You work in mysterious ways.
Isaiah 45: 15
Sometimes people of faith, no matter how deeply they believe, have reservations about saying ‘God led me here — he had a purpose’, because they fear that this will sound presumptuous. But sometimes that’s exactly how it feels.
Perhaps I should start, if not at the beginning, then at least a few steps back. I moved to Australia many years ago to complete a PhD. I had no intention of staying abroad, but in the way of these things I was offered a job, I later married and had kids, and the next thing I knew … it was 26 years later. Throughout this time I explored the idea of returning to my motherland, but all sorts of factors intervened. New roles, new positions, temporary placements in other overseas destinations, unrelentingly perfect weather…. My greatest motivation for returning to my homeland was my parents; and when they passed away, unexpectedly and within a year of each other, it seemed easier for this only child to stay put down under. Indeed, for quite some time I feared returning to my hometown and confronting the ghost of their absence.
This was compounded by my Australian wife’s one visit to Canada, during a bleak Montreal winter, just after my mother had passed away. No doubt the experience of visiting Canada for the first time under such a cloud of sadness, and to move through wind-blown streets in -30 degree cold, convinced my wife that she could never live in a such a climate. And so I continued to visit regularly, fearing I’d never return.
Enter my children, with that wonderful knack of mobilizing guilt when it’s needed. As the years passed and as they became increasingly, and maddeningly, articulate, they began to agitate for Canada. This culminated last year in a remarkable tag-team approach between my 13-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter that can be summed up thusly: ‘Gee Dad, here we are with 50% Canadian blood but we’ve never seen snow…. Pretty embarrassing.” This was followed by a protracted sigh and a longing look directed out the window — presumably past the Kookaburras, Cockatoos, giant huntsmen spiders and venous snakes, past the endlessly long sandy beaches and unctuous ocean beds, towards Canada. The fact that they were facing China is another story entirely.
What did transpire was a decision — if I do say so myself — worthy of Solomon. I took the family to the Australian ski fields. Admittedly people frequently complain about the green patches that tend to dispatch even the keenest skiers, but if snow was what they wanted, then by gosh they would have it — of a sort. Well, as luck would have it, Thredbo experienced record snowfalls during our visit and my little Aussie trio discovered the joys of skiing. My wife, bless her, who has a taste for speed, realized that she could go a whole lot faster without a car holding her back.
At the end of that first day we bundled back into the ski lodge, invigorated by the snow, and utterly charmed by its possibilities. Then, moments after we had settled with our hot chocolates, my phone buzzed, and there appeared a message asking if I would be interested in applying for the Presidency of St. Mary’s University College, Calgary. I looked up wistfully, convinced that the family would say no, and read them the email. Three enthusiastic voices responded “Yes!” before I could finish the sentence.
Had the email arrived even a day earlier, without that first taste of what winter might be, I would not be here right now. God, truly, moves in mysterious ways. It is not for me to presume that he wanted me for this role, or assisted in any way. And yet I would like to believe that he made it possible for me to visit Calgary, to fall in love with the city all over again, and for me to meet and be enchanted by St. Mary’s University College, its staff, its faculty and students, and its important history. And now that we have found each other it is important for me to live, breathe, and inhabit this new role. It’s one that I cherish already.
This article originally appeared in The Carillon, a publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary.