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Center for Social Concerns


Stacy Hennessey

Service Send-Off Talk 2002

By Stacy Hennessey ‘81

It is a joy for me to be here, an honor and a privilege. I want to thank you, Cardinal Kasper, for your work that has informed me as a theologian as I labored through it in graduate school. It transformed my image of both God and Jesus – and the Christ that he became. Thank you for that work.

Thank you, Fr. Malloy, for your service to Notre Dame and to this community. And to your brother members in Holy Cross for supporting me in ministry and giving me the opportunity to be transformed. I thank you for that service. For the parents, the song “Be Not Afraid” will become your mantra! God asks us not to be afraid but, nonetheless, we are terrified and I find that to be a terribly healthy response. So be afraid, despite the song. I would like all those who we are honoring today, all those we are celebrating today to please stand. (Applause ) I salute you!

Your theme that you have chosen is “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Who said that? Mahatma Gandhi said that. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What is the change you want to see? Do you want to transform the gap between the rich and the poor in this country? Is that the change you want to see? Would you like to see the status of women in this country transformed in some way? That women would hold more elected offices, perhaps the presidency of the United States? Would you like to see less women battered? Would you like to change the status of minorities in this country? That maybe the colored platform that appears in statistics also appears in the White House or in our classrooms? What is the change you are seeking?

We know where you are seeking it, but it is important for us to name today, before we leave, what is the change that we are seeking together. We have read the Gospel, we have tried fervently to live it, we know that God has called us to go to the worst places on this earth and to simply be there in God’s name – to love the unlovable. We know that. But that you want to change it is quite another thing. So I am asking you, in the depth of your heart today, “What is it that you are seeking?” And then to ask, “How shall we do it?” I would like to help answer both of these questions.

May is a terrible month for teachers. I have been teaching for 20 years and my teaching experience started in Santiago, Chile. I was one of our people selected to go to Chile after my senior year at Notre Dame. When we asked, “Do you know what we will do when we get there?” they said, “We are really not quite sure. The Holy Cross order has schools, but they also have parishes and they also have this desert thing going – and we are not really sure. You need to be open to God’s call.” So we were way open to God’s call.

And I asked, “Do you think the fact that I don’t speak Spanish will be a factor?” “No, we’ll take care of that – we are going to send you to language school.” “Okay, that’s great.” So, fortunately, the people that I went to Chile with had been to France and they spoke French fluently. They got to language school and that Spanish thing was no problem. But for me it was a major, major obsession.

Once in Chile, I was sent into a classroom with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. The adolescent age group I think is ideal for a new teacher! I was to teach them English, which they didn’t speak, in Spanish, which I didn’t speak! I read the teacher handbook and I did all the things right – I dressed professionally, I showed up on time, I did what the dean told me, I had my lesson plans all in my backpack. And I walked into the classroom and they went nuts! They were everywhere.

Finally, at the end of the year I had learned that if I covered the blackboard from left to right they would be quiet because they would be so busy copying it down. And then I could breathe. After I finished I would say, “Copy it down,” and they would be really quiet and I would be thinking, “This is great learning.” At the end of the year a kid in the back of the room issued this profanity. And I said, “You can’t say that in here.” And he said, “I have been saying it all year!” So I asked for a different assignment for my second year. They sent me yet to another place for which I was very much qualified! They sent me to the Third Region which is in the desert. It is 10 hours away from the city of Santiago. They said, “But you won’t live in the city there, we are going to send you into the interior on the Argentine border to work with nomadic goat farmers.” Notre Dame really prepared me for this!

We taught about Jesus; we baptized babies; we married people who wanted to be recognized by God in a sacramental union that they had joined together 50 years ago; we buried the dead and we did some amazing things in the name of the bishop who was busy with human rights issues. And I became a person that I didn’t know I could become. I became a person who wrote. We lived without electricity so most of our time was spent walking with people and listening to stories and learning to milk a goat (which I have never used since) and make cheese with the milk of the goat. We learned to quilt ponchos and we learned to play dominoes and we listened to stories all day and every day. And in the quiet of my night I would write and write and write. I learned to write prayers and I learned to write poems and I learned to write stories. And none of them have I ever shared with anyone, including my husband with whom I have been married for 10 years. I just wrote. Every now and again I’ll open the first page of my journal and you know what it says? The very first thing that I wrote before I even left South Bend, Indiana? It says, “Behold, the seeker cometh.” That is what we are becoming. And I will tell you how to get there.

What are we looking for? I have been teaching now for 20 years. I returned to the profession only because a Holy Cross priest came up to me while I was living in South Bend, Indiana. I was living in a group home with the severe and profoundly mentally retarded women. I was a 24-7 mom for them. And he said to me, “Stace, let’s go for coffee.” (This was Gerry Whalen.) I said, “Okay, let’s go for coffee.” I drive myself to the coffee shop and he said, “You look terrible.” And I said, “Thank you, you look terrible, too.” (If you knew him, he always looked terrible.) He said, “You can’t do this work anymore.” And I said, “Why? Because I pay bills, you know, and you don’t.” He said, “You were born to teach.” I said, “I just have this small problem, my students don’t learn.” He said, “But it is the gift that God gave you and when God gives you gifts, you use them.” And that was all he said and he left my life.

Honest to goodness, I sold everything I had, I took my $300 and my bike and put it on a train and went to Boston, Massachusetts and got my masters degree in theology. I have been teaching ever since and I have never been happier. So, just this week a teacher put in my mailbox, “What Teachers Make.”

I want to tell all of you, the 180 of you, who are going from here to there, how to get there. And I want you to listen very closely.

I play the drums in my choir. I don’t know how to play the drums in my choir but I really like the drums. Our drummer moved away in December and so the choir director saw me beating on the pew one day at practice and she said, “Stace, would you like to play the drums on this song?” I replied, “But I don’t know how to play the drums on this song.” She said, “It’s okay … just go over there and start tapping around.” So that’s what I do in my choir. I tap around on the drums. And they let me do it during mass! It’s so great! This is what your first year of service is going to be like. You want to make a change in the world. We all want you to make a change in the world because it needs it. You must decide to start doing that change even if you do it badly. You must start. Decide to be good and decide that it is okay to do it badly. Like this – the Folk Choir is going to sing for me and I am going to play with them. Then, in all his mercy, Josh, the real drummer, is going to come in and you will be able to hear what it sounds like to just start out badly and then become something more. Does that make sense to you? Let’s see if it works.

That’s how to drum. Decide to slow down a little. St. Augustine says, “Seek what you seek but not where you are seeking it.” If you are seeking change out there, don’t seek it there, seek it here (inside). As my great friend and good writer, Annie Lamont says, “Take the time in the coming year to waste time, to slow down as a creative, spiritual and radical act.” Change is not out there, it is here (hand on heart).

If you take your hands and hold them out in front of you as if you were holding water (do that now), there is God. In the coming year you will need that more than you can possibly imagine now. So you take that handful of God, that living, wonderful, merciful, joyful, sorrowful presence and hold it right here (bring hands to heart). And when you place it there on your heart your hands cross, in the form of a cross and that will be your prayer for the coming year.

Hold God here often. Change is not out there, it is here and God is with you. If you want to end violence, the first task is to stop being violent. We cannot shout, we cannot feel the anger and release it to other people, otherwise people will not believe you when you say you are nonviolent.

If you want kindness and charity in the world, then you must become kind and charitable. If you believe that children are the very hope of our future, then you must make them the hope of yours. The change is here (motion to heart). We can become the drummer that we seek when we change what is in there.

We begin small, we don’t begin by being Gandhi or being Jesus. But I am afraid that I raised my hand when the teacher asked who could do that – she was pointing to the cross. It didn’t look difficult, Now it looks really hard.

You begin by showing up. You begin by finding what you love. Then you relentlessly give it away … day after day after day. If you love literature, give it away; if you love life, give it away; if you love to sing, give it away.

Ask for help. Jesus didn’t send them out by themselves, he didn’t give them much money. But he gave them one another: work together and let other people help you. No one will criticize you half as much as you criticize yourself. Let them be there for you. Let them love you. Cling to what is holy, a hike, a song on the radio, the silence of the stars, maybe a sunset, the silence of prayer, a poem in your hand, a cup of tea, a game of dominoes with the lady down the street. And say thank you at the end of every day.

May your song be loud, may it be clear, may it be long and may God bless you.





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