Another event that would shape my life was a Youth 2000 retreat in Kearny, NJ. I don't like the Kearny, ok I hate the Kearny retreat center, but it serves its purpose. I like retreat centers in the middle of nowhere, where it's just you and God. I went because Campus min was sponsoring those that wanted to go and I decided to give it a try. It was a strange experience for me, as I knew no one on the retreat. Youth 2000 is a wickedly awesome retreat run by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. I have known the order since I was a kid in grammar school, so I trusted what they did. Youth 2000 is a retreat that covers a large age group, high school- young adult, and the whole focus of the weekend is on the Blessed Sacrament. It would be on this retreat where it would just hit me that, it’s Jesus; it really is God in that piece of bread. Don't ask me how it happened, it just happened, it just dawned on me after 18 years, that it IS JESUS in the Eucharist. Yep, God smacked me upside the head with that one, as I refer to it, “my smack from God.” From here I would begin to realize how important those Monday afternoon trips to St. Helena’s with my mother were, and from here would stem my love for Eucharist Adoration. I went to Youth 2000 because I wanted answers about Gary’s death, why he had to go so young, why would God do that, how could God do that. Those questions were not answered; what I got was much more that what I could have ever asked for. From this retreat, from the experience of having a priest walk through the gym with the Monstrance I felt God's love and came to know Him better. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became something I looked forward to. I often sit for hours in SHU's chapel because I wanted to, and sometimes because I had to.
My years at Seton continued in a pattern, fall semester meant back to RCIA, retreats, SHUFL, Student Ambassadors, CELEBRATE SCC, EMing, and other campus ministry and school events, Christmas break for which I'd be home and couldn't wait to get back to SHU. It's a far cry from my first semester, when I wanted to run home to St. Anthony's; now I wanted to be away from St. A's. St. Anthony’s just didn’t feel like home anymore, SHU did. Christmas break would end and I'd be back ‘home’ at SHU, spring semester would take place with my usual activities continuing from the fall semester. I switched majors from nursing to religious studies at the beginning of my sophomore year. This was one of those things that stemmed from Youth 2000 and Steubenville; I felt a calling to religious studies and went with it.
Life at SHU would continue in this normal pattern until one eventful morning in January 2000. I was sleeping as most college students do at 5am, we were back on campus a few days. The phone rang and my roommate and I thought who the hell calls us at 5am, what is wrong with them. It was my roommate's mom, asking if we were ok. We said were fine, but the words there was as fire on campus would stay with us. We looked out of our window and saw fire trucks and other emergency vehicles over by Boland Hall, assumed everything was under control and went back to sleep. A few hours later, the phone rings again, this time it was a friend, who asked, “what's going on up there, I hear 3 people are dead.” Those words woke us up and we turned on the TV, we usually turned on Fox 5’s morning show so that’s what we watched. I still remember how somber and sincere Jim Ryan was as he told the story. Seton Hall was all over the news. We got news throughout the day, the first bit being that the fire was on the 3rd floor, which happened to be the floor we lived on as freshman. My exact thought was "Oh God no; no not again; I can't do this, that's where Todd lives." (Todd is Gary's brother). It was morning, and we were hungry so we went to get some food. Calls were made to friends on campus to make sure everyone one was ok, and to see who wanted to go to breakfast. The University understandably shut down for the day, and looking back on it, we were like a herd of freaking cattle moving back and forth between the Main Lounge, the Chapel and the cafe. The Main Lounge was where updates were given; the Chapel was for mass, and the café for food and just hanging out with friends.
When we came down for breakfast I saw as Todd and was happy that I had found him and knew he was ok, and thought. Before I could even think, “thank God,” I heard "Pete can't find his little brother". I knew deep down at the very moment that, Pete's brother was gone, but I held out every last bit of hope that he was still alive. The day continued with us going to the Main Lounge for updates, the Chapel for Mass, back to the Main Lounge, to the cafe for food. Throughout the day we would think of and find more people who lived in Boland, all expect for Pete's brother. Resident students were told to go home, as the campus would be shut down for the next few days. So we each found a way to go home, my friend Kelly lived in Albany, NY, and since she would be driving past my neighborhood, she drove me home. Kelly and I stopped by our friend Bridget’s house, mainly because Bridget as a commuter was away from all of us during the day. Kelly and I were headed home and we had SOU, Seton Hall’s crappy radio station because we were guaranteed updates. Around 7 they released the names of the kids who had died. We heard John Gu… and immediately turned around and found Bridget at her sister's house. We went back to Bridget’s house cried; found out the funeral arrangements and eventually we all went home.
The days that followed were sad ones, January 19th would the 2nd day in January that I would not like. John's funeral and Mass flashed me back to Gary's wake. This was not something I wanted to go through again, I didn't want to have to bury another person my age, but alas I had to. Here I got a part of my answer of how can this help you. Fr. Bill two years before had said, ask how, what can come from this. So I became the ‘you can get through it” person. I knew it hurt, that the pain will not leave, but it gets slightly easier to bear. Both days in January just send me into a dark place, of which I need to go every so often. Both events would change my life, would change my faith. And just because they are sad, doesn't mean that good weren't happening at the same time, these are just the events that stick out the most. One of the highlights for me would be the Easter Sacraments that took place each year after Easter. I would watch my candidates become fully Catholic, the whole RCIA process still brings tears to my eyes, happy tears, as others realize that they want to be Catholic and it just does my heart well to see so many people annoying the Evil One.
Life would continue in the normal college student fashion. Classes were going well; I had lots of friends and was having fun at college. Soon that fun could come to an end, as the dreaded graduation day approached. I wish to not remember my graduations from SHU, yes I did say graduations. Having known people graduating in the classes before me and participating in their “Mass of Academic Investiture”, I knew what to expect, but what would happen, I never expected. I never thought changing majors would come back to well, bite me in the ass. Long story short, as my friends received notices about caps and gowns I wonder why I wasn’t getting anything. Turns out I had 12 credits or 4 classes left before I could graduate. I had a full semesters worth of classes left, somehow this slipped past me and my advisor, though it slipping past my advisor is not too surprising. I was pissed, I had put in my 4 years, I had also failed a class or two, it’s what helped me change my major, as the science classes just weren’t holding my attention, but my religion classes were. So here I was at my graduation Mass, watching my friends graduate, without me. I walked in to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and found Fr. Bill who said to me, “smile Red, you not smiling is unnerving, I don’t like it.” If Fr. Bill only knew how much that comment meant to me at the time and how much my friends and I use it.
I went back to SHU for my last semester which was honestly just me showing up for class and coming back home. I was no longer part of the RCIA program as I was basically told “it’s time to give others a chance.” What really happened was I said I wouldn’t stand up for my last candidate because I didn’t think she was ready to enter the church, and because I had the audacity to stand up for something I was asked to step down. Fr. Bill had been asked to return to parish life and without him Campus ministry and I weren’t getting along. So I was at St. Anthony’s for Mass, which was not what I wanted. I didn’t feel as if I fit in there. This would be the “what am I doing, what am I supposed to do” section of my faith journey.
I think I am going to stop at this point simply because the next section covers Sept. 11th and the events that were happening around it. As someone who spent her grammar school years in the Bronx, has family in the Bronx, has NYPD in the family, and whose father and brother both worked in New York at the time, September 11th was a bit closer to home than expected. For some reason I can't shorten the Sept. 11th story, I've tried but it just doesn't happen. Another thing that would happen would be my time spent with the Living the Lord's Prayer retreat and team. I would start a relationship with a man, and that's a whole blog in and of it's self. What follows after are my jobs and many other things that would make this section way too long. So I leave you with where I was at the time confused and looking for more.