There is a tradition in schools taught by the Jesuits that each new school year is begun by a mass dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It is a time to bring the community back together, to unite our newest members to our community, and to rededicate our lives to God. The Mass of the Holy Spirit is kind of a big deal, and I certainly couldn’t imagine coming back to Spring Hill without attending it.
When I was a freshman one of the first things my parents did after moving all my stuff into my new dorm was to go find campus ministry. They wanted to greet the people who they had known from my brother’s time on the Hill, and to meet any new members of the staff who had recently joined the family. Of course, they had to mention that I was an altar server/Eucharistic minister/lector. And of course, as soon as Billy (the head of campus ministry) found out, he asked me to altar serve at the Mass of the Holy Spirit. How could I say no? As long as I wasn’t doing it alone, I knew I could do it.
I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I stood at the back of the church, cross in hand, ready to lead the procession through St. Joseph’s Chapel. I was so incredibly nervous that I would mess something up and look like an idiot. As the music started, I glanced back at Father Salmi, who nodded, and I began to walk. It was at that moment that the choir began to sing, and I felt almost overwhelmed by the beautiful acoustics and voices. It was something that I hadn’t expected. It instantly gave me a feeling of awe and respect, and something told me that the next four years were going to hold more for me than I could ever imagine. I felt an immediate connection to this community that was gathered together in God’s house, the body of Christ proclaiming His glory with one voice. I knew that I was home.
I don’t know where these past three years have gone. I can remember that first mass as if it were yesterday. But when Billy approached me for the fourth year in a row to serve at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, I knew that there was no way for me to say no. As I stood in the back of the church, dressed in the same white alb and carrying the same beautiful cross, it occurred to me that I’ve come full circle. I was no longer walking down the aisle as a scared and nervous freshman, but as a seasoned and confident senior. I knew many of the faces in the church looking back at me. I not only knew all of the priests by name, but they had all remembered mine. Several of them, without even missing a beat, had asked me how my time in Manchester had gone. They didn’t have Facebook to keep up with my travels, so the fact that they even remembered where I had been meant a lot. Most Spring Hill students that study abroad go to our center in Italy, so it is often assumed that when a student is gone for a semester abroad, obviously they are in Italy. But no, the Jesuits remembered. That’s what it means to be a family.
There’s something special about coming home. It’s certainly true that home is never the same when you leave and return, but that doesn’t make it any less of a home. As I carried the cross down the aisle, I was flooded with memories of that same walk from freshman year. It was enough to almost make me cry. How much has changed in the past 3 years! I thought of the faces staring back at me, the faces of new badgers who I hadn’t met yet, and the familiar faces of friends I had yet to greet. I realized that no matter where I go, who I met, or what I do, Spring Hill will always be here. It’s part of the Spring Hill spirit.
As I carried the cross down the aisle, I realized that I was a bundle of nerves, just like I had been freshman year. But each time was subtely different; freshman year I didn’t know what to expect from college, and this year I realized that I didn’t know how I was ever going to be able to say goodbye to the Hill. I had been so ready to start college, and suddenly I felt extremely unprepared to leave. Not because I haven’t learned skills to succeed in “the real world,” but because I can’t imagine leaving this behind. I’ve only just gotten back. And I’m determined to enjoy this last year as much as I possibly can.
The Hill is always changing. This year there are almost 450 new faces in our community. There are new organizations, new teachers, new trees and new random statues. But St. Joseph’s chapel has been standing there for over 100 years. The Jesuit presence has been on this plot of land since 1830, forming students in mind, body, and spirit, and teaching the ideals of faith, justice, service, and learning for life. The heart of the Hill doesn’t change. The Hill is always here to welcome its badgers home.