This entry continues with part 2 of my 3 part series on relationships, my experiences with them from when I was born until the present day, and how they have impacted my life. If you haven’t read part one yet, read it here.
After high school I headed off to Gonzaga University in search of new friends and a new community. They didn’t take long to find. The Gonzaga community is one of the most incredible I’ve ever been a part of, and something nobody can truly understand unless they have experienced it for themselves.
Relationships formed in many different ways at Gonzaga. One of the first was through a pre-orientation “Reality Camp” where a group of us incoming freshmen gathered to do community service around the Spokane community for a week. It is amazing how a group of people who have never met before can come together through service and form bonds so quickly. Through loving others we were able to love each other and carry these newly formed friendships with us as we embarked on a new adventure in our lives.
Shortly after arriving on campus I joined a coed acappella group, the Big Bing Theory. The group of people brought together in this group are some of the most fun, loving, caring, genuine, and compassionate people I have ever met. I felt so comfortable around these people that I could completely be myself and never have to worry whether or not they would love or accept me, because they did no matter what. Over the next four years through singing together (and eating, as we all loved to eat!) we formed a tight, close-knit bond that will always exist, and whenever we come together for reunions, weddings, or what have you, we pick up right where we left off as if no time has passed since the last time we saw each other. Through our common love of music and singing we formed a family. No matter where we go or what we do as our lives take their different courses, I know I can always count on these people to be there for me just as I will always be there for them.
Then there was the “Summer of George” crew, the name coined during our senior year referring to an episode from Seinfeld where George Costanza gets laid off from the New York Yankees and decides to take the summer of to do with what he wants. Our philosophy was similar in that we wanted to spend our final year at Gonzaga doing what we wanted, making the most of every moment, and not worrying about the little things too much to stress us out. We wanted to enjoy our senior year together. We became friends instantly upon arriving at Gonzaga through our dorms and spent the next four years enjoying the Gonzaga life together in basketball games, parties, and just everyday living. There was no specific reason that we were brought together and all became friends, we just were.
During our the second semester of our sophomore year we started what we called “Pasta Rossi” on Wednesday nights. We would come together in the Birch apartments and cook some pasta, throw a salad together and garlic bread in the oven, and drink Carlo Rossi wine to our hearts content. Again enjoying a good meal with good friends. At first this started out as a small affair, but by the end of the year it grew to much larger than our small group of friends and was a joyous event to look forward to each week. Even though “Pasta Rossi” nights died after our sophomore year, the friendships only continued to grow. Even five years after we graduated we still love getting together at least once or twice a year for each others’ weddings and of course the annual Zags’ basketball tournament in Vegas, which has become pretty much a guys-only weekend.
Three men that had a profound impact on me during my time at Gonzaga (and who all happened to be priests including two Jesuits) were Fr. Bruno, Fr. Via, and Fr. Gary. These three men understand better than anyone I have met what it means to live in relationship with other people, and truly embody Ignatian spirituality in that they find God in all things. Fr. Gary I met right away at Gonzaga but didn’t really get to know until my senior year, and the Brunz and Fr. Via I came to know during my junior year abroad in Florence, Italy.
Bruno was there from day one as we disembarked the train in Munich, Germany for our opening tour and would stay with us to the end. He was a man of the people, devoting his life to the students making sure they had the experience of a lifetime during their year abroad. Each weekend he would board a train or bus with the students and lead us on our next European adventure. Those adventures took us from sleeping in a cave on the island of Capri, rolling out our sleeping bags alongside the Tiber River in Rome, or enjoying some wine on the beach of the tiny island of Elba (where Napoleon was exiled to). At the end of each weekend we would all reconvene on Sunday nights outside across from our favorite restaurant in Florence, La Spada, where Bruno would lead us all in a short liturgy where we would break bread together and then enjoy some delicious pasta or soup from La Spada (which he generously paid for all of us). These gatherings we affectionately referred to as our “Poor Man’s Supper.” He often reflected on our experiences traveling together and adjusting to a new and different culture, and how important it was to come together as a community during our year abroad and to share these experiences with each others. Although not everyone on the program may be my best friend, we all share a common bond of being part of the Gonzaga-In-Florence program and going through so much growth during our year abroad together, and therefore will always be intricately linked to one another. We can thank Fr. Bruno for helping to bring us together.
On a recent trip back to Florence I had the opportunity to reunite with Fr. Bruno, who is now working with another program of American students and having some frustrations with discovering what exactly his role is, and I will never forget these words he said to me (and I am paraphrasing): “All I want to do is to help these students form a community, to be in relationship to one another. They are all going through new experiences during their time abroad here, living in a new city, a new country, adapting to a new culture, and seeing the world in a whole new light through their travels. Forming a community is so important for them to be able to reflect on their shared experiences and grow together. It’s all about community.” Bruno helps them do this by going to the home of students each night and cooking dinner with them, sharing in a meal together, and enjoying some wine and nice conversation. Fr. Bruno is the quintessential man for others.
Fr. Via is a much quieter, simpler man – unless you really get to know him that is. He never minds voicing his opinion about what’s going on and has the insight to not worry so much about the small things but rather focuses on the bigger picture. He brought it upon himself to make sure that students had the spiritual opportunities they needed while in Florence by offering daily Mass and being available to them whenever they needed no matter what it was. Many times when I would find myself in need of confession I would stroll up to Fr. Via’s office and ask him if he would hear my confession. He never said no or that he didn’t have the time – he always made the time. Whenever students’ parents came to visit Fr. Via and Fr. Bruno would gladly go out for a nice dinner with them, always willing to show hospitality to our families and making sure they also had an enjoyable experience during their visit. Now Fr. Via is back teaching in Spokane and whenever I venture up there for a visit he is more than happy to share a meal with me as he is with so many former students. He understands that a relationship doesn’t end when students graduate and leave, but they continue on throughout the rest of our lives.
Then there’s Fr. Gary, a jazz pianist and very outgoing and kind man. Good friends with Fr. Bruno and Fr. Via who often spent his summers with the Florence program, he also had a good understanding of what it means to be in relationship with others. While I was studying abroad in Florence junior year, most of the “Summer of George” crew elected only to study there for the summer and were therefore in Spokane during junior year. It was during their summer abroad in Florence that they became good friends with Fr. Gary and over the course of the next year began having dinner with him either at his apartment or theirs. I joined them senior year.
These were not just any dinners, but turned into long ordeals that often went into the early morning hours. Us guys would arrive at Fr. Gary’s apartment usually around 6 or 6:30 in the evening and my friend Z would head over right away to start making our first round of cocktails – usually whisky gingers, but each of us ventured from this on occasion. Then we would turn one of the jazz greats – Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, or Duke Ellington, you name it we played it. As trumpet solos blared in the background we went to work preparing dinner. As men, we kept dinner nice and simple with a good Caesar salad, garlic bread, and meat – everything heavy on the garlic. We rotated through what meat we ate between steak, ribs, and chicken legs, sometimes even a combination of two of them.
By the time dinner was ready around 8 or 8:30pm, and after a few whisky gingers, we sat down at the table, popped open our first glass of wine, and Fr. Gary said grace for us. Then the feast would begin. With the jazz music still playing in the background we enjoyed good food, good wine, and good conversation. We discussed anything and everything – our experiences traveling the world, Gonzaga basketball, our plans for the future, music, movies, relationships, faith. An hour or two and 5 or 6 wine bottles later we would decide it was time to get up from the table and start cleaning up. That didn’t mean the night was ending though. With a topper in hand (by this point we had moved on from the whisky gingers and drank vodka sodas or screwdrivers) we moved into the living room continuing our conversation and often times putting on clips of different movies. (On a side note, Fr. Gary is a big movie buff and by taking his course on “Music in Film and Television” he inspired my friends and I to watch all of the movies on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 films of all time, and after 2 1/2 years since the time we began I am finally about to break into the Top 10! I suggest doing this to anybody who loves movies, it has definitely broadened my appreciation of film.) The night would end late into the night when my friend C$ would pass out on the couch and we would have to wake him up and drag him home.
These dinners were obviously not just about sharing a meal together, but also about sharing our lives together and one of my fondest memories of being at Gonzaga. Our relationships grew even closer and I consider these guys my brothers, Fr. Gary included, and would do anything for them. We are all still good friends today, and Fr. Gary has even celebrated the weddings of Mike D. and C$, the only two of the group who are married to date. Whenever we are all in the same place as Fr. Gary we get together to share a meal, the last time being breakfast this past March in Vegas as we gathered to watch some Zags basketball.
My four years at Gonzaga taught me more about relationships than any other period thus far in my life, and the friendships that began there are ones that I will cherish until God calls me away from here. These and other experiences helped show me how important relationships are in our lives and I am not fully human if I am not living in relationship with others. As Ignatian spirituality is all about finding God in all things, I now seek to find God in each of my relationships because I know He is there somewhere.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the final installment of “Relationships – Bringing Meaning To Our Lives – Being Present”.
UNTIL NEXT TIME…