By now, I am an old hand at visiting my kids at their respective institutions of higher education. Mrs. JPC and I have spent many Sunday afternoons traversing Central Indiana, touring the kiddies’ quarters, meeting friends and roommates, and (of course) treating for a meal out and perhaps some groceries. I had never, however, attended a “Parents Weekend”.
We sort of thought about it when our eldest started at Indiana University. “Hey, it’s Parents Weekend” said the Mrs. “I guess we ought to go.” Since it was a weekend, it required lodging. But everything in Bloomington was booked. We were able to find several options in Greenwood (which is perhaps 80% of the way back home, so – uh – no. As we talked it over with No. 1 son, we decided that 1) it would be a huge crowd, 2) there was not that much of interest planned that we had not already seen, and 3) it was all centered around a football game that our lad was going to have to watch from the press box instead of with his parents. Oh, and 4), it was IU football, stuck in perpetual rebuilding mode.
From then on, we have tried to visit the kids on our own terms and not on those of their schools. Until now. When we were notified of the most recent Parents Weekend, we knew we would have to go.
Many of you know that our son Pierce, after graduating from IU with a degree in Sports Broadcast Communications, made an abrupt change and headed into the Dominican religious order as a novice. At some point, I need to write something for the benefit of my non-Catholic friends that explains how religious orders fit into Catholicism. But until I undertake that project, let’s just say that the Dominicans are formally known as the Order of Preachers, and are on the verge of their 800th anniversary since the Order’s Papal approval in 1216. From that time, they have been a group of men devoted to learning and preaching the Christian gospel all over the world.
I have a confession to make. No, not that kind of confession. When it comes to the priests in my own parish church (and the ministers in my Lutheran churches before that), they have been cordial figures who have always been “up there” in my life. By this, I mean that instead of being on friendly terms with them, they are sort of like the distant relative that you don’t really know that well and don’t see that often, or like the mechanic whom you know and trust to work on your car, but have not invited to your home for dinner. I have a feeling that my life is not going to be like this in the future.
For Parents Weekend, the Dominican community in St. Louis could not have been more welcoming. We attended some sessions that presented some history of the Order, and of some of the more practical issues that will involve our sons. We also ate our meals with them, which gave us the chance for informal conversation on a variety of subjects. More than once, they told us that we are now part of their family, with an open invitation to visit them any time. To a man, they were gracious and thoughtful individuals who were a delight to get to know. They are teachers, preachers, authors, administrators and mentors.
“Oh, so Priests are people too. What a brilliant observation.” Yes, I know how this might sound. However, for one who became a part of the Church because of her doctrines and beliefs, the human dimension of those who do much of the heavy lifting is not always so apparent at first. But it should be, and is becoming more so to me.
Is there a point to all of these paragraphs up to now? I’m not really sure, other than that this is a new experience for me and so far, I am liking it. I am quite certain that our son will face challenges from living in close proximity to those who teach many of his classes and who have authority over him in the House. But aren’t those the same struggles that most families have in one way or another? As for me, I am looking forward to getting to know better this big, extended family that I now find myself a part of. Getting new inlaws is always sort of a crapshoot as to whether the experience will be a good one or not, and I have a feeling that we have done well here.
There is also the more distantly related part of our new in-laws, who are the parents of the other young men in formation. Many of them came from much greater distances than we did, places like Arizona, Minnesota, Texas and Mississippi, to name some of the farther ones. We look forward to getting to know some of these folks better too, as people who have in common with us an experience that is not all that common today.
Having been home for a few days, I must admit that there was a peacefulness in the Priory that does not always exist in our busy everyday lives. I sort of miss it, actually. But perhaps this is telling me more about my life than about theirs, which is something to consider. Something else to consider is how we might now respond to the Dominican Community that we find ourselves connected to. How are we going to make these men a welcome part of our own family, as they did with us?
For anyone interested in more about the Dominicans of the Central Province, their website can be found here. And yes, that is Brother Pierce on the left of the background picture for the site’s opening page.