Smiling and Laughing keep us young!

Suva, Fiji – “I think it easiest to begin by summarising in happiness, for me over the years I’ve experienced and grown within the Salesian charism it is happiness and joyfulness which capture so well what I love about Salesian spirit. My life in a Salesian context can be divided into two very distinct periods; my teenage years until 2012 and then from my time with the Cagliero project (=missionary volunteer program, Cambodia) until now.”

St Joseph’s College Ferntree Gully

The greatest gifts from my high school years I feel I’ve only realised recently. Being at a Salesian school I was exposed early to the Salesian approach to education and youth for 6 years. Teachers’ abilities to engage us beyond the classroom, but also to approach us as young men not as children created an atmosphere where I was able to relate to them and see them as people I wanted to emulate. To reference Don Bosco’s letter from Rome, they had liked what I liked to engage me and through this I’d grown to like what they liked. Only when I left for university did I realise what I had had at school, my faith, Salesianity, the community the students and teachers formed, all of these relationships and structures I’d known so well were lost to me. Without knowing I had defined myself within this Salesian context.

My faith in this time was up and down, yet at around 16 I started to become interested again, so that by the time I was in year 11 and 12 I was happily attending mass, reading, leading different liturgies in my roles with student leadership as school captain. But I feel most importantly my personal prayer life had begun to be positive and hopeful again. I wanted to know God, I wanted to pray, I was enjoying this fresh approach at my faith. I was successful in sports (swimming and football particularly), I was academic (top of my year for 5 years), I acted in school productions, led prayers, gave speeches and tried everything the school offered and I loved it. I really loved my College.

The Change

It was within the first year of University where I began to make some real decisions. My faith in a wider society requested a choice – I chose to make faith a defining aspect of my life, I chose to search for the things I had lost after Salesian school graduation. With a deep faith interest I began my discernment of vocation and particularly in the priesthood. I’d know some wonderful Salesian and parish priests and combined with knowledge of Don Bosco and his work had a great effect on my discernment.

The discernment of vocation I had shifted my focus away from medicine as a career, I had woken up to the false reasons which had driven me initially, that pride and wealth was still there but I’d a better understanding of myself and it allowed me to focus more on my wish to help people.

One thing I did do for work was to return to my College and help in the maintenance department. This had me in work clothes, cleaning the school and doing all sorts of odd jobs. This was a very visible change from the previous year. The ones who had seen me as a successful College Captain now saw me in dirty work clothes working in the school. I honestly felt ashamed and embarrassed. I didn’t need the money badly, but as a University student the work was welcome. Thankfully I enjoyed the gardening and outdoors work I was doing. I am glad I went back to the College. It really took me down a little bit, very humbling for a proud young man.

Cagliero Project in Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Don Bosco Technical School

It was then I found Cagliero, thank God too, it has been such a blessing in my life. It allowed me to define myself in a new Salesian, Catholic, missionary context without the baggage I had gathered over the years. I was able to just be who I wanted to be and live out my faith with real purpose and passion for the young and poor in particular. At home I’d felt cramped, University had shown me many new things and after 13 years of education I wanted to get out, to be hands on. I needed to be out of the classroom and into the world a little more. I was actually offered the privilege to live out Salesian charism myself. This for me was the life changing experience. It’s already two and half years ago when I returned back to Australia. Luckily I have been writing a journal of sorts, with entries every week or so, and I continue to fill its pages now in Fiji. Some glimpses from the journal: It seems here, now, I am called to serve here. I love it, the heat, the language, the food, no matter at all, I am enjoying myself… I feel my vocation, I can see it as I live and work here I know what feels natural.

For me the spiritual junk at the time was the internet and my phone, having been there a few months I’d become comfortable and more readily distracted. It was a few weeks after this the Rector, Fr Roel, pulled me aside and offered me a teaching role in the technical school which completely shook up my mission. So much more work, but it was the challenge I needed. I treasure many stories with the Besucco boys (young Vietnamese aspirants in DBTS boarding house) and visits to their villages. To say I love Cambodia is an understatement. What I did there, who I lived with, why and how they helped and changed me; all of it has been so beneficial such that it constantly calls to my heart. I long still now to return and work again in Cambodia, the ‘Kingdom of Wonders’. Perhaps one day my dream will come true.

Vocation and Formation

My Cagliero experience and the adjusting period upon returning to Melbourne allowed me to have some understanding of the things I’d gained through working in a Salesian mission: things like patience, happiness in little things, joy in others, community life, living outside my comforts. But most of all I feel it is a clarity of mind and purpose I’ve gained in the last 2 years whilst working in various Salesian works. I now know who I am and I know who I want to be. I want to be a Salesian, to be a Don Bosco for today and tomorrow. My vocation journey is intertwined with the Cagliero experience but now it has taken its own path. I spent the pre-novitiate period in Don Bosco House, Clifton Hill – formation house in Melbourne, with other young men wanting to become priests or brothers. I’ve joined their community because it was the next step I needed to take and am taking. My faith grows and is challenged, with so many examples of experiences Salesians and forming Salesians I’ve had to step up in many ways, to become more constant and determined to keep my spiritual life alive and healthy.

Laughter is so important in a community! At the dinner table we have jokes and funny stories, when we relax together, maybe at the pool table or playing soccer we muck around a bit and enjoy ourselves. Smiling and laughing keep us young and makes our life together all the more enjoyable. These things I have picked up from others but I also hope I’ve had them within myself in some degree all along, and that it is this experience of Salesian life and spirituality that is bringing them out and accentuating them.

Committing to the Salesians in this way hasn’t been simple but it has been easy. Family support is mixed, friends don’t always understand, popular culture doesn’t always accept Catholicism, but in some ways Cambodia helped me realise that away from all this I am who I am, and I am Salesian.

Novitiate and On wards

I come from a large family with many cousins, so I’ve always grown up with having many young people in my life. I have this passion for teaching and education. My more recent studies of the Salesian Constitutions and Salesian spirituality have really struck me. My goodness I’ve never been so inspired or happy with a text, the words are beautiful and so appropriate. There were a few lines which as I read struck me as the absolute things that attract me to the Salesian charism and resonate so deeply within myself.

“That you are young is enough to make me love you very much. This love is an expression of pastoral charity and gives meaning to our whole life” (C.14) In the book was Don Bosco’s letter from Rome, I read it through and I found several lines which I identify with the most: “By being loved in the things they like, through taking part in their youthful interests. They are led to see love those things too which they find less attractive.” (pg. 259)

To say something briefly of the novitiate experience is important. Never has the Salesian life been so intense! Community, works, studies – the whole day, week, life is Salesians in its input and outlook. This has been a huge challenge personally, the new culture, country and community have pushed me over the past 8 months. Likewise, the total immersion in the Salesian life and spirit has pushed me to commit deeper and deeper to this vocation. I always hold onto a piece of advice given to me by an older confrere in Australia: the table must be sanded before the polish is applied.

To finish I have a final story, it is again from Cambodia but it is the first time I called myself Salesian. It appears to me as a turning point of my mission and life, it has reformed me into who I am now as a Salesian.

After the Eucharist at the exit of the Church the Bishop was at the door saying farewell to all. He pulled me aside briefly and said he remembered me, I was the Salesian volunteer. At the time it struck me, that he remembered who I was, secondly I wasn’t just a volunteer, I was a Salesian volunteer. I was Salesian. All the challenges, difficulties, obstacles, opportunities, memories, hopes, the community, family, joy, laughter, happiness, mission, thankfulness and love that encapsulates my experience of Salesian spirituality and life. This is why when I can say I am part of the Salesians, I am (almost) Salesian.”

AUL other 4 novices vocation stories are available on the BOSCOLINK

1 Comment

  1. Br David O'Brien Reply

    What a great story a story which I can see as inspirational and real I and many of us Salesians wish you every success Tristian and are looking forward to your return to Australia
    Br David O’Brien

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