By John Carnie C.Ss.R.
One of the marks of leadership, I once read, is simply “being around”. So, when a teacher described me as someone who was likely to turn up anywhere, I took the remark as an acknowledgment of what I try to offer in my mission – leadership through presence, listening and compassion.
But it doesn’t end there. Through my mission I try to bring more than leadership. I hope to bring Good News to the world, especially the micro-world in which I live out my Redemptorist vocation. That micro-world is a large metropolitan Catholic college where I am the chaplain. For the past 25 years every moment has been a delight and a privilege.
My time as chaplain started in a small way – just a few visits to the junior school. An invitation to be full-time chaplain followed, and then my role was extended to include the senior school.
In one sense it is like having my own parish. But I have never considered it as ‘having’. The reality is I am part of a broad team of dedicated women and men, teachers and staff, who have been called by God to accompany youth from childhood to adulthood.
For any youngster, the years between childhood and adulthood are very brief but absolutely critical in coming to a full and well-rounded humanity. That is where the privilege comes in. Being able to witness generation after generation of young people negotiating this journey is a blessing that sustains me. It is a blessing that reveals the freshness of God being played out again and again in the miracle of life.
My role includes counselling, celebration of the sacraments, being around for a talk and for some fun. When I learnt that a student had said I was the first person he turned to for help, I took that again as an encouragement to continue what I was doing.
Relationships with the students mean relationships with their families. Much of my mission is beyond the school gate with the extended school family. Students come from a variety of home settings, two-parent families, single parent families, Australian-born families, overseas-born families, coping families, struggling families – it is a microcosm of life. The Good News of Jesus brings healing and encouragement to every home even if in different ways.
A relationship with students at school often means a relationship for life. And so my mission extends out into early and middle adulthood as I accompany those I first met at school. I have been involved in more than 200 weddings, hundreds of baptisms and many funerals! In all this the truth has come home to me that the Good News flourishes in healthy human relationships. Being asked to accompany so many ex-students is the fruit of being around and being there all those years earlier.
St Alphonsus understood that God’s love was at the heart of all creation. I have seen the fruit of that love in the marvellous way God accompanies all his people, not least those who come to him in all the vagaries of their youth.