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From sunny San Diego, California, to the Midwest bluffs of the Missouri River, O’Connor transferred to Benedictine College. He has found a new home. In fact, after the graduation this May, he’s staying at Benedictine to begin graduate studies in classical education.
“Being at Benedictine has certainly changed the course of my life,” said O’Connor. “I’m not sure where to begin. My friends, of course, have been at the heart of it. But that is what everyone says. My relationships with professors are something that I think is uniquely possible at Benedictine. It is not irregular for me to host professors for dinner or vice versa. I am able to have actual relationships with them that transcend the bounds of the classroom. They have been more than just professors, but have, in many cases, become mentors for me.”
One of those mentors is Dr. Tory Baucum, the Director of the Center for Family Life. Through the Center for Family Life, Benedictine College is forming students and mentor couples who are strengthening suffering families and forming strong families, believing with St. John Paul II that “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.”
As a Fellow of the Center for Family Life, O’Connor has devoted much of his time to building up students from suffering families in and around the Atchison community. During his time at Benedictine studying philosophy and theology, O’Connor has gotten to participate in what he calls a “richly diverse environment of learning” and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that his professors provide.
O’Connor explained that the John Paul II Fellowship has enriched his experience of community both by giving him a stable friendships with the other Fellows and by encouraging interaction with the Atchison community. Being free to openly share how the faith penetrates other’s lives on a weekly basis has been very life-affirming for O’Connor.
“This fellowship has enhanced my experience of scholarship as we read and discuss ideas together, notice them in our lives and then put them into practice,” said O’Connor. “Learning about John Paul II’s theology of the family translates into our work with Atchison children and completes the experience of community, faith, and scholarship that this fellowship offers.”
One of his favorite perks to being a JPII Fellow is the weekly Sunday, family-style soup dinner that Dr. and Mrs. Baucum host casually in their Atchison apartment. “Having a home to be welcomed into while away at college has been a great comfort for me,” said O’Connor. “Our Sunday meetings have been a reliable time of reflection and community that is often hard to come by in the rush of college life. It has offered me a regular opportunity to slow down, to step back and look at my week, and enjoy a home-cooked meal with friends.”
During spring break of this year, O’Connor participated in the nine-day Poland Pilgrimage which was led by Dr. Tory Baucum. After beginning in Warsaw for a day, the pilgrimage spent three nights at a Carmelite Convent in Wadowice, the birthplace of St. John Paul II. During this journey, O’Connor toured museums, and the childhood home of JPII, in addition to the celebration of sacred Mass and other opportunities for prayer and reflection.
It was essential to stop at Auschwitz, the largest concentration and death camp during WWII, before moving on to Krakow for three nights. From there the group learned all about the rule of Communism in Poland, how it persecuted the church, and how John Paul II led the Polish people to assert their human dignity and reclaim their freedom.
“A highlight of our engagement with the work of JPII has been reading The Jeweler’s Shop,” said O’Connor. “We were putting on a sort of underground production of the play, trying to mirror how the young Karol Wojtyla would have had to put on underground theatre productions while under Nazi (and then Soviet) rule in Poland.”
Being a JPII Fellow has provided numerous growth opportunities. “As regards to my faith, Benedictine has allowed me a place to pray with others and a way to put my faith into service in our tutoring at the Central school,” said “O’Connor. “This has been a necessary part of my experience at the college, as service has always been a big part of my life. For my first year at Benedictine, I was looking to serve but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was being poured into in so many ways by the community here and I wanted to give back. The opportunity to serve at the school to invest into Atchison and build a bridge between the greater community and the college has been as much of a blessing to me as it has been to the students I tutor.”
His future is looking bright. With excitement and grounded clarity, O’Connor looks forward to the opportunity to continue forming students in the classroom as he begins graduate studies in classical education at Benedictine College this summer.
Benedictine College’s new strategic plan is to transform culture in America, a program based on the Rule St. Benedict used to transform culture in Europe in the Middle Ages. The strategic plan forms students in the college’s mission of community, faith, and scholarship, places students in key positions after graduation, and extends the mission beyond the borders of campus.
Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. The College prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship. For further information, please visit https://www.benedictine.edu.