Sometimes you find things that you didn’t even know you were looking for. That is probably the most apt statement when it comes to how God has moved me and my life to a deeper relationship with the Augustinians.
My relationship with the community began about 35 years ago when I was looking at high schools. Truth be told, St. Rita of Cascia High School (served by the Augustinians) was way down on my list! I looked at a couple of high school seminaries. When I chose the first one, it closed. Then the second one… and it closed! And then the third one… well, you get the picture. I finally got the message, and began to look at high schools in my area. I chose St. Rita because a couple of my friends were going to be there, and I thought that it would be great to spend four years together at the same place. Little did I know that life would lead us all in different directions and that, in the same place.
During my four years at St. Rita, I encountered men whom I respected and admired – the Augustinians. These Augustinians (along with my other teachers) encouraged me and challenged me to be the best that I could be, not to settle and be comfortable with where I was at, and to follow my passion. I remember a place of intellectual rigor, friendship, lived faith, and a sense of belonging. In short, St. Rita was home, and the Augustinians made it that way. In my time at Rita, the Augustinians encouraged my vocation – a vocation and journey that took me away from them and to other communities: religious, cultural and geographic. And because of them, I was ordained some 18 years ago, and ministered in Native American and Hispanic communities in the Southwest United States, among other things serving in parishes and jails, working with young people and people with HIV/AIDS, following my passion, responding to my vocation.
And if that was where the story ended, I believe that would be sufficient, and I would still be grateful for these men in my life, and how they prepared me for my life journey. But it doesn’t end there. It ends, or better, begins, here – and now.
Passion and vocation are dynamic gifts of God, I believe, and though it seems somewhat foolish at let’s say, a more mature stage of my life, to risk a different road, that is what I felt I had to do within my heart. And the truth is that I didn’t expect the road that I took to lead me so directly back to the Augustinians – back home. And here I am again at St. Rita. Here I am again, encouraged and challenged to be the best that I can be as baptized, as friar, as presbyter. Here I am again, in a community that once again has accepted me with open arms as brother and as friend. Here I am again, a bit older, hopefully a bit more aware, and grateful once again for these men in my life, as I discover at this stage of my journey what it means to be “one mind and one heart on the way to God.”
Yep, sometimes you find things – and brothers and friends – you didn’t even know you were looking for.