By Gretchen Crowder
A few years ago, my husband and I felt super-brave on a Friday and decided to take our two two-year-olds and our four-year-old to a high school football game. It was the first time for our boys to come to Jesuit Dallas for a game. Now, perhaps we could have done this earlier, but we are admittedly homebodies who spent quite some time back then analyzing whether or not the stress of hustling three kids (two of whom were still working on potty training) to a game that started past their bedtime was really worth it. In the end we decided to go for it. During the first ten minutes, I found myself thinking, “I got this. This was a great idea. Look how cute they are in their matching Jesuit Dallas t-shirts.” The next 20 minutes, however, were a little more stressful as one-liners like the following came out of my mouth for all to hear:
“No, we don’t touch trash cans with our mouths.”
“No, we can’t eat something we dropped on the floor.”
“No, we definitely can’t eat something we’ve both dropped on the floor and stepped on.”
“I am so sorry, sir, that my two-year-old just bear-hugged your leg, we are working on boundaries.”
At this point, we had not even made it to the field.
We finally did get to the field, and thankfully all three were still accounted for. I paused for a moment to take a deep breath, and I was struck by what I saw. The three little bundles of energy had stopped short at the edge of the field in awe of what was in front of them. They stood quietly, almost reverently, staring at a sea of young men in uniforms on the field. I can only imagine what they were wondering as they watched. Perhaps something like: “How’d those boys get so big? Will I ever be that big?”
Over the past four years, we have branched out and taken our boys to a lot more events. In fact, now they get to walk the halls of Jesuit Dallas daily on their way to their own Catholic school located right next door. During each journey from my office across the parking lot to their school, they get to witness even more of these “giant” teenage boys in action – sometimes as bystanders on the sidelines and sometimes more directly. I have no idea if these young men realize what a profound impact they have on the children who look up to them. I do know, however, that I am blessed to witness the wonderful impact they have made on my little ones thus far.
These young men who tower over my three little boys are the reason why I love to show up every morning to my job as director of campus ministry. When I was in high school myself, I found my niche in campus ministry. It was where I hung out. It was what connected me to my friends. Back then, campus ministry was a place for religious students who loved being active in their faith to hang out and feel at home.
In contrast, here at Jesuit Dallas, campus ministry is more a thread that runs through the daily experience of all of our students. It is the active living out of the Catholic, Ignatian mission in the classroom, on the fields, and even on the stage. The best part of my job is to be a fly on the wall of the lives of these students. I love watching them learn to share their faith and their experiences in retreat talks, mentoring younger students and serving the greater community.
In many ways, my job is not to be at the forefront of students’ spiritual experience, but to be behind the scenes providing the environment for their faith lives to unfold. I am there to give them the opportunity to explore and grow in their faith in God’s time.
In many ways, my job is also to stand in awe of my colleagues because of the way they organically share their spirituality with the students in myriad ways.
I hope that by the time these young men graduate Jesuit Dallas, they have learned the following from all of us who are on this spiritual journey alongside them:
- That it is okay – in fact encouraged – to be exactly who God created you to be.
- That it is okay to change your mind. After all, St. Ignatius did every time he prayerfully discerned alongside God his next step.
- That you are never alone. We are all working toward a common mission together, and God is journeying right there alongside us.
- Finally, shine when you are meant to shine and fade into the background when you are meant to let another’s light shine instead. The world is big enough for all God intended.
On Aug. 17, 2020, Jesuit Dallas opened its doors for the first time since March to a masked and socially distant flood of young men. I had not realized how much I had missed their presence in these halls. Every day I am thankful for each one of them. I know teenage boys are not perfect. They fall down as much as they rise up, but they constantly surprise me, particularly with their ability to be excellent role models for my sons.
In fact, when my oldest son was six, one of the “giant” teenagers took him under his wing and profoundly changed his year. One Friday night, my son and I took in a high school game together. This time, however, instead of my son standing on the sidelines watching a big sea of uniforms warm up in front of him and wondering if he’d ever get the chance to be just like them … this time, one of the uniforms walked right up to him and said: “Hey buddy, I wear hearing aids just like you. Thank you for coming to my game.” This simple statement, coupled with a fist bump, lit up my son’s face with a huge smile. At the end of the game, my son, who previously had a tenuous relationship with sports (at best), skipped excitedly all the way to the car saying: “Momma, guess what? I can play soccer, baseball, football, basketball … I can play anything! Can you sign me up?”