I came to the Training Program at Shellbourne expecting something similar to boot camp. Everyone I talked to seemed to emphasize the workload without mentioning anything fun related. So on the plane ride from Boston , I prepared myself for the worst, praying that I would make it through. Little did I know of the life changing experience I was about to encounter.
On arriving at the airport in Chicago , I met the five other girls who were doing the program with me: one from California , one from Spain , and three from Wisconsin . They all exceeded my age but I quickly got to know them. A regular day for us consisted of early Mass, set times for cleaning and working in the departments, a talk on a virtue or a special topic (i.e. time management, napkin folding, etc.), some free time in the afternoon, the rosary, and finally the get-together at night. There were four departments- the laundry, the pantry, and the two sides of the kitchen: the hot side and the cold side. On certain days we would go on excursions to different places – e.g., Chicago, the dunes of Lake Michigan - in which we got to see a little of the splendor of the Midwest. We girls in the program were considered part of the Administration of Shellbourne for our brief three week stay.
After spending three weeks in the center, I came to know a lot about the spirit of Opus Dei as lived by the women in the Administration. I realized that those women are the mothers of the Work. They make Shellbourne a home with such motherly care, allowing the people who come to focus better on their study for their course or pray more effectively without distractions while on retreat. The Administration treats everyone who comes to Shellbourne the same way because every human being has dignity as a child of God. A mother’s work in the home is dignified because she is called by God to do it well -- the Administration has the same underlying spirit. They do their work as professionals -- each meal is consistently excellent, the laundry always ironed and folded neatly, and the rooms are constantly well kept. It is by no means easy -- there is a lot of manual labor to do. However, because the work is physical, and not necessarily mind engaging, it is possible to do the work and carry on a conversation with God at the same time. I realized how much prayer the women on the Administration do, because they can and because all the members of the Work need it in order to carry out their apostolate. I also learned how big the field of hospitality service really is -- how much there is to learn. One basic thing I picked up is that a lot of little things make a big difference. As St. Josemarma said, “A little act, done for love, is worth so much!”(The Way 814)
What did I love best about Shellbourne? I liked so many things, it is hard to say. But one major thing that sticks out in my memory was the atmosphere at Shellbourne -- it is very much like a family. When we worked together, we were a team, but during free time and get-togethers, I felt very much at home with everyone. I wasn’t homesick for a minute, though it was the longest time I had ever spent away from home. Another thing I enjoyed was getting to know the other girls on the program. We laughed so much together that even now when something reminds me of something we found funny, I still laugh about it! I also loved the actual work itself. I found that I love doing household work and how much I can improve in it -- it is really an art in a lot of aspects.
I would love to spend another summer at Shellbourne or at another conference center. I encourage all high school girls to think about doing the program. You learn something about everything; I use the techniques I learned at Shellbourne probably everyday. Plus, the people that I worked with at Shellbourne are incredible. It was summer experience that I will never forget!