Dining with Giants

The photograph is of my professor, Dr. John Cavadini.

Many of you have been asking me how I’m doing and what I think of Echo. Tonight is the first time I’ve truly had an opportunity to sit down and reflect on my experiences so far and on this wonderful program that I am now a part of.

This weekend was mentor weekend, meaning that the mentors of all the Echo 7 and 8 students were brought to the University in order for us to have an opportunity to meet and discuss our hopes for the next year, as well as some small formation that the Echo program wanted to offer us. Last night I met my mentor. I truly believe that it was not Colleen and Jerry but the Holy Spirit that made that choice for me, because I don’t think I could imagine anyone better if I tried. My mentor, Fr. Jeff, is just a wonderful man and I look forward to working closely with him (we will be sharing an office) for the next two years. He has been a priest for 42 years and has spent the last four years running campus ministry at Butler University by himself. He does so not only without a staff, but also without a Church building to hold Mass in. Yet, he has a love for his students, a frank openness, and a deep wisdom. I know he has a lot of experience to share and I have so very much to learn.

For the last three weeks, one feeling about Echo has been more predominant than the others. I feel that I am wholly undeserving of the honor of being in this program. The young women and young men that make up Echo are far wiser, kinder, smarter, and far, far more talented than I am. The men and women who run Echo and make it what it is are some of the best people I’ve ever known—and I’ve known some amazing people.

One example of this wonderful community was tonight. Tonight was one of those nights that you hope to remember forever. Tonight, I was sitting in the company of giants.

We had dinner in the press box of the Notre Dame football stadium—something that I’m sure seems more exciting to those reading this than it did to me. It was, however, a beautiful view and I was excited to be one of the few people who gets to dine up above the Irish field. More exciting to me, though, were the people I was with, for in addition to celebrating Mentor weekend, we were also celebrating Dr. Jerry Baumbach, the recently retired former director of Echo.

Jerry was one of the heads of the Sadlier Publishing Company eight years ago when he received a phone call from Dr. John Cavadini, a complete stranger to him at the time, telling him about this idea he had for a new program at ND and asking him to come on board as director. Jerry, a well-known man in the realm of catechesis, bravely came to ND and began his new life as the Director of Echo. Together, he and Cavadini formed this program.

Jerry Baumbach has so many amazing stories to tell: stories of his time as a publisher at Sadlier, stories of leaving a well paying job in the military because he felt a call to serve the Church, stories of the struggles that came from that and stories of life in New York. His “Emmaus” story is beautiful. His stories of his mother are touching. His stories of meeting the pope (he had an hour long audience with JPII) or of the various meetings, retreats, and councils that he has sat on are inspiring. All in all, I have to admire him for all that he is and I am so grateful that he was brave enough to leave all that he knew behind in NY and come to Notre Dame to form Echo.

Jerry was introduced tonight by Dr. John Cavadini. J-Cav, as we lovingly call him, is another giant. Cavadini, the director of the Institute for Church Life (the parent of Echo), is a great many things. The first thing that I knew about him was that he was a little awkward and was impressed by my Greek, both of which I learned when I met him at the interview for Echo. The next thing I learned was that he must be impressive himself, because Dr. John Norris (one of my favorite UD professors) was jealous I got to take a class with him and said he’d take it with me if he could. The next thing I knew, I found out that he is an advisor to the Vatican (one of about 30) and that he has been knighted by the pope (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_St._Gregory_the_Great). And I studied under this man!

If Jerry is humble, then Dr. Cavadini is doubly so. Here he is, all the things I said above, and if his students weren’t so enthralled with him as to ask around, you would never know any of it. He is very gentle, kind, and generous and the most humble of men. Together, they make a dynamic duo and we, the Echo apprentices, have the opportunity to learn from them both.

So, tonight I was in the presence of these giants. Looking around me, I realized that with Jerry retiring and Cavadini maybe ten or fifteen years behind him (we hope), the Echo apprentices are the next generation to take on this torch. These two men, along with an extraordinary staff of gifted, wonderful people, chose the twelve of us in Echo 8 and the twelve in Echo 7 to be their legacy. Handpicked out of who knows how many to follow these men and all I could think was that there is no way I can live up to that (I can only put so much faith in God’s grace—He might have worked wonders in my life at UD but very rarely in our modern world does our Lord take a foolish servant boy and make him a warrior). Fortunately for our Church, as I looked around I saw twenty-three faces that are far more capable than I. I was surrounded by seventeen beautiful young women who bring light to every room they enter and who are filled with the grace of God (just speak with any of them and you will know it’s true) and then there are our six strong, kind and wonderful men who are just everything that a man of God should be. These are our future and let me tell you, I feel hope for our Church. To be counted among them is an honor and a privilege, one that I cannot account for the reason of but am grateful to have all the same.

If I am counting our blessings as a community, it would be remiss for me to forget our new fearless leader, Colleen. She is well formed to follow in Jerry’s footsteps. A woman of grace, humility, and unending generosity, we are blessed to have her as our leader. Her dedication to Echo is immense. On nights when we have 9pm Mass as an Echo community, she is there praying along beside us. On days when we are stressed out and ready to give up, she’s there to cheer us on. I know that for me, she has been a particular blessing because she is more concerned about my allergies than I am. Always planning ahead and looking our for me, I am truly blessed to have her in my life.

And these are just our directors. That doesn’t even begin to mention the other theologians, parish leaders, diocesan leaders, and priests that were in our presence this evening. There was one man who, after he had been introduced, my friend leaned over and told me that he had written a paper on this guy. I was surrounded by people who have given their entire selves to serving the Church.

I have learned so much from these men and women, both my leaders and my peers. These last four weeks have been a whirlwind, and I expect the same from the next four. I am constantly exhausted and overwhelmed, constantly feeling far behind my classmates and peers. As I watch their diligence in their studies, far surpassing my own, I feel wholly undeserving of my place here.

Yet, even so I am filled with anticipation. There is excitement among us as we prepare for our new semester on Monday, but there is far more excitement among “El Ocho” (as we call Echo 8) for arriving at our new homes. We all stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. But first there is the matter of these three classes (8am-10:30; 10:55-1:25, 2pm-4:50) and all the papers and reading that will come with them. So, once more to the breach dear friends, once more….

Please pray for all of us in the Echo community, that we are able to learn and grow during our time together this summer. Please pray for our dear leaders, who give us so much. Pray for our mentors and those who we will minister to, and most importantly, pray that we will all be able to die to ourselves so that Christ can live through us to serve them.

Notre Dame, our mother, pray for us.