I work with some really good people. Like really good people, people who are selfless and kind, people who interrupt their own life plans to lend a hand. I work with people who believe that community matters and this is a truly wonderful part of my life and job and I’m thankful for it. Recently though I realized there is one person who is regularly in the office that I don’t work with, Father Joe (or F.J. as he is affectionately called by many) Carey.
F.J. is quite regularly one of the first people in the office in the morning and he gets down to business quickly, logging onto his computer, checking his messages, returning calls and the like. He also is with students late into the evenings as he is the Priest in residence at Ryan Hall (full disclosure I am the faculty fellow in that hall so on occasion have opportunity to see him there too). He meets with the woman late into the evening in small groups or one on one. He talks with them, knows their lives and stories, and really walks with them in their time at Notre Dame. Fairly often he stays up late with the women of Ryan Hall, sometimes really late – for instance when Ryan Hall got a middle of the night time to visit Father Hesburgh’s memorial service F.J. was there with the women to walk over and pay their respects. He is regularly on the playing fields with the hall’s teams to lead them in prayer before their matches and games. He is very present to these women.
He also has a regular cookie making group where he bakes truly delicious cookies with ND students for all sorts of groups, including ACE teachers around the country. Baking in one of his groups is something every Notre Dame student should get to do before they graduate. He can also regularly be seen in town taking a group of students out to lunch or dinner, or visiting with Alumni. He says Mass regularly on campus. He was even featured in Notre Dame Magazine for having performed more than 500 weddings and that article was a couple of summers back – I know he’s well North of that number now. Father Joe Carey is a busy man…
I regularly chat with F.J. in passing in the office or at Ryan Hall and I’ve often ended with “you’re the hardest working man I know.” He almost always looks at me quizzically – and says, “I don’t know about that.”
Last night, I was leaving Ryan Hall on the night before the first day of school somewhat late in the evening in my book and there was F.J. chatting with a group of women and their (awesome) rector, Allie Greene. They were preparing to plan some fun events for the dorm this weekend to give people something to do since there is no football this first weekend and since it is the first weekend of college for many. F.J. was asking them about their lives, chatting about their events, and I could tell that he was genuinely happy and at home. We had some back and forth banter in conversation with the women standing around and then, tired from a day that was probably less than half as long as F.J.’s day I began to excuse myself and said, “F.J. you’re the hardest working man I know.” He replied, “Am I?”
On my way home I realized that I’ll never say that to F.J. again because I realized his coy responses, and he is often coy if you get to know him, are him noting that he is not working at all – rather he is living.
Father Joe doesn’t see his time with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), or his late nights in Ryan Hall, or in the teaching he does, or his pastoral presence to the Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) or his cookie baking, or all the marriage preparation he does as work. He sees it has his life – and he relishes it, he takes it all in as part of his day. It is his ministry as a Holy Cross Priest, it is his gift to the world, his symphony – his presence is ministry and music to all who know him, but don’t ever think he’s working – he’s just living and his life is richer for it.
We could all probably learn some things from Father Joe Carey, but for today I’ll remember to barely work at all and to enjoy all that Notre Dame has to offer. I’ll see the things that were work yesterday quite differently going forward. This isn’t just my job it’s my life and I chose it – I get to be with young people and to share their journey of discovery. Who could possibly call that work? Not me, and certainly not F.J.