Summer and Leaving the Bend
School began to wrap up with me making arrangements for leaving St. Joe. My biggest concern was to make sure that the Hi-Lite was in good hands. After being advisor to the school newspaper the entire time I was at St. Joe and getting to know the best of the students through their involvement--and seeing what an opportunity the responsibility of the paper could be for the student editors--I wanted to make sure that what we'd gotten going over the last five years kept going in my absence. That particularly meant that I would spend a great deal of time with the editors for the next year--Jon Bischof and Trina Paris--so that they would be able to handle the work and run the computer systems without an experienced advisor. In fact, I wanted to make sure that they'd be so prepared as to be able to show the new advisor the ropes. This meant that we put in a lot of extra hours at the end of the school year and even after the semester was over.
So they went through the regular new-editor baptism of largely producing the last newspaper of the year under the watchful eye of Evan Walsh, the outgoing, ND-bound editor as well as putting in the extra hours to try to compensate for my future absence. Even McCurry gave us the weight of his presense and modeled exactly what "authoritative" meant for the up-and-coming leaders.
My last class at St. Joe turned out to be great fun. I decided this year to teach a hasty version of Church History for the younger kids, and two separate sections of Christian Thought: one for upperclassmen who were ready to handle the core material and an "advanced" class for students who had already done that material with me and could be trusted to work more independently. It was the younger kids who had me rolling with laughter. I had seven freshman-going-on-sophomore girls who wanted to study with me before I left and one senior boy from Marian High School who quickly realized how outnumbered he was and simply hunkered down and tried to weather the storm. So with the girls completely dominating the spirit of the class, it quickly began to morph into something I had never seen before: in short, it was like teaching a slumber party.
Working with the older kids was (thankfully?) more routine. The students who I had had read a lot of this material the previous summer I decided to treat more as undergraduates and we turned the class into more of a biweekly reading group. Not ideal, in some ways, especially in reading The Confessions, but it was the only way that I could accomodate everyone. So we met for some long, involved talks at the Chocolate Cafe and at Notre Dame in the summer evenings.
As it turned out, some of my closest friends would be leaving South Bend this summer along with me. Mark Lang had--much to his own surprise--accepted a job teaching high school theology and being a campus minister back in Pittsburgh, and P.J. McCurry--even more boldly--was simply moving to Chicago with no job in hand, but with definite intentions to think about some of his educational ideas. More importantly, he was significantly distracted by having begun to date the compelling Miggie Clemency, causing no end of startlement among the student body when the news got out. For once, I was able to play McCurry's Jedi Mind Trick by telling him that he was dating Miggie before he'd come anywhere close to giving me information that would lead me to that conclusion. That made him give a very satisfying jump as he was trying to figure out how to explain....
Immediately after finishing teaching I headed off on a bried odyssey of the blissful and the surreal. Blissful because I went to Illinois where I got to meet my niece and goddaughter Grace for the very first time. Daddy Jim wasn't around when I swung by, but of course I was well entertained anyway. Both daughter and mother were extra-ordinarily beautiful and I'm sure that I was unable to say anything coherent the whole time that I was there. I couldn't believe the "automatic love" that was pouring out of me for this little person I'd never met: I can't even imagine how much her parents have to feel for her. It was the most simple, overwhelming sensation. This was so cool that I was late leaving.
Yes, leaving. I was only able to stop by for an hour or so as I was on my way back to the hometown of Oregon, Illinois for the Class of 1987 Oregon High School 15-Year Reunion. Here's where the "surreal" began to happen. I made it just in time as I'd hung around staring at Grace longer than I could really afford. The reunion was being held on board the paddle-wheel boat that had been brought in at the hotel north of town just after I'd gone to college. I arrived just before it put off from shore. I had missed my 10-year reunion because that was the only weekend that summer that my girlfriend was free and I had figured that cannibalism was less rude than dragging her to my high school reunion. So after 15 years, I was quite curious to see what I'd find and who had become what. I was not disappointed. That is, other than the fact that my two closest friends who I expected to see--who lived right there in town--were no-shows. Most irritating! How to sum the whole thing up? I felt awkward and out of time--I was terribly curious as to what everyone was doing with their lives, and I was quite glad to listen to them describe their journeys, but it didn't seem like these people were connected to my reality. I knew their names, and even recognized some of their faces, but they were almost like fictional characters that I couldn't really bring myself to believe in. I guess it's been a long time. The one fellow with whom I'd exchanged a few emails over the years and that I was most looking forward to seeing after a 15-year gap I didn't even recognize while he was talking to me! I flipped when someone mentioned how much he'd changed and I heard the name. So there were good stories, and sad stories. A drug addict who'd found Christ and found his life again. A girl who wanted to be loved and became a stripper. The guy I remember as having the worst temper is a US Marshall. Probably the most surprising greeting was from the guy I'd heard had died of cancer. Now we're talking a reunion!
As soon as my work was done with teaching, I immediately had to transition to thinking in terms of my own going back to school. Marquette made all incoming Ph.D. students take their own Master's Comprehensive Exam. All their own M.A. students have to pass this at the end of their program and they make incoming students--even those like me who already have an M.A.--take their exams so that they can detect any deficiencies. The exam questions are broad and cover the basics of graduate theology and since they give you the questions ahead of time, it's basically their way of making sure that you are up to speed. But first I took a week off to collapse (as well as grade and begin to clean out my classroom--that was a melancholy chore!) and do such things as be inaugerated into Trina Paris and Julia Cunningham's Movie Club. Apparently since I was no longer officially a teacher, I was fair game for afternoon outings. They even started hooting under my window one night to present me with a handsome plastic copy of Sting from The Lord of the Rings which I deeply treasure. But work beckoned. I launched into trying to get back up to graduate speed after my years of teaching. I had three weeks to try to put everything back together. Most of that I spent either reading on my couch or lurking in the reference section of the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame. At one point I showed the exam to Robert Krieg who was the head of my own Master's board--he began to muse out loud that Notre Dame's Ph.D. program should really do something like that.
The actual test itself was memorable. It was quite cool to meet my classmates--the six just coming to Marquette (there were three who had done their M.A.s there, and had already taken the exam). As we were introducing ourselves to one another, it suddenly struck me that the six of us would probably know one another for the rest of our lives. It was a bit startling to suddenly be aware of how significant a moment in my life this was. Then came the test itself: having to write the exam by hand was way beyond anything I was used to doing. It was six hours long and I wrote 25 pages. By the third or fourth hour my classmates and I were frequently pausing to shake our hands or press them flat against the desks to try to work out the cramps. I raised the point afterwards that perhaps in the future this could be done on keyboard. I don't know that I'd ever tried to write so much by hand in one sitting.
And as soon as that was done, I had to dash back to South Bend to start packing. A few days after the move, I was able to sum up the transition with the following letter:
24 August 2002So that in a brief way gets me to Milwaukee...
I've made my big move, at long last, to Milwaukee and am settling in at Marquette University. I'm starting Ph.D. work in Systematic Theology under my advisor Dr. David Coffey, a priest and specialist in the Trinity from Sydney, and I'm looking at studying ecclesiology--the study of the church--under Michael Fahey, S.J.. Marquette is very ... urban. I'm having a small-town case of being intimidated as hell by this, but I'm sure it will pass after my first few muggings.
The move up was nuts. I packed and then waited and waited for a U-Haul to come available in the midst of the student rush. Finally something came free Saturday night. With quick rescuing from my student Trina and her boyfriend Daniel, I was able to get over to the place before they closed for the evening at seven. By 7:30, I was ready to start loading. After being joined by another student, Julia Cunningham, Daniel and I started shuttling things down to the truck while the girls stood guard and handled some of the loading. I would have lost a lot of my stuff to lack of space if Folk Choir alum Josh Noem hadn't just moved back to South Bend and made it over to help. Along with providing a lot of muscle--something I'm notably lacking and which all of my friends being absent that weekend left me in need of--Josh was able to figure out how to make everything fit in a way that reminded me a lot of a winning game of Tetris.
I finally rolled out of South Bend at midnight. I realized later that it wasn't Notre Dame that I was looking at on my way out. I don't know that I even noticed it. I was looking at St. Joe. Interesting, that.
I arrived in downtown Milwaukee a few minutes before three, breaking the South Bend-Milwaukee speed record set in 1996 by Tim Schorn and me on our way to the NPR regional conference that year. Although, in all fairness, he did it in the daytime with Chicago traffic, whereas I simply had no traffic to speak of. I headed a few miles north of the city and crashed on an extra bed left for me at my Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen's place. The next day we unloaded and they graciously let me stay there another night so that I didn't have to deal with everything in one great gasp.
Marquette's been alright so far. My apartment has maintenance problems up the wazoo, which has been the chief cause of grief in my life, but the Department of Theology seems excellent, whereas the rest of the university's administration seems to be run according to the dictates of a Magical 8-Ball. I have been assigned as assistant to my advisor, David Coffey, and since he's one of the chaired professors in the department that means that one of the perks is that I, his assistant, get an office across the hall from him. I've done a bit of basic work for him, helping with arrangements for his fall class on Grace, which I happen to be taking. I'm also taking Fahey's class on Ecclesiology, so I'm diving right into that and seeing if it's as fun as it looks.
It turns out that I've passed all six sections of the Master's comprehensive exams that I had to take, so all my credit should transfer readily from Notre Dame. I feel pretty good about that, especially as I only had three weeks to prepare, and those were nightmarishly distracted.
So that's roughly the score here. Classes start on Monday and I'll get to see what five years of teaching high school has done to my brain. Improved it, I trust. I was near burnout through Notre Dame, and only just beginning to understand theology at the time.
So I'm meeting some departmental people and starting to get to know them. Went out for a long dinner and conversation with one of my new classmates, Alejandro, who's my age and a Dominican friar. So things like that bode well.
In the meantime, my new information is:
722 N. 13th St.
Milwaukee, WI 53233
I'll keep the AOL address along with the new Marquette one.