Being a student trying to live out my life like St Augustine

©️ Sean McElwee

The Sundays of my childhood often began with a knock on my door.

One of my parents waking me up and one picking out my best Sunday attire, when I was too young to do it myself. Once assured I wouldn’t go back to sleep, which I always did, they would move along to my sister’s room.

I grew up in a Church. My parents made an effort to be at Mass every Sunday we could for all of my early life. As I got older, they stopped forcing us to tag along with them, but my Dad would always knock on the door to ask if we wanted to come, so we always knew we had the option. This funny thing happens, however, when you graduate and leave home, your Dad is no longer there to knock on the door and invite you along to 10:00 Mass, your Mom is not there to give an approving nod at the outfit you have chosen for that Sunday morning. Suddenly you have to do it all on your own. I was lucky, because as soon as I no longer had my parents to wake me up for Church in the morning, I met St Augustine.

My name is Katie Selhorst and I am a new volunteer with Austin Forum. Originally I am from Cleveland, Ohio USA. Last year I graduated from Villanova University, following which I made the totally crazy decision to move across the Atlantic to pursue a masters in Veterinary Genetics. What I found when I went away for undergraduate studies, is what many young Catholics do when they go away for University; I could no longer rely on my parents waking me up every morning to keep my Faith growing. If I wanted Faith to be a part of my undergrad experience I needed to get myself up and there. Luckily, the centrepiece of life at Villanova is the Augustinian brotherhood and the beautiful St Thomas of Villanova Church that is no more than a 15 minute walk from any point on campus. Needless to say, making sure I could make it to Mass was much easier when all I had to do was walk across the street.

That experience of choosing to make your faith your own is a challenge, but a blessing. Investing in your Faith on your own is something we all do for the rest of our lives. My first week at Villanova a bunch of my friends and I got together and decided to go to Mass. We embraced the awkwardness of talking about religion and asked a bunch of people we barely knew if they wanted to go to Mass. This was a first for me, Mass had always been a family affair and I had never really had friends at Church. Suddenly, I had a group of people who wanted to celebrate with me. So off we went, young bright eyed first years, ready for our own adventure. We walked across the street into a room of people who had all chosen to do the same. All young adults who had decided, at least that night, that we all wanted Faith to be a part of our journey. We all stood, sang, and prayed, we all joined in. It felt like one big family gathered to celebrate Mass, like one big community.

Community is a word I have become very familiar with in the past few years. After all, it is something St. Augustine loved to talk about. But he did not just speak of a group of people gathered, but valued a real community. One built on truth, unity, and charity. One where each member is valued. That is always open to new people, because everyone has something to contribute. One where we challenge each other to grow in truth, and come alongside our friends when they struggle. One that because of all these things, points everyone back to our Lord. This is the community we strive to create at Villanova. It is what I saw in Mass that first Sunday, and every Sunday after. It is one I have seen both within the Church and outside it’s walls, and it is something I have found here, at St. Augustine’s. This is the greatest lesson I learned while at Villanova. The courses were important, but learning to strive out and even to try and create this community is something I will carry with myself no matter where I go. Not only that but the communities I have found are ones that I get to keep with me always.

University does not last forever, we all know that. As much as some of us wish it would, at some point we all have to move on with our lives. You wonder if the people you met there are the people you will know forever, or if they were merely just friends of proximity. I am not far away from undergrad so I can not tell you what life will bring me and all the people I was close with during it, but I can say that they all did what St Augustine wants us to do, invest in other people. Care for them, seek truth with them, and be there for them when they need it.

Moving to a new country is a scary thing for anyone. You do not know anyone and you have to make a spot for yourself in a completely new environment. After leaving University, I knew I wanted to find that community no matter where I was. Which is how I ended up at St Augustine’s. I knew where Augustinians were there must be people working to live this way, and that is true. The community here is fabulous and I have greatly enjoyed being a part of it, but when I am not here in Hammersmith, I am a student, a research student. My project is such that my time is split between both our campuses. I have a research group and a group of post-grad friends on each campus. Which has meant I have had to learn a lot of names.

Students are an interesting group of people. For the most part we are looking to find groups of friends in what we are doing, we are all trying to find a place where we fit, and figure out what our future holds, and we are also always very busy. Finding community with these Augustinian values at Villanova was pretty easy, if you had not already found it there were countless people around that wanted to help you. If you wanted to learn more about it, there was always a class you could take or an Augustinian around to talk to, but I am the first to admit, Villanova exists inside a bubble. Finding community as a student somewhere else looks a bit different. A lot of times it means the topic of conversation has shifted. It is less common for my school friends and I to sit around having theological debates or talking about Mass that weekend. These conversations are replaced with talking about the ethics of veterinary medicine or domestic animal populations. We are all scientists, so in some way we are all looking for some sort of truth. The conversations have changed since I was student at Villanova, but being a student trying to live out my life like St Augustine has not.

Day to day I still try my best to find the community that I found at Villanova. To reach out to the person in my office who does not have anyone to eat lunch with. To ask people about their lives outside of our two campuses. To be there when we all hit those inevitable failures that come from doing research. We are just figuring it out, students are, that is how learning works. We are figuring out where and what to invest in, but if there is anything I have learned from being a student at an Augustinian University is that it is worth investing in real community. Being a student does not last forever, but community, that does.