by Katie Wojda
When I went on the “Service Plunge” retreat at the beginning of my freshman year of college, I felt right at home. I had only just met these 200 eager, social-justice-driven freshmen, but I knew I was in the right place because everyone was there to learn about how to be good stewards of our community. Throughout my four years at the University of Portland, I would congratulate myself on my decision to start my college experience by entering such a beautiful community on campus. Little did I know that that decision would be the first of many that would lead me right here to Taller de Jose.
I was involved in that same campus community, especially my junior and senior years, because I worked as a Campus Volunteer Coordinator for my school’s partner parish in downtown Portland: St. André Bessette Catholic Church. I loved my job as a volunteer coordinator, and over my two years in that position, I grew to love the church’s namesake as well. If you’ve never heard of Saint André Bessette, the most important thing for you to know is that this was a man who LOVED Saint Joseph.
Cut to spring semester my senior year: I’m loving St. André Bessette Catholic Church and all it stands for, I’m not entirely sure what to do with my future. At that point I was well on my way to completing my application for JVC, a program that I hoped would be filled with similar people to my Service Plunge buddies, and I had already read Taller de Jose’s entire website (literally every page). I was very interested in both JVC and Taller de Jose, but I was still undecided. Then one day at Mass, the priest giving the homily mentioned Saint Andre Bessette’s love of Saint Joseph, and how he would often say to the sick and lonely people who would come to him, “Go to Saint Joseph”. How much more obvious could the Spirit have made it?? I felt like I was being sent from Saint Andre to José. Taller de José. And thank God, Taller de José wanted me too.
So a few months later my bags were packed and I was headed to Chicago to start my year of service with JVC. Poetically, it was my father, Paul Joseph, who made the 6 hour drive with me down from Minnesota, and the heart-shaped card my mom wrote me, telling me to be brave, was tucked in my backpack pocket.
My first few weeks of JVC and Taller de José have confirmed all my hopeful suspicions about finding Service-Plunge-esque people. I guess that was pretty predictable. But still, I’m so grateful I have found yet another place where everyone’s top priority is the community, service to our neighbors, and the ultimate goal of participating in building God’s kingdom on earth.
Evidently, building God’s kingdom takes a lot of work, and you will get sweaty. I have consistently arrived at work sweaty, and got home sweaty because even in the short walk to and from the bus, the 90-degree temperature in Chicago has shown no mercy. But it has been worth it to meet our clients and to learn how appropriate my title, “Compañera”, is. Our clients come in for such a wide range of reasons that the best I can do is accompany them; I hardly know the way any better than they do. I do know that with each new client I will have new difficulties to face with them, new problems to solve. So my days here will not always be easy, but surely Joseph and Andre got sweaty in their accompaniment too.
Being here I’ve realized the similarity between the Service Plunge folks, the St. André Bessette Catholic Church volunteers, and the staff at Taller de José: they are all people who know that the kingdom is ahead of us, but that we don’t have to try and get there in one day, and we don’t have to do the work alone. It seems I’ve always looked for, and been surrounded by, Compañerx–people who make the journey feel like home.