By Bridget Ruffing, ’22
Every year, students of Thomas More College look forward to their summer break as a time of rest and rejuvenation among family and hometown friends. This past summer, however, three TMC students—Daniel Nogueira, ’22, Thomas Bastardi, ’23, and Joel Marshall, ’24—made the bold decision to sacrifice their summer break for an experience in a new place, among new people, performing difficult work that required physical and spiritual sacrifice. For ten weeks, these students devoted their time and skills to help construct the St. Kateri Rosary Walk and Shrine as part of an internship with the non-profit Southwest Indian Foundation in Gallup, New Mexico. Bill McCarthy, who serves as the Foundation’s CEO and is also a Trustee of the College, remarked, “It was a great blessing and joy to have Thomas More College students doing the heavy lifting at the Shrine this summer. We had an incredible Esprit de Corp with intense camaraderie and significant progress in building the Shrine and Rosary walk.”
The interns immersed themselves in a routine punctuated by work, prayer, and education, rising at dawn each day and gathering to pray the Rosary before getting started at 7:30. They would work on the shrine project under the strong New Mexico sun until 3:30 in the afternoon. When asked why he decided to apply for the position, Daniel responded that he wanted “to work for a greater cause and to have a more profound summer experience.” It would seem that he found what he was looking for: the internship provided payment for hard labor, enriched his education, and gave him the chance to join the Foundation in their mission of aiding “the poorest of the poor” among the Native Americans of the Southwest.
Due to the Foundation’s strong ties with Thomas More, Mr. McCarthy was in contact with College president Dr. William Fahey while working to organize the shrine project. Dr. Fahey describes how “Mr. McCarthy was looking for ways to expand and enhance the project,” so he “suggested that a deeper element of architectural study, as well as readings in the history and literature of the American Southwest would make for a good, accredited summer program.” President Fahey then reached out to students at the College and offered them this unique opportunity to experience a faith and culture vastly different from that of our New England surroundings.
“The Holy Father emeritus persuasively taught that what separated the Christian liberal arts tradition from the pagan was the union of learning to prayer and work. God is at work; His son worked as a carpenter; the imitatio Christi requires some degree of physical and creative work.”
– President William Fahey
Joel was especially struck by the contrast between the Northeast culture he is familiar with and the traditions and practices he found in the Southwest. He remarks, “I had never been outside of the Northeast before, so it was a very different kind of environment.” He enjoyed meeting and working with both his fellow interns and the locals, and notes “how laid-back people are in the Southwest. They were very friendly.” Daniel echoes this appreciation for the friendships he formed during his time in New Mexico, and says, “Working hard on a daily basis and having interesting conversations with great, selfless men is what made this experience so remarkable to me. In a way, the best experience was being able to meet people willing to sacrifice their entire summer for the sake of something greater than themselves. This was a very beautiful and rare thing to see.”
Not only the people, but the terrain, cultural traditions, and even the architecture in New Mexico are a distinct departure from those of New England. When they weren’t working on building the shrine, Dan, Thomas, and Joel got to experience all of these cultural differences first-hand by means of various trips and extracurricular activities. Joel recalls the time he spent exploring the historic city of Santa Fe and expressed his hope “to visit it again at some point.” Dr. Fahey speaks to the importance of such cultural encounters. He laments that “many Americans have lost touch with the deep, Christian roots of their country and many Catholics are utterly unfamiliar with the unique contributions of Spanish and Indian Catholicism to the story of our nation.” Besides gaining a more profound understanding of these contributions, the interns also received opportunities to deepen their own knowledge of the faith by attending conferences and talks on theology.
This intersection of faith, culture, and work is a cornerstone of authentic Catholic life and fits hand-in-hand with the way of living promoted at Thomas More College. This cohesion is part of what made the shrine program so appealing to President Fahey, who remarks, “Pope Benedict once described the heart of Catholic culture as the union of ora (pray) with labora (work). Even for centers of learning, the Holy Father emeritus persuasively taught that what separated the Christian liberal arts tradition from the pagan was the union of learning to prayer and work. God is at work; His son worked as a carpenter; the imitatio Christi requires some degree of physical and creative work.” It is a rare and wonderful gift to be able to devote an entire summer to some of the best tasks of earthly life. While giving of themselves in Christian charity, Daniel, Joel, and Thomas also received invaluable lessons in molding their own characters in the image of Christ.
Click here for more information on the St. Kateri Rosary Walk and Shrine.