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In 1973, Becky and I were among a group of Gonzaga freshmen who would spend two evenings each week at St. Joseph Children’s Home, tutoring young kids who lived there. I remember the enormous building and the echo of steps in the hallway.
Becky and I were at Gonzaga because we were born into families that valued education and families who took good care of us as we grew up; we had a home, food, clothing and parents who nurtured us. The opportunity at St. Joe’s was one of giving of our time, but it also was about education – ours.
I tutored a 9 year old boy named Robby, who had a younger brother who also lived at St. Joseph’s. I remember his enormous brown eyes and his easy willingness to be with me – a stranger at first. I have a photo of Robby and a poem I wrote, in a scrapbook, tucked away, somewhere. I took him to dinner a few times at the COG (Gonzaga dining hall) where he ate an inordinate amount of food. “Oh, yes,” said the sister when we returned to St. Joe’s, “I forgot to tell you that he never knew when he would eat before he came here, he tends to stock up at meal times. You need to limit his food or he may get sick.” I remember feeling stunned that any adult would neglect or be unable to feed her child. Yes, it was about education - mine.
When I told my parents about the visits, my dad sent me a letter with $20 in it and wrote, “Take those little boys to the circus – every child should have that experience.” So, we went. They loved it –and so did I.
When I read the St. Joseph Children’s Home reunion story today, I cried. Not sure why.
Maybe it is the wondering that crept in – what happened to Robby? He would be about 47 now. Did he find security? Did he leave Spokane? Perhaps I cried recalling the intense and selfless love that the sisters offered to children. They created family where there were gaps; they loved in the midst of social and family chaos.
I imagine that Josephine passed me in that hallway in 1973. I hope that she someday loses the embarrassment she says lives within her about her childhood home. While the “family” she had was not traditional, her St. Joseph family gave her what she needed most: love.