People like to say that “the Lord works in mysterious ways” to explain away a lot of things, but sometimes that description is pretty darn accurate. Remember when I said a few days ago I got lost on Tulane’s campus and managed to find the Catholic student center? Well I think that moment constitutes one of those “mysterious moments” in my life. It’s a coincidence that I stumbled upon that building just on the edge of campus, but even more so that the building was only just constructed and in fact wasn’t even open yet. Today was the grand opening ceremony, so I decided to attend. After all, free food was promised. And in true Catholic fashion, free wine as well.
Let me just say that being a grad student is distinctly different than being an undergraduate college student. It was strange being surrounded by so many freshman (and their parents, because it’s move-in weekend, and the parents haven’t let go yet), and I purposely wore a Delta Gamma shirt so at the very least people knew I couldn’t be a freshman (and I also hoped maybe I would find a sister). It was strange knowing that these students were here looking for ways to get involved on campus, because that’s what you do when you’re a freshman, and I really didn’t want that sort of time commitment. What I was really just looking for was community. While I would love to be “involved,” I know that my time is going to be limited, and so my experience this year is going to be unlike that of a freshman. I’ve “been there, done that” and already had an absolutely wonderful college experience, and after being out of school and working for a year it feels almost strange to get back into that mentality of “getting involved.” I went to the open house today not looking for activities, but looking for a place to call home.
I’ve spent almost my entire life in Catholic School, so I’ve always been involved in a church. It was a no-brainer. My first experience outside of that Catholic “bubble” was when I spent six months in England. One of the priests there warned me that I would be living in a “God-less society,” and not to let it shock me too much. I found solace in the Catholic chaplaincy (the Catholic student union), where there was a study space, a kitchen (with free tea, soup, and biscuits), a library, a meeting room, and most importantly a chapel. What I found there was a home away from home, and I made some amazing friends there that I am still connected with today. Without the chaplaincy, and daily mass, Lectio Divina, adoration, and Sunday night dinners, I would have been pretty lonely and homesick. Finding the chaplaincy was like a beacon of light. I didn’t know it was there. I hadn’t gone looking for it. But suddenly as I looked across the street from the bus stop, there it was. It’s another one of those “God moments.” I know that God brought me to Holy Name Chaplaincy, just as surely as He brought me here to New Orleans and to the Fr. Val McInnes Catholic Student Center.
What did I find at the Catholic center today? I found a common area, that will be filled with couches and tables and chairs. I found a kitchen that will serve Sunday night dinners. I found study rooms, a library, and some offices for clergy and such (starting to sound familiar?). But most importantly, I found a chapel. The building overwhelmingly reminded me so much of Holy Name chaplaincy in Manchester, that I had to sit in the chapel for a while and just exist in that wave of emotion. Several current Tulane students told me that this building was a long time coming, and that it had been in the works for years. They said how lucky I was to be able to experience it. I certainly feel pretty blessed.
I can’t remember most of the names of the people I met today, but I remember their smiles. I remember how excited everyone seemed, how happy they were to see new faces, and how welcoming they were. I remember one conversation in particular, and we were talking about future plans. You know, the big “what are you going to do with your degree” conversations, in which you halfway make up some scenario that probably won’t happen because you don’t have the heart to look someone in the eyes and say “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this degree.” And because this student was considering a career in medicine, I asked if he had looked at any med schools. I, too, remember the days when I wanted to go into medicine. He shook his head and laughed a little. “I’ve gotta figure out what He wants for me,” he responded. He nodded at the Blessed Sacrament. And I couldn’t help but smile.
“He has some crazy plans,” I agreed. “There’s no telling where He’ll bring you.”
If you asked me two years ago, “Where will you be in 2015?” I definitely wouldn’t have said New Orleans. But here I am. God works in mysterious ways. I commented to another student (who was born and raised in New Orleans) how nice it was that I knew so many people here. So many of my college friends settled here after graduation, and many of them were also born and raised in this area. “New Orleans does that to you,” she responded. “You better watch out, this city is hard to let go of.” I smiled. I’m starting to realize that exact same thing. I think I can officially call New Orleans “home” now. At least for a little while.