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Brendan O’Leary: Celebrating the Joys and Thrills of Sports Day in Jamaica

By Brendan O’Leary

The Usain Bolts, Asafa Powells, and Shelly-Ann Frasers that Jamaica produces in athletics are no accident. In my time volunteering here, I have found that there is a great deal of pride and competitiveness in Jamaica in regards to track and field. This is never more apparent then when the schools here keep their Sports Day.

Every school, from pre-school to college students has a Sports Day where the student body is divided into houses and competes in athletic challenges, with a winner being crowned at the end of the day.

I myself was able to participate in two Sports Days this year; one at the Catholic College of Mandeville where I serve as Campus Minister, and a second at St. Margaret Mary Basic a Prep School, where I teach computer, music, and physical education.

The build up and hype to Sports Day was evident. It was only when I attended each that the passion and value of the day also became evident. The joy and thrill of competition was celebrated by all ages of athletes. Three year olds yet to master walking were not hindered in leaning to the finish line. College students recall the technique from their high school days in the well executed baton exchange. All took the field with pride and a sense of duty.

Seeing this first hand on Sports day removed the mystery of why the Jamaicans will surely triumph at the track and field events in this summer’s Olympic Games. I know that they have cultivated a passion for the test of speed and strength, and an unmatched desire to compete. I know that they have been training for this their whole lives.

Brendan O’Leary Finds that Respect is the Key to Accompaniment

Written by Brendan O’Leary

‘Respect’ is a common salutation and valediction in Jamaica, the word often exchanged as a nicety in conversation between individuals. However, the colloquial use of respect only shadows a cultural and human importance of respect here. In Jamaica, more than it impacts communication, respect develops association and validation between people.

The accompaniment model, that we as Passionist Volunteers follow, calls us to “walk with the crucified and suffering of today”. This walking is something to be done in mutuality and solidarity; we are to walk side by side, not in front or behind. To walk with the people here, we must share respect.

I can remember over a year ago when I first began volunteering at the Catholic College of Mandeville, a tertiary instituation founded by Sr. Una O’Connor, a Passionist Sister, to improve teacher training and qualification in Jamaica. Filling the role of campus minister at the College, I struggled to find my place there. A majority of students were older than me, and had life experiences and duties that eclipsed my mere 23 years. I could not fathom how I might form relationships, particularly a staff to student relationship, with this disparity. I began to question myself. Why was I there? What can I possibly bring here that someone older or more qualified than me could not do better?

But I continued to work at it. I shared with the students my own gifts, and worked in orchestrating devotional exercises on campus, formalizing my presence there. But more importantly I reached out to students, listened to them, laughed with them, learned with them, and shared with them. We accepted differences, reveled in commalities, and explored potentialities. Through the course of the academic year we developed a profound, mutual respect. This respect now grounds my presence on campus and is foundational to my relationship with students on both the individual and collegial level.

In my search for the validation that comes with respect, more important is what I discovered about relationships, the essential unit within accompaniment. I learned that relationships do not exist in monologue, but in dialgue. My insecurities had developed into a self dictation of my role and aid at school. I projected my own anxiety and need to contribute without looking at the nature of relationship itself. I came to appreciate that it was not simply about what I could do for the students of C.C.M., but just as much what they could do for me and moreover what we can do together.

Into my second year of service, the relationships I have at the college continue to ground my role not just as a campus minister, but as a Passionist Volunteer. My accompaniment of the students has grown to something secure and steadfast in my life and work here in Jamaica. I can only pray that they too have grown as well in walking with me. But of this I am certain: the only way in which we are able to walk alongside each other is with the respect that we share.

Walking with Students in Jamaica: The Blessings of Campus Ministry

Written by Brendan O’Leary

A cap and gown can be stifling in the Caribbean heat. None the less, I was so happy to be seated with fellow faculty on stage for the graduation ceremony for the Catholic College of Mandeville. CCM is a school founded by Passionist Sister Una O’Connor, that offers Diploma, Bachelors, and Masters degrees in Primary Education. The graduation stands as the answering of a call to transform education here in Jamaica for the better.

Though I do not teach at CCM, I occupy the role of campus minister; that day it had me leading the invocation for graduation. What I truly received the most from that day was the reflection on my accompaniment at CCM. As I watched students cross the stage for their degrees and diplomas, I was reminded of the little conversations, moments, and laughs we may have shared the past year. As they walked that day, I was reminded of how I walked with them.

Truly to be a PVI and Campus minister is a blessing!

Brendan is a Passionist Volunteer International currently serving in Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies