A Lesson Learned

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Today’s blog is by IVC volunteer Kate Kniest who serves at Cristo Rey St. Martin’s College Prep in Waukegan.


On a routine day at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, I learned a profound lesson from a colleague who is deeply concerned about students and their families, many are of whom are first or second generation immigrants.

A student needed special supplies while recovering from a health issue. Funds to purchase the products were available through the school. So, as the “nurse consultant” at the school, I accompanied my colleague to purchase supplies at a local discount store in the neighborhood, which has a reputation for gang activity.

At the store, we gathered what we needed and proceeded to the checkout line. Behind us was a tall and imposing man. He appeared unkempt and shabby. I felt intimidated by his size and unfriendly demeanor. I was glad to be accompanied by someone who knew the neighborhood and possessed an attitude of confidence.

Our purchases were tallied and the total came to $15.00 and some odd cents. My colleague had $15.00 in cash. Before I could get change from my purse, the man behind me said, “Take this.” and handed us the remaining exact change. I felt as though I should object, as he did not look as though he was in a position to spare any funds. However, my colleague graciously said, “Thank you. This is for a teenager who really needs these supplies.”

The tall, imposing, unkempt and shabby gentleman beamed and nodded his head. His face shone with the dignity of making a contribution. He no longer appeared intimidating. When we left the store I told my companion how I had been jolted by the remarkable change that came over the man when his help was so graciously accepted and acknowledged. My colleague’s simple response was that each person’s desire was to give something to improve another’s life.

This small incident has stayed with me and has made me consider the importance of not only giving, but of receiving gifts graciously. It proved that even the smallest act of giving is transformative.

In reflecting upon the event, I am reminded of the story of the widow in the Gospel of Luke who gave from her poverty and relinquished part of her livelihood. The joy of giving is apparent in my service experience at Cristo Rey St. Martin. The majority of the students eagerly respond to any request for help, whether it is a service project, food collection, or something for a specific family. They give freely, though they are not well off. Their families contribute what they can. No one makes large cash donations, but there are marvelous gifts of great charity from teenagers who simply have the desire to do something to improve the life of another individual. Witnessing such generosity reaffirms my belief that the Cristo Rey St. Martin students hold much promise for the future and that generosity can solve problems both large and small.

11 Responses to “A Lesson Learned”

  1. Linda Wihl

    Thanks I needed reminding that our willingness to accept gifts transforms the giver. 🙂

  2. Patrick Casey, SJ

    Did it ever occur to you that that might have been Jesus standing behind you? He does show up in many disguises. Thanks for sharing this with us. Cristo Rey communities have a lot to teach us.

  3. Gail Krema

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful witness of the importance of giving to others, no matter what one has. I also had the thought that you encountered Jesus that day in that checkout line.

  4. Richard Shea

    Kate: Thanks for sharing this story. A wonderful reminder to each of us, and Patrick Casey’s remark is another such reminder.

  5. camille

    Kate what a wonderful story. It is so easy to as they saying goes, “judge the book by the cover.” A wonderful lesson learned and thanks for sharing with all of us.

  6. Susan Carsello

    Kate, Thanks so much for sharing that beautiful story. You are a really good writer and express yourself very well. So glad I got to know you through IVC/Cristo Rey!

  7. Joseph A. Walsh

    Beautiful story from real life, both the experience at the store and the reason for being there in the first place. Beckoned or not, God is present!

    Peace, –Joe

  8. Marta Hernandez Sayeed

    I am always in amazement by how much we learn by just being in our placements. I always pray for the grace to be open to the Christ filled experiences made available to me.


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