Courtney Robles is from Westminster, Colorado, and served as a Seton Teaching Fellow after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado and working as a nurse. As a Fellow, she worked with the Kindergarten and First Grade Learning Specialist at Brilla Veritas and taught Kindergarten catechism during El Camino. This fall, she is entering religious life with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Courtney, before you came to us as a Fellow in Cohort 5, you worked as a nurse! Tell us a little about that and how you ended up living and serving in the South Bronx last year.
I worked as a nurse for a year and a half in labor and delivery. I really loved being able to serve women and families during such a transitional and beautiful time during their life. When I was working, I felt an extreme restlessness because I could physically serve, but there was something in me that wanted to spiritually give, too. I started to seek other avenues where I could spiritually give, so I started looking into mission work. One day when I was serving with Christ in the City, I met Ruby, a woman who worked for Seton and told me about Seton Teaching Fellows. As a nurse, I gained experience in understanding that my job was to serve and to love, and so I learned how to be flexible. When I didn’t have that at the forefront, I was unhappy. But when I realized that loving and serving my patients was the priority over my own wants, it was then that I was happy. Every day as a nurse, I had to make a plan of how my day should go, and every day I had to accept that none of it was going to happen the way I anticipated. I had to love where it was needed and I had to put my patients’ needs first. I found that my experiences as a nurse were not that different from my experiences as a Fellow because every day I needed to be flexible to God’s will, to remember that the priority was to serve and love the kids, and to adjust to the changes of the day and address what needs came up for their sake.
What was one of your best moments as a Fellow?
One of my best moments was watching my students reenact the Passion and Resurrection. One day after Easter we had some unstructured time and one of the boys was pretending to be Jesus and got the other kids to play along. It was so cool to see them get excited about what we were teaching them and to be excited about God on their own. It was such an eye-opening experience to see their child-like love. It was one of the moments where you see God in your kids. I got to enjoy seeing my kids be themselves, and I think that’s how God looks at us – He enjoys seeing us be ourselves.
How did your life of faith impact your work at Brilla and El Camino?
The way that Seton Teaching Fellows is set up is so beautiful. It makes it really easy to live my faith because Brilla and El Camino are set up in an intentional way. There is a natural Catholic community among the workplace because of the Fellows, but it also allows for an open space to share and talk about the faith for those who might not be Catholic. At Brilla there’s a shared idea of dignity and the people who work there really see and value the other person and are open to asking and listening to what’s important to others. Since many of our students at Brilla also go to El Camino, there is an immediate bridge between the two. I teach the same kids that Brilla teachers teach. What the kids carry over from El Camino to Brilla opens up conversations with Brilla teachers about the Catholic faith. I don’t think I could have done anything at Brilla and El Camino without my faith. Brilla and El Camino challenged me in ways I could have never imagined and I realized how much I needed God. This year I really had to depend on Him to provide and to be there with me, and looking back I wish I would have looked to Him more often throughout the day. Even then, I realize how God is ever so gracious and worked through all of it. He used the sharing of my faith to teach me more about my relationship with Him.
Tell us about a memorable lesson you learned from a student.
One of my students would often come to me with tears in her eyes, bringing to me her daily hardships. To an adult, those problems seemed so easily fixed and relatively small. But because of her sincerity and her gentleness and kindness, I always loved being there for her. I could never imagine yelling at her. With other students, I would have to be very firm to challenge them to a higher standard of virtue. But with this student, I knew that she would not respond well to a firm voice and that she’d be hurt by it. She needed me to challenge her to a higher standard through encouragement and gentleness. I realized that, in the same way, God knows us so well. He knows us even better than we do ourselves, and He knows how to love us best. I know that whatever I’m going through, whatever “small” problems I’m bringing to Him that He will love me in the best way possible.
How did your experience of community contribute to your life as a Fellow?
I love my community! Community was one of the best parts of the fellowship program. In daily living as a Fellow, I felt that I had people to come home to who understood what I was going through and that I could relate to what they were going through. I felt that I had a very special community in particular because very early on we could be open with each other and we could be ourselves. After a few months, it felt like we had known each other for years. At the end of the year it felt like we had really true friendships, and I just felt really loved by my community. Whenever I was going through a hard time, I genuinely felt like they wanted to listen and be there for me. They responded with gentle love and encouraged me right where I was at.
I feel like my community not only contributed to my life as a Fellow, but they contributed to my life as a person. I really believe that my community has made me a better person. I got to see how each one of my community members uniquely love. In encountering them for who they are, I was allowed to love them through their joys and sorrows. Throughout the year, I saw each of my roommates carry a unique cross. As I accompanied them while they carried their cross, I learned the power of being present and to love Christ in them. I experienced real love through just being with them, and as they continued to love me, my heart continued to expand in love for them and for God.
It’s well-known amongst your community members that your favorite TV show is Friends. How did the experience of living in New York City compare to watching Friends?
I feel like when you watch Friends, they’re all so close and can be their crazy and funny selves. That’s what living with the Seton Teaching Fellows was like. As the year went on, we all became so comfortable with being with one another. We had many hours of laughing, dancing, celebrations, and the occasional minor disasters. Needless to say that each experience led to a greater bond between us all and some unforgettable moments. In the show, most of the scenes take place in their apartment or in the coffee shop, and likewise, many of my favorite memories were formed in our apartment. We had lots of fun and adventures out in the city, but so much happened in our home, and Friends reflects that really well. Friends highlights the value of the friendships and relationships between the characters, and the same is true of my year in New York. The friendships and relationships were the highlight of Fellowship.
You’ve clearly had an incredible impact on your students and your community members during your time as a Fellow. The same time that your students will be starting school again, you’ll be moving to Minnesota to enter religious life! How did your year in the South Bronx influence your discernment?
The year influenced my discernment because I experienced a longing to love more, to give more, and to seek God further. I wanted to encounter Him more deeply and I felt as if there was still more He was calling me to do. Living in community really helped my discernment in that my roommates encouraged me and loved me as they walked with me in my steps of discovering God’s will. Living in community also prepared me for my next step as I learned to love those I live with in a deeper way. They showed me the importance of getting to know them in a deeper way in order to love them better. Throughout the year, my kids and the way that they loved me showed me how well the Father loves me. Through that, there was a greater trust and greater openness knowing that whatever the Father called me to, and whatever He had planned, wasn’t going to hurt me and that it only came from great love for me. It’s incredible how much God does in a year. I feel like through the fellowship, my faith is more stable and there is a stronger trust than there was before. In learning from the child-like ways that my kids love me, I began to love the Father in simple, trusting ways, and that brought me closer to Him.
What’s one prayer that was crucial for you as a fellow that you would suggest to current fellows?
This year the Litany of Humility reoriented my perspective of love, and each line of the prayer showed me something I needed to grow in. It taught me to love God better and to love others better. The prayer helped bring me out of myself and focus my work and daily duties on the purpose of pleasing God. The prayer also blossomed with a new revelation that God offers us a deeper love. He wants us to experience this deeper love and how it’s greater than the love anything in the world has to offer. So I would definitely recommend this to prayer to any Fellow, as a crutch of strength in the hard times of the year as well as an encounter of His most marvelous love.
If there’s anything you think people thinking about STF should know, what would it be?
Keep your eyes on Jesus. He knows what is best for you. He longs for your openness and for your “yes,” so tell Him how much you love Him and how you long to do His will, even if you are afraid. Talk to Him about your fears and surrender them into His hands. He will let you know His will. If He is calling you to be a STF, all the doors will remain open for you to move forward. If it is not His will, He will let you know. If you are experiencing feelings of uncertainty, keep moving forward and trust that He will steer you away if He has something else planned for you.
In the meantime, practice saying “yes” in the little ways of your day-to-day life. Everyday is filled with His call and will for you in that moment. Little “yeses” of everyday life greatly please Him! As you continue in discernment, know that your openness and trust in Him brings Him all the more joy!
To learn about Courtney’s new community, read about the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus here.