“This is probably the closest we’ll get to Baby Priest Camp this year.” It was a remark we made a few times during our two-week stint at André House in Phoenix, Arizona, a Holy Cross apostolate that serves as a social outreach to the poor. “Baby Priest Camp” is the informal name of the Transition Years Workshop, an annual gathering of young CSC religious in LaPorte, Ind., who are within five years of perpetual profession of vows. It serves as a time of fellowship and communal reflection on our experience of religious life.
But because of the Coronavirus, we knew chances were slim that it was going to take place this year.
I suppose God had other plans for the six of us, Fr. Brogan Ryan, C.S.C., Fr. Chris Brennan, C.S.C., Fr. Brendan McAleer, C.S.C., Fr. Karl Romkema, C.S.C., Fr. Brian Kennedy, C.S.C., and myself. As we were serving at our respective apostolates, we got the email from our provincial asking for help at André House. The virus had sidelined the hundreds of volunteers that flock weekly to help there, leaving only a small core team of no more than 10 to run the operation.
And that they did, for a whole month, until director Fr. Dan Ponisciak, C.S.C., saw the need to call in reinforcements.
It was certainly something that we did not expect to do, but truly felt blessed to have the opportunity to do. While we were limited in our ministries to basically many Zoom meetings and online masses, it was a refreshing and motivating call to do hands-on work to serve the guests of André House.
All of us could concur that this experience was beautiful for the chance to serve the most vulnerable, especially in the midst of the Coronavirus, but the beauty of the experience came also in doing it together.
There was a lot of cooking to do that kept us very busy. Meals are offered 6 nights a week at André House.
It was a renewal of brotherhood. We prayed morning prayer together before we left and evening prayer when we came back, celebrated mass together (sometime even in our living room), shared our ministry experiences, ate together, watched TV together, went shopping together – it was a true communal experience, and it was that community that fed our ministry.
That was the most impactful sense for me. We came from all over, South Bend, Ind., Wilkes Barre, Pa., Austin, Texas, Goodyear, Ariz. There would not have been any reason or pretext that would have brought us together at this place and at this time, but the only thing that could, a shared mission.
Much of the work of the day consisted in keeping André House clean. Here, Fr. Brendan McAleer, C.S.C., prepares to mop as he helps the Core Team with the end of the day cleaning at André House.
Hydration was essential while we were in Phoenix. Temperatures already reached to the 100s every day. Fr. Brendan McAleer, C.S.C., and Fr. Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C., serve cold drinks during the evening dinner service to help André House guests stay hydrated.
It was an experience of answering a call of need in the province, but one that united us, one that brought us in contact with the Lord’s most vulnerable, one that brought us into common service. But also one that enriched our brotherhood, that gave us food to help us in this ministry, and often difficult ministry, of serving the poor, but one that brought us strength to take back to our individual apostolates, to really remind us how powerful and enriching good brotherhood can be..
I am truly grateful for this opportunity to have served at André House during a time of great need and also truly grateful to my brothers I shared it with. My own view of brotherhood has changed, my resolve in community life renewed and the power of a common apostolate re-inspired in me. Yes, I, like perhaps other young CSCs in the province may be disappointed that there is no Transition Years Workshop this year, but I concur that this was a pretty blessed replacement. It wouldn’t say that this was the closest we got to it, but that it was actually at the heart of it. I think we all took something away from it and saw this as a great transitioning moment in our growth in religious life, one that we will carry with us in the brotherhood that we share.
Fr. Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C., is the eldest of two children of Joe and Karen Pietrocarlo of East Rochester, N.Y. He graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind., in 2011, and earned his M.Div. from the University in 2016. He entered Holy Cross in August 2007 as an Old Collegian. He made his First Profession of Vows on July 28, 2012. He is currently serving as Parochial Vicar at St. Adalbert Parish, South Bend, Ind.
The U.S. Province sent a small cadre of young religious to provide support. Upon return, the religious headed back to their homes for a 14-day quarantine, and agroup of eight young men in formation followed in their footsteps to assist and again return to quarantine. We appreciate the service of these men and the formation staff for organizing this.