I remember exactly where I was on the morning of November 26, 1984. It was my 15th birthday and I was standing in line at the DMV. I had dreamt for years about getting my restricted driver’s license, a small step towards independence. For months, my father had taken me to the parking lot at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church to practice driving a stick shift car. He insisted that I learn stick shift because he told me that once you learned you would never forget and you never knew when you would have to drive it. It was an insistence that paid off years later when in Brazil and the Dominican Republic as a Jesuit missionary, I had access only to stick shift cars.
After passing my exam and driving my father’s Mercury Cougar back home, I decided to give him the sales pitch I had been preparing for weeks. I reminded him that in a year I would have my license and would be driving on my own. I told him that this sacred rite of passage was going to be most beneficial to him and my mother because it meant that they would be able to depend on me for so many time-consuming errands that bogged them down unnecessarily. I could drive my brothers to school in the morning, I could rush over to “la vaquita” (Farm Stores) to buy a last-minute gallon of milk or loaf of bread, or I could pick up Manny at AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), Eric at JC’s house, Beto and Tita from my grandparent’s house. I could be the convenient answer to their prayers if only I had a car of my own.
To my surprise, my father agreed with me. He told me with all the work he and my mother had, having my own car would be a God-sent and expressed how he was counting the days when I would become the family chauffeur. He told me the idea was like music to his ears. But he followed up with a catch. He asked me, “How are you going to pay for a car?” What? Me? Pay? The whole purpose for the pitch was to convince him that he should buy a car for me so I could do all of those things. His understanding was that I would do all those things, but I had to buy my own car.
So, a couple of weeks later, as a junior at Belen Jesuit, I sent my application to work on the weekends at a neighborhood ice cream shop. There I spent Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays scooping ice cream and scrounging together enough dough to buy a 1973 Volkswagen bug (stick shift of course). It was red. The paint was chipped, it had a little electrical fan on the floor because it had no AC, and you could hear it coming down the street from a mile away. But it was mine and it was the greatest car I ever owned.
I confess that I was upset about having to work for my own car when I was so busy trying to juggle my studies and an active social life. I moaned every weekend when I had to put on that God-awful work uniform, and complained under my breath with every scoop of ice cream I had to dish out, but I learned a valuable lesson from my father that has never left me. That experience taught me the value of money and hard work, it helped eliminate any trace of unwarranted entitlement, and it engrained in me a conviction that you appreciate more what you struggle and work hard for.
As I look back on my 47 years of life, I realize that those lessons I learned from my father are still very much a part of me. The man I am today has a lot to do with the man my father was and continues to be. If it wasn’t for his example, I don’t know where I would be today or who I would be. The classroom, the seminary, the Jesuits, textbooks and computers have all taught me many valuable and important things, but it was especially my father who taught me esto vir, to be a man.
On March 19th, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph. This was the man that God chose to take on the fatherly role for His Son, Jesus Christ. This was the man who was called to be our Savior’s protector, guide, and, along with the Blessed Mother, his first teacher. It was Joseph who was commissioned by God with the task of teaching Jesus to be a man. The important lessons of life were first taught to Jesus by Joseph. The value of hard work, the importance of prayer, the commitment to your wife and family, were all lessons taught first to Jesus by Joseph. Just think, Jesus’s first visit to the temple was in the arms of Joseph. At his Bar Mitzvah, Jesus stood next to Joseph. The first hammer he swung, the first fish he caught, the first horse he rode… all Joseph.
It is no wonder that in 1870 Pope Pius IX proclaimed St. Joseph the patron of the Universal Church. Who better to protect the bride of Christ? If he took such great care of our Lord, imagine what great care he would take of his Lord’s Church.
To a very large extent, Belen Jesuit is missioned to do for its students what Joseph did for Jesus. In a caring and nurturing environment, we raise men. We teach them the value of responsibility, commitment, faith, and service to others. Like Joseph, we teach our students that while we may have our plans and goals, we must always be open to putting them aside, even if just for a moment, for the greater good, for a greater call. We teach them that no fulfilling and truly happy future is possible without paying close attention to God’s voice and surrendering our will to His. Joseph personifies esto vir.
For this reason, we have dedicated one of our patios to this great saint. The area located between the school’s kitchen and V-section has been remodeled and adorned with a beautiful statue of St. Joseph. You will notice that in one hand Joseph carries a white lily, symbol of his purity, chastity, and virtue. In the other, he carries the child Jesus, a loving expression of his paternal care and support for the Son of God, his Lord and Savior. The wall next to the image will carry the Latin title of his mission, Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), along with a passage from Scripture that reads, “Rise, take the child and his mother” (Matthew 2:13).
A special note of thanks to the Garrido family for making the remodeling of this patio possible. Thank you also to Jorge Hernández ’74 for designing it, Justine Velez who handled the landscaping, and Alfred Consuegra ’84 who oversaw the project.
I encourage you to take a minute and visit St. Joseph in his new patio. Sit for a few moments and think of your own father or those who filled the role of father in your life. Take a moment to offer a prayer for them and express sincere gratitude for their love, care, and life lessons that have made you the person you are today. And offer a prayer to St. Joseph and ask our guardian to keep a careful watch over your family, over our students, and over Belen.