Essay Contest Second Prize - "A Mormon at Georgetown"
By: Stephen Patrick
December 1, 2011
Hi. I'm a big brother, a tenor, a government student at Georgetown University, and I'm a Mormon. With a popular national advertising campaign and high profile politicians, the Mormon Church has been thrust into the spotlight. A lot of people are starting to get to know who we are as a people and as a religion. I have found that in this period of everyone else looking in, I have begun to look out. My family is about as Mormon as they come. We went to church every Sunday and made sure to hold our weekly "Family Home Evening" or family night that has been recommended by church leaders. I can trace back my lineage to the earliest members who sought refuge from persecution by crossing the plains and settling the Salt Lake Valley. Today, almost my complete extended family belongs to the church. I went to a religion class every morning before school. I love the church and am so grateful for the blessings it brings to my family and to me personally. It provides the foundation I need to lead a virtuous and fulfilling life. I was really lucky, though, to grow up in an environment where I was taught to appreciate religious diversity. I remember as a kid getting to participate at my best friend's house in the lighting of the Menorah. I had friends who were Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and Hindu. I love the diversity that Georgetown offers too and have come to know and love people of many faiths. I have been inspired by the Jesuit value of working for justice and the common good. I think the great unifying theme of all religions is serving one another, reaching beyond ourselves to help the people around us however we can. That is the great strength of faith.
When I was accepted to Georgetown, I was really excited for the opportunities that I was going to have but unsure how I would fit in so far away from my family and without a strong Mormon community. My worries faded, though, as I became friends with so many amazing people of different faiths and backgrounds and I was soon immersed in the Georgetown experience. I was surrounded by people who valued hard work and service. After spending a year at Georgetown, I took what I learned with me when I went to serve a two-year mission for my church in Italy.
My mission was the most amazing, challenging, and transforming experience of my life. I gave up movies, television, books, music,
computers, and many of the things that I had come to rely on. Hardest of all was giving up all contact with my family and friends except for email once a week. Missionaries sacrifice these things to focus on missionary work. I soon realized that my purpose had changed from making myself happy to helping others be happy by sharing my faith and bringing them closer to Christ. It was a truly humbling experience to see people find faith in Christ and come to recognize the love of God. Losing myself, I came to a deeper understanding of my relationship with God and my purpose on the Earth. I gained a more personal understanding of the importance and blessing of helping others. I also gained a deep love for the Italian people.
I love Italians. I love the way they get so excited about just about anything. I love the way they are so willing to invite you into their homes and make new friends. I love how they can talk for hours about food and I love how deep-rooted and important family is to them. By association I grew to love the Catholic Church. About 90% of Italians are Roman Catholic. I met a lot of people with a sincere, beautiful faith and resolve to live in accordance with it. These people inspired me and strengthened my desire to better myself and better serve others.
Some of my most meaningful service experiences have been in Catholic churches. There was a church in Pozzuoli, near Naples, where we used to go every week to help in the kitchen. It was a beautiful, slightly run- down old church at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. They served dinner daily to people in need. We boiled bags upon bags of pasta in huge a pot that I could have fit into. We cut vegetables and set trays and cleaned dishes. Air-conditioning hasn't caught on so much in Italy and it got hot but it was so rewarding be able to help people in such need. I could see that we were really making a difference. In Sassari on the island of Sardinia I worked in a Catholic organized charity that bagged food for anyone who needed it. The other missionaries and I would go serve a few hours a week but I remember being so impressed by the women who sacrificed hours every single day to come and help the needy. They were really fun and we became good friends. The time flew by as we put the bread and yogurt in bags and sorted out rotten fruits and vegetables from the good stuff. Sometimes it was dirty work and I remember some mornings barely being able to feel my hands because of the cold, but the example of the people who were putting so much time and effort into it always made it fun.
Sometimes it was hard as a missionary to get up at 6:30 every morning and face the new day. I got a good taste of religious intolerance with doors slammed in our faces or curses being shouted from passing cars. I soon got used to knocking on doors and hearing the phrase “non c’è nessuno” (“no one’s home”). People are busy and it’s hard to take time out of our schedule to talk about God and learn about other people’s beliefs. I know, though, that we could all benefit so much from learning more about each other and from talking and thinking about the most important questions we all have. I got rejected a lot and that really hurt sometimes but the positives far surpassed any negatives. I made lifelong friends and got to see real positive change in people's lives. I was able to better know who I am and what I can do. I really miss Italy and I hope to be able to go back soon.
Now that I've returned to Georgetown my life has changed a lot. I still go to church every week and the LDS community here is like a family away from home, but the daily routine of classes, homework, a cappella practice and other commitments sometimes distracts me from spiritual things. It has been a dramatic change after having religious service as my focus every day for two years. Opportunities for service and worship on campus have helped me maintain balance as I have transitioned back to student life.
This semester for the first time I have started to get involved in the interfaith community. Ben, another returned missionary, and I had the opportunity to sing a hymn about finding solace in Christ at the prayer service for the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I was really moved by the prayers and songs of the other faiths that were represented. It was a really beautiful moment of coming together that really got me excited about interfaith dialogue. I had a similar experience when I participated with a group of LDS students in the interfaith Thanksgiving prayer service. I was really moved by the diverse ways that the faithful students of Georgetown used to give thanks. I have found that religions have so much in common like the focus on love and service, faithfulness and devotion. I think that the things that set us apart should also be celebrated. By sharing these things all of us can grow together and benefit from a larger pool of inspiration. I know that as a larger community we can grow in our faith and our resolve to serve those around us. I have been truly inspired by the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist students who so sincerely share their faith and prayers and are making a real positive impact on Georgetown's community.
I love Georgetown. It provides an edifying environment in which people from many different backgrounds and beliefs can come together to serve each other and the people around them. The Jesuit ideals that the school was founded on provide a basis for cooperation toward a greater good. Even as such a minority I have always felt accepted and a real part of the Georgetown community. I have personally been inspired to reach out beyond myself and help others.
I am really exited to work together with the other religious groups so we can lift those around us and make Georgetown an even better place.