This School of Love
“…take my soul into your most sacred wound, so that in this school of love, I may learn to make a return of love to God, who has given me such wondrous proofs of his love.”
See previous weeks’ reflections under the various headings on the left side of the Dehonian Spirituality page or use the drop-down menu at the top of this page under “Dehonian Spirituality.”
September 19, 2014
Because Fr. Leo John Dehon’s personal inclinations and academic training pointed to a ministry in education, he, along with his friends and mentors, found his first assignment as a priest a bit incongruous. His bishop appointed him as the seventh associate pastor at the Basilica in St. Quentin, a parish of 30,000 people, mostly factory workers. Men, women, and even children worked 12-hour days, often in dangerous working conditions, which left little time for family and less interest in the practice of their faith.
Besides the pastoral duties shared by all the priests at the Basilica, the pastor gave Dehon the particular responsibility of teaching catechism in the primary State schools. In the first year at the parish, Fr. Dehon prepared about 100 boys for their First Communion. He soon realized, however, that this instruction was not sufficiently helping these boys, mostly from deprived backgrounds, to develop into mature Christians.
Dehon quickly assessed the need for a place where boys and teenagers could gather outside of school or work for fun and personal betterment. In his first of several major projects in St. Quentin, Fr. Dehon established St. Joseph’s Youth Center. He began by inviting a few boys to join him in his office on Sunday afternoons. Soon he negotiated the use of the yard of a small boarding school, and finally, the pastor rented a building for Dehon to use.
Raising funds from merchants, factory owners, and city officials, Fr. Dehon articulated clearly what he hoped to accomplish. “Allow me first of all to remind you briefly of our aim,” he said. “Many people misunderstand me on this point and think that we have no other motive than to give a few children some honest entertainment on Sundays. We have much higher ambitions. Our aim is the salvation of society by a Christian organization.”
The youth center provided opportunities not only for games and socializing, but also for continuing education with conferences, remedial courses, and a lending library. In addition to a chapel, the center included a savings bank, lodging for young workers, and an employment agency. Soon over 500 young men were coming to St. Joseph’s Youth Center.
Yves Ledure, SCJ, in his short biography of Fr. Dehon notes, “He was developing an educational project of much wider implications involving the human and Christian formation of the youth. He saw it as a pastoral ministry which allowed him to reach out to the workers.” Perhaps Fr. Dehon’s first assignment to a huge parish in a factory town was not so incongruous after all.
The first time I came across the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement was when I was in the refugee camp. My mom took me to the church and signed me up with a group of strangers who were glad that I was part of their clan. It was the very first time that I knew what it meant to kneel for a half-hour in front of Jesus. It was the longest kneeling of a seven-year-old boy who had no concept of adoring Jesus or worshipping the Lord. Yet, from that moment on, the idea of service, dedication and priesthood began with that kneeling.
After high school I joined the Priests of the Sacred Heart and began my formation study in San Antonio, Texas. During my novitiate year, I read about and contemplated Father Dehon’s dream of forming a religious congregation. I always remember the man with much dedication to the Heart of Jesus and the willingness to go the extra mile to educate and guide young men to live a holy life, acceptable to the Lord. Dehon’s concern for youth was evident in the forming of the St. Joseph’s Youth Center. I always admire his dedication to youth. His dedication to young people has inspired me during my four years away for graduate school in Rome
In May 2014, Father Binh Nguyen, SVD, general chaplain for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, invited me to join the team of chaplains as assistant general chaplain of academic affairs. I hesitated at first because it meant that if I accepted the invitation, it would mean that I must put aside a chunk of my time for the youth group. As I contemplated the invitation, I recalled the time and effort that Father Dehon put into the youth group because he believed in youth. He wanted them to know Jesus and have a personal relationship with him. From that moment on, I knew what I had to do in order to be called a son of Father Dehon.
In August of this year, I had a chance to be the chaplain to more than 80 young people who were about to enter the life of a servant leader—the model of service for young people. As I shared with them about the life of a servant leader, one of the persons whom I highlighted during my talk was Father Dehon. I told them about his life, his love for the Eucharist, and his dedication to the service of the Kingdom of God. I shared with them that the life of a servant leader is a life of love and service. Father Dehon would have said to them today that one cannot be a servant leader if one does not know Jesus. One cannot be a servant leader unless one cannot live without the love of the Eucharist and of service for God’s Kingdom in the life of the kids at their parish.
As I begin with my new role as assistant general chaplain of academic affairs with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, Father Dehon’s ideals and dream are still part of my dream. I want young people to know Jesus, to love him, and to serve him. I want young people to come to Jesus when life turns upside-down. I want young people to live a life of the Eucharist, as an offering acceptable to the Lord.
Francis Vu Tran, SCJ
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the youth of our world, especially those who have no one to mentor them. Please remember also the adults who dedicate their efforts to affirm, challenge, and inspire youth.
Take a moment to notice how you are or how you can be an exemplary model for the youth in your life. Then use this prayer of Fr. Dehon, taken from his meditation book, The Retreat with the Sacred Heart.
I too am coming before you
like the young man in the Gospel,
drawn by the kindness of your Heart.
You are the truth, the way, and the life,
teach me what I should do to attain my salvation
and to respond to your plans for me.