While completing one of the college placement tests when I was a high school senior, we were allowed to send our scores to three colleges or universities for free. Since Nevada had one four-year college at the time, I selected the University of Nevada (Reno) as one choice. Second, I chose Utah State, because it was closest, I suppose. In my heart, though, I didn’t want to go to either of those schools. I felt that if I went where all my friends were headed, I would mess around and flunk out. (Turns out I almost did that anyway!) The more important reason was that, after 18 years growing up in a county of 9000 square miles with a 1960 population of 9808 people, I wanted to go somewhere new and different. By the way, the county has a population of less than 11,000 people today!
As I scanned down the list of universities, looking for my 3rd choice, I came to the name, Gonzaga; and I thought to myself, this sounds more like a disease than a school. I checked the block, knowing nothing about Gonzaga, including where it was.
Several weeks later I received a recruiting brochure from Gonzaga and learned that it was in Spokane, Washington. Bingo! More than 1,000 miles from home! I applied and somehow was accepted. Gonzaga had just become a university, so I suspect they wanted to have students from as many states as possible, and I became the token kid from eastern Nevada. And I learned, of course, that Gonzaga was a Jesuit university, which led to humorous encounter at our kitchen table.
Soon after I was accepted and the word spread around town, the pastor of Sacred Heart parish came to the house and told my mother that I could not attend GU. “Margaret,” the Pallotine monsignor said in his best Irish brogue, “You cannot let Bobby attend that school. He will lose his faith!” (Turns out that almost happened, too; but that’s a different story.)
Something in me longed to be on new pathways. In September 1962, my mother and oldest sister deposited me at the entrance to DeSmet Hall and drove away. I didn’t know what it meant to cross a threshold into liminal space at that time; but I felt the sense of panic that was to come back several times in my life. It took several experiences of stepping across new thresholds to learn to hold the tension of being no longer “here,” but not yet “there” either.
Looking back on the long walk taken (previous blog post) and the college chosen, I realize now that I was choosing the path of the pilgrim.
Next time, where the pilgrim’s way is leading and the reason for this blog.