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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When the Sisters school the Prof

What a great day I had today. I was once again a student, learning at the feet of masters.

You see, here at Mount Saint Vincent University, we have an annual event called Caritas Day. It is a day about giving back to the community through volunteerism. The roots of Caritas Day comes from from a fire on campus in January 1951 which displaced students and the Sisters off campus throughout the community. Through the generosity of the community, everyone had a bed to sleep in and a roof over their head. Local halls and parishes served home to classes, keeping our students busy with studies during this tough transition. In return for all of the support, Caritas Day occurs every year in January when classes are cancelled and we try to focus on giving back to others in our community.

Today, dozens of students from the Business and Tourism department were out collecting food donations for the shelves of our on-campus food bank. It is shocking how many students become cash-strapped during the school year and need the hand up that our on-campus food bank provides. As citizens of the campus, we need to help our community members first, then we can lend a hand outside to others.

For my part, I had the pleasure of going up to the Sisters of Charity residence, located on our campus, with 10 students to work side by side with the Sisters. As we entered the dining hall, over two dozen Sisters were seated, waiting for our arrival with applause - what a fantastic way to begin. Then we heard from three of the Sisters about how they have tried to infuse the tenets of 'caritas', Latin for charity and brotherly love, into their lives. Some spoke on volunteering time with pregnant girls, committing to be with them before, during and for weeks after the birth of their child. Others told us about their weekly letters to members of government on issue ranging from authentically listening to their constituents to global warming issues. For me, the most powerful story was the sister beginning a new challenge in her life, post-70 years old, relocating to the Sudan with others of Faith in an effort to restore education and health services to a people in great need.

And why did these wonderful women welcome us with praise and cheer? Because we agreed to sit with them, side by side, making turkey sandwiches and decorating sugar cookies this morning. We gave an hour or so of our time this morning. Sandwiches and cookies. In return, it was made crystal clear to us that we were making a difference.

Now, I've been involved in the hospitality industry in one way or another now for two decades. I've served government officials and dignitaries; hosted rock stars, TV personalities and sports teams. This is to say that I've experienced pressure and stress in the pursuit of meeting the high demands of the affluent and note worthy. But today, I watched two sisters use butter knives to spread homemade icing, blue and green and pink, onto handmade sugar cookies with the care and patience of artists. Gently, through word and by example, they advised us how to get in right to the edge of the cookie without going over. And how much icing to put on each cookie - not too much but don't be stingy. Once the icing went on, they reviewed the options of sprinkles and toppings available, each cookie decorated slowly and with care. It was Zen-like. Everyone around the table slowed down, moving in a gentle rhythm, letting the Sisters lead the conversation, telling their stories and sharing their skills.

Why did they take such care, and expect us to do so, with this simple food?

Because tonight, in the heart of Halifax, in the cold of this wintry night, at a shelter that cares for those without homes, someone will receive this cookie. They will look down at it and clearly see that it wasn't store bought. That another human being gave their time and attention to spread the icing just so, and place the sprinkles on them just so.

It will be food for their body and warmth for their soul, if only for one night.

Before returning to our regular routines, we were asked to reflect on our day at some point and think about our experiences giving back to our community. So here is my reflection, using technology that didn't exist 60 years ago.

Today, I sat at the gentle feet of masters who have chosen to give unto others in a full time, no-holds-barred way, not just as a side note in their busy lives. It was humbling and inspiring. I was in school again, learning how to be a better human being. And before I tucked my sons in tonight, I was able to tell them that I learned something today. And when that happens, it is always a good day.

1 comment:

  1. Awww this one made me cry a little! What a beautiful lesson for the day Mr.Murray!

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