As an undergraduate student imagining what life after college might hold, I joked more than once about wanting to be a professional Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith. Besides all of the laughter and play that came with the job, I discovered that walking with the high school participants made me come alive. The participants’ unique stories of struggle and joy inspired me, and their impressionability in such a broken world motivated me to pray hard for them and for myself as their Mentor-in-Faith. I hoped to find a way of life after college that might spur me to holiness in the way that being a small group leader did.
During my first Vision summer in 2010, a dear friend and Holy Cross seminarian invited some Mentors-in-Faith to wash dishes at Our Lady of the Road, a drop-in center run by the Catholic Worker that offers breakfast, laundry, and showers to anyone who might walk through the doors. I fell in love with the people there and discerned to move into the Catholic Worker house of hospitality after graduation. As I spent my days cooking, sorting donations, and talking with guests, many new friends shared their stories with me. One man told me about being a part of a gang as a young person and spending most of his adult life in prison. Another woman reflected on being a homeless, pregnant teenager while navigating serious mental health issues. I found myself wanting to travel back in time to encounter these friends in their youth, to listen to their experiences and model God’s nearness.
This longing opened my eyes to the young people in our neighborhood, and as spring came, a friend and I decided to start a small neighborhood day camp called “Camp St. Joseph.” Named after our street and local patron saint, our five-day camp included elements of Notre Dame Vision, including a daily theme, speaker, and small group discussion time in addition to lots of games, songs, and crafts. About 40 kids of all ages joined us that week, and meeting these beautiful neighbors overwhelmed us with joy.
After Camp St. Joseph, it became clear that I would need a larger community committed to walking with young people in order to practice the kind of accompaniment I had in mind. Through a friendship with one particular young person in the neighborhood, God led me to discover “Iron Sharpens Iron” or “ISI,” a local youth leadership program. In ISI, small groups of sixth- through twelfth-graders meet weekly for a family-style meal and “real talk,” a time to share what is going on in their lives and form a supportive, Christ-centered community. I met with the director for coffee and eventually became a leader of an ISI small group in my own neighborhood, in addition to becoming the program’s Director of Academic Empowerment a year later.
Serving as a Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith gave me a glimpse of how God would reveal Jesus to me: through listening to and walking with young people. This work of youth accompaniment continues to be a saving grace, pulling me out of myself, calling me to greater holiness, and filling each day with unpredictable beauty.
Featured photo courtesy of Notre Dame Vision.