Defining Catholic: A Catholic Schools Week Reflection

A Catholic Schools Week reflection by Braeden Shields ’22

In all honesty, my true Catholic journey didn’t begin as soon as I walked through the doors of Hendricken.

Just as many of you do today, I was someone who went through the process day-in and day-out; doing simply what I was instructed to do. I would say the morning prayer or pitch in a dollar for donations, but never thought much about what it meant. The faculty, staff, and upperclassmen always encouraged me to look at Mass, Theology, and retreats as important stuff, but none of that felt important to me until I started applying it outside of class.

Here at Hendricken we use this word — “Catholic” — a lot. So, let’s talk about what it means.

There are two different meanings to the word “Catholic.” When spelled with a capital “C,” the word means what we usually think of when we discuss Catholicism. This is all of the traditions, perspectives, and worldviews associated with our faith that we celebrate here at Hendricken. However, when spelled with a lowercase “c,” this word means all-embracing, open-minded, and unprejudiced. If you look at Hendricken as a whole throughout the years, we celebrate and live this definition just as much as the former.

Students can find Catholic with a big “C” through things like our morning prayer, Mass, and Theology classes. These are the things that our teachers give us to assist in our lives of faith. For me, it has brought awareness to why we worship the way we do, as well as the importance of giving back to those around you. It has given me an overall better appreciation for the tradition of our faith.

Catholic with a little “c” are the things that we live out thanks to the opportunities that are provided for us. This includes things like our service opportunities, Unified Sports, peer ministry and mentor programs, Christmas outreach parties, retreats, and mission trips. The teachers and administration’s ability to combine both meanings of the word, Catholic, into one environment allows for a student body with amazing potential to make a positive impact on our communities. When a student here at Hendricken embraces both aspects of this word, they are truly Catholic.

The main way in which I began to learn what these two Catholic identities meant to me was thanks to our previous Director of Campus Ministry, and true embodiment of a Hendricken man, Mr. Gambardella ’76. Mr. G influenced my faith life the most: whether it was him helping me choose my saint’s name, being my confirmation sponsor, encouraging me to partake in a mission trip, to be a peer minister, or even just a slap to the back of my head when I needed it.

The moment that I really began this journey towards becoming a true Catholic was after hearing Mr. Gambardella’s last announcement here at Hendricken. He said that if you “put Gods needs first, and others’ needs before your own,  you will live a great life.” 

This is what kickstarted the process for me, and once I began involving myself in things like peer ministry, retreats, the mission trip to Texas, or even something as simple as shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, I began to realize that the lessons that we have learned here at Hendricken are ones that will serve us for life. We just need to move beyond the classroom. While Mr. G is no longer with us physically, his example of celebrating what it means to be Catholic in all ways lives on through our service and work. I was able to experience this in Texas when I not only observed the work that Mr. G had done, but also felt like I was doing good for others in his name. But, I was also able to work besides Mr. McPhillips ’08, a man who brought the very same energy about Catholic service and education.  

All of these things are examples of opportunities that Hendricken offers so that you can apply that capital “C” Catholicism in the real world, and in turn, start your journey to recognizing your Catholic identity.