A Year of Service, A Year of Love

By: MaryJane Plote, STF Cohort 4 | MaryJane graduated from the University of Dallas in 2017 and joined Seton Teaching Fellows on the 4th Grade Team at Brilla College Prep Elementary School & El Camino. Upon completion of her missionary year, she moved to Dayton, OH, where she is pursuing her master’s in Pastoral Ministry & working in Campus Ministry at the University of Dayton. MaryJane blessed the children she served, her coworkers, and her community in an incredible way during her time as a Seton Teaching Fellow. We are blessed to have her reminisce on her time with us in this blog post:

Dedicated to the 87 kiddos running around with pieces of my heart.

MJ

“I get paid to love 9 and 10 year olds.” That’s how I used to describe my job as a Seton Teaching Fellow. I could say that I was an El Camino teacher, and I would step in from time to time during the Brilla day depending on what was happening in the grade team that day, or I would pull a small group, but I wouldn’t say that was my primary focus. I did some odd jobs here and there for Brilla, largely because the nature of my role was flexible. The real consistent part of my year as a fellow was that I was there to love and to help form young people that would become great leaders in our world. Three months out of the program I find myself thinking about the Bronx, the beautiful days with community, funny moments with scholars and disciples, and wonderful times spent with co-workers that became friends. It was all a labor of love, if not my own, then His– our loving God– who for some reason sent this Texas girl to New York for a year, on an adventure that kicked off a whole new life plan.

In the months since my year with Seton Teaching Fellows, I have come to realize many things, and I am sure there’s so much more to come. I realize firstly how fortunate I am that I had the opportunity to go to a new city, far from home, with no worries to tie me down elsewhere. It was such a blessing to have the freedom to just move to New York after college and take a year to learn about myself and the world and where I fit into the whole equation. Many of the people I work with now (more on that later) also did years of service and having a shared experience that is transformative to who you are is something I am beyond thankful for. I have also come to realize that no two years of service are the same. There are many aspects which have commonality– the lifestyle (simple living for the win), the communal nature, the pursuit of bringing a better quality of life to others and promoting their dignity in whatever way that is– but there is so much that is particular to where and how each person serves.

There is no place like the Bronx. New York City took me a while to come to appreciate and dare I say, Love. It is truly unlike anything else. And the Bronx is no exception! When I try to explain why I love the Bronx to others, I must sound like a crazy person, but there is a life and an energy there that I don’t know if you can find anywhere else. Perhaps you can, but it seems to me that the meshing of urban African American culture with Dominican or Puerto Rican culture, and all the other beautiful threads of ethnic traditions that run through the streets is unmatched. I mean where else are you going to find a Chinese take-out menu with chicken wings and empanadas listed as top favorites? What a place!

During my year as a Seton Teaching Fellow, I discerned the next step in my life would be to go to graduate school and try my hand at being a campus minister. It was because of my time as a fellow that I felt this inkling in my spirit. The little conversations with a scholar in the stairs after they were struggling in class, or the interactions during brain breaks when scholars and I could chat about their lives and what what going on, the community circle conversations that brought real life issues to the classroom, all lead to my heart desiring to minister to others. I am currently in graduate school pursuing a Masters in Pastoral Ministry, and working as a Graduate Assistant in Campus Ministry. But man oh man do I use the things I have learned from my year as a fellow! How to speak to others about complicated topics, how to be sensitive but also not hide what you believe to be true. It’s the little things mostly, like using a Show-Flow to help organize a large liturgy for several thousand people, using fist-to-fives to check in with my student leaders that I work with, wanting to make complicated things (grad school is hard friends) “sticky” for myself or peers, and wishing I had a RAK survey so I could surprise a colleague with a little something to show them how awesome they are and encourage them to keep it up. I even get to teach a mini course to undergraduate students, so my lesson planning days aren’t quite over just yet!

As a Seton Teaching Fellow, you work to fulfill three missions. We all became “mission masters” memorizing the Brilla Public Charter schools and the El Camino mission statements, and we worked within the general Seton Education Partners mission. But at the core of these, what really drives the work, is love. Loving our community, loving the families we get to know, loving our scholars. When I think about what was so transformative about my time as a Seton Teaching Fellow, it is the abundance of love pouring out from Brilla or El Camino staff, Families in our community, scholars and disciples, and even the people we would pass in the Bronx. Sometimes the love was in a close reading lesson, or in a science experiment, other times during an El Camino lesson, others still during a Roosting Rally.

While there are no two fellow jobs that share everything, it seems no matter what a fellow is up to, it’s grounded in love, so is there a better job to have?

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