This week I'm running a series, For the Love of the Church, written by my friend Jacob Boddicker, SJ.
Jacob is a Jesuit scholastic originally from Iowa, and is currently studying at the Jesuit School of Theology in preparation for ordination. He has an academic background in archaeology, history, and philosophy, and his interests include music, science fiction/fantasy, and writing.
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Near the end of my time in St. Louis, while I was simultaneously soaring on Cloud Nine singing with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra chorus and freaking out over a final paper/exam every Jesuit takes at the end of Philosophy Studies, I also was awaiting word regarding my regency assignment.
Regency is generally a three-year period of apostolic work in which a scholastic lives and works with other Jesuits; this tends to occur in a high school setting but it is not necessarily so. I had interviewed at both Red Cloud Indian School on the Pineridge Reservation in South Dakota, as well as Xavier High in Cincinnati. I felt a very strong pull toward the former in my prayer, and though sure it was where God wanted me to go. Then the phone call came, and after asking how I was doing and such my formation assistant says, “Jacob, how would you feel if your assignment was…not at a high school?” “Well, I guess I didn’t think there were any other options. What are you thinking?
“We have been looking for someone to serve as the minister of the infirmary in Milwaukee, and we don’t have any men currently available. The provincial and I talked about it and we began wondering if a scholastic could serve in that capacity; your name came up in subsequent conversation. The men there still talk about you from your service during novitiate. Would you be open to this as a third possibility for your assignment?”
“Of course; I’ll go wherever you send me.”
A couple weeks later, I was assigned to the province infirmary. I was so humbled; the minister of a community is vital, and to think I would be second-in-command over a large community of men who tended to be three times my age spoke volumes regarding the Society’s trust in me. I fielded several emails from concerned Jesuits who were wondering “what happened” that I not being sent to a high school like they all were; I assured them that all was well.
My youngest brother brought his little Dodge Neon to St. Louis and helped me move to Milwaukee. I wasn’t there for more than a couple days before I decided that I wanted to make sure I plugged into the local Church somehow, and so I began looking for a parish. I remembered visiting St. Josaphat’s Basilica when I was in Milwaukee before entering novitiate, and I thought to attend their 10am Mass on Sunday. I was completely blown away by the beauty of the place; how I could ever have forgotten such a beautiful church is beyond me. The equally beautiful music combined with the well-executed liturgy sold me in a heartbeat; I knew this was going to be my parish. My heart swelled with love for the Church, and the next day I was calling the director of religious education and making her dream come true:
“Hi, my name is Jacob Boddicker; I’m a Jesuit scholastic here in Milwaukee. I’m wondering if you have any needs I might be able to help with? I’m happy to teach or assist with anything.”
“Oh my gosh, really? Confirmation; would you help with Confirmation?”
“I’d be happy to.”
Friends, let me tell you. On the surface that phone call seemed really simple; I felt like I was doing what we tend to call “a nice thing.” But she put me in touch with Talia, who would quickly become my first friend in Milwaukee and one of my dearest ever; I also made my second Milwaukee friend when I met her partner-in-crime, Aaron, who also taught Confirmation. Through them I entered into the amazing young adult Catholic world of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and made so many amazing friends. I became involved in several archdiocesan events and found myself giving talks to groups at different parishes; the Basilica even invited me to give one of their Lenten talks, which is the largest group I think I’ve ever spoken to.
Now, that’s all wonderful of course, but here is where my darling Church comes in. My tenure at the infirmary was short-lived, and after one year I was assigned to Marquette University High School to teach Sacraments to sophomores and Catholic Social Teaching to juniors, all boys. I had never taught before, at least not in such a professional setting, so I was nervous. I loved the creative challenge of making the faith accessible and relevant to youth, and I’ve been assured by many that I did really well.
But as anyone who has ever taught knows, teaching is incredibly hard, especially your first couple of years, and ESPECIALLY if you have no training or background in it whatsoever. In the infirmary I enjoyed the luxury of free nights (and reasonable bedtimes), early mornings, a full but manageable schedule, and a great deal of flexibility. When I was teaching, I was lucky to get six hours of sleep in a night, assuming all my grading and prepping was done, along with any house responsibilities I had. The prayer life I enjoyed since novitiate quickly dwindled to Mass and what scraps I could bring to my poor Jesus at the very end of the day; some days more, some days less, but always something. Mass became my spiritual everything, and I learned how to “suck the marrow” out of it and receive the spiritual nourishment and experience the closeness to Christ I needed to make it through the day. The Church was there for me, keeping my soul alive during two years that demanded everything I had; everything I gave came from Jesus through her.
Besides Mass she also supported me through the mob of friends she brought into my life during the previous year. To this day I still cannot believe the generosity of God in blessing me with such people in such numbers. How many weddings have I served? How many meals have I enjoyed with you all? How often did we randomly encounter each other as some Catholic event somewhere in the city? To all my Milwaukee friends: you cannot comprehend the graces that came into my life through your encouragement, kindness, and generosity. As deep as a mountain is tall is the hole of my debt to you, and I lie at the bottom of it unable to repay!
Without this Church, without this network of support that fed and supported my heart and soul those two years, I know for absolute certain I could not have served my students with the energy, joy, dedication, and creativity I strove to bring every day (some days better than others, of course!). Every wedding I’ve served, every bit of spiritual advice I’ve given, every tear I’ve let fall on my clerics, every engagement announcement I’ve been among the first to receive, every baby I’ve prayed for, every tragedy I’ve walked through with you, every question I’ve answered, every opinion I’ve given…all of these I give because it is all I have with which to repay you all.
I will leave this (long, sorry!) entry on this note, to illustrate the significance my regency Church has played in my vocation, how the Bride manifested herself in the most challenging years of my formation. Two summers ago I was on retreat, and I was contemplating all the ways God has showed me His love, both throughout Salvation History but also in my personal history. I imagined St. Peter’s in Rome, and the square was completely packed with people, save for a path that a group of angels had cleared out; their widespread wings held the crowd back. As I walked down this path toward the basilica, I looked around at the mass of strangers, recognizing not a single face. I asked one angel what the crowd was, and he said, “These are all the souls of heaven.”
I got to the basilica and a pair of angels opened the enormous doors; inside the pews were packed and everyone stood. As I walked toward the main altar where Jesus and Mary waited for me I looked around and saw not only many saints whom I admire and have a devotion for, but I also saw the faces of so many of the people I came to know and love in Milwaukee specifically: friends from the Basilica, from Holy Hill, from Cor Jesu, from Arise, from Marquette High, and many other places. I asked another angel who all these people were and he said, “These are all the people in heaven and on earth who pray for you.”
Church, who am I that you would want me, of all people, to be yours? When you are so generous to me, how can I refuse you, even if what you want—ME—makes no sense? Yet when my debt of gratitude is so great, how can I give you anything less than my entire self?
At the end of my days in Milwaukee, with many a fond and sad farewell, I departed for Berkeley, CA to begin my theology studies and, yet again, the Church was ready to continue surprising me.
If you missed the first installments, pop over to read: