Precepts for Volunteers

Precepts for Volunteers (John Klug)

Take time to listen, and you will find friends.

Be careful not to judge, you haven’t been there for the whole trial.

Remember who the “experts” are in poverty living.

Avoid leadership unless you plan to stay.

Admit powerlessness, it’s innate to your humanity.

Find reason to laugh, it’s characteristic of courage.

Be grateful for what you have learned, for you will have taught little.

Pray for the rich, they have a much greater problem.

Celebrate a small success; else you may not celebrate at all.

Tolerate hostility, for it’s the offspring of oppression.

Respect the dignity of daily humanity and you will have witnessed the ultimate prayer.

Feel good when giving of that which you have.

Expect blessings when giving of that which you have little.

On a short service trip to Denver one spring break, our campus minister handed out these “Precepts for Volunteers.” They’re by a man named John Klug, who unfortunately shares his name with a famous athlete, making him difficult to search online.

I typically have a tiny wannabe-iconostasis wall where I keep the prayer cards and saint cards that I’ve collected from all over, and for the past 18 months I’ve kept this list with the other images, above my desk (my cards are currently in a pile on my desk, due to moving, but I hope to stick them up shortly). There’s a lot to think about in those 13 little tips, especially now that I’m volunteering full-time.

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A Window into the Work of an Artist

So a few weeks ago I got the chance to interview a lady who makes stained-glass windows. Seriously, how cool is that?

The piece I wrote was never published elsewhere, and since it’s that kind of day where I spilled coffee on my skirt and got hit in the face twice before 10:30 a.m., what better time to post already-written content. Enjoy!


Photo/Pixabay, not designed by Sylvia Nichols

Photo/Pixabay, not designed by Sylvia Nicolas, but still pretty.


Stained glass is in Sylvia Nicolas’ blood.

Slight and soft-spoken, Nicolas is the fourth generation of artists in her family to specialize in stained-glass windows. On family road trips across Europe, Nicolas, who is originally from the Netherlands, said that her parents would stop in every church they passed to admire the artwork.

Nicolas spoke at St. John’s University last Wednesday about her experience designing and painting the stained-glass windows in St. Thomas More Church. The event was hosted by Campus Ministry and was planned in conjunction with the 20th annual Founder’s Week celebration and the 10th anniversary of the dedication of St. Thomas More Church.

Father James Martin speaking at St. Thomas More last year. You can see some of Nichols' work in the background.

Father James Martin speaking at St. Thomas More last year. You can see some of Nicolas’ work in the background.


Nicolas was first approached by St. John’s about four years before the church was built, but when she discovered that there was a competition for the design of the windows she lost interest.

“I never do competitions, because I like my colleagues much too much,” she said.

However, she had an outline on her desk of the shape of one of the windows, and she began doodling on it. Eventually, the entire outline was full, and she began to color it in.

“Finally I’d drawn the whole thing,” Nicolas said.

When she began to officially design the windows, she estimates that she spent about a year and a half working on the project, which began with the four large windows at the top of the sanctuary, which depict the four gospels, and expanded to add 15 additional windows that now ring the edge of the circular space. 

Nicolas first draws and colors a detailed design for each window. She then plans how the window will look at scale, accounting for the bars of lead that must run through the glass at intervals to add stability. If a face or another important feature falls along one of these lines, she explained, the drawing must be altered.

 When the design is finished, a full-size cartoon is created and used as a pattern for cutting the glass pieces, which are then painted. The window is assembled and fired by a studio that Nicolas works with in Mount Vernon, New York, and the glass is covered in a layer of black matte. Nicolas scrapes away the black matte to reveal the designs underneath, and uses it to create depth and shadow in her work.

“Once I start working I work very intensely and very hard,” Nicolas said. “With painting on the glass, I get so carried away it’s hard to stop. Every time things come alive.”

 Nicolas, who resides in Mount Vernon, New Hampshire, spoke to a crowd of about 250 students and others inside the church. She gave a short description of her work, which was followed by a question and answer session and a light reception.

“Seeing them again is a great pleasure,” Nicolas said. “This is wonderful.”


How cool is that?! I love churches and looking at the windows, and I had no idea just how much went into designing one.

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Scenes from the day Pope Francis married 20 couples

Read about this historic event:

I didn’t see the whole ceremony, but I did witness some of the vows from the square outside. I also got a few pictures from the behind-the-scenes, as we were standing behind the church after the Mass.

Have a beautiful Thursday! I’m so excited for the long weekend.


An intricate gateway: St. Peter’s Basilica is on the left.


The brides and grooms boarded these buses after the ceremony, in the shadow of the Virgin Mary.


The back entrance of the basilica before the Mass ended.


The pope’s crest rendered in flowers. I loved seeing this because it reminded me of seeing Pope Benedict’s crest being weeded out before the conclave!


Members of the choir skip on their way out of St. Peter’s Basilica after Mass.


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Between the Vatican and the Gardens

I was excited to tour the Vatican Gardens on my recent trip to Rome, as tickets are expensive and I didn’t have a chance to go when I studied there. However, due to the pope’s schedule that day, we were unable to do the full tour and instead got a guided tour of Vatican City in general.

Enjoy these photos from behind the scenes!

IMG_2570Instead of the actual gardens, we saw these gardens, where vegetables are grown.

IMG_2566A view across Rome from the top of a hill.

IMG_2563Also up there was this really cool pirate ship fountain.

IMG_2565 IMG_2560


This tower is one of the oldest buildings in Vatican City. IMG_2569It contains this staircase that was built for horses to be able to carry riders to the top, like a primitive stairlift chair.

IMG_2575This beautiful courtyard ramp connects to the back of the Vatican Library/Archives and a parking lot. I was lucky to get a photograph without being run over by a Fiat.

“Love generates faith, and faith sustains love.” –Archbishop Rino Fischichella, of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization

I have a few more photos on this theme to share tomorrow.

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Nature and Mission

One of the lectures that we had on-the-record at the conference I recently attended was on the nature and mission of the Catholic Church. With the Synod on the Family starting tomorrow (read an AP story here), what could be more timely than sharing a few takeaways from this talk by Rev. Paul O’Callaghan?

On Conversion

The first stage of becoming Christian is about the individual and God, the second about the individual and the Church. Ideally the Church is both a product and a producer of Christians, and a family rather than a sect.

A bishop takes a souvenir photo of a friend posing with a Swiss Guard

A bishop takes a souvenir photo of a friend posing with a Swiss Guard

On the Church

The reality of the church is greater than the concept that we have of it, and for this reason we (especially journalists) must dig beyond the surface to discover the real story. The church, to believers, has both visible and invisible aspects, just as the body has the soul.

The church should not be fearful of change, because that is what sustains it. The church is a pilgrim; it adapts to situations and realities and is enriched by reality. It relates in different ways at different times. This struck me, as I read just this morning the Rolling Stone article from February titled “Pope Francis: the times they are a-changin’.” I think many people hope to see the Church change how she relates, especially on family issues. We’ll see if this hope is unfounded.

An aspect of change that I found especially interesting  is the capacity of the Catholic Church to contain within it great figures and great movements, absorbing and nurturing them without a significant disruption. This is something in my opinion woefully lacking in Protestant movements. I’ve been reading recently about Opus Dei as well as intrachurch movements such as Focalare and Schoenstatt, many of which I didn’t know even existed. On the other hand, the Church doesn’t quite have this down, as evidenced by the fact that Protestantism exists.

The lifeblood of the church is mission.

On salvation

What does it mean to be saved? To live in communion with God forever.

On Pope Frankie

O’Callaghan kept it short and sweet: “He’s really keeping us on our toes.”

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