One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from being a rector has also been one of the hardest: nobody wants a rector. When high school graduates look forward to their first day at Notre Dame, they dream of football Saturdays. They picture themselves in a massive lecture hall. They imagine life in a college dorm, and — if we’re lucky — they may even be excited to meet their new rector. Not because they really want a rector. We just come with the dorm. And they pray that both are nice.
But you know what they do want? They want someone who can help them when they need it, but gives them space to figure it out on their own. Someone who treats them like adults, but remembers they’re still on the road there. Someone who sets them straight, but does it because you believe in them and in what they could be if they really pulled it together. Someone who manages to get everything done to make the hall run, but is still excited to see them and hear about their day. Someone who is proud of them. Someone they can be proud of in return. Someone who loves them and makes them feel at home.
If you ask any college student in the world whether they want each of these things, the vast majority will say yes. Who wouldn’t? Ask them if they want a rector, however, and most would probably tell you they’re fine on their own or with just an RA to help them.
Which is actually really freeing. When you’ve given your life to a ministry you believe in and feel called to, the best way to assure that your life and your ministry grow together and bear fruit is to approach that ministry from the outset with a humility that acknowledges you’re not the thing that matters in all of this. Those you serve are. In this case, my guys.
So I give my guys what they want: help, respect, encouragement, guidance, attention, care, belonging, and love. If, in the process, they realize that’s just me being their rector, all the better.