“Good Morning St. Rita! It’s prayer time! Please stand as we begin our morning prayer.”
I proclaim these words twice a week over the loudspeaker at St. Rita of Cascia High School, the all-boys high school I volunteer at in Chicago, Illinois. Usually, I find myself jittery by the time I get to the main office where the gargantuan, ancient announcement system lives. Nervously, I press the “All-Call” button, initiating contact with every living being in the building.
And I don’t think I’ve ever gotten through all of the approximately three-minute prayer without making a mistake.
“Today is Friday, Decemb–I mean, Wednesday…”
“In the name of the Father, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
“This week, our Mission Collection will be for those suffering from the earthquake in Peru. Wait! I mean the earthquake in Chile!”
“We especially remember those who have died, especially John Smith…I’m sorry! Correction! John Smith is not dead! He is just sick.”
“I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the …(15 second pause)…REPUBLIC!”
Hence, the biggest challenge at St. Rita, by far, has been my fear of public speaking. Personally, I really had no idea what my year held in store – other than what was listed on my job description. I figured I’d be running retreats, organizing service, etc. I thought I would probably have to do a “talk” on one of the retreats, but not really much else in terms of public speaking.
I could not have been more wrong. I soon realized I would be saying prayer and announcements twice a week. I also was assigned with what I considered a horrifying task: announcing the “Mustang of the Month” award in front of the entire student body, faculty, and staff at the monthly Mass. I found myself shaking as I stepped up to the altar to announce the awards. I could barely speak! I stuttered my way through the ceremony. In order to make progress, though, I realize you must practice. And so I continued with these awards. I finally got the hang of it (relatively) by this past February.
I found another, completely different, territory of public speaking on the Kairos retreats that I help lead. Kairos is an intense four-day retreat program that is for high school seniors. After going on the retreat as a “candidate”, I found myself assigned, as an adult leader, to a talk titled “God’s Friendship”. Although I had lead retreats in high school, I had never experienced the depth and honesty the talks I witnessed on Kairos.
My life story did not seem nearly as intense or emotional as those of the other leaders. I feared my story wouldn’t grab attention, or influence students. However, I felt that I owed it to the students to present my true self. I wrote my talk, including things I thought I could never tell to even my closest friends.
Nervous, stuttering, and shaking—as usual—I began my talk on Kairos. I really didn’t think my experience would have any significance to a bunch of 17-year-old boys, but I soon realized that emotions are universal. The warm reception that I found at the conclusion of my talk led me to understand that not only did my story touch these guys, it helped me to process my own emotions even more so. I have always feared being myself around strangers—fearing rejection—but I found that in being my true self I was even more accepted by others.
I found myself more open about my life not only on Kairos, but in general – especially with my community. I was more relaxed about sharing my problems and talking about emotions I had always kept to myself. By making myself vulnerable, I found that the students were even more open with me. I even felt confident in myself! Something I didn’t realize I was lacking until that first day of morning prayer in August, 2009.
This year has been full of many challenges that I had never expected. Even though I am continually tested, I find myself adapting to these new situations and trying my best to serve those around me. Upon moving to Chicago, I thought I would be the one making the difference in others’ lives—I could not have been more wrong. I learn about myself every day. The young men at St. Rita have given to me more than I could ever have imagined, and more than I can ever repay.
And although I may not get through morning prayer perfectly, I like to think I get the point across.
Chicago, IL 2009-2010