November 03, 2022
The Last Word: Service
By Brian Maher ’68, ’18Hon.
I have an early memory of my father wearing a white Civil Defense helmet and leaving our house to be a warden during an air raid drill when I was about 4 years old. Outside of hurrying under the dining room table when the siren blared, I remember only my father and how important he looked in his impressive warden helmet.
Years later, I played CYO basketball, barely well enough to make the team. When I reached high school, it only took two rounds of layup drills at tryouts before my playing days were officially over. Loving the sport and wanting to stay connected in any way I could, I then asked the coach if there were any possible way I could be a part of the team; he suggested I could be his manager. Not sure what exactly to expect, I agreed and later relished hanging out with the players, taking the bus rides, and feeling the competitive excitement that went along with operating the time clock, keeping the scorebook, and handing towels to team members. When I arrived at Providence College — in the midst of solidifying itself on the collegiate basketball map — I wondered how I could be a part of that team. The next thing I knew I was manager of the freshman team coached by Dave Gavitt. Of course, there was much more required of me, but the perks were well worth the time I spent at practice and at games.
In these instances, I would later realize, “service” always had a self-interest at the end. In failing to recognize my father’s generosity toward the safety of our community, I saw instead a shiny helmet. Likewise, the time I spent as manager of basketball teams boosted my own ego more than it helped the coach and players. I was on the fast track toward self-absorption with such thinking when suddenly I hit a crossroads: The Friars Club.
When asked to join the club late in my sophomore year, I had to weigh the merits of sitting on the bench next to Joe Mullaney at every game with donning that white jacket and enjoying all the prestige which went along with it. I chose the latter, again for the wrong reasons, but during my two years in the club the scales were removed from my eyes. The surgeon was the club moderator, Father Walter J. Heath, O.P., a uniquely dynamic preacher who needed neither pulpit nor dais to make his points, as he was as effective in returning calm to an all too-festive dorm room as he was in illuminating a parable in the Aquinas Hall chapel. To me, however, he was most revealing when he spoke to us at the monthly Friars Club meetings. While his descriptors differed each time, the message was always succinctly the same: We are all called to serve. Initially, I took that to mean working for the club at basketball games, alumni weekends, or prospective student tours, but, as his soliloquies continued, I realized his words had less to do with those assignments and all to do with Gospel values.
No longer looking at what glittered, I found myself instead gravitating towards more temporal needs and began to understand my not so-spectacular skills and abilities could still be used to benefit those around me. While some situations did include aspects of my life which I long enjoyed, there were others which attracted me to causes I would not have selected on my own. More often than not, these have helped individuals in greatest need.
The most important take I gleaned from Father Heath? Being called to serve is not an option … it is a mandate. His words helped me understand whatever talents we have are gifts from God, and, like any gift, they should be shared. “I could give you the nicest blue shirt ever made,” he said more than once, “but if you never wear it, what good is it? And what is that saying to the giver?”
St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it. I would hope to act with compassion without thinking of personal gain.” We have only to look around us to see an ever-growing list of perils which confront our youth, our communities, our Church. I suggest there is a place where each of us can help in these circles.
Perhaps there is a blue shirt somewhere in a closet or a drawer which still fits. Why not take it out and try it on!
Brian Maher ’68, ’18Hon., a proud member of the Class of 1968, is the father of two alumni — Timothy Providence Maher ’97 and Kara Grace (Maher) Darrell ’06 — and the grandfather of five. Since 2009, his weekly email, “It’s Tuesday …,” has kept more than 400 alumni and friends of the college updated on the prayer needs of classmates. He also writes a weekly column for his parish bulletin. Maher, who resides in West Islip, N.Y., with his wife, Barbara, retired in 2016 after 37 years at Farmingdale State College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.