A Reflection on a Year as a Volunteer Alumnus

Today, Monday June 4th, hosted the end of the year all-faculty meeting at St. Ignatius High School. Yesterday was graduation day for the class of 2012. Even these past few weeks have been days full of consummations and commencements – the Magis Retreat for seniors, a 24-hour period of Eucharistic Adoration for the class of 2012, Prom, celebratory dinners with the Theology Department, the CAT team, and so on. Just as much as it is for the young men who I can now call alumni brothers of Ignatius, this May-tide season is an extended period of reflection and gratitude for me.

When asked at various points in this past month-plus to reflect on my time as an Alumni Volunteer, the most resonating thought that comes to my mind is how much of a gift this year has been to me. It’s often spoken of, in varying degrees of seriousness (usually quite serious) how I and my two fellow volunteers are “major benefactors” to the school. And this is true – the school would have to hire a few people and pay them many thousands of dollars to do the work we did for free. The Arrupe afterschool programs would likely not exist without the manpower of three Alumni Volunteers (and the womanpower of a Jesuit Volunteer) to plan, staff, and guide the programs. It would be quite a daunting task for one or two teachers to take on the load of the 150+ funerals served by the Arimathea ministry this year. Mr. McLaughlin would have to spend as much time on the road as a professional race car driver to shuttle all the sophomores to and from their service placements without our help.

Still, comparing who I am now with where I was at this point last year, I have grown a nearly immeasurable amount, thanks to the opportunities I have had at my alma mater this year. Coming off of my MA year of 2010-2011, I sought to teach Theology or work in campus ministry in the high school environment. With all due respect to my past self, I can see why I mustered out nary more than one or two interviews at this time last year. I had virtually no skills and no experience working in the high school environment. Through the aforementioned activities (Arrupe, Arimathea, and Sophomore Service) as well as ample time spent on Campus Ministry retreats and in the freshman Theology classroom, I can say I at least have the dimmest idea of how these environments – and more importantly, the people in them – work and function to the best of their ability.

It helps that I got to work with some of the best teachers, ministers, and service leaders that one could possibly ask for. As Fr. Libens said so emphatically at today’s faculty meeting, St. Ignatius has an incredible adult community. To have worked with them this past year as a volunteer has been quite the blessing. And of course, not only is the adult community here remarkable. So too are the students. The minds and hearts I have been able to communicate with and form this year are some of the richest, most vibrant I have encountered. Let’s pray for these boys as they go through their difficult college years, that they may stay true to the formation they received at this school to continue living well in the good gifts God has given them.

One of the greatest graces of this past year for me has been living the Faith in a much more concrete way. Not to knock the life of the mind in any respect – in a culture so fixated on experience, the intellectual life often takes an undeserved backseat. But on the other hand, one can’t be in the books all the time. Taking a year off from a lifelong immersion in academia was one of the best choices I made. It has reminded me how thinking out the faith amongst a select group of philosophy students at a top tier college is one thing. It is an entirely different thing to communicate the person of Christ and His call to all of us to your theologically uninterested relatives, your hardened agnostic or apathetic student, your wounded and sorrowful homeless brother or sister. To do the latter requires much faith, much hope, and much, much love.

Another one of the major graces this year has been the grace of failure. Up until roughly my senior year of college, I had been pretty much your perfectionist poster child. It wasn’t until my senior year at BC, when I graduated a few months late to take care of a language requirement, that I had really “failed” for the first time. And then, when I needed to take time off from life in Boston and life in philosophy, I “failed” again. The key was, never really having had these experiences before, I had no idea how to deal with them. Through the opportunity for much prayer, spiritual (and otherwise) conversation, and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation this year (makes it easy having 12 Jesuit neighbors) I have begun to become much more capable of dealing with – well – being human! And, more importantly, being loved by an infinitely merciful Lord. Deo gratias.

So yes, as an Alumni Volunteer during the 2011-2012 school year, I was able to give much to the St. Ignatius community. And yes, I received even more than I could have asked for – other than a job! ;). And in this way, I think my life this year has been, thanks to Him, such an image of the love of our Triune God. Total gift of self from one person to another,  and vice versa, creating another great gift of love in the exchange. Blessed may He be.

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About Michael Williams

Ardent greater Clevelander. Brewing industry laborer. Future Theology teacher. Truth seeker. Beloved adopted son of the Father thru JC in the Spirit.
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