As mentioned in my last post, I’m still enjoying the scenery and hospitality of St. John’s, Newfoundland. I was invited to the 80th birthday celebration of a former neighbour. Paul and Janet Kelly were more than neighbours. It was through Janet that I had a couple of early experiences of hard work.
When I was barely an adolescent, I helped her father with his beautiful gardens on a very nice street along Rennie’s River in St. John’s. I remember how good he was to work with; I remember being called from my work to clean up for lunch; I remember the house being filled with beautiful paintings; I remember how much I enjoyed the whole experience. But most of all, in my sixties I’m remembering how much I learned about hard, honest work.
A few years later, by which time I was old enough to serve alcohol, Janet hired me for regular part-time work at Bridgett’s, a popular local pub they owned. I worked very hard and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My work involved everything: mixing and serving drinks and beer, stocking the shelves, cleaning up, and even asking a patron to leave if he was being belligerent.
Bridgett’s regularly featured local musicians and singers, and was a popular hangout for many artistic and creative people in the city. There were many nights when Janet and I (or Rita and Ed Sutherby and I) did the final clearing out of customers and processed to clean and close up for the night. I could tell many stories of my experiences at Bridgett’s. Perhaps I’ll find reason to weave them into later posts.
I have fond memories of sitting on a bar stool and sharing a drink at the end of a long shift. I have many wonderful memories. But, for the purposes of this post, the main memory is about how hard I worked.
And, it was not solitary work. I don’t think we used the word “team,” but that’s what it was. I enjoyed the whole experience, partly because it was a team effort. We all shared in the hard work. My ability to be part of that helped me as I ventured into university and eventually into the Jesuits.
I have had plenty of responsibilities in my 40 years of Jesuit life. They have all benefited immensely from my hard work. Before I look at any particular vocation as a Jesuit, I tend to look at my general vocation. Hard work, team work, commitment, reward after hard work … all are essential for most of us, regardless of how we use our time and talents.
It’s interesting that the Jesuit Vocation Director at the time lit up in evident delight when I responded to his question about what work I did. Years later, Fr. Bill Addley told me he had recognized at the time that my work experience as a student would hold me in good stead as a Jesuit priest.
There is another aspect of my vocation that is addressed in today’s Gospel. “As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” I’ll have to reflect on how I experienced that at Bridgett’s. But I can already see that I encountered many men and women whom I can see now were like sheep without a shepherd, people searching for a life that made sense.
I wouldn’t have been able to see that all those years ago. I was in my late teens and early twenties. But now, having seen so much of life and its struggles, I realize how many times I was encountering someone who needed compassion.
Or, perhaps, a stern word offered in a compassionate way. In that way, Bridgett’s was a foretaste of the need for compassion in every single situation in which I have lived or worked. I’m growing increasingly grateful for my upbringing. People such as Janet were a significant part of that.