Living the Mission: Mario Sultan

Friday, July 14, 2023

In a new recurring series, BSVM is highlighting different alumni who will share the ways in which they are living into the charism and mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours years after their time with BSVM concluded. Each alum has been marked by stories of compassion, healing, and liberation from their community and ministry placements, and their lives now reflect aspects of their growth and transformation, from informing how and where they work to decisions related to neighborhood placement, community life, and more. We are grateful for their continued faithfulness in being Good Help wherever they find themselves.

Living the Mission: Loving When It’s Hard
By Mario Sultan, BSVM 2021-2022
A graduate of Florida Institute of Technology

Mario with Cristo Rey Richmond High School students

Mario wrote this at the end of his first year of teaching.

As some may know, I had the privilege of serving at Cristo Rey Richmond High School during my volunteer year (21′ – 22′). Since then, I have been teaching Physics and Engineering to juniors and seniors there as a full-time instructor. I also adopted a sweet Labrador mix named Bonnie from the Richmond SPCA humane society. This first year of teaching, though very challenging, has taught me many hard truths and lessons about love that I believe were subtle extensions of the lessons learned from my BSVM year. As I write this, I am finally able to reflect on this school year in a way that feels reminiscent of my reflections during BSVM.

I entered the school year with expectations, systems, and advice that I believed would undoubtedly help me succeed as a teacher. However, all those things were instantly refuted by behavior I couldn’t manage, test scores, and participation that made me doubt if I could ever be a good teacher. It all contributed to a hopeless start to the year. Up until this point, being a ministry volunteer at Cristo Rey as part of the Corporate Work Study Program was a walk in the park in comparison (and it also had its hardships!). I went from being the students’ friend and mentor to their teacher and “school rule-enforcer” in a complete 180-degree shift. It was not only difficult for me but also challenging for the students. I would often become frustrated and act from a similar place, but that never worked. My students and I only felt more frustrated and disconnected.

Around the beginning of the year, Bonnie came into the picture. As she became increasingly comfortable with us and the house, her mischievous side emerged. She was hard to train, and her “lack of obedience” made it harder to “love” her. I loved Bonnie, but how can one love when it is met with being ignored, bolting out the door, stealing food, and jumping on you every time you walk into the house? The more frustrated I became with her, the more disconnected we felt. Yelling seldom worked with her, nor should it.

The school year didn’t get any easier, nor did Bonnie’s inner craziness mellow. In fact, I think teaching felt harder as we approached the end of the year. But amidst it all, I believe these two new significant elements of my life this year have taught me about loving when it’s hard. I began to realize that Bonnie is just a dog who had a past as a shelter dog. All she is capable of doing is loving and playing. My obligation was to love and bond with this creature that God placed in my life. Loving when it’s hard means loving her as she is. Similarly, my students are teenagers just like many others, but with their own unique set of challenges and stories unbeknownst to me. When I acted from this place of acknowledgment, my expectations and teaching methods were more informed, and there was a sense of freedom in realizing that. Genuine love began to emerge.

When I started loving my students for who they are, it became clearer that understanding the raw humanity of our students is the answer to good teaching. Loving people from this place is easy, but getting to the point where we want to see the humanity in each person is incredibly difficult. That is the good and holy work of teaching, loving your pet, loving your partner, and loving strangers.

Having the opportunity to love and learn about this shift in perspective is the true blessing. I am excited to serve on the teaching team in this next school year, and I am filled with joy at the idea that I get to love Bonnie for the rest of her dog life. BSVM was a beautiful lesson in love, and this year served as an extension of it. Next year will be the application of these new ways of love in wider ways.

Mario with his BSVM 21-22 community

Bonnie + Mario