...and they dropped their nets and followed Him. This is how the call of the first disciples of Jesus is recounted in the Gospels. The account of the disciples is sometimes how I feel during this volunteer year. I had no idea what was going to happen or what was not going to happen. Just like the disciples, I was scared of the unknown but also knew that it was something I had to do.
I cannot tell you the reasons why I decided to volunteer definitely while on a train from Rome to Assisi. I can tell you what I thought were the reasons, like giving back for what I had been blessed with, finding out who I am, and living out my Catholic faith. However, over halfway through this year, I know that it will not be until the end of this year and perhaps many years after that that I will truly know why I did this year. Fr. Tom McCarthy, the president of St. Rita of Cascia High School where I work, said on a Lenten mission, “You want to know how to make God laugh, tell him your plans”. I chuckle at this because it is so true.
My experience at St. Rita as a campus minister has been challenging as well as rewarding. I thought I was ready to leave my family and friends but again, how wrong I was. I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do after this year, but I still haven’t heard back from any graduate schools or companies. Perhaps it is the world that I grew up in, the world that says its all about me, that has blinded me into thinking I knew everything or had the confidence to handle every situation.
There is a real challenge in trying to tell someone who just lost their brother that everything is going to be OK or knowing that one of the students is going to go home with only his mother and his step brother around. These are just a few of the “problems” that go unnoticed at a school where everyone wears the same uniform, is clean shaved, and has books to carry around to classes. The stories and lives that these students have would surprise many people and many times are ones that I cannot relate to. When I first started this year, I wanted to give the best advice to every student I met, but I have slowly learned that I will not be able to do that. Instead I have learned to be with the student through this year and let my presence give them answers. A presence which builds with every volunteer that passes through Rita. It is a challenge to be of ministry for these people, with often unnoticeable rewards.
However, in my short stay at St. Rita, I have been lucky enough to see a glimpse of promise in the minds of these young men. Although, I have direct interaction with all four classes through retreats, coaching, the dining hall,or liturgies, it is the senior class that fascinates me the most. Perhaps it is because I get to know them on a much deeper level through the Kairos retreat. The seniors are at a special moment in their lives where their values and foundations will be tested as they move on after graduation. Seeing these young men challenge their faith and sometimes even restore their beliefs in God gives me much support and reassurance with the work that I do. I know that I will never really see how they have changed, but sometimes knowing that there is hope is enough for me.
What has been very unique in my volunteer year has been the joy that my job brings to me but also the community that has shaped me. Together, Amanda, Brett, Claire, Jeannie, Susan, and myself have formed such a strong bond over this past year that it sometimes feels to good to be true. In my commitment statement at the beginning of the year, I stated that I wanted to better understand myself through my community. My community has challenged me to think about what I believe in and who I think I am.
As of today, I am starting to understand why I decided to do this volunteer year, but I wont ever fully understand until a couple years from now when I see myself in the “real” world where different challenges arrive everyday. Challenges that will test how this year has shaped me. I look forward to what the future has for me, even though it feels like I drop my net just to follow a gut instinct.
Patrick J. O’Brien
Chicago, IL 2007-2008