Three Things I Learned from Russell Peterson

My friend and catechetical colleague, Russell Peterson, passed away last Friday night after a sudden and brief illness.

Russell was a man of great faith, warm hospitality, and incisive humor. He was also one of the first diocesan catechetical leaders I met after joining the curia staff at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Russell worked to the south in the Diocese of Belleville and was a regular fixture at meetings of the diocesan catechetical directors of the Province of Chicago. His insight and friendship were always appreciated by those of us who worked in other Illinois dioceses.

Over the years that I knew him, Russell mentored me in catechetical leadership and helped introduce me to other leaders in catechesis across the country. He also imparted a number of lessons — both explicitly and implicitly — that have helped to shape my own approach to catechesis:

  1. Focus on Jesus and the rest will follow. If there is one quote that I will always remember from Russell, it is this: “I don’t generally trust anyone who talks about the Church more than they talk about Jesus.” Russell’s point was not to downplay the importance of the Body of Christ — rather, it was that our focus should be on Jesus and helping others to deepen their relationship with him. Russell had little patience for ecclesiastical gossip (in that he was a big fan of Pope Francis!), a habit I admit to indulging in from time to time. Russell always challenged me to keep my focus on Jesus Christ in my life and in my ministry.
  2. Catechists make room for all of God’s people. Russell had very definite opinions about faith, spirituality, and the state of the Church. Yet I was always amazed at his ability to reach out to all the members of the Church and make sure they were included in his ministry, whether he agreed with them or not. Because he loved people Russell found it easy to move among various “types” of Catholics, which made him a very effective catechetical leader.
  3. Sometimes ministry requires savvy politics. At the 2008 NCCL conference Russell was part of a slate elected as board officers. After the election I made the observation that, at all the evening functions I attended during the conference, at least one member of that slate was also there greeting and talking with people. Russell, with a twinkle in his eye, replied “Funny how that worked out, isn’t it?” Russell was not above cajoling and compromising, recognizing that “the art of the possible” is also a necessary part of collaborative ministry in a fallen world.

I am deeply saddened that I will no longer be able to look for my friend at regional and national catechetical gatherings, and I pray that one day I will get to sit across the table from him and enjoy his presence at the heavenly banquet.

Eternal rest grant unto Russell, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

33 for 33

Today I turn 33-years old and, in the spirit of giving, I thought I would share 33 things I’ve learned in 33 years.

  1. When you find something you’re passionate about, jump into it.
  2. Be inquisitive. Ask questions, read books, visit museums.
  3. More children means more messes, more noise, and more love.
  4. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish when you don’t know you have to ask permission to try something new.
  5. When crossing train tracks, keep your hands out of your pockets.
  6. Honesty in all things. Even the hard things. Especially the hard things.
  7. Admitting ignorance and asking questions is a great way to get answers.
  8. People who believe in something greater tend to be happier than those who focus on themselves.
  9. Confidence and a clipboard make you look successful.
  10. Play to your strengths. Don’t sweat your weaknesses.
  11. Failure is just another data point.
  12. Success means meeting your own expectations, not what others impose on you.
  13. Don’t take criticism personally, unless it comes from your wife or your mother. They’re usually correct.
  14. Always tell your mother and your wife that they are correct, even when they are not.
  15. Consequences ┬ácome from making choices, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them.
  16. Love is an action, not an emotion.
  17. Admit mistakes, apologize when necessary, confesses regularly, and move on.
  18. Change is inevitable. If you’re the same person you were five years ago, something’s wrong.
  19. Some people resent the success of others. Minimize contact with these people.
  20. Pass on what you have to others.
  21. Don’t take your work too seriously, unless you’re the safety inspector at a nuclear power plant.
  22. Don’t take yourself too seriously, period.
  23. Prayer works, but not always in the way we expect.
  24. The  bad times never look so bad in hindsight. Even high school.
  25. Trying even when the odds of success are slim breeds experience and success.
  26. Knowing how to cook is a surprisingly effective way to impress people.
  27. Everyone needs a mentor, a colleague, and an apprentice.
  28. The only people who can tell you “You should be doing this” are your parents, your spouse, your priest, and your immediate supervisor. Even then, you always have a choice.
  29. People are basically good.
  30. Never be afraid to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working.
  31. Be flexible when dealing with others, but never at the expense of your convictions.
  32. Joy is an extremely rare character trait. Cultivate it.
  33. When all else fails, bake a cheesecake.

That’s what I’ve learned; what have you learned in X number of years on this planet?