Over the next two years, I will be writing occasional columns for The Fond du Lac Reporter, my hometown newspaper. The following piece originally printed in the Sept. 2 issues of the Reporter and can be found at http://www.fdlreporter.com/article/20120902/FON06/309020138/Father-Vic-s-influence-will-live-on?nclick_check=1 .
My thanks to Gary Clausius and Mike Mentzer for editing these articles and helping on this project.
One of the most difficult aspects of working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the Peru district of Andahuaylillas is that it is a new JVC site.
The lack of prior precedent means that besides teaching high school courses and doing random work in the local parish, my job involves following my whims in the hope of determining what it means to be a volunteer here. So far, I have started a guitar program, co-led a choir and am looking to organize catechism classes.
While this freedom is invigorating, it sometimes leaves me listless. I frequently feel like I am doing nowhere near enough for the people in this community.
In these moments, it has been helpful to look to others for inspiration. Take my Peruvian colleagues. Each day, many travel 30 miles to educate children who have little adult supervision at home. This dedication moves me to further commit to my students.
The students themselves motivate me with their joyfulness. That they are eager despite the difficult circumstances in which they live reminds me to persist.
Sometimes I look back to the U.S. for encouragement. Sandie Berka, Melissa Shew and other teachers I had in Fond du Lac and at Marquette University endlessly sought to improve in their craft while caring for their students’ holistic welfare. This is the kind of teacher I aspire to be.
Lately, though, the person whose guidance I have thought about most is that of Father Vic Capriolo. Since learning of his Aug. 22 death, I have found it hard to think of anything else.
I was only 9 when Father Vic came to Fond du Lac, so most of the ideas I formed about priests were based on him. For this, I will always be grateful.
Father Vic had an uncommon gift for infusing familiar concepts with a freshness that was both profound and down-to-earth. I cannot remember ever leaving his Masses without a clearer sense of what being a good person meant.
Perhaps the facility with which he preached came from his practicing each message so authentically. One of my favorite memories is going to Marian University for a lecture about the genocide in Darfur and running into Father Vic. I was there because I was an idealistic — albeit self-important — high school student. He was there because reading Matthew 25 was not enough; one was also called to live it.
More recently, I have been fortunate enough to meet with Father Vic one-on-one a number of times. The ease with which he jumped from talking about theology to discussing his love of the outdoors and cracking jokes at his own expense recalled G.K. Chesterton’s claim that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Though Father Vic unquestionably approached his work with boundless passion and care, he never trumpeted his own significance.
In some ways, I am surprised by how hard his passing has hit me. As much as he meant to me, there were other priests I knew better at Marquette. There were undoubtedly thousands of parishioners Father Vic was closer with than me.
But part of his pastoral ability was that when you were with him, you felt like you mattered more to him than anyone else in the world. Even in a full chapel, I often felt as though he had written his homilies knowing exactly what I needed to hear. These, too, have been vital lessons to bear in mind.
In a sermon he delivered about a month ago, Father Vic said, “(Love) is never enough … until we give it away.” Are my efforts at solidifying my work directed toward making sure I feel consequential, or are they aimed toward freely giving myself the way Father Vic did? I hope I grow in my ability to love others like that, to be unselfishly available to my Peruvian friends in a way that, however small, emulates what Father Vic did for me and countless others.