“Be who you are and be that well!” This was the quotation from St. Francis de Sales, the founder of the Order of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, that both high school and college students at my Oblate run institutions seemed to love. I was among that camp, as well. In the high school world of uniforms and schedules, pressures to take Advanced Placement courses, and participate in extracurricular activities and sports, this was the quotation that everyone who went on their mandatory junior retreat would come back stating. I do not know if Fr. McCue, the chaplain at the high school, ever realized that it would be this quotation from the patron saint that would serve as the summation of Salesian spirituality in our minds, but it did.
Even in college, this sentiment reigned. I recently talked to a good friend from college, Tiger. He and I both served on the Student Government Association and ran in a variety of crowds. In 1997 at the Oblate founded college, DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, most of the students were from the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area. But what marked many of us was not our geographic region of origin, but the Catholic high school and the order who ran it. There were the Father Judge boys and the St. Hubert’s girls, both schools located in Philadelphia and single-sex schools. Lineages from Northeast Catholic, Archbishop Ryan, and Monsignor Bonner. For everyone to be who they were meant an acceptance of diversity, at least in Catholic high school lineage. High school rivalries ceased as new identities were forged under the college banner.
Tiger and I came from the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales lineage, he from Father Judge, me from Bishop Ireton. As we chatted the other night, we found it to be no great irony that Alan, our other SGA friend-colleague for many years, went to St. Francis de Sales in Toledo, Ohio.
Tiger and I talked vividly about how “Be who you are and be it well” as a spirituality continues to live strongly in us, despite not having any formal connection to the Oblates at this time. Alan, in some ways, serves as our closest link; he joined the order and was ordained. A few years ago when I was living in Ohio, I ventured from Cleveland to Toledo to another ordination occasion. It was so strange to see him dressed in black and with a collar, and overhear women whisper, “Oh, Fr. What-a-Waste”. It seems to me that a life is not wasted in becoming more fully a human person and grow to be more fully a unique individual. And just as Tiger and I both find ourselves not as closely linked to the Salesian tradition of spirituality as we once were, “Frankie D’s” words still provide a homing for us to become the unique beings that we were born to be.
Kate Lassiter likes Catholic kitsch. She also likes chewy brownies and exercise balls. She can be reached at email@example.com.