Noviciate update no. 4

Eve of the Feast of our Founder

Greetings! I hope this message finds you all well and in good spirits! I was delighted to hear since I last sent a message of Emmanuel’s successful defense of his doctoral thesis and of the recognition of the inspiring contributions that young Owen Condon has made to the community in Celbridge. At the same time I was saddened to hear of the news of the passing of Tom Lucey, John Summers and John Hennessy RIP. I have remembered each and their families in my prayers over the last two months. It was also shocking to hear and see Fr Pat in the Irish Independent online speaking about the fire in Crumlin, at least no one was hurt.

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It has been very busy here and it feels that once a week begins we are starting the next week! I suppose this was to be expected with such high points in our liturgical year recently. In mid December we novices were refreshed and inspired to have a few classes with Dave O’Malley. He was a lovely presence in community and was very free with his time for us novices which was great. He is a great speaker and we learned a lot off of him not only about the preventive system.

Towards the end of December the I.C.F meetings concluded with a retreat at our community. Sr Kathleen Byrnes gave a presentation on the ‘O Antiphons’ and she would be up there with the best of Maynooth in my time in terms of her theological knowledge and insight. We also had a gift exchange on the day and I got a very nice Pope Francis picture in a frame. Of course the retreat concluded with a meal, so I hopped into the kitchen to help out on serving and preparing desserts.

Noviciate_4_002aI managed to send out a cartload of Christmas cards, most probably arrived late, apologies if I missed out on any of you, I can assure you that you were all in my thoughts and prayers leading up to the birth of Christ. I sent a gift to the children of the second grade in the FMA school in Corralitos also with some Irish products and Sr Lena, their teacher, was delighted and said they remember me always in prayer. That alone was gift enough for me for Christmas! I frequently recall that school and the time we spent there as a little slice of utopia.

I got charge of the chapel for a few weeks around this time so it was great to be able to decorate it for Christmas. We had a good few laughs in the process too! It turned out pretty well.

We had a good few laughs in the process too! There was also a staff party with the staff of the retreat centre just before Christmas. I really enjoyed this day. I hopped into the kitchen as usual but there was a lot of time to chat and meet the families of the staff there. They were of course excited to introduce their kids to the Irish novice! There was a gift exchange also and for whatever reason the gifts ran out! I mentioned to the boss I wasn’t pushed so he didn’t have to go rooting anything out in his room. One of the retreat staff gave me taster bottles of Jemmy and Bushy so that was me sorted. It was nice to spend time with the staff. They have been great friends for me, even rocks at times and we always have a good laugh. I love mucking in with them on our sprawling grounds. Chris, the retreat leader, a good friend and I.

Noviciate_4_003aOf course Christmas was a time of reminiscing for us Europeans but in reality all of the Novices were away from home for Christmas, some for the first time. We helped each other through this time and made the best of it we could. On Christmas Eve, we had a game of volleyball in the afternoon! Really Christmassy stuff. We had mass in the evening, Christmas mass, with the local community. Afterwards, we had a gift exchange, yes our third, just for the community! It was great fun. I had asked for my present to be donated to the Boys and Girls Club and this was followed through. It was Simon who had to buy me a present. He also got me a six pack of Guinness and wrote me a lovely message which meant a lot. The Guinness wasn’t a patch on what The Hurlers offers but it was still good. Seeing as we for the first time ever had no time to get up the next day, we made the best of it and I was calling some of you as you were preparing or had just finished Christmas mass!

On Christmas day itself there was no mass. It was strange for me. Our community hosted the rest of the communities in the area so around 40 people turned up on the day. I was on starters in the kitchen and spent most of the day there. The main course was steak… I was glad to be in the kitchen. Normally I have to fight to stay away from human distractions at Christmas time but at least in this novitiate year I can say my Christmas was very much spiritual, in fairness, steaks… The sun was blazing too!

My small gift to the province and my family was the highlight of my Christmas. I mentioned it before and I’m still waiting for the video to be finished, I’ll promptly send it when I receive it. The gift is that I made a contribution to the Boys and Girls Club for their Christmas party. While I wasn’t able to be there, I heard it was a blast and knowing the reality of just small few of the kids there it means a lot to see smiles on their faces.

Noviciate_4_006aOn St Stephen’s day, we set out for San Francisco, a eight hour trip. I travelled, with Br Ernie, Ste and Simon. We had a great laugh and enjoyed the journey. It was pretty much a free for all when we got there. I went to mass in a few different places, caught up on a lot of reading and watched too many movies! I got a bit of a dose there so I had to stay ‘in’ as such anyway. I had no better company than the great Arthur Lenti anyway! He is an inspirational man. We did have a workshop with Fr John Roche on Chastity and this was the best on the topic I have ever heard. As you know Fr John is good at his stuff and he didn’t disappoint this time. There were lots of different outings but I as well as being sick, spent a lot of time reflecting and preparing for returning to the novitiate. I did go to Muir Woods and this was a good experience, its the greenest part of America that I have seen in six months!

We celebrated the New Year in Berkeley, on the rooftop, the fireworks weren’t great but it was still a good night. I got to spend some time with Kevin from the English province and he is a very nice guy. Out winter break was good, we got back reinvigorated for what lies ahead!

I returned ‘home’ focused and ready to go. We were straight back into it with the school, club, I.C.F and classes resuming. From my reflection and reading I have developed a lot spiritually. I have embraced solitude in a new way in my life, in fact I can’t find enough time for it. I have read up on the life of hermits and the Camaldolese and really see the value of silence and solitude in a new way. It has been a profound conversion for me that has brought me closer to God. As well as this I have pursued penance and this has also been very much transforming. We have discussed it in class, in groups and from personal reading it is something that my generation isn’t familiar with but at the same time is a long long established tradition. Reading some of the Rector Major’s letters recently has been insightful. Fernandez is a lot easier on the eye than Chavez but they are both pointing at the same thing in different ways; renewal.

I am lucky to be able to say I am growing on all fronts of Salesian life, with the grace of God. I learn everyday and its a big challenge but one that I savour. I still look forward to the club every week and also those moments in community when we are as one. Thankfully, there are quite a few. This maybe partly because we realise the challenge ahead, we are in a time of great change, not just as Salesians or as a Church, but in human history. Thank God we are getting a great basis in faith and community formation, with God as our anchor and our brothers as support we can follow Bosco’s example in being ahead of our time and catalysts for change in the lives of the young who are left behind by society.

Speaking of Bosco, we are full flight to have a huge mass with all the Salesian schools in the area in the morning. There will be over three thousand at our school and following mass there will be activities and lunch, we will certainly be busy!

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This is followed by a rush to the club and then to the huge high school dance organised by Br Al and others. We can also go to a concert instead of the dance, there is a lot on!

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I’m still playing around with photoshop! I have been arranging the visit of the boss Michael Casey these last few days. Wow it will be great to see something Irish! It is coming at the right time and I will be happy to spend a few days catching up with him. I dared not ask him to bring a bottle of Jemmy!

The novitiate is just halfway through and I think most of us are looking forward to see how we grow as Salesians for the next few months. I cant wait to get home at the same time, there is a certain plasticity about life here and its just not home. I’ll keep trooping on. Many thanks once again for all your messages of encouragement and prayers, I pray and think of you all everyday. I’ll be sure to make sure Michael will return to you with many positives and maybe even a bit of a tan!

God Bless,

Dave