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On the Road: Jesuit style At around 9:30 on Saturday, February 23 the five first year novices were handed

our golden envelopes that had our pilgrimage destination hidden inside. I was the first to open this long anticipated package and discovered that my mission had four parts to it: visit Walden Pond and do a prayer period, attend a lecture at Boston College School of Theology, pray at St. Ignatius Church (on BCs campus), and find the New Orleans Province old Novitiate in Macon, Georgia. As I shook the rest of the contents out of the envelope, my bus ticket fell into my lap along with a five dollar bill. The feeling I got in my gut as I realized that this was the only cash I would have as I rode the bus to Boston was far from comforting. But I do have to admit, I was pretty excited that this legendary pilgrimage was about to begin. I went to my backpack and finalized my packing situation. How do you pack for Boston, MA and Macon, GA at the same time? After taking all my clothes in and out of the bag three times, I finally surrendered to the fact that I will make do with things as they were. I didnt sleep a wink that night as I laid there imagining what these next two and a half weeks would bring. From that safe, warm place in my bed, the world looked exciting and ready for my taking. I dreamed about all the wonderful people that God would place in my life to help me get through this intense experience. Im not going to say that I was dead wrong, dreaming that naive dream, but it wasnt as easy as I seemed to think! First Bus Trip I boarded the bus in Kansas City to begin my 37 hour ride to Boston. Thankfully, I was with a novice brother of mine, Aric Serrano, for the first leg of the journey till St. Louis. His calm, easy going attitude kept me from freaking out and we spent that first four hours in a relaxed state. Then in St. Louis, we said goodbye as I changed buses to the one that would take me all the way to New York. I was pretty nervous and spent my time chatting to everyone I could on that bus. There were only six of us, so it was pretty easy to get a conversation going. I met a fellow by the name of Andrew who was going to see his brother after 23 years of separation. He was very excited about this reunion and I spent a few hours hearing about how he had found him. After talking for a while, Andrew wanted to hear my story. I told him who I was and what I was up to and he was really into it. After hearing that I was basically homeless for the next few weeks, he volunteered to help me out at the next stop. As we pulled into a gas station in Effingham, Illinois, Andrew invited me to come inside with him. I lead the way and made a beeline to the nut isle thinking they would be a good snack that I could eat the whole way. After a second or two, I was interrupted in my search for protein by Andrew calling me over and handing me a deli size bag of Lays potato chips. He then proceeded to buy himself two large bags of Lays, a soda, can of chew, and a pack of cigarettes. I thanked him for the chips. What else could I do? I got back on the bus and continued my journey guessing I would have to make this small bag last till New York. I was right. The thing about Greyhound is that everyone on that bus has a story. They are running from something, trying to start over, or using Greyhounds lack of security to move their illegal products. A common factor amongst almost everybody traveling the Hound is the fact that no one has much money

to spare. Therefore begging from this population is incredibly tough. Other than that one bag of potato chips, I didnt have any success getting food. I used my five bucks to buy a couple granola bars, but I was still pretty hungry. I spent the long hours on the bus reading out of a book that I had purchased before leaving that had some of Jack Kerouacs collected works. The Beat style of writing and themes fit perfectly with a cross country trip. Those poems provided me with comfort as I imagined one of my favorite authors riding the same high ways I was, thinking some similar thoughts, and meeting the same type of bizarre people. I enjoyed looking out the window at a landscape that I was totally unfamiliar with. This was my first time traveling east, so to see Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and of course, New York was amazing! The New York skyline at night looked like a postcard, so cool. In the New York City station, I sat down with another guy who was heading to Boston as well. We started chatting and I learned he was from Uganda and had been living in Chicago. After losing his money and his great girl, he was heading back to Boston to live with his parents. With his last couple bucks, he bought me a bagel and we waited out our two hour layover. We then boarded our bus to Boston that would have us in the city six hours later. Boston I stepped off the bus at 3:20 AM in Boston, MA. With it still being dark outside and me not knowing the city, I decided to stay in the station until the sun came up. I laid down on a bench and started to fall asleep when a cop came over and nudged me awake. He asked for my ticket and I told him that I had just arrived and didnt have one because Boston was my final destination. He told me I could stay in the station, but wasnt allowed to sleep there. So basically, he made me walk laps around the station and would nudge me awake every time I started to drift off. Total jerk haha. Finally the subway station opened and I spent $2:50 on the ticket and road the T all the way to Boston College. I got off the train with 50 cents in my pocket and no idea where I was. After asking around for directions, I found my way to the current Jesuit Residence that houses the professors and administrators of Boston College. When I walked into the apartment complex, the security guard gave me a weird look. Honestly, I didnt blame him. If we step back and take a look at me at that moment, we would see a scruffy, unshowered, homeless person with a huge backpack. I then confused him even more by asking to go upstairs to the Jesuits. Hesitantly, he picked up the phone and tried calling them, but no one picked up. I was at a bit off a loss at this point and sat down to think. I then remembered that I had my address book with me that had Ronny ODwyers business card in it. I dug in my bag and produced a crumpled card with an address on it. I was relieved to hear from the security guard that the Issac Jogues residence was about a block away. I stumbled my way over there and found sanctuary with the Jesuits in their theology studies. During the five days that I stayed in Boston with the Jesuits, I made some great new friends, strengthened some old friendships, and of course, completed my objectives. The afternoon I got in, Robert Murphy, SJ, took me to Walden Pond. To stand on the banks of the very same lake that Henry David Thoreau stood on 150 years ago was more than breath-taking. My prayer experience while sitting

by the water was full of consolation and joy. I was so thrilled to be there, so content to be in the Novitiate, and so excited for the rest of my Jesuit life. I had a deep understanding that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing at that moment. To feel his warming presence brought me a sense peace and confirmed my choice to take this different path in life. A reflection on the prayer from my journal: As I stood on the Banks of Walden Pond, I was overtaken with a sense of joy and peace. Just as he did during the Principle and Foundation during the long retreat, God took me in his arms and showed his love to me. It was echoing through the trees and the dirt. The whole place vibrated with His presence. As I stepped up to the shoreline, I felt my heart open and God pour himself in. Through Thoreaus words and Emersons land, God was calling out to me. I felt so alive My vocation was heavily on my mind as I looked out over the water. I know Im not supposed to be thinking about that right now, but I think God wanted me to consider it because I could not get it off my mind. The joy of my Jesuit life so far made itself known as I stared at the ripples that my boots were making. Im supposed to be here. Im supposed to be a novice right now, and honestly, I feel Im supposed to do this for the rest of my life. That great prayer was followed by a good conversation with Robert Murphy as we talked about his career as a Jesuit thus far. It was cool to see a young guy so in love with his Jesuit life and so excited for ordination. Robert, overall, is just an inspiring guy. Later that day I ran in to Ronny ODwyer who has been like a big brother to me ever since I started considering the Jesuits. He is always full of energy and treats me with the utmost kindness. The guy made me breakfast, took me out for lunch, and lent an ear as I voiced some struggles I was having. He was the perfect guy to put wind in my sails as I began this scary pilgrimage. Some other great people that I spent some time with that night were Vince Giacabazi, SJ and Bruno Nobre, SJ. Both of them are fantastic guys who took the time to get to know me and make me feel at home. The next day, Ronny and Bruno took me to their lecture on the Exegesis of Mark which was taught by Fr. Tom Stegman, SJ. It was great to see a Jesuit professor running a very interesting class. Then after class, Robert introduced me to the pastor at St. Ignatius Church, Fr. Bob Vereeck, SJ. I sat down and told Bob what I was doing and how I needed to beg enough money to buy my next bus ticket. He offered to introduce me at the noon time mass, then let me stand up and say my piece. I was so nervous to stand in front of a parish and beg because, honestly, I hate the people that stand up there and ask for money, and yet, here I was doing just that. So I thought that Fr. Bob would just say that I was here and needed some help, but instead he stood up and gave me an amazing, heart-warming introduction. He then shot me a kind smile that filled me with the confidence that I needed to get up there and say my lines. The people of St. Ignatius parish graciously took care of me with more than enough money for my ticket. I had successfully begged for the first time. That afternoon Ronny took me out to lunch at the Bleacher Bar in Fenway Park. Over some clam chowder we talked about my Novitiate experience so far and what I was looking forward to in the experiments to come. Ronnys laid back manor and solid advice was perfect for the unsteady state that I

was in on this high stress pilgrimage. The guy has been such a steady support system for me since entering. Hes like that big brother that you always know has your back. On Thursday, I hung out more with Bob Vereecke doing some work in his office. I felt an immediate bond and I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with such an interesting Jesuit. He was a dance and had formed his own company that put on holiday performances. I love the variety that you find in the Society and how different passions come together to form one goal. I finished my time in Boston with a day volunteering at a homeless shelter and dinner with the Boston College Jesuits. That night, I was hanging out in Ronnys room when he asked me what I needed for the rest of my pilgrimage. I told him that I was all set, but he was persistent! Finally, I told him how much I had enjoyed the night prayers that we had been praying as a community. He walked over to his bookshelf and grabbed his breviary. He handed it to me with a smile and said it was mine. The thing was old and worn, the inside flaps covered with pictures and some of Ronnys personal prayers. I couldnt accept this 15 year old Christian Prayer book that was full of memories and stories of being lost and found. When I voiced my concern about accepting such a gift, Ronny directed me to the other books on the shelf. Inside every front cover was a stamp that read Ronny ODwyer, SJ. Ad Unsum. When I asked what this meant, he explained that the translation was for the use of, and went on to talk about how even though he loves all his books (and possessions,) he is just using them for the time being. As soon as they get in the way or he is called to a place where they cant follow, he can leave them. This blatant example of Ignatian detachment hit me with force. I recalled a homily that our novice master had preached about on our 30 day silent retreat: Our role, when it comes to possessions, is to hold them in a place where we can leave them immediately. Not cling to everything, or give it all away, but simply to hold. At this moment, I started to understand our Jesuit poverty. I knew that my next destination would need to be south towards Macon, but something in my gut was telling me not to go directly there. I asked Ronny and Vince where they thought I should go next and Vince produced a business card with a priests name on it: Rev. John Eckert, Tryon, North Carolina. They would give me no other information and told me to go discern to see if I felt called to go there. I slept on it a night and made my decision-Tryon here I come! The Carolinas I used the money that I had begged to buy a bus ticket to the nearest town which was Spartanburg, South Carolina. Along the 22 hours spent on the bus, I met a great guy named Tommy. What got the conversation started was me recognizing his Irish accent and asking if he was from the North or South. When he responded Belfast, I jokingly rolled my eyes and told him how sorry I was. He appreciated the joke, especially after hearing that I was a Buckley and we began talking. He had been struggling with incredibly rude people that he had been running into on the Greyhound and we joked about the quality staff and then he asked me my story. When I told him I was a Jesuit Novice, he got all excited and explained to me that the Jesuits were the only Catholics him and his father liked because of the work they had done in Ireland during the I.R.A hype. The Celtic cross he had around his neck had

been blessed by a Jesuit and when he heard I was on my pilgrimage, he bought me a sandwich and a Gatorade. We enjoyed chatting and said goodbye in Richmond, Virginia. I made it to Spartanburg early on that Sunday morning. I began walking through town to find a Catholic Church where I was hoping to hitch a ride up to Tryon. St. Pauls wasnt too hard to find and luckily, Mass was just getting out. I ran up to the door in my bums gear and got some questionable looks as I asked where the priest was. Finally, I was pointed to a side door and found him. When I explained who and what I was, the priest seemed to get uncomfortable and asked what I needed. When I told him I could use some directions and some food, he reached in his pocket, grabbed a couple bucks and pointed North-West to the mountains. I walked outside, strapped on my walking boots and began the hike to the mountains. About 20 minutes in I decided to stick my thumb out just for fun. To my surprise, a car immediately pulled over in front of me. Hesitantly (because I didnt know if I actually wanted to hop in this strangers car), I approached the passengers side door. When I looked in a saw a nice looking guy with a name tag that read St. Pauls Catholic Church: Jeff, Usher. Smiling at Gods sense of humor, I jumped in the car and was off to Tryon. We arrived at the parish 30 minutes later. I was in awe of the beauty in the area. The rolling hills that make up the mountains in the east were quite pretty and the parish itself had a great feel to it. As I gathered my things I heard my name being called and turned around to see a friendly looking man in his early thirties sporting a classy Roman collar. He introduced himself as Fr. John Eckert and invited me back to his rectory to stay. I was a little speechless as we walked up the hill. Finally I found the words to ask him how he knew who and what I was and he told me that Vince might have hinted that he would have a visitor. That lead me to asking about their history together and I found out that Vince and John had grown up together and had both pursued the priests life in the different forms of diocesan and Jesuit. After being told to make myself at home, I crashed on an extremely comfortable bed. The two days I spent in Tryon were absolutely fantastic. Just as the guys did in Boston, Fr. John welcomed me with open arms. We spent our time together talking about our lives and vocations, eating, and doing something I wasnt super familiar with-praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Every time Father John entered into prayer, whether it be Mass or a quick blessing before he ate, his whole demeanor changed. He seemed to be taken by an unseen force and the grace that embodied his movements was captivating. His voice seemed so calm, but the reverence there was moving. I talk about these moments because I was inspired by Johns dedication of prayer and the Mass. He wasnt doing these things because he was supposed to. He did them because he loved them. He told me just how thankful he was that God called him to serve as a priest. As I watched John pray, the same feeling that had overtaken me at Walden Pond crept into my body and I got chills as I realized how much I wanted the priesthood. The vows didnt seem to frighten me anymore because I would get to spend my life loving and serving God. After begging at a Mass and raising enough money, it was time to complete the next objective on my checklist down in Macon, GA. The Novitiates Socius, Jim Goeke, had given me the contact

information for a fellow who had helped Brian Strassburger ( a second year novice who had some of the same missions I did on the pilgrimage) the year before in Macon. The man lived on the property of the old Novitiate. Jim didnt say anything more than this, but it felt good to at least have some contact knowing I would be entering a new town. I left Tryon early Tuesday morning with wind in my sails. I was enjoying this whole pilgrimage thing and was excited to be back on the road. Macon, Georgia The bus ride down to Macon was pretty uneventful. I met a chill guy who owned an art studio in Savannah and told me he wanted to create a piece that could bring my pilgrimage to life for other people. I told him goodluck. I rolled into Macon around 3 in the afternoon and began my exploration of the city. Way up on the hill sat a beautiful Catholic Church. I started my hike and arrived to the massive church a half hour before their Extraordinary Mass was to begin. Ive had a lot of time to reflect on my experience at this church and Ive decided that I would like to summarize it simply by stating that my encounter with the priest there was very negative and I was asked to leave the church grounds. The bad run in with this Catholic priest made me wake up and realize that part of this pilgrimage was about rejection. It was about being seen not as a traveling guy who is studying to be a priest, but a homeless beggar who needed to rely 100% on the hospitality of others to survive. This was my first taste of the tough life that people live while being on the street. I was out of Jesuits, out of friends, and needed to figure out where I was spending the night, much less where my next meal was coming from. I knocked on every church door that I could find in Macon. Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptistyou name it, I knocked. But it was 6 oclock on a Tuesday night, so naturally, no one was home. I found a park and sat down to think about what to do next. I began to panic as I realized that I had nowhere to sleep and might have to sleep outside in the middle of this city. I found a spot under a tree and began to make a bed out of pine needles when it started to rain. Then, as if on queue, a group of homeless men came over the hill and started going to their spots around the park. One came up to me and started getting angry that I was occupying his area. I quickly grabbed my pack and exited the park. Now I was really down. It was raining, dark, and I still had no place to stay. I began walking up and down the streets until I found a man smoking a cigarette under an awning in front of his shop. I asked him if he knew where any Catholic churches were and he invited me in so we could look them up. We found St. Peter Claver parish, but it was too far to walk that night. That panic started creeping back when I remembered I had that random guys telephone number that Jim had given me. I quickly dialed in and waited as one ring after another came through. Finally, a mans voice with a soft southern accent picked up. I almost shouted with joy, right there in the middle of that store. After explaining the situation, he simply said he was coming to pick me up and that everything was going to be ok. Mr. Jack Head and his wonderful wife Carol took me in on that cold, wet night. I sat in their kitchen and shared my story over a dinner of baked potatoes and left over sushi. I dont quite know how to articulate how amazing the Heads were that night. They were so warm, so welcoming. They cared. After the experience with the diocesan priest at the wealthy, conservative parish, I think thats all I needed. The next day, Jack drove me all around. We took a picture by the Stanislaus neighborhood sign,

visited the old Indian burial mounds, and then Jack showed me his church. Now Jack and Carol were both Methodist so the majority of our conversations were sharing our similar beliefs and enjoying our differences. I found everyone that I met at their church was loving and interested in my journey. Later that day, Jack took me to Daybreak, which is a homeless day center. On the way back to his house, we went to St. Peter Claver Parish and I was introduced to Father Dan Ter Melaba who is a Nigerian priest who has made his home in Macon. He promised to set me up with a parishioner, but said it would take another day. Jack, again, offered his home to me that night. Wednesday nights at the Heads church was a gathering night. There was a large dinner followed by a presentation done by one of the ministers. As the room quieted down, the minister began his speech. He talked about a boy who gave up everything for his faith when he decided to join the Society of Jesus. Chills went down my back as Archbishop Oscar Romeros story was laid out in front of me. Ignatian Spirituality was the key to this guys presentation. I felt God wink at me as I realized His presence in the room and finally heard the loud voice He had been using to call out to me. The next day I worked at Daybreak with Sister Elizabeth who is a Daughter of Charity. I enjoyed getting to know the homeless in the area and hearing the different struggles that a homeless person faces in the South compared to up North. The parishioner from St. Peter Claver, Eddie Shepherd and his wife Ella, took me in that night. They were two of the most caring people I have ever met. Such love! On Friday, I went to Savannah with Sister Elizabeth and met her spiritual director, who bought us a cup of coffee. While I walked around the beautiful town, I ran into a beggar on the stairs of the Cathedral. One of our objectives was to buy a beggar a meal, so I took Joseph to a small caf and heard listened to his story. After going on a retreat to a Trappist Monastery on Saturday, I knew my time in Macon was coming to a close and that a new destination waited for me: Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville, Tennessee My novice master and myself had a conversation before I left on pilgrimage about possibly seeing a friend or two while I was on the road. After I gave my reasons (vocational questions and the works) he decided that I could choose one friend from my old life, or the free, to visit. Because I was down South, I knew which guy I was going to try to see, Joe Mullins. Joe and I went to high school together. We were first introduced on the Regis Jesuit tennis team, but our friendship grew steadily over the years. He was one of the toughest guys to leave when I entered in August, and staying in touch had proved incredibly difficult over the months. I think I had told him that I was doing this pilgrimage, but he didnt have much of a heads-up when I showed up on Belmont Universitys campus, looking for a place to stay. We spent that night together, catching up and enjoying each others company. There was something about seeing an old friend that totally confirmed my vocation. I felt a bond with Joe that I think is tough to share with most other guys my age. Joe wants to perform and that means chasing his dream to place music in front of thousands of people. Most people tell him he doesnt have a chance and hes crazy to think that he can succeed in something like that. That type of statement is consistent with what I heard when I told people I was joining the Jesuit priesthood.

After seeing the dorm life and spending the night with Joe, I found a unique diocesan community that housed me while I was there. I wanted to work for my stay, so I spent one afternoon organizing library books. While in the parishs library, I met the dioceses youth minister, Bill Staley. He was this great, charismatic fellow who, after talking for a few minutes, invited me give vocation talks at one of the parochial high schools. So the next day, I went to John Paul II high school in Nashvilles suburban district. After giving a couple talks and connecting with some great kids, the third grace-filled moment happened: Pope Francis I was elected pope. Standing there in gym full of kids I didnt know, in a town Id never been to, I felt 100% connected to everyone. Never in my life have I felt actually a part of the Catholic Church. I know thats strange, seeing as how I want to be a priest, but that connection has always been missing. Conclusion The rest of my pilgrimage was uneventful. I bussed back to Kansas City the next day and began my work at the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House a couple days later. Looking back on those 18 days on the road, I view the pilgrimage as a difficult, but good experience. When we sit in a classroom or in a pew at mass, its easy for us to say that we will always feed the hungry and clothe the naked when we meet them. Its our Christian calling, right? But when youre on the other side of that, you start to understand how difficult that is. Instead of being the one helping, I needed that help. The weight of relying on others to fulfill Christs call was by far the toughest part. Asking for help is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved. And the rejection? I would say that eight out of the ten people that I might talk to on my travels were dismissive and sometimes unkind. So when I got around to the two people who cared and wanted to listen, I was normally a bit short with them myself. The stress and inability to help myself dug at me constantly. God was there though. Through Walden Pond, Fr. John Eckert, and the election of Pope Francis I, He was present. But He was also present in the smile of a friendly buss mate, the beautiful sites of our nation, and even in the endless hours on the bus. All I had to do was look.