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Finding a Foundation and Family at JPII

May 21, 2018

During a recent marriage prep session, Father Roza asked me, “Josh, what’s your job?”

“I’m a teacher,” I said without a moment’s hesitation, full of the confidence of a man who has made a career of having all the answers.

Anna Donnelly, my fiancée, gave me a look that said all I needed to know: That was not at all it…

“No. Your job is to be crucified,” Father Roza said with a moment’s measured deliberation.

You see, he had just instructed me to listen prayerfully as he read us a passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, particularly 5:23, which reads: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.” Tasked with seeing myself in the message’s two male figures, husband and Christ, I failed to see beyond my individuality.

Though I am a teacher by day at Mercy High School, I don’t have all the answers. Not even close. It’s my first year as a teacher who often feels the weight of many presents and futures resting on his only recently qualified shoulders, my first year after graduating from UNO with a bachelor’s degree to teach secondary language arts and an additional major in English, and the year in which I have been learning more than I ever thought about what it means to love and be loved while planning for marriage (and a wedding, of course, which I’m told will have donuts, much like a Sunday morning Mass with Deacon Keating). I’m not sure what this humbling year would be like if the St. John Paul II Newman Center wasn’t a constant presence.

Two summers ago, my family moved from Omaha to North Platte, leaving me behind to complete my last year of studies. I had never lived without them. I wasn’t sure what home would mean without the constancy of my parents’ foundation in faith or my siblings’ unsurpassed energy. In a string of grace-filled events, I secured a room for the first year of Newman Hall and the position of coordinating music ministry for Sunday Masses.

Loneliness can destroy faith or deepen it. I was blessed to see a light against my loneliness on move-in day, when a girl I’d only seen a handful of times before circumstantially found herself helping me load far too many boxes of books and musical instruments into a cart, which we struggled to push over the threshold of the front door. A couple weeks after that, Anna watched me finish cleaning up the music equipment in our temporary worship space of Karol’s Commons before approaching me to chat. We walked out as if to leave, then lingered in that same front door from move-in day for two hours after Mass, having a perfectly light conversation on casual topics like, you know, each of your strongly held beliefs about the merits and faults of homeschooling and traditional education. Father Roza left and returned with nothing but a smile and a “Hey, guys.” Little did we know at the time that under a year-and-a-half later he’d reveal he was very curious about what would bring two people who don’t know each other all that closely yet to tackle the heavy subjects that he now found us working through in marriage prep. We didn’t know it, but Anna and I had literally stood in the open door of humbling ourselves before each other to discern what would be best for our eventual family.

There’s also something to be said for the graces that flow from checking in with friends who are still in college and frequent the Newman Center—whether that means spending precious late nights in Karol’s Commons with old friends who share my fears of what lies on the other side of college or offering some insight to new ones who are discovering the tension between college culture shaping them or them shaping college culture. Even though what we share is the transitory nature of experiencing college at roughly the same time, it’s enough to make us a family.

Being members of the faith family at JPII has given Anna and me a foundation for our marriage, so we’re very excited to profess vows in the same building where we learned to laugh, love, and cry like we never have. We know many of our friends at the wedding are those who have watched us come together at JPII and encouraged us to stay the course. It’s been very freeing to prepare for marriage with a blunt-yet-gentle priest like Father Roza in the parish where our relationship was born out of a simple act of Christian charity.

Joshua von Kampen | Theatre and Speech Teacher, Mercy High School & Music Minister, JPII Newman Center

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