In June of 2014 I made the decision to accept a job as Executive Director of El Camino, and move back home to NY. While I was extremely excited about the job, being close to family was a huge selling point. What I did not realize in June was that in addition to being closer to my family, I would gain 3 new ‘families’- El Camino, Brilla, and Seton Partners.
A few clarifications: I ran El Camino, a Catholic Extended Day program which partnered with Brilla College Prep, a public charter school. Seton Education Partners is a non profit dedicated to revitalizing and strengthening urban Catholic education, and was the organization that I worked for.
I will never forget driving to the Bronx on our first day of on boarding. I had been working over the summer, but it was mostly by myself. I hadn’t met too many people, and had no idea what to expect. This new ‘charter world’ was foreign to me, since I had only ever worked in a Catholic School. I was genuinely nervous, and in fact even considered turning my car around. “What if they don’t like me? What if they’re nothing like the staff at De Marillac? What if I’m seen as just an outsider since I don’t work for the school?” I’ve been lucky to not have many of these experiences before, but this one was truly terrorizing.
And then Katy Perry came on the radio. Firework. Now, before you judge me, a little context is needed. A year or two earlier, at one of De Marillac’s benefits, a quiet middle school student got up in front of 800 strangers, and belted out the solo to this song. Everyone in the room was in shock, and was inspired. As I listened to the song all I could think of was Britney in that ball room singing, and realized that if she had the courage at 12 years old to do something like that, I could find the courage to meet a room full of new people.
To think I was nervous about that first day is comical in hindsight. I realized very quickly that as long as people are committed to one another, and to doing what is best for the children entrusted to their care, everything will work itself out. It was a great professional experience for me to learn from the school leaders and teachers at Brilla, and to add another professional experience to my own. It helps that the people were amazing too! Within a few days it felt as if I had known some of them my entire life. Before long I was meeting their friends, and significant others, and created an amazing group of friends that would become family. From happy hours at Charlie’s, to Jets games, and everything in between, my life was so positively impacted by the people I met through Brilla.
Although it was great having fun, the main reason that I was there was to strengthen the faith formation program. Although I had taught religion for 7 years, this was truly the first time that the priority was to evangelize. I feel almost ridiculous for not having thought this when I taught religion. It all seemed so obvious- this is not just a subject for children to learn, but it is an encounter with Christ that is needed. I am so proud of the work that our dedicated Fellows and teachers and staff contributed in the 3 years I was at El Camino. Over 55 children were baptized in those 3 years, and over 20 of them received the Sacrament of 1st Holy Communion. Parents and families were returning to prayer and to the Church, and we had created an authentic Christian community. I will forever cherish the memories of El Camino, and pray everyday that it continues inspiring others to turn to God.
Although running El Camino was a full time job in and of itself, I was also blessed to be a part of Seton’s team. Under Stephanie Saroki’s leadership, every member of the team knew that we were part of something bigger than our individual roles or jobs. We had a common purpose, and would share our joys and struggles with one another, even though our work was often times extremely different. One thing was abundantly clear to all of us- the work we were doing was integral for the Church. It was not an offshoot, not supplementary, but an integral part of the Church. Although we would only meet up 3 times a year, each time I walked away more inspired and encouraged for my work, and the future of our church. The amount of talent and passion on this team was remarkable. These were some of the best teachers, administrators, and leaders I had ever worked with. And each of them were singularly focused on the best outcomes for their scholars. This drive was contagious. There is no doubt in my mind that the church is better because of the work being done by Seton Partners.
Around this time I was pretty much at the height of happiness. I had a job and a role that I absolutely loved, I was back with my family, I was making amazing new friends, I was living on my own in Astoria, and had the most freedom I had ever had in my life.
It was during this time that I slowly (very slowly) began to realize that I wasn’t fulfilled. This is difficult to understand, and had I not experienced it, I probably wouldn’t believe it. Let me be clear: I was happy. I was enjoying life, and all the blessings that I had received.
Yet, while I was happy I had this nagging suspicion that I should have been happier. That there was more, and I couldn’t figure it out. So I did what any American in the 21st century does. I did more. I bought more. I upgraded my apartment to a nicer one, I went out more, I ate better, I did all of the things that made me happy and did it better and more frequently. And again, I was happy. But I wasn’t fulfilled.
In December of 2015 I started reflecting on this. Fortunately for me, I had another phone call with Br. Ed Shields where I began expressing this. Brother Ed had been calling me once a month since I was about 20 years old to see if I had decided yet to join the Brothers. Talk about persistent! At that time he invited me to lunch, and to a Contacts retreat. I figured I had nothing to lose, and I said yes.
Had I known that that yes would lead to so many drastic “yes’s” I might have said no. Thank God I didn’t know, and came to the decision that I would ask the District if I could move in to community to better discern.
Not even I expected what would come next.