This reflection is part of a continuing series by the Province’s partners-in-ministry. The last, written by Greg Licamele, a Mt. Irenaeus Board of Trustees member, appeared in the May 28 issue of HNP Today. Here, a Siena College graduate describes the impact a friar had on her life’s vocation, as well as the role friars played in changing her perspective on life.
People ask me, “Why education? How did you get involved here?” so often that I launch into what I’ve dubbed “My Story of Three Michaels.” This story, though, has its beginnings with only one Michael — Br. Michael Harlan, OFM, one of the many influential Michaels and friars in my life. There is a long list of friars that spoke truth into my future and laid the groundwork for my time after graduation from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. Their impact runs deep, especially that of Br. Michael.
On move-in day as a freshman more than 10 years ago, I had my first encounter with Br. Michael. He was the Ryan Hall friar-in-residence and his door on the second floor was nearly always open. On that first day, he greeted residents as we trudged by with our parents and belongings in tow. For the rest of the year, he waved and called out to residents as we made our way from the elevator lobby, past his door and out of the building. We often stopped in to sit on his couches and connect.
Setting a Life Path
It was in Ryan Hall as a freshman that I first began to know Br. Michael — and he, me — and it was in the main hallway of the Sarazen Student Union as a senior that we had an encounter that set my life in the direction that brought me where I am today.
Br. Michael, more than a couple of times, suggested I consider becoming a teacher. Not yet ready to listen or discern my calling as such, I often brushed the suggestion aside with some anxious “I know better” laughter and carried on to wherever I was headed on campus.
One particularly busy afternoon, as I was rushing to a meeting with the campus newspaper’s staff, I passed Br. Michael in the SSU lobby in front of the information desk. “Jolleen! Have you seen this?” he called in my direction as he held out what appeared to be a magazine. The magazine was opened and he passed it to me as I went by, apologizing that I had a meeting to get to.
Once in the newspaper office, I haphazardly tossed the Catholic Volunteer Network Response Directory to the side. At the conclusion of the meeting, over lunch, I revisited the directory and took note of what it actually was — a listing of many different faith-based service opportunities. Finally! Br. Michael wasn’t pushing education and was instead speaking to my desire to serve. On the page the book was open to, I found the mission statement for San Miguel Schools Chicago.
The mission statement stirred something deep inside of me, so much so that I’m not sure I realized it was the mission statement for a school. That didn’t escape me for long however, and soon I was shaking my head, wondering what all of this “teaching” nonsense meant. I convinced myself that schools need more than teachers, and this place needed volunteers for all sorts of things. Right? So I called Br. Michael Fehrenbach, FSC, the contact listed for the school. And with that, I encountered my second Michael.
Br. Michael Harlan, OFM, perhaps unknowingly sent me to Br. Michael Fehrenbach, FSC, who walked with me as I joined the Lasallian Volunteers to be placed at San Miguel Schools Chicago (my third Michael – San Miguel Febres Cordero). At San Miguel, I found that schools did indeed need more than “just teachers.” I also found I was being called to be an educator. In three years as a seventh and eighth grade language arts and reading teacher, a spoken word coach and a Saturday School coordinator, I fell in love with education. From the most challenging interactions with students that had me calling on my witness of pastoral care, to the daily ins and outs of being a committed educator, I had found my place.
Since completing my service at San Miguel, I worked as a staff member of Lasallian Volunteers. I now spend my time walking with other young people that want to serve, witnessing their discernment as they identify their life’s calls and providing support as they teach, tutor, mentor and pastorally care for the students and clients entrusted to their care.
The experiences I had and relationships I built at Siena undoubtedly prepared me for what has happened since. It was in exploring the Franciscan charism and getting to know what it meant to be in community with others, honoring each person and doing something as simple as holding a door open, that my desire to walk with and serve others gained ground and took root. In committing to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, I was baptized, confirmed and received my First Communion at Siena. I found myself learning from, being in the pastoral care of, and eventually working alongside great role models such as Fathers Dennis Tamburello, OFM, James Sabak, OFM, Daniel Dwyer, OFM, and Bill Beaudin, OFM. There is another story to be written about the amazing grace of friars-in-residence and the impact they have on grieving students and families.
As freshmen in Ryan Hall, a few of us took note of Br. Michael’s appreciation for Peanuts and before leaving for Christmas in 2000, we left him a Charlie Brown and Snoopy mug with holiday candy. Nearly 15 years later, I’m confident I owe him more than a candy-filled coffee mug. I attribute the first steps of my discernment and identifying God’s call for me to Br. Michael. He did the gentle work of helping me recognize my ability and my call to care for students, clients and volunteers entrusted to my care.
At Siena, I became invested in the connection between faith and service that has inspired my commitment to service and education, especially in solidarity with marginalized and oppressed people.
— Jolleen Wagner, a native of Green Island, N.Y., graduated from Siena College in 2004 and has since continued a path of service. She became director of the Lasallian Volunteer program in 2011. Jolleen is responsible for the vision and guidance of this faith-based, long-term volunteer program focused on service to at-risk populations through education and social services.