Ten months ago, I was a Senior at UST, majoring in Catholic Studies and English with no idea what the next step would be after graduation. If you would have asked me my plans, I probably would have shrugged and given a vague answer about looking for a teaching position in the Cities. I certainly didn’t intend to move to South Chicago for a year, but the Lord had other plans! So here I am, as a full-time volunteer with Cap Corps Midwest (with the Capuchin Franciscans), marveling every day at the mere fact that I am here.
I have been here about three months so far, living in community with two other volunteers and working at two South Chicago non-profits: Corazón a Corazón and Centro Communitario Juan Diego. At both places, I am officially a teacher, though my job description is certainly not limited to that! At Corazon a Corazon, I tutor adult immigrants in a one-on-one ESL program and help with the after-school tutoring for the kids. At Juan Diego, I teach a Level II English class for 8-10 adults, help with the after-school program, and am in the process of developing a class to help people write resumes. As I write this, I realize that my schedule on paper looks awfully tame. But in fact, my life has never been more unpredictable and challenging! When I’m not trying to figure out how to teach (without a previous curriculum), I run errands, teach Sisters how to work computers, help with health fairs, work in the food pantry, give weekly reports in Spanish, eat delicious homemade Mexican food, and just generally soak up the environment around me, filled with people coming and going from all walks of life. Each day in the last three months has been an absolute adventure, and I have been learning to improvise at a moment’s notice and to respond willingly to any need in front of me, though most of the time, I feel utterly unqualified to do so. It’s a severe blow to pride when you realize that you in fact don’t know everything…it is subsequently an excellent (albeit stinging!) place to be, because never in my life have I turned to the Lord so completely in trust and humility! St. Francis speaks eloquently about being an instrument of the Lord’s love and peace, so it is only fitting that he is the patron of our program, calling us on to greater self-gift.
Though I am constantly challenged, there are countless pearls of joy and love every day. I see this especially in my ESL students, who all have a delightful sense of humor, coupled with a very serious dedication to their learning. One morning, while working with my 70-year-old student, I was particularly pleased with the progress he had made and wanted to share that with him. I tried explaining how well he was doing in a few different ways to no avail, then finally pointed to my eyes: “I can see…” and then at him: “…that you are learning a lot!” He finally understood, started chuckling, and replied in the best English he could muster, “I think…you need…new glasses!”
Spending even a short time in my post-graduate life has led me to reflect often on many things I have taken for granted, beginning with the blessing of a beautiful family and friends. I am especially grateful each day for the formation I received in the Catholic Studies program, because I see many of the concepts I learned in the classroom now taking flesh as my experience unfolds. At the heart of it all is the Catholic Vision central to the program- a particularly holistic understanding of the human person and his relationship with God and his brothers and sisters. This Vision has been a tremendous foundation for my year of service, and in a certain sense, it is very easy to see the need for love, prayer, and living intentionally here. Yet, I have been realizing that that attentiveness cannot be abandoned the moment I end my year of service, regardless of what I do practically for the rest of my life. This is why I am so grateful to Catholic Studies, who does not prepare us only for a specific field, but for a whole life of continual growth in holiness and discernment of the Lord’s call to love- wherever we are. What a gift!
~Laura, Class of 2010