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By Sean Morrisroe, Catholic Stand,
Feeling alone. We all have felt it. The sense that no one cares or needs you. Though one might be surrounded by dozens of people, the feeling still may creep up on you.
I felt this way in the middle of Marine Corps boot camp. I was 18 years old and though I was part of a 60-man platoon with several drill instructors watching my every move, I felt isolated. Nothing I did was of my own volition. The screaming Marines controlled dressing, showering, and every minute detail of me. But it was a challenge I gleefully had accepted just months before. And a career I wanted all throughout my teenage years. As I well understood, there was a method to the madness, but it did not quell the sense that I was by myself through this test.
Each evening there was mail call. Recruits would wait eagerly all day for the letters and packages from their girlfriends, family and friends. We would whisper to each other when the Drill Instructors were not around and fantasize about what we would receive. As you can imagine, mail call was very important to Marine recruits.
One night during mail call the Drill Instructor yelled, “Recruit Morrisroe, mail!” I dutifully ran up to the Drill Instructor, snatched the letter from his hand and ran back to my spot. I was surprised when I looked down at the return address to see who it was from. It was from my grade school teacher, a nun, that I had not spoken to in over four years.
Memories of this nun at that time were not fond. I remember her to be harsh, mean, and uncompromising. We were scared of her. She was exacting in the work that she had us do. This nun ensured that we knew how to diagram a sentence, memorize poems, made sure we brushed our teeth after lunch. She would remind us that we were spoiled, as she previously taught Native American children on a reservation in Arizona. They lived in abject poverty but she said they were better students then us because they appreciated the education they were receiving. We did not like her.
But with all that being said, she taught us the Catechism of the Catholic Church. She reinforced that we should do the right thing at all times. Also she used examples of the Saints daily. She had veterans come in and tell us their stories of World War II and how faith helped them survive. It was a moral education that most people wish for children to receive from a Catholic nun.
I was a mediocre student and did not get in trouble at school or receive any awards. I just kept my head down and did the bare minimum. Never in a million years did I think that she would remember me after I left the 8th grade and moved on to high school.
In thinking about it now, I know she knew about my problems at home. She obviously received my contact information in boot camp from my mother. But why did she reach out to me after all these years?
Not Feeling Alone
I do not know the exact reason why she wrote to me but her letter lifted my spirits. After her first letter I didn’t feel alone any longer. It was nice to receive a letter from someone that was not my mother or grandmother, though I appreciated those letters too. We corresponded with each other throughout my training and also throughout my first deployment overseas. Soon she asked me to come to her 8th grade class and talk to the boys about my experiences in the Marines.
Lighting the Fire
Her letters reignited the fire of the Catholic faith in me, though it would not really blaze for many more years. The thought that she was thinking of me was humbling. Her letters helped me “come home” to the Catholic Church.
Was she putting into practice Blessed John Paul II’s renewed call in the 1980s to evangelize? I think so. Blessed John Paul provided three circumstances for evangelization:
(1) Preaching to those who have never heard the Gospel (ad gentes),
(2) Preaching to those Christian communities where the Church is present and who have fervor in their faith.
(3) Preaching to those Christian communities who have ancient roots but who “have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a new evangelization or a re-evangelization.
I fell into category three.
Reaching Out to the Lonely
My loneliness problems were far from the problems of the truly lonely while I was in the boot camp. I had a support system in the Marines I could have used. I was making new friends. But this nun reached out to me and made a difference.
She replanted the seed of Christ’s work in me. She also encouraged me when I needed it the most. Her kindness uplifted me. It was so simple on her part. Writing a letter to a young boy trying to become a man in an unfamiliar setting. Wow! We can all do that.
Her example of evangelizing and kindness is something we should all wish to emulate.
Sean Morrisroe is husband to a wonderful woman and father of to an 11-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. He served 10 years in the US Marine Corps as an infantryman and in his post Marine Corps career has worked at investment banks, business valuations firms and public companies focusing on mergers & acquisitions. Sean graduated from UC Irvine with a BA in History, attended the London School of Economics and received a certificate in Finance from UCLA.