.”

As the principal of Immaculate Heart Central School (IHC), the Watertown resident and Holy Family Church parishioner said the past year “has been the most challenging year,” not only because he is leading a school district through the COVID-19 pandemic but also because he is leading the school as its new principal while attending graduate school for his administrative degree at the same time.

“It’s been an extremely stressful year,” Charlebois said, noting a piece of advice he received from his professors in the University of Notre Dame Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program: “You’ve got to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you feed others? You have to feed yourself first… If you don’t spend time with God, if you don’t let him fill you up, you’re never going to be able to fill up other people. You’re going to wither.”

Charlebois likens this advice to Jesus Christ declaring that He is the true vine and we are the branches. We have to stay attached to Him, or we will wither.

He carries that advice, and the words of Jesus, in the back of his mind every morning when he goes into the school chapel to spend some quiet time reading Scripture, meditating on it and praying before the start of the school day.

“You’ve got to fill me so that I can then in turn fill others,” Charlebois said he prays. “Fill my bucket back up.”
And feeding the students and faculty of IHC is what Charlebois tries to do through his leadership as their principal. The focus this year, he said, has been his reading of Jean Pierre Medaille’s maxims during the morning meetings at the high school.

“Lots of vulnerability,” he said of how he reaches the students. “Students tend to respond to honesty. They can pick out somebody who’s genuine or not. I lead being very humble and vulnerable with the students.

He has no problem telling stories about himself and sharing his faith journey with the students and faculty.

“I want to be as open and honest with the faculty too and students,” he said. “This is who I am. This is my story. Just being forthright and honest. That helps to break down a lot of walls that kids tend to put up.”

In Charlebois’ story, he grew up Catholic with both of his parents being Catholic and with church every weekend being the norm. When he was in college, though, his faith started to wane little by little; he found excuses all the time for not going to Mass. Still, God and his faith were always present to him.

“There was this restlessness that was there. There was always this call back,” Charlebois said. “The way I put it is, I questioned an awful lot, and every time I kept questioning things, God gave me an answer of some kind. There was always this leading forth.”

Right after college, Charlebois began his career working in Catholic schools, first at Bishop Grimes High School in Syracuse and later at IHC. He said he has always found a home within the Catholic Church, and his career has always given him a sense of being home.

Charlebois said he finds God through the intellectual.

“It’s that honest questioning of things,” he said. “It’s not like absorbing things blindly. I questioned God a lot when I was in college, but the key thing is, it was an honest questioning I went through.”

As an adult and leading a school, Charlebois said he has a solid foundation, having gone through some challenges and knowing what God has called him to do.

“It’s challenging. I know the things the kids are going through are different than when I went to school with technology and things like that and the pressures that they have to go through that I never did,” he said. “There’s a zeal within me. This is what God is calling me to do. Even though sometimes I may not have the answers, it’s OK.”

When it comes to feeding himself so he can feed others, Charlebois said he likes reading Catholic authors – from the contemporary, such as Bishop Robert Barron, to the classical, such as St. Augustine, whom he considers his favorite saint.

Most of all, he said he loves reading Scripture and finding God through Scripture, not only finding God through the written word but hearing God speak to him through His word.

“There’s sometimes where I’ll need a certain thing, so as I’m going through the reading of the day or something like that, it’s like boom, it’s exactly what I needed,” he said.

From his own faith journey and his own experience, Charlebois offers another piece of advice from the words of Jesus to other people so they can feed themselves and feed the people around them: “Be not afraid.”

“The more people are vulnerable and honest, that I found breaks down a lot of pieces,” he said. “Really, what our Catholic faith is calling us to do is to be in relationship with one another. I tell the teachers and I tell the students, Jesus always had this calling and He met people where they were at. If they weren’t quite ready yet, it was OK. Just keep calling, keep calling… Be honest, be open, be vulnerable, and let God do the work. It’s not on us. It really isn’t. It’s just letting Him work through us.”

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