by Father Mark Goldasich
Father Mark Goldasich . . . Guest of Honor
That’s what the name badge read as I picked it up last Friday outside the Athens Banquet Room at the Argosy Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. A few minutes later, I was tempted to add the words “and Klutz” to the badge after failing to attach it to my shirt several times and instead dropping it on the floor.
Not to worry, though, one of my kids picked it and said, “Do you need some help with that?” As she deftly fastened it, I thought to myself that this was certainly a role reversal: The student had become the teacher.
The “kids” I’m talking about were students that I’d taught theology to while they attended Marymount International School in Rome. MMI, an all-girl Catholic school, was run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and seminarians from the North American College were invited to teach at the school. I was lucky enough to be there during the 1979-80 and 1980-81 academic years.
So, why were we gathered at the Argosy in Kansas City?
It all started last December when Jill, one of the Class of 1981, suffered an aggressive recurrence of breast cancer in Tennessee. I knew something was up when my Messenger app from Facebook started to chime insistently. Jill’s former classmates wanted to alert me via Facebook about her condition and lead them in prayer for Jill and her family.
When Jill died, it came as a terrific blow and became the stimulus for reconnecting once again in the real, rather than online, world. The idea for a mini-reunion slowly emerged. Kansas City was selected, due to its central location, and Susan from Oklahoma began the planning.
Lo and behold, things came together and about 32 of us — from both U.S. coasts, Canada, the Midwest and the South — found ourselves at the reunion. I expected it to be a good time, maybe even a great time. It actually turned out to be an extraordinary experience.
It was surreal at first, as my “kids” were now in their early 50s! I’d not seen them since they’d graduated or I left Rome. So, at least 35 years had gone by. I’m happy to say I recognized them all. What a blessing it was to see where life had taken them in these intervening years. Most were parents and, through the miracle of smartphones, I was treated to picture after picture of their families.
But, more than that, they let their old teacher in on the story of their lives after high school. As you’d expect, there were plenty of joyous times, such as marriages, trips and career successes, but there were heartaches as well from divorces, deaths of family members and battles with serious illnesses. The most amazing thing, though, was: We picked up right where we’d left off, which seemed to be only a few months ago.
One of the songs that played — loudly — during the reunion was “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge (and no, she was not a member of the religious order staffing the school!). Being “ex-pats” forges deeper bonds of friendship because the people that you go to school with and live with in a foreign country become your de facto family. They are the ones you share your daily joys and sorrows with, the ones you often celebrate holidays with, and the ones you grow into maturity with.
The words of the Book of Sirach kept cycling through my mind: “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy” (Sir 6: 14-16a). This past weekend, I was plopped into the middle of such friends . . . and I felt incredibly rich.
Coming to the reunion, I have to admit I was worried about my appearance. After all, when my kids last saw me I had lots of curly hair and was “half the man” I am today (if you know what I mean!). However, none of that mattered because, you see, the most important thing had not changed one bit: the love we had for one another in our hearts.
On the way home, I set my iPhone to repeat a beautiful song by Ray LaMontagne, whose refrain says: “If it’s a friend you need, let it be me.”
The reunion showed that my “kids” are that for me. I hope they know that if they ever need a friend . . . well, let it be me!