Andre House: A new year

Fr Eric Schimmel, CSC with 2010-2011 Core staff

Believe it or not, August is already upon us! And with August comes the new season for our Spes Unica blog. We have secured a great line-up of regular contributors for this year, the majority of whom are new to Spes Unica to broaden and deepen the picture we give you of Holy Cross and more particularly the United States Province of Priests and Brothers. Yet we have decided to kick off our new year with someone familiar to all of you who follow our blog: Rev. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C. Fr. Eric, who is the director of André House in Phoenix, Ariz., has graciously re-upped for a second year of writing for our blog. And as usual, he has delivered a great post. Appropriately, he reflects on new years and transitions in light of his experience at André House.

The beginning of August has brought commercials for different stores’ “Back to School” sales. Here at André House that storyline unfolds as the people who joined us for Summer Staff start heading back to their respective schools to start a new semester. For many engaged in academia – whether as student, teacher, or parent – August begins a new year.

The beginning of August marks the beginning of a new year at André House as well. Each year we are blessed to have lay men and women join the Holy Cross religious in serving on our Core Staff. The lay Core Staff live together in community, embracing a life of simplicity and spirituality while working together to minister to people who are poor in downtown Phoenix. Each year we share laughter at the fun and entertaining things that happen at André House – and there are plenty of these! We cry together as we face various obstacles and frustrations together. We support each other, knowing the person walking with you has similar experiences because she or he also has taken shifts doing the things that you are doing right now.

That bond and shared experience can be invaluable in both joy and struggle, especially when something happens that you feel you need to talk about with someone else. As you share the story seeking support or sharing laughter at the antics of this place, knowing that you won’t have to explain or set up the whole scene is liberating – you can jump to the important parts of the story.

2008-2009 Core Staff at Andre House

I always find it both difficult and exciting at the end of an André House year. It is hard to see staff members leave when they move on to embrace the next challenges of life. It is exciting to welcome new faces – people eager and zealous to fully engage in this ministry. As I have meditated on this transition time, I have thought of graduations as a parallel, but that does not really capture the experience. This year, I have had part of the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from the wedding scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof echoing in the back of my head.

sunrise, sunset (x2),
swiftly fly the years,
one season following another,
laden with happiness and tears.

(Tevye, father of the bride)
what words of wisdom can I give them,
how can I help to ease their way?

(Golde, mother of the bride)
now they must learn from one another,
day by day. . .
sunrise, sunset (x2). . .
In the desert Southwest without fall or snow, one season easily flows into another. Each month, week, or even each day can be filled with happiness and tears. As Director I sometimes wonder what words of wisdom I can give to help – those newly arriving, those who have decided to stay for a second year, and those who now embark on the next road of their journey. In the end, I know that the most important thing is to keep learning from each other, day by day.

209-2010 Andre House Core Staff with Bishop Thomas Olmsted

This is something that I see in our guests – those who enter into our lives here at André House and stay for unspecified lengths of time. Some are here only a short time, some for years. Some float in and out. No matter what category they fall into, I see them struggling together, consciously or unconsciously. I see them guiding and directing us as well, through their words and actions that teach me and the rest of the staff how to serve people with dignity and respect.

I see this learning from one another take place often amongst staff and volunteers. Enjoying things that work, and sharing stories of what did not work so as to hopefully not have to repeat those experiences again.
I see it as well in my confrere in Holy Cross here at André House, Bro. Richard Armstrong, C.S.C. This past month we celebrated his 65th birthday, and marked 25 years of ministry here at André House. If we are to return to the Fiddler on the Roof analogy, he is our Tevye who has helped 25 years of Core Staff grow in ministry and maturity, and seen them reach the stage where they leave this house (André House) to continue on their way. Mozel Tov to Richard on these milestones he has reached here at André House.
And I pray that God bless and strengthen all those in transition, especially as different kinds of new years’ begin. May their sunrises, sunsets, and everything in between be full of beauty and grace.

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