Although I am nearly 3,000 miles from any family or friends, I have to say I have yet to feel alone in the nearly three months since I have lived in San Diego. The only possible explanation for my unexpected comfort in spite of my foreign surroundings is the other incredible volunteers in my community, as well as the faculty and students at St. Augustine High School (SAINTS), where I work in Campus Ministry. From the minute I walked across the street from our house to the SAINTS campus (rough commute, I know), I was welcomed with care and energy. I was a little nervous at first about working at an all-boys high school, but I have found my anxiety to have been completely unfounded. It took a few weeks, but the boys have since warmed up to me, and I continue to be impressed by their respectfulness, willingness to help, and academic and athletic dedication as each week passes. Never before have I seen a community of 700 young men celebrate Mass with so much unity and devotion. It is nothing short of inspiring to watch them sing along to the music and join hands with one another during the Our Father. Each day before and after school and at the change of classes, an endless stream of students parades through the Campus Ministry Office to say hello, sign up for a retreat or service activity, or, most often, to grab some candy out of Ms. DePoy’s bottomless candy basket. They are always friendly and willing to help out - especially if it means free food or missing some class time!
Not only have I been impressed with the SAINTS boys’ daily school behavior, but they have pleasantly surprised me with their maturity and enthusiasm during after-school and off-campus activities. About a month after I arrived in San Diego, we had the Freshman Overnight Retreat on the SAINTS campus. Just try to imagine over 200 freshman boys at a sleepover. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, yet the weekend went by without a glitch. A little over two weeks later, we held our first Kairos retreat of the year with twenty-six seniors and six adult leaders. I only knew a few of the boys, yet they treated me as if they’d known me for years’ even if that means incessant teasing about my Pennsylvania roots. I acquired the nickname “Razz” and we bickered about everything from the merits of In-N-Out Burger to whether Scranton, PA exists outside of the TV show “The Office.”
Again and again, I have been amazed and floored by this SAINTS community. This past weekend, I took nine kids from SAINTS to El Hogar La Infantil Orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. Not only did they spend five hours playing with the nearly fifty kids at the orphanage, but they then spent four hours in the car waiting at the border without complaining. Just today, we ended our annual Thanksgiving Food Drive with a grand total of 6,646 donated items after only a week of collection. Twenty kids alone brought in 2,632 of those items. Amazing.
As if the SAINTS community wasn’t wonderful enough, then there’s our San Diego volunteer community -me, Beth, Anthony, Keeley, Zack, and Caitlin. Our community life together, and especially our prayer time, has been so meaningful thusfar. During prayer, we have written letters to senators, played board games and get-to-know-you games, made a cake, written funny notes to each other, and learned about justice issues such as AIDS in Africa and the Night Commuters of Uganda. We have fasted together, given up TV for a day, and run in several 5K fundraisers. Our lives together haven’t been perfect, but I have been so impressed with the way we have communicated and reconciled the things that maybe weren’t working for us as a community. It’s incredible how quickly six complete strangers can come together and become such a strong support system for one another. We have laughed so much and shared so much together already in just three months. I’m so thankful to have each one of them in my life.
The boys at SAINTS always make fun of me for only making $25 per week. “So, Razz, what are you going to do with the big 25 bones this week?” The familiar question never fails. The thing is, I don’t really need much more than that to keep me happy and entertained here. I have my five other community members and I have SAINTS. They’ve become my home away from home and I couldn’t be more blessed.
San Diego, CA 2006-2007