Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time Travel

Hey gang!

Here I am, writing again, but from good old Rhode Island, and not from Sydney. I have arrived home safely!

Last Saturday, I packed up a few last things, had my last bowl of Just Right (a delicious Australian cereal with dried fruit in it) and went to the international airport, where I cleared security and did a little shopping until my flight at 1:05pm. A long flight followed, in which I watched Valentine's Day (which, besides Taylor Swift's performance, left something to be desired), a few episodes of MASH, and played Tetris on the sweet in-flight entertainment console. Once again, I was very impressed by the Qantas food offerings. I also did some reading and writing about my experiences.

At 9:45am on Saturday (yup, Saturday) I arrived at LAX, where I spent a great deal of time in the Customs Hall, had to go through security again, and got a quick glimpse of California palm trees. I was quite pleased to be back in the United States, tasked only with following the trail I had left 6 weeks before to make it back across the country before I was home. Just before getting on my plane, I had a frustrating encounter with a Burger King employee that went something like this (this is included mostly for my sister's benefit, becuase she really enjoys it):

Me: Do you have milkshakes?
BK employee: No.
Me: You don't have milkshakes?
BK employee: No.
Me: Do you have any ice cream-type products?
BK employee: Milk?
Me: Ok. I'll have a garden salad.
BK employee: Um, just that?
Me: Yes.

I flew to Boston, where I arrived around 8:30pm (still Saturday) and my parents and sister were waiting! We drove back to Rhode Island, my heart soared as we drove through Providence, and then, suddenly, I was home.

Strangely enough, it didn't feel as weird as I thought it might, just a little surreal. I suppose that was to be expect though, because living in Sydney didn't feel as weird as I thought it might, either. Since then, I have been trying to kick the jetlag, visiting friends and family members and Dunkin' Donuts, and trying to make the most of the time I have before school starts. More than a few people have commented that I brought a lot of rain back to RI with me from down under, but hopefully the sun will come out soon.

During my copious number of hours in flight on Saturday, I had a good deal of time to think about everywhere I had been an everything I had done over the past six weeks in Australia. This was certainly the experience of a lifetime for me, and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to do it. I gained many insights about the nature of the benefits offered to young adults by a university chaplaincy, some of which far less expected than others! Furthermore, I learned a seemingly paradoxical pair (although, ultimately, I think this is not the case) of personal lessons: greater self-reliance and to trust in God's providence and the hospitality of others.

Therefore, I have only the greatest gratitude to all those who helped to make this fellowship possible for me, especially Fr. Guido and Fr. Robb, the Murrays (whose generosity made my trip possible), and all of my relatives and friends whose prayers and support made journeying half-way around the world infinitely easier.

For those of you who are in the Providence area and would like to hear a slightly more detailed wrap-up of my fellowship experiences and/or about the experiences of some of my fellow Fellows, I will be giving a public presentation on my time in Sydney on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:00pm. I am not positive yet where it will be, but I am relatively sure that it will be in the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies at PC. I'll post an update about this when I find out for sure. If you can't make it, I would be happy to send you a written version of my talk (once it is written). Just let me know!

Thanks for reading these last weeks. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I did!

Take care,

P.S. A note on pictures. I've not yet finished updating my Picasa site with the rest of my pictures and some captions. I'll put a note here once its done

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tales of My Final Week

As I sit here writing this tonight, my suitcases are open on the floor in the front left room of 23 Thompson Street, Drummoyne, New South Wales, and I will be leaving for the airport in just a little over twelve hours. Isn't that strange? This trip was so many months in the making that it is strange to think that it finally came at all, let alone come to an end. Still, the journey is not over. I know that on my plane ride tomorrow (an adventure in itself) I will have a chance to sit back and reflect even more than I already have on the experiences I have had in Sydney and try to put together a coherent, cohesive account of what I have done and experienced for myself and others. Even once that is done, I don't think that I will fully understand the impact of this six week adventure of mine to Oz. When I was visiting the CYS team in Flemington last Saturday, Box told me that he finds all the time that he is only now starting to understand the significance of/how God was working in the experiences he had during his first year with CYS five years ago. I would not be surprised if it is the same for me.

On Monday, we spent the morning preparing for our evangelization stall and then going to said evangelization stall. Before the stall, I helped Winey, who is in charge of Sydney Young Vinnies (St. Vincent de Paul Society) advertise for the annual winter sleep out, which was on Thursday night. It was so amazing to see her in action. She has lots of volunteers and coordinates them with skill and grace to get the word out. Last year, the sleepout won the award for best major event from the Sydney Union (the association of all the clubs). The coolest thing about her advertising was that she made posters out of old cardboard boxes. They were real eye-catchers, and they are a bit harder to cover up with other posters, which is a huge part of the publicity battle at USyd. Its rather like a battleground out there, especially since the uni has NO restrictions about how much you put up posters. Later, during the stall, we promoted the talk that one of the Capuchin friars would give on Wednesday (Poverty: Real Freedom), and had some interesting inter-religious dialogue. First of all, the EU (Evangelical Union - the protestant group on campus) is running a three week mission called "This is Life" and they have be publicizing like crazy. They have huge numbers and lots of money, so the whole campus is literally covered in their posters and chalking and members wearing This is Life apparel. Its almost impossible to publicize for other events because of the constant stream of postering from EU members. Some members came to talk to us while we were at our table, and it was unfortunately a rather awkward encounter because they didn't seem particularly interested in talking - they just wanted to give us some of their promotional material, which were very well done. We also talked to some women from the Islamic Students Association; they gave me a CD called "10 Reasons Jesus Cannot be God." I had a listen to it on Tuesday evening, and I cannot say that I was particularly impressed by arguments such as "Jesus needed to sleep and eat, but God is self-sufficient." Later, we had Mass as usual, and then Sister Maria Cecelia and I went to a new prayer group being put on by one of the students called UniWord, which basically consists of lectio divina and discussion. He brought dark chocolate Tim Tams (a delicious Australian sandwhich cookie that are great dipped in tea!) for the occasion, which I liked even better than the milk chocolate version! In the afternoon, I spent a bit of time working with Beth on designs for the promotional material for the chaplaincy's mission week later in the semester - Christ Week. She was feeling a bit down in the dumps because she had already gotten two sets of proofs from the graphic artist they use, and everyone felt like they just weren't right.

On Tuesday, we spent some more time in the morning working on the Christ Week designs, and Beth and I attempted to go to a bible study that we suspected had no participants, and, as it turned out, it didn't, so no studying of Luke occurred. Later, we had Mass as usual, which was followed by a Pancake Barbeque sponsored by the CSSP. I was chief pancake-maker for this event, and boy was it a lot of fun! I also got to see Will, the American exchange student that the sisters and I befriended a couple of weeks ago. We are glad that he keeps coming back - hopefully we can get him involved in some chaplaincy events because he does seem interested in learning a bit more about the faith. I was rewarded for my work with a delicious pancake covered in Nutella - so great! Afterward, I went to Sr. Maria Cecelia's bible study with her because she only has one regular student in that one, a boy named Sid, and she thought he would feel less awkward with someone else to work with, especially since he is full of questions. On the way back from bible study, sister and I had a good chat about the hidden merits of these bible studies. They are a great opportunity to sit down and study scripture in an up close, intentional way that doesn't necessarily come around very often in other places. They also provide a great place for Catholic students to learn about Catholicism. Sister said that there are two girls in her other bible study who are very articulate about their faith, so much so that she asked them where they learned so much. Their reply? Two years of bible studies at the Sydney Uni chaplaincy. What a wonderful thing to hear! I was thinking about this earlier today (Friday) when I got an e-mail from Sr. Mary Madeline, who has just arrived in Rome to start getting acclimated before she begins her studies at the Angelicum, and she remarked that "So much of the work of grace is hidden behind seemingly mundane tasks that mask genuine miracles." I think these bible studies are prime examples of exactly what she is talking about. When we got back to the chaplaincy, we took a group photo, which came out pretty delightfully.

In case you are wondering, we just happen to be staring at the beatific vision. From left to right, that's Sr. Maria Cecelia, OP, Beth McNamara, me, Sr. Mary Barbara, OP, Rita Azzi, Daniel Hill, and Fr. Dominic Murphy, OP (he saw the beatific vision first).

On Wednesday morning, I went for a long postering session to previously unknown parts of the campus to poster with Beth to promote Fr. Rob Stewart's talk later that afternoon. Again, we were amazed at the coverage achieved by the EU. I got to see the piece of land where the old chapel and Catholic college were, and where the new chaplaincy someday will be. It's in a great location and very central to the campus. I hope they are able to begin building soon because the new facility, which should include a chapel, offices, library, lounge, residential college, and coffee shop, would be a great resource for students in a very visible location. Later, there was Mass and Fr. Robert's talk, which was called Poverty: Real Freedom. It was very good, and probably quite fitting to be coming from a Franciscan. The thing that struck me most from his talk was this line, "In letting go, you are able to find God." Nearing the end of this fellowship, I understood what he meant. Although I have by no means been living in physical poverty while I am away, I have been living here in Australia without most of the comforts of home to which I am well-accustomed. In the absence of these things, I have found more time for reflection, prayer, and trusting in God, and have tasted a little bit of this sort of freedom. Wednesday afternoon brought even more Christ Week designs, finally making a bit of headway with designs for both UTS and USyd after another meeting with the graphic designer. In the evening, I went to my last Christology lecture where we learned about a few more heresies and began discussing Aquinas's Christology. The class finally started to talk more as people (like me!) tried to wrap their heads around various aspects of the person/nature distinctions in Christ and the mystery of the trinity. Unfortunately, our lecturer is not the best at definitively answering questions; I was yearning for more precise definitions of terms and perhaps some diagrams and more discussion, but it was not to be!

Thursday morning brought a proof of a new design for the UTS Christ Week material that was almost perfect, save for a poor choice on one of the graphics. I was able to suggest an alternate idea for a picture and contacted the designer about making the change. We also spent some time postering on both the UTS and USyd campuses. In the afternoon, we went down to UTS for Mass and a talk by Daniel about the myths about the crusades, which I thought was pretty well done and enjoyed very much. When we got back from UTS, we went out to San Churros Chocolateria for a little farewell gathering for me! It is basically a little restuarant that sells only things made of chocolate. I loved it and wished I had known about it sooner. I had a traditional hot chocolate (literally) and some churros with dark chocolate dipping sauce. They were great. One of the students who I rather like, Laurence, bought me this tiny heart shaped pastry from a local bakery and then proceeded to mock cry when I broke it to eat. They also gave me a little thank you/going away present, which included a stuffed wombat, my favorite Aussie animal! This was Beth's doing, of course. She is (as she would say) such a legend. It was a great afternoon.

This morning, I went out to breakfast with the Langrells and some priest friends of theirs who were visiting from the US. Later, I went into the chaplaincy, where I went out on a final postering mission with Beth. Cardinal Pell is coming to USyd next Tuesday for an open question and answer forum (I wish I wasn't going to miss it!), and we are making a big publicity push for it, so we've been doing a lot of extra postering. I made the poster for this one, so I was feeling particularly invested in the event as I put them up today, especially when I put them up over Green Party voting posters (basically Aussie communists) and other undesirable advertisements. Later we went to Mass at St. Benedict's because there is no Mass offered on campus on Fridays. It was nice to be able to say goodbye to Fr. Vincent and some friends at ND, as well as to end my stay in the delightful little church that has felt like home here. I spent the afternoon socializing with a number of the students and doing a few things around the JPII Center. Some of the boys (including Daniel) forced me to eat an Australian meat pie, because apparently they are a trademark of Australian culture and I had not had one. They went so far as to go down to the bakery, buy one, and instruct me on how to eat it. I can't say that I am terribly disappointed that I have not had Australian meat pies before today. They are basically small pies filled with meat (which may or may not be more than 70% beef) and gravy. It was one of those things that tasted okay while I was eating it, but I can still sort of feel sitting in my stomach as I write this...

Eventually, it was time for me to say goodbye to the JPII center for the last time and walk to the bus stop for the last time, and have the 501 bus be late for the last time. It had to happen eventually, and I was sad when it did, for I met a lot of wonderful people at the JPII Center during my time here. I know I am a much better person for it.

The last thing that I did before I left was wash the dishes, and I was glad, because I feel like I got so much more out of this experience than I could have ever given them.

So, I took one last bus ride over the Anzac and Iron Cove bridges to Drummoyne, took my customary walk from the bus stop, and have been spending the evening with the Langrells and packing. I'm just about done, I'll finish in the morning, and then I'll be on my way home.

It's been lovely to meet Australia, and now I am looking forward to a happy reunion with my good old friend, the United States of America.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I didn't let my last weekend go to waste...

On Thursday, I made my first visit to UTS (University of Technology, Sydney – the comma is part of the official name) for 1:15 Mass and 2:00 Mere Catholicism with Sr. Mary Barbara since this was the first week of events for them. Mere Catholicism and a forum like the Veritas Seminar Series they have at USyd alternate each Thursday. The chaplaincy offerings at UTS also include bible studies on Tuesday and Thursday mornings with Sr. Mary Barbara that are affectionately (thought not officially) known as “Nuns and Roses.” The Sydney chaplaincy only recently became responsible for UTS, so the offerings there are significantly more limited than they are at USyd. What they really need is another staff member to devote him/herself to UTS. This is sort of the capacity that Sr. Mary Barbara is filling this semester, but as she does not work at the chaplaincy full time (both sisters only work 2 days per week because they are also full time Masters students at Notre Dame), she can only do so much. As usual, Fr. Dom was able to create an amazingly prayerful atmosphere in “Multi-Faith Room I” at the UTS student centre. Sr. Mary Barbara’s inaugural session of Mere Catholicism also went quite well. We had a talkative group and started out lightly with a discussion of the meaning of life. I think the sessions will prove quite fruitful. Before we walked back to the chaplaincy, Sr. Mary Barbara and I took a field trip to the UTS school supply store, which is located dangerously close to Multi-Faith Room I. For those of you who have encountered me in such environments, add another person who is just as fascinated by pens, notebooks, etc. as I am, put us in a foreign country to add the luster of unfamiliarity, and you will have an idea of what this was like. One thing they have in Australia that they don’t have in America (to my knowledge) are notebooks with staple binding rather than spirals. I think they are pretty neat. I found some at UTS made out of recycled paper with Australian animals on the covers. Did I buy them? Yup. Another project of mine was using the chaplaincy Facebook account to friend-request all of the people who have provided their information at various events so that they can be exposed to publicity for other events, etc. This was one of those not very glorious tasks that neither Rita or Beth have time to do that needed to get done. The chaplaincy Facebook person’s number of “friends” is growing rapidly now!

Friday was another day of sightseeing for me. In the morning, I went to the Hyde Park barracks museum and learned about Australia’s origins as a convict colony. Some of the conditions that convicts (and later female Irish orphans!!) were subjected to were not good at all. Luckily, the country has gotten past this. One thing I didn’t know was that Great Britain employed huge prison ships called hulks in many of its colonies and at home, where prisoners were subjected to disgusting on board living conditions that were sometimes worse than the labor they were made to do during the daytime. Then, I explored Macquarie Street, where a lot of important buildings are located: the old Mint, the first hospital (still in operation), the New South Wales Parliament House, and the State Library. Macquarie street is named for Governor Macquarie, who was the governor of Australia in the early 19th century and effected a lot of reform and rebuilding. I went a delightful (and free) exhibit about his life in the State Library, which was quite informative. I had been wondering what his story was since half the things in this city seem to be named after him. After that, I spent some time at the cathedral and went to 1:10 Mass. After that, I got some lunch and walked to Darling Harbour where I did some shopping and paid a visit to Sydney Wildlife World, a rather touristy indoor zoo. Despite my usual distaste for such places, it was a great opportunity to see allll of Australia’s unique animals. I saw koalas, kangaroos, pythons, bull ants, wombats, crocodiles, various possum, these pointy nosed hedgehogs whose names I can’t remember, giant cockroaches and spiders, and so much more. In the end, I was absolutely fascinated by the kangaroos. Sure, they can hop on their hind legs with their front legs up in the air, but they can also walk on all fours. And when they walk on all fours, they lean mostly on their front legs and sort of swing the back ones behind them – the opposite of hopping. I spent quite a while just watching them move. I had a nice conversation with their keeper, who told me that there are actually three times as many kangaroos in Australia as people!

On Saturday, I spent the day in a town called Flemington (about half an hour outside the city) visiting with the team from Catholic Youth Services (CYS), which is the official youth ministry service for the diocese. Members of the CYS team do one year of service during which they live in community at St. Dominic’s parish in Flemington and do retreats for diocesan parishes and generally support/staff other youth events in the diocese. Without extra events, they generally do about 3 full day retreats per week, so it’s a very busy life. Unlike other programs like this that I have seen, they all both live and work together as a team, which is a good support system/source of stability. This has its upsides and downsides, as it makes for high highs and low lows. My host was the team leader, Box (no idea what his real name is), and he was a lovely person; I’m so glad I got to meet him. He takes his duties as team leader very seriously, works hard to provide an example to the other team members, and is really committed to serving the youth of this diocese. One of the first things he said to me was, “Right now, I have no plans. I am doing whatever God wants.” I hung out at their house for a while, experienced the tense construction of the community grocery list (they don’t always agree on how best to spend their money/some people do not have good shopping/budgeting skills). Then we went to a shopping center/mall, where two of the girls did the grocery shopping, and I explored with Box and another team member named Tony who was really nice. We went to lots of stores, including my first visit to an Australian Target! I LOVE Target, so this was vary exciting for me. It was pretty great, of course, but not as great as American Targets, unfortunately. Tony and Box decided to indulge in some pretty intense Nerf guns (they’ve been working pretty flat out lately and needed to unwind). When we got back to the house, I encountered a pretty hilarious battle with said Nerf guns and a few pillows along the way. Later, we went to a sale (which I have literally been hearing anticipatory talk about for weeks), at the big Catholic bookstore in the diocese, the Mustard Seed. They had a lot of good prices on good books. This was such a fun and unexpected day, as Box only called to invite me on Friday afternoon (while I was visiting the kangaroos, actually). The CYS team is wonderful, and they are doing a lot of good work. I learned that the lovely Beth from the chaplaincy did a year with CYS a few years ago, and, naturally, they all love her. I was pretty tired when I came home, and I spent much of the evening planning my Sunday trip to the Blue Mountains.

On Sunday, I left the house at 7:15 to catch a 7:30 bus into the city to catch an 8:18am train at central station to a town in the Blue Mountains called Katoomba, which is about 2 hours outside of the city. I did some much needed dozing on the train and still managed to see a fair bit of scenery. The man across the aisle from on the way there was reading Tacitus's Annals. Before that, he looked like he was reading a math solutions manual. He intrigued me. One of the many stops on the way out to Katoomba was called Emu Plains. Only in Australia, right?

So what are the Blue Mountains, and why Katoomba? Well, ever since I got to Australia, people have been asking me if I’ve been to the Blue Mountains, so I decided I should go before I left. Basically, once the huge metropolis surrounding Sydney ends on the western side, this mountain range begins. They are called the Blue Mountains because they are covered most heavily with eucalyptus trees, which supposedly look blue, although I did not share this opinion today. Perhaps it is a lighting thing. Katoomba is the town closest to the biggest tourist-y area of the Blue Mountains. It happens to be in this town because the town is basically on some cliffs that overlook a huge river valley with great views of all the mountains, and especially a rock formation known as the Three Sisters. There’s a little legend associated with the Three Sisters, but I don't have a good handle on it at the moment. The internet is being annoying, so I haven't been able to look it up properly.

When I got to the station in Katoomba, I snatched a map from one of the sightseeing trolley stores and walked out (about 3km) to Echo Point, which is the most popular place for viewing the Three Sisters. Just as I arrived at the visitor's center, it started to rain, so I waited out the rain there and then went and took in the view for a while. I did a little walking down a couple of nearby paths to other observation points as the weather cleared off. Then, there was a rainbow! A perfect one, with the whole arch! That rain could have totally spoiled my day, but as it turned out, it, if anything, made it better. The whole area reminded me a lot of New England, which was lovely, except that I had to keep remembering all those trees were eucalyptus and not spruce! It was great to get out of the city atmosphere for a while.

Next, I walked on the roads parallel to the cliffs to another big observation point where they have some of the other touristy things, like a railroad down the cliffs or a cable car ride across the valley. I walked on a few more paths to see other lookout points and down a steep set of earth stairs to see the cascades at the bottom of Katoomba falls. After this, I explored some more of the surrounding area and the town center. I stopped at a random corner store and got a delicious rum raisin milkshake, which is a flavor I’d never had before. I took a different way back to town which unfortunately turned out to include walking up an enormous hill. I attempted to visit the Catholic Church in Katoomba, but in the morning, I had gone past it during Mass, and it was looked in the afternoon. Alas. Once I got back to the town centre, I checked out a bunch of shops, including some used book shops (isn't Mr. Pickwick's just the perfect name for a used book store?), which was quite enjoyable. I’m sorry to say I didn’t get anything (sorry, Erik).

I took the train back at 3:35, napped and read, and arrived back in the city at 5:35. I then proceeded to get lost in the train station - the city stations all have underground parts and multiple exits - but finally found my way to St. Benedict’s on Broadway (the parish at Notre Dame) just in time for Mass to start and celebrated the Feast of the Assumption with some beautiful music. After Mass, I made a mad dash to the bus stop, thankfully didn’t miss my bus, and made it home tired but in one piece.

All in all, a great day of exploring and encountering the beauty of this country, and for just the price of a round trip bus ticket!

A programming note for those lovers of my Australian photos – there are currently some quite annoying internet issues plaguing the House of Langrell. My e-mail and a few websites like this one work with only a bit of annoyance, but uploading pictures is basically impossible. So unless something changes, the rest of my pictures will have to wait until I return to American’s beautiful shores. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010



As I’ve mentioned before, each Wednesday at 1pm (right after Mass), the chaplaincy sponsors a talk on some interesting topic to encourage students to “think outside the textbook.” It’s called the Veritas Seminar Series. It gets about 30-40 people per week, and always ends with a question and answer session. When I first made contact with the chaplaincy staff back in June, Daniel Hill asked me to give one of these talks, booked me in for today (the second one of the semester), and so “The Pursuit of Happiness: A Lost Art?” was born. I spoke about finding lasting happiness in a world increasingly concerned with material success with a little help from Aristotle and St. Thomas. Since this is not exactly an area of expertise for me, writing the talk was a good challenge for me. I got a good response from the audience (probably closer to 30 today), so I count it as a success overall. It certainly does feel good to have that little obstacle behind me!

Let’s see, what else has been going on?

On Sunday night, I had the privilege of having dinner with Cardinal Pell, the archbishop of Sydney and the highest ranking Church official in Australia. He is a family friend of the Langrells and a frequent dinner guest. Dinner was a low key affair with a lot of discussion about rugby, but there was naturally also some discussion about various things going on in the Sydney church. I was impressed with the intimate knowledge of the things going on in his diocese – not just about events and the goings on at parishes, but he also seemed to know well many of the young adults involved in the Sydney Catholic scene. This gave me some insight into the success of young adult programming in the diocese – when the cardinal is interested in and encouraging what you do, it’s certainly gives you the motivation and support you need to succeed!

On Monday, I worked at our weekly “evangelization stall” on one of the main walkways on campus, did postering (You’d be amazed at how many posters get put up on this campus, and you don’t need approval to put anything up! So foreign to my SAIL-trained sensibilities!), went to Mass, prepared for a 2pm bible study but then did not have the bible study because the two girls signed up for it currently couldn’t come.

Tuesday was a bit of an annoying day at the chaplaincy because we lost power for a lot of the day, precluding a lot of office work, and it rained, so we had to cancel our barbecue. I did have a fun adventure making iced coffee with Sr. Maria Cecelia, did a bit more postering on campus (so strange seeing my own name plastered all over the place), went to Mass, and ran a bible study with Beth at 2. I think I’ve said that we are studying Luke this semester; this week we did chapter 1, which contains accounts of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Annunciation to Zechariah, and the birth of John the Baptist –its absolutely beautiful and led to some great discussion. I spent much of the evening putting finishing touches on my talk and practicing it with Lauren, who was a very attentive audience of one!

This morning, I made a combined calendar for all of the chaplaincies activities at the JPII Center, at Sydney, and at UTS, a long saught-after dream of Dan Hill and prepared for my talk. Then we had Mass, I gave my talk, answered questions, had a makeshift reception outside the lecture hall with potato chips and soda (this is what usually happens; one of the types of potato chips Rita bought for today was CHICKEN flavored – it really tasted like chicken, so weird!), had lunch, and had a lovely D&M (Australian term for deep and meaningful conversation) with a girl named Katie who goes to the music conservatory. I then helped Beth design wallet sized cards with information about chaplaincy events at UTS and headed down to Notre Dame for Christology. Tonight’s lecture was on heresies in the early church, which I just find so interesting. Although heresies are certainly not a good thing, they have challenged the Church over the years to better define what it believes, making it stronger. My professor was particularly enthusiastic in his descriptions of St. Athanasius, who was chiefly responsible for combating the Arian heresy (essentially, that Chirst was not fully divine), which made me chuckle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Aussie delights

Just a few minutes prior to writing this post, I experienced a pretty delicious Australian food product for the first time. It's called Milo, and its a malted chocolate powder that you could use to make chocolate milk or hot chocolate, sort of like Ovaltine in the US, I think. However, the preferred way to eat it here is to mix it with milk in such a way that the chocolate does not dissolve (not difficult if you avoid stirring) and then eat it slowly with a spoon. It basically tastes like malted milk balls crushed up with a more chocolate-ly taste, combined in excellent proportion with milk (lots of milk, especially great if you are a milk person). It was so good. Thank goodness Lauren enticed me to have some, or else I might never have discovered this!

Yum. Yum. Yum. Now, on to other matters.

Last Friday, as I mentioned in my last post, I had a day of sightseeing. Few times before can I ever remember doing so much walking. I took a tour of the Sydney Opera House which was gorgeous; I am so lucky to have seen it in person. My tour guide left something to be desired, but much of the building could speak for itself. I next spent a great deal of time exploring the Royal Botanical Gardens in search of a perfect Opera House/Harbour Bridge shot, and found a couple of minor landmarks - Mrs. Macquarie's chair, which is a chair cut into the rock on a point opposite the penninsula that the opera house is on, a place where the wife of Governor Macquarie was particularly fond of sitting, and the Fleet Stairs, which is the place where Queen Elizabeth II first set foot on Australian soil; I walked up them. I also toured Government House, which is the official residence of the Governor-general of Australia. This person is the queen's official representative. Although the governor-general wields no official power in Parliament, he/she does have the power to dissolve the parliament in times of strife/dispute. Since 1997, the governor has not actually lived in this historic house so that it can be open to the public, but continues to use it daily for official functions. I had to wait a while to go inside on Friday because the governor was there. While I was waiting, I checked out the grounds and an exhibit about some of the furniture and befriended some of the old ladies who work for Historic Houses Trust. They were pretty great. I did finally, after some patience, get to go inside. The inside of the house was really interesting because it has been painstakingly restored to preserve most of its original (Victorian era) decorations, but as a working house, they have also tried to keep it updated and to integrate new pieces that showcase Australian talent (an object of the original decoration as well). So in the main stateroom, for example, there are some 19th century reupholstered couches around a modern, yet tasteful coffee table made of cut glass and mirrors. In all, I thought the restoration and modernization were very well done.

After I left the Botanic Gardens, I walked back to the main Circular Key/The Rocks area (which is right around the harbor), looked around in some shops, found a fun street market where I attempted to buy a delicious soft pretzel, but was disappointed by the one I got. As a great lover of soft pretzels, this was depressing. After this little break, I set off on the next part of my mission, which was to walk across the Harbor Bridge in search of the famous Luna Park (amusement park with the huge clown face on the front entrance) which lies just on the other side. This was a VERY long walk, but I made it there eventually. Luna Park was a bit on the sketchy side. I get the impression that it is the sort of place that fills up during the night time. I walked back across the bridge, spent a bit more time exploring, and took a bus back home to Drummoyne. I was so tired, but it was SO worth it.

On Sunday, I went to a going away party and Mass for a girl called Kelly Edmunds who is leaving this week to join the Dominican sisters in Nashville. It was quite lovely, and a great way to celebrate St. Dominic's real feast day, especially since Kelly's parish used to be Dominican and still bears a great deal of evidence of the Order's presence. I've only met Kelly a few times, but I am quite impressed with her and have no doubt she will be a great addition to the community in Nashville. She was (is, really) pretty close to finishing a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Sydney when a vocations retreat with the sisters here gave her an inkling that God had other plans for her. I think she applied around Christmas time, and now she's moving halfway around the world. The thing that was most amazing to me is how happy and unflapped she seemed about going because she is so happy about and confident in her decision. Besides all this, the party was just generally very nice. It was outside on a big lawn next to the rectory, there were a lot of people I knew, and the outing was a surprise one - I hadn't been planning on going at all until I received a surprise phone call and invitation from Jess's friend Amy. I also got to spend a little time talking to Srs. Mary Rachel and Cecilia Joseph, the Dominicans who teach at a high school outside the city and I've only really met one time before. What a great afternoon!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Week in Review

Here's an update on what I did this week:


I spent the morning in the chaplaincy working on a few different projects and went to the Sydney campus for a while with Beth, Rita, and Sr. Maria Cecilia to man their weekly evangelization stall. They set up a table at a high traffic area on campus, meet students, and publicize events. At noon, I carried a large image of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom down Broadway to St. Benedict's (interesting site) to be used for the 12:35 Mass, which was being said for the faculties of Theology and Philosophy. I stayed for Mass, which was beautiful, thanks to a great student choir. In the afternoon, I helped Beth run a bible study, which was an introduction to reading scripture and the Gospel of Luke.

I left the chaplaincy a bit early and went home in order to prepare for Theology on Tap, which started at 7:30. Along with Lauren, Jessica, and Amy from the ToT Team, we braved the Paramatta traffic and arrrived at P.J. Gallagher's with plenty of time to set up. Since tonight's talk was just a plain lecture with Q&A, set up was much more simple than it had been for the friars. I spent a bit of time doing my unofficial job of coordinating stage set up, including hanging the ToT banner, which is a bit of a process, and then I had dinner - the signature ToT $10 steak.

Me with the ToT team, Peter Holmes, his wife, and their youngest child

The speaker was a lecturer from Notre Dame named Peter Holmes, and his topic was "What Men Really Want." His answer was, essentially, that men want to be challenged to be men, to be held to reasonable, but high, standards, and to be taught by good role models what it means to be a gentleman. It was pretty interesting, and led to some good post-talk discussion.


On Tuesday morning, I did some office work at the chaplaincy and went to Notre Dame at 11 to help Jessica set up for Hot UNDA the Colla. I helped Fr. Vincent light a gas grill using a candle (definitely NOT safe), chopped a lot of onions, and sold sausages and donuts. At noon, I went to the Sydney campus and helped set up for our barbeque, which is free. Then, I spent a great deal of time grilling sausages with Rita and Sr. Maria Cecelia while Sr. Mary Barbara and some of the CSSP members talked to students and handed out food. Eventually, I got rotated off the grill and got to do some socializing of my own. I met a great American exchange student from Maine who goes to UNH. He didn't have any particularly strong faith background, but he seemed to have a lot of questions and hit it off with Sr. Mary Barbara. Hopefully, he'll come around again next week.


Wednesday morning brought some office work, and then we went to the Sydney campus for 12:10 Mass with Fr. Dom in a lecture hall (this is a daily event). Despite its location, this was a very beautiful, prayerful Mass, and Fr. Dom gave a particularly good homily about Fr. John Marie Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, whose feast day was today. After Mass, we had the first Wednesday forum of the semester with Fr. Bernard Gordon, the director of the first years at Good Shepherd Seminary. He spoke on the passions, which was rather interesting. I ended up being nominated at the last minute to introduce him which ended up going really well despite my lack of love for this sort of extemporaneous public speaking. Afterward, there was some socializing over soda and potato chips, and I met a few new students. In the evening, I went down to Notre Dame for Christology; the lecture was on Christ in the New Testament, particularly His revelation of Himself as the Son of God. During our breaks (its a 3 hour lecture with a break each hour) I had some good, fruitful conversation with Sr. Maria Cecelia about the role of religion in the life of Australians (its not a very big one).


Today Australia and New Zealand celebrated the Feast of St. Dominic, even though the rest of the world will not celebrate his feast day until Sunday. This is because the feast day of Mary MacKillop, who will be canonized Australia's first saint in October, is also on Sunday, so she trumps Dominic in this part of the world. As I heard from a few different people on Thursday, this is not the first time St. Dominic's feast day has been subject to some shifting. Dominic died on August 6, which is the the Transfiguration, so that could not be his feast day; it became August 4, but then John Vianney died on August 4, so Dominic's feast day got moved to the 8th. And now, in Australia, its been moved to the 5th. Whew! Sr. Mary Barbara told me that the sisters joked on Thursday morning that even St. Dominic's feast day is itinerant. Sr. Mary Barbara also made Dominican cookies for the occasion - specially shaped sugar cookies strategically dipped in chocolate to look rather convincingly like the shield of the order. We went to Mass at St. Benedict's, where one of the older Dominicans preached ever so joyfully about his "love affair with Dominic."

In the afternoon, we had long and fruitful discussion with some of the students about the Church in Australia and America and various religious communities over a long lunch at the JPII Center kitchen table. Rather unsurprisingly in a Dominican-influenced environment such as this one, our conversation frequently circled back to the power of the truth to speak for itself. I also spent some time in the morning brainstorming with Beth and Rita about ways to encourage students to take on more responsibility in the chaplaincy. We basically concluded that it would be fruitful to do some research into whether students taking on more leadership roles is even feasible given the other commitments that students have. Rita and Beth would like to see more students help out, but given the fact that students here are less involved with uni groups and more involved elsewhere, they also want to be practical. They hope that the volunteers they will get for the WYD scholarship program might be a precursor to a part-time student employee in the future. More on this as it unfolds.

Some of the office work I did this week included making signs for various chaplaincy activities, a WYD 2011 countdown poster (I loved the way this came out), and writing a few articles for the inter-chaplaincy newsletter than Beth publishes. I also did a bit of cleaning in the JPII Center, which is constantly in need of cleaning and reorganization.

On Friday, I took a day to see the sights in Sydney. I think that will deserve its own post!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Aussie ways

Here's the latest edition of my observations about living down under:

1. It was bound to happen eventually: I have tried Vegemite. I don't think its something I am going to crave once I return home, but I've had it more than once so far, and I'll probably have it more than once more before I leave. The key is to not use very much of it and to combine it with butter; the taste is very strong! However, I can definitely see how people who grow up with it could learn to love it.
2. I can't get over how much more common lamb is here. I think I've eaten lamb at least 4 or 5 times since I've been here, including in a sandwhich from an average sandwich shop near the university!
3. Australia has a lot of Lebanese people, and almost all of them are very devout Catholics. I haven't worked out exactly why its such a popular place for immigration from Lebanon, but to quote Fr. Gabriel (the American CFR): "If you are Lebanese, you have relatives in Australia." A couple of results of this are a) you meet a lot of people named Charbel, after the greatest Lebanese saint b) non Lebanese people covet invitations to Lebanese parties, which are supposedly fabulous and c) there is a fabulous Lebanese restuarant on the same street I live on where I went just last evening for a multi-course traditional Lebanese dinner that included lots of delicious hummus, pita, tabouli, falafel, grilled meat, and other delights.
4. When you want to know how someone is, you say "How are you going?"
5. Paper sizes have names, not dimensions. 8.5x11 is A4, half that size is A5, double that size is A3, and there are a whole host of others. And everyone just know what size paper those letters signify.
6. When I went to the Bush Ball, I saw a sign that said "Caution: Wambats." I laughed. Then when we left, there was a dead wambat in the road. Don't mock signs.
7. Have I mentioned that all the school children wear uniforms? It's great.
8. All the grading in the universities is done on a bell curve, which kind of stinks. However, no one seems particularly concerned with grades, because as I've mentioned before, degrees are a very uniform commodity.
9. H is pronounced HAYT-ch.
10. To ruck up = to show up. Sure?
11. Brewing loose tea is a pretty widespread practice. Good on you, Australia (another funky little phrase!).

Finally, I'm learning to use the word "uni" like a normal Australian. I still think its weird, though.