August 24, 2009

First Day of Religious Life

Holding our new postulants in prayer as they moved in yesterday, I was reminded of the first day of my own religious life. It's funny how certain days are remembered so vividly. It was July 17, 1994. I remember because it was the last day of the World Cup, on which Brazil beat Italy on penalty shots. I had graduated from college less than two months before, and had been staying with my parents, praying, doing some painting, and watching the World Cup and the OJ trial. The Beastie Boys' Ill Communication had just come out, and its tracks still remind me of that blessed and liminal time.

When the day arrived I got up and went to Sunday Mass. I believe it was the 10 am Mass at St. Mary's in New Haven. When I got home, my parents drove me to the station, and I took the train to Grand Central Terminal. All I had was a little suitcase and a backpack--how little I went with! A couple of friars picked me out of the crowd at Grand Central, and as well they might have; I realize now how carefully I had dressed the part of new postulant: Tau cross, gray heather polo shirt, jeans, and sandals. We jumped in their van and drove up to the friary in the Bronx.

Arriving at the friary--I had been there once before--I met a couple of my classmates. Not everyone had arrived yet. I was shown to my room, which was right across from the middle stairwell on the third floor. There were a few things for me on the desk. I remember that there was a letter from the principal on the parish school, welcoming us and inviting us to visit and perhaps even minister there. There was also a folded cardboard box with "Roman-Franciscan Christian Prayer" printed on it--I knew right away that this would be my breviary. I didn't open it though, thinking it better to wait for instructions.

I don't remember if we had Evening Prayer that night. I do remember that we had a cook-out on the roof of the friary, and that the friar assigned to work the grill had brought a portable television up there in order to watch the big game of Italy vs. Brazil. He was very Italian, as I recall.

Later on, either emboldened or having received instructions, I set up my new Roman-Franciscan Christian Prayer. I had used breviaries before, including the Shorter Christian Prayer and the Commonwealth English Daily Prayer that I had bought when I was a student in Ireland, but I was fascinated by this new and particularly Franciscan edition. I remember setting a ribbon at the next proper feast in the Franciscan calendar, which was Lawrence of Brindisi.

I know that there is at least one other who was there that day who checks these posts from time to time. So please throw in other details and correct my fabrications!


Julia said...

Wonderful post!

You said this was right after college. I'm curious, how old were you when you converted?

Brother Charles said...

I was baptized during the summer between sophomore and junior year of college. I entered religious life right away after college, but left after a year and a half. I re-entered about four years after that.

Qualis Rex said...

GREAT stroll down memory lane. I suppose it must almost like being on your wedding day; something you just don't forget.

And as an aside, your story also took me back to that very same day, watching the world cup with the family. I remember the match vividly as it was extremely lackluster and anticlimactic when it finally came down to penalties. The gossip in the air was that Madonna had stated that if the Italian team won, then she would personally invite Baggio to here place in Miami. And I remember the horror of him missing that penalty kick. Well, in all fairness to him, she was starting to get a little worn looking by that time, so I would have probably blown the game too to dodge her invitation.

Brother Charles said...

Great stuff, QR. You remind me of a famous story from my family. My Mom is from Gloucester, MA, north of Boston, and my Dad is from Cleveland, OH. They both remember the 1948 World Series very vividly, when the Boston Braves lost too the Cleveland Indians, and tell stories about the same events from different childhood perspectives.

phil said...

My memories of that day are a little different. I stayed at my brother's in NJ and he drove my mother and me up that day. I think Henry was the first of our classmates I remember meeting.

I also remember the cookout on the roof and the World Cup final being on. But I also remember one of the young friars who had been so focused on the World Cup pointing at one of the high-rise housing projects in the horizon and telling me more people live in that building than live in my hometown. He was exaggerating. I think it would take 2 of those buildings to match my hometown.

But my real first day memory was sleeping through morning prayer the next morning. When I had unpacked that afternoon I put off making my bed for the sake of time, believing I could do it before going to bed. About 11:00 that night I go to make my bed and discover that all my bedding was in my footlocker and that I did not have a key to it. I assume others are in bed at this point and I have no idea where extra linens and such are kept. Of course it is one of those NYC summer nights where the overnight low is in the mid-70s and I can't sleep on my unmade bed.
Around 3:00 I take some allergy medicine thinking it will at least knock me out, which it did. And I wake up about 9:30 or two hours after morning prayer. I recall you thought I had left during the night. I lasted somewhat longer than that