Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam

Happy Feast of St. Ignatius! Today’s the feast day of my confirmation saint, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

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A statue depicting the wounding of St. Ignatius of Loyola outside his home

A little backstory on him. So he was born Iñigo Lopez de Loyola in 1491 in Loyola, a small village Azpeita in northern Spain. He gained acclaim as a soldier and was climbing in status until 1521, when a cannonball took out his legs while defending Pamplona against the French. One leg was broken, but the other was severely mangled. Multiple surgeries (without anesthetics) were performed to save his life and maybe legs, but with how he was deteriorating, no one was optimistic about his survival, much less recovery. But on the feasts of St. Peter and Paul, Ignatius began to improve, but the mangled leg was still deformed and the broken leg was shorter than the other. He had the deformity removed and tied a cannonball to the other leg and let it hang to attempt to stretch the other leg out for hours on end. Again, analgesia wasn’t really a thing back then, so none of this felt great…but he was determined. While spending months convalescing, he was bored and wanted something to read. He was hoping for stories of knights, valor, battle, but instead got the lives of Christ and the saints. The room of his convalescence then became the room of his conversion, with those stores filling him with the fire to serve God and His people. During his prayer, he would be filled with a sense of peace, reaffirming his decision. He even laid down his military garments in front of an image of the Black Madonna at the Benedictine Monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat and began practicing spiritual exercises in a cave in Manresa.

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A replica of the original home in Loyola

Now that was all well and good, but considering Mass and all educated communication was done in Latin (which he knew nothing of), he had to start somewhere. And that somewhere was a 30-year-old Ignatius in a Latin class with a bunch of 10-year-olds. He advanced in his education in Alcala and Salamanca until earning his master’s degree at the College of Saint Barbe of the University of Paris at age 44. While there, he roomed with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, who began to follow Ignatius and his spiritual exercises. The group traveled to Rome to present themselves as a religious order to the Pope and serve him since their dreams of traveling to the Holy Land were impeded by a conflict between the Turks and Venetians. Pope Paul III approved them as an official religious order in 1540 and Ignatius was elected the first leader of the Society of Jesus. Those who opposed them called them “Jesuits,” but with all the good work they were doing, the name was no longer seen as derogatory.

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The Church of the Gesu in Rome

The Society of Jesus is known for educating the youth because of their advocacy of using reason and logic to persuade others and fight heresy. The Jesuits were responsible for a large percentage of the work in stopping the spread of the Protestant Reformation. At the time of his death on July 31, 1556, the order had 35 schools…that number has grown significantly since then.

He was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609 and canonized in 1622. His patronage includes the Society of Jesus, soldiers, educators and education.

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A Father’s Day blessing by Fr. Roger during our pilgrimage especially fitting since my father was the one that introduced me to St. Ignatius of Loyola

My dad was the one that introduced me to St. Ignatius back as a high school freshman when I had to pick a saint for Confirmation. As an awkward teenager whose friends were going with the more popular saints, I was not as eager with my father’s choice for me (and resented that fact that he didn’t let me pick my own since “adulthood in the Catholic Church” is kind of the shtick of Confirmation). My dad guided me that direction because academic success was extremely important to me. But little did I know how much St. Ignatius would return to me time and time again in multiple forms.

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The Life of Christ on display in St. Ignatius’ home in Loyola

The first time I made a real personal connection was back in college. On top of returning to my home parish to help out with high school retreats, I was heavily involved in Longhorn Awakening and STRONG. The former is a large biannual retreat hosted at the University Catholic Center and the latter is a team that hosts retreats for youth groups in the Diocese of Austin that otherwise would not have the opportunity. It was getting to the point where I was averaging a retreat a month. I was even pushed by my friends into a leadership role in Awakening because I was so involved that I could almost literally run it in my sleep. A few years into college, I learned who the patron saint of retreats was…St. Ignatius, the founder of the Spiritual Exercises himself.

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Under this tree was where I did the majority of my meditations during the silent retreats

Speaking of retreats, I had one of my most powerful spiritual experiences during an adaptation of the Spiritual Exercises at a Jesuit retreat site in Lake Dallas. A few college friends had gone on a silent retreat over Memorial Day weekend that was based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Divided over four years, each retreat would be one week of the month-long exercises, and with each return, you would progress through. During these, I found the courage to begin to accept my homosexuality and began to let go of my subliminal self-loathing. During my meditations there, I truly experienced the concept of spiritual consolation, that sense of peace that St. Ignatius himself experienced during his conversion.

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The bedazzled statue of St. Ignatius that’s revealed daily at 5:00pm in the Church of the Gesu

During our pilgrimage to Italy last year, we visited many sites across the country, including Assisi where St. Francis (my brother’s Confirmation saint) rests. We had planned to extend our trip for a few days in Rome after the completion of the pilgrimage, so we scheduled a side trip to Nettuno to visit St. Maria Goretti’s tomb since she was Marissa’s patron saint. But as far as I knew, St. Ignatius was Spanish, so I didn’t figure I was going to get much on my end in this regard. However, I forgot that the Jesuits were founded in Rome. While on the tour bus, our guide pointed out the Church of the Gesu, stating that St. Ignatius laid there. We added that to our personal itinerary, and we went to visit around 5:00pm at our guide’s suggestion. In comparison to the St. Francis and St. Maria Goretti, St. Ignatius’ tomb was much more ornate and elaborate. And at 5:00pm, a presentation began that ended with the painting dropping from behind his tomb to reveal a bedazzled statue of St. Ignatius while all of the lights lit up the church like it was Easter. My brother and Marissa both looked at me like, “of course your saint would be the bougie one.” The apartment that St. Ignatius lived and died in was next door to the church, so we got to go through that as well.

Then this year, during our Marian pilgrimage, we happened to be driving through

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The Chapel of Conversion

northern Spain to get to Lourdes. My mother had told the priest in an unrelated conversation about how my patron saint is St. Ignatius, and apparently his eyes lit up at the opportunity for another pit stop and added Loyola to the itinerary. The basilica was impressive, but the tour of the home of St. Ignatius was the most powerful experience I had on the trip. We got to enter the rooms where he lived and prayed, the room where he was born, and most significantly the room where he convalesced and converted. The room, now turned into the Chapel of Conversion, was where we held our daily mass on that day of the trip. But I was filled with awe and emotion to know that I was walking the very same floors within the very same walls looking at the very same beams that were present when the fire was lit in St. Ignatius to change from military to clergy.

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The stained glass window at the Montserrat retreat center in Lake Dallas depicting St. Ignatius laying down his sword and shield in front of the Black Madonna

It’s funny that I was considering doing the newer Camino Ignaciano next year leading up to my 30th birthday just because the travel bug had bit hard and that I’ve also been more heavily considering grad school in Nursing Informatics to both advance my education and give myself a change of pace from the craziness of the ER. Until doing some quick research to review the life of St. Ignatius while writing this post, I hadn’t realized that his conversion happened at the age of 30 as well. While the changes I’m looking to make in my own life are much different than his, the parallel is amusing to me. It looks like my dad had me pegged much more accurately than any of us could have known.

 

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30 DBC Day24: My College Experience

Technically, this prompt was “my college experience so far” but considering that I graduated undergrad three years ago (holy shit that’s a long time), and I have no concrete plans to return to school as of yet, we’ll just go over undergrad.

I went to the University of Texas at Austin. Originally, I really wanted an Ivy League school. Harvard was my dream…honestly, I think it was just for the name and the prestige that came along with it. But alas, all of the Ivy Leagues I applied to were either rejections or waitlists. So I went to my fallback school, UT. And it ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me.

I started as a biology major in the “Science Matters” FIG. My roommate and I were in the same one which meant we took literally all of our classes together…and lived together. We weren’t that close. It didn’t take long before he started getting on my nerves because I don’t share things well. Anyway, academics were so-so. I got my first B in my life which was depressing, but in the long run it really didn’t matter. But otherwise, things were fine.

Socially, I wasn’t really vibing too well with some of the people in the FIG. Keep in mind I came from a really sheltered household, so there was a lot of culture shock for me when I first went to college. But thankfully, I had a buddy, Grady, that I was in the high school youth group with back in our home parish in Baytown that went to UT. He was a year ahead of me, so he essentially had scouted out things to do and whatnot. He got me involved in the University Catholic Center and the organizations to join there. I pledge Omega Class for Lambda Omega Alpha (the fraternity at the UCC, not to be confused with LGBTQ community services). I met some of my best friends through that organization. Saul and Harding were my pledge captains, and Rotan lived with Grady, and that trifecta ended up being my closest friends in college. Barbara was my little sister for Lambdas by sheer luck because she was good friends with the first person I’d ever been introduced to at the UCC. I joined STRONG (a team that puts on retreats for youth in area parishes) and Social Justice Team. I went on Longhorn Awakening. A lot happened in that first semester as far as laying the groundwork for how the rest of my college career was to proceed.

I kept up with the Baytown people for a while, but then at some point I’d heard about a group of them talking mess about me behind my back, so some of them got cut out of my life real quick. Things weren’t going well with the roommate either. Everything just seemed to be getting on my nerves. Thankfully, Dobie (my dorm) is right across the street from the Catholic Center, and our room actually faced the UCC, so it got to the point where I would stay at the UCC studying late at night, go down to the doors, count up ten windows and if the light was still on, I’d go back upstairs until my roommate was asleep. Then I’d shower, sleep, and be up and out of the room before he got up. Not really the healthiest solution, but it worked at the time. Eventually my parents found out what I was doing though, and decided that they didn’t pay for that dorm so that I could crash at the UCC most of the time. So we ended up just breaking that lease and then finding a condo in West Campus that we bought, leaving my roommate with the room to himself. I didn’t have to move for the rest of my college experience though so I think at the end of the day, I won in that regard.

Somewhere towards the end of my freshman year, I ended up on the publicity committee for the Date Auction the retreat team was putting on. Apparently I got the attention of the girl in charge of the committee because a couple of our mutual friends kept pestering me about what I thought of her. We got along great, I enjoyed her company, and she was pretty, but I didn’t think much else of it…at least not until they point blank told me that this was a romantic interest on her part. And this was honestly the first time I’d ever gotten any romantic attention from anybody (as far as I know), so I jumped at it because someone that I would date was actually also interested in me.

Unfortunately, as we all know, things didn’t work out, and after 11 and a half months, we broke it off. After a few years, some major introspection, and a breakthrough during a silent retreat, I finally came to terms with the fact that it was doomed from the start simply because of a fundamental mechanical issue: she didn’t have the right parts. Thankfully, when we broke it off, it was a pretty calm break up, and we were on track to going back to normal after a couple of months. Jennifer and I are good friends now, and she’s happily married to another one of our friends who is an awesome fit for her. They’re friggin adorable together, like y’all don’t even know.

Somewhere in there, I also started swing dancing. My friend, Kadye, had decided to sign up with my roommate to go to Austin Swing Kids to learn how to dance. He bailed on her for some reason or another, but since she was already in our room, she invited me to come with her. I thought “hell, why not?” so I went. And it was awkward as fuck. I was fine with Kadye, but if we ever had to rotate partners, I suddenly got so nervous that I forgot how to interact with people like a normal human being. But I started learning, and started going to the Fed for the Austin Swing Syndicate’s Thursday night dances. I’d run into Barbara there every now and again, which was nice because it gave me some time to bond with my lil sis outside of the UCC.

The next couple of years kind of blend together, so I can’t really remember if they’re from my sophomore year, junior year, or what. But it was a lot of school and a hell of a lot of time at the Catholic Center.

Speaking of, at some point I started hanging out with Maricar, the girl that was working the front desk there on Sundays. And I’d help her out with her stuff and do homework behind the front desk. It also helped that I had a pretty good feel of the pulse of the Center because I spent so much time there anyway. When she graduated, they offered me the Sunday job. Then expanded it to a part time job during business hours too. I made the bulletin, did a lot of the random clerical things…basically aside from the few things they added to my plate, I was finally getting paid for doing some of the things I was already doing. Unfortunately, I had to leave that job when I started nursing school because that was going to be another beast I’d have to focus all of my energy on.

At some point, I got a little ambitious. I decided since I tested out of all of my lower division Spanish, I could just go ahead and go on being a Spanish major since I was only a few credit hours away from actually locking that down too. Yeah…that didn’t work out so well. I went to my first upper division class, and EVERYTHING was in Spanish, and I realized I was in way over my head, so I peaced out of there REAL quick.

During this whole period, I also took a couple of ballroom classes. It was kind of the natural choice considering I started with East Coast Swing, dabbled in two-step by going to Midnight Rodeo with the UCC crowd, and had a taste of salsa from a couple of UCC outings. That was fun. I got to learn Lindy hop, polka, a few types of waltzes, a couple of tangos, and a few other dances I can’t remember. Outside of nursing, this is the only other class I’ve actually been able to practically use what I’ve learned.

I decided to dump the biology/pre-med route entirely because as the classes were getting more specialized, I was quickly losing interest and therefore doing worse and worse. That’s when I first gave nursing serious consideration because I really wanted to stay in the medical field, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about the stuff I was having to learn if I was going to go to med school. Thankfully, I made that jump because I haven’t looked back since. There was a lot of anxiety at the time mostly because I feared what other people thought of me if I did switch, but it ended up being a much better fit for me that I didn’t even care after a while. But this change in major brought me closer to the bedside which is where I wanted to be.

Which brings me to nursing school. This was around the time that Saul and Harding both graduated, so a good chunk of my support system had disappeared. Thankfully, this was about the time I started getting more involved in the nursing school. I ended up meeting my “breasties” (as we began referring to ourselves after being teamed up in a breastfeeding v. formula debate in our maternity clinical) one by one through some of our prereq’s. Elle and I took Spanish for Healthcare Professionals together, and I spent most of my time laughing at her antics. I met Tyler in my communication class through a girl that I’d actually befriended in our FIG freshman year that also switched to nursing. I’m not sure how I met Christine or Raeanne, but they came soon after, and that was it. We did pretty much everything together. We even had a ritual we affectionately called Dubstep Thursday. We’d preparty at my apartment, go downtown, and then end the night at a place called Barcelona where they played dubstep every Thursday. We drank so much tequila that semester. For the record, Espolon goes down real smooth. Ah…fun times.

Somewhere in here I was doing a series of silent retreats over the course of four years based on the Ignatian spiritual exercises. Every Memorial Day weekend, I’d go up and spend four days basically in silence doing meditations and sorting through my own thoughts. And it was on one of these retreats that I finally decided I was going to come out of the closet. It was kind of funny looking back on it because I was talking to my spiritual director and I mentioned it, bracing myself for judgment and I don’t even know what else. He just kind of looked at me like “Okay. But how are your meditations going?” Didn’t even bat an eye. That was the first time I really felt like it was going to be okay and that I’d be accepted.

At the end of nursing school, we had our Capstone clinical or our immersion clinical. Basically it’s the point in nursing school where they’re like “You’ve made it through four semester’s worth of information and clinicals. Now it’s time for you to really shadow a nurse in a specialty you’d like and see how you do.” Claire, my preceptor, was awesome. I absolutely loved her and we got along really well. She ended up getting me hired on at the hospital. But yeah, it was kind of funny because Elle got hired at the same place I did, and Claire ended up precepting her. After the first day, I got a text message from Elle saying something along the lines of “Oh dear God, Claire really is like the female version of you.” …Which is probably why we got along so well.

Anyway, I knocked out that clinical as soon as I could (i.e., I was done by the end of April), so then I had the entire first half of May to just chill and enjoy what was left of my college experience before graduation.

But yeah, so that’s pretty much it. College was definitely the place where I grew the most and developed my identity. Don’t get me wrong, my parents definitely laid a firm foundation for me. But college was where I built on that and truly became who I am today. I don’t regret taking the “victory lap” (read: 5th year) because it let me experience some things and meet people I otherwise never would have. Looking back, were there things that could have gone better? Hell yes. But would I change them? Eh…maybe…but probably not.