Last weekend, Deacon Tim Mouton, C.S.C., and I were invited to preside and preach at the annual Notre Dame Club of Boston Christmas Communion Breakfast in Andover, Massachusetts. After Mass, we had breakfast and a short program where I was asked to say a few words. I decided to tell my story of growing up one block from Notre Dame and how that proximity influenced my life.
One of the stories that I told was about how Father Dan Jenky, C.S.C., (now Bishop Jenky) gave me the two worst jobs I ever had, as well as the best job I ever had. I started working at Sacred Heart Church (now Basilica!) on campus when I was a sophomore in high school. Soon thereafter, Fr. Jenky became rector of Sacred Heart Church and my boss. He was also rector of Dillon Hall on campus. One May after the end of the school year, he asked me to come over to Dillon. He then asked me to clean up a common space in the dorm. The room hadn’t been cleaned all year, and that was in the days when...let's say "very festive," parties were sometimes held. It was absolutely disgusting in that room. Cleaning it was a horrible job and it was all I could do to keep from getting sick. But I did the job and by the time I was done even the cockroaches were gone!
Later that summer, Fr. Jenky asked me to change all of the light bulbs and clean the chandeliers in Sacred Heart. The problem was that I had to go up into the attic of the church, crawl out on rickety old wooden slats and crank down the chandeliers to the floor of the church to do the work. If I slipped I would have fallen right through the plaster ceiling of the church! To make things worse, it was one of those sultry 90+ degree South Bend days when I started the work, so it was well over 100 degrees up in the attic. I have never been so sweaty and miserable in my life. Fortunately I never had to do that job again. Fr. Jenky hired professionals in the future!
But, also that summer, Fr. Jenky gave me the best job I ever had. It changed my life forever. He decided to redo all the exhibits in the sacristy museum and he asked me to help him. In that museum are chalices, vestments and other items that belong to many different Holy Cross priests. I assisted him by polishing the chalices, typing the information cards and arranging the items on the shelves. In doing these mundane task, I got to learn about the holy and heroic lives of these Holy Cross men and the great things they did for the Church not only here at Notre Dame but all throughout the world. Their stories had a profound influence on my later decision to answer God’s call to enter Holy Cross.
As I look back on those days, I come to realize that God is always working in our lives and his call comes to us in the oddest of circumstances, even in the worst jobs!
Fr. Tony Szakaly, C.S.C. is the local superior of the Holy Cross community at Stonehill College, and previously served as an assistant provincial for the United States Province of Priests and Brothers. A South Bend native, he received a Holy Cross education at every level of his schooling, from the C.S.C. sisters in grade school, the C.S.C. brothers in high school and C.S.C. priests at the University of Notre Dame. He took final vows in 1991 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.