BY CATHERINE ROBERTS
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate to use the word "prodigal."
Still, until the Labor Day homecoming retreat for friends and former volunteers, prodigal is how I felt.
It had been three years since I had any substantial contact with Loretto; I'd missed the last two homecoming retreats. I almost didn't go to this one. It's been too long, I told myself. No one will remember you. Loretto is a part of your past.
Yet relegating Loretto to my past, like a fondly remembered dream, felt too painful. I swallowed my apprehensions and bought a plane ticket.
In preparing to write this piece, I looked up the reflections I'd written before, and I found the first I wrote as a volunteer, about community. At the time, that meant having just entered into intentional community with my four housemates in D.C. Back then I was just beginning to learn the ropes of that Loretto value, and I remember feeling deeply challenged by the realities of living with strangers, all of whose life experiences and viewpoints were new to me. By the end of the year, though, I had fallen in love with our little community and our way of living. After it was over, and I moved to New York to start graduate school, I missed it desperately. Although I liked my new roommates (and all my subsequent ones), I always missed the feeling of an intentional shared investment in each other's growth and well-being.
Coming back to Loretto after so long away felt like remembering how to use a muscle I'd forgotten existed. There we were, sitting in a circle at the retreat's opening as we'd always done, sharing with each other about some of our lives' most crucial struggles. Yet many of the people in the room were strangers to me; folks who I knew were connected with Loretto but whom I'd never met before.
I think the true miracle of this didn't fully hit me until I returned to my normal life and I opened up Twitter (a necessary evil for the job of a journalist). Reading the comments of people on the Internet, how thoughtlessly people hurl poisonous invective at each other under the cover of virtual anonymity, it struck me how rare and sacred it is to be able to gather in a space with a group of strangers and safely expect to be treated with respect and dignity. In every conversation that weekend, each of us strove to hear and understand each other, to meet each other with generosity and kindness, and to trust that we were each working, in our own ways, toward a more just and equitable world.
No one had to lay down those ground rules for the weekend. Of course, I believe that establishing parameters is crucial to healthy conversation and coalition building. But in the spaces Loretto creates, such principles are already understood. Inhabiting that mental space was as refreshing to my soul as enjoying the green, vibrant land of the Motherhouse was to my body.
What this has all taught me is that although I still feel nostalgic for my little Junia House community, I am still a part of the wider Loretto community. I trust that I will always be able to return to gatherings with fellow members and experience support, renewal, and meaningful conversation. I haven't left community behind—I can carry it with me, and it carries me.
Catherine Roberts (she/her) served as a Loretto Volunteer in 2013-14 at Interfaith Voices. She now lives in New York City and reports on health for Consumer Reports. Follow her on twitter: @catharob.
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