August 21, 2017

Fr. Philip Neri and Kelly Hughes Discuss Change at Last Theology on Tap

by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18

Assistant News Editor

Ten minutes before the last Theology on Tap of the semester, every chair in McPhail’s was already filled and students were making room for their friends on the floor as more and more students filed into the campus bar to hear Fr. Philip Neri Reese, O.P. and Campus Minister Kelly Hughes ’11 answer the question, “Why does change suck?”

After this semester, Reese and Hughes will both be experiencing big change themselves as they leave Providence College to move on to other life endeavors. Unlike most Theology on Taps in which one person lectures about a topic and then fields questions from the students in attendance, Reese and Hughes interviewed each other about the change they were facing and how God was part of that change.

After earning her psychology degree from PC in 2011, Hughes went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Theology from Boston College before returning to PC in 2014.

She explained that she first experienced great change when she first left PC, and shared a personal story of feeling extremely bittersweet at a restaurant with her family the night before commencement. “It rocked me,” she said. “Who was Kelly Hughes without Providence College?”

She explained that change often feels like a pull between both a celebration and grieving a loss. On one hand, there are exciting opportunities to come, but on the other hand, it feels as if the comforts of the last four years are being abandoned. “I had to become a person who was new to me, and that scared me,” she said. “I saw everything as a loss, especially what I thought would be my last chicken nugget Thursday!”

In keeping with the design of Theology on Tap, Hughes explained how God worked through her during this time. “God is bigger than my plans I have for myself,” she explained. “The change was calling me to know God more deeply.” She explained how change becomes a bit easier when one sees that an act of change is an act of faith.

Fr. Philip Neri listened intently during Hughes’ story and joked that he did not come as prepared as she did, and told those present that if his cup was empty at any point during the evening, it was someone’s responsibility to fill it. He took the question about change head-on, and explained that change sucks so much because we aren’t made for change. We’re made for eternity, and that can make letting go of what you once had so challenging.

The campus chaplain works closely with Hughes through the new peer ministry program, and also teaches philosophy at the College. Since coming to PC last year, Fr. Philip Neri has been a friendly face on campus, but will be leaving next year to begin the work to obtain his doctorate at the University of Notre Dame.

Hughes asked him a tough question during the talk, and asked him what about change he was most afraid of. “I’m afraid of wasting my years as a young priest in grad school,” he said. Fr. Philip Neri explained that by the time he gets back to PC after obtaining his doctorate, he will be 37. “So then I basically have about five years and then I’m just some old guy,” he said. “Part of what I love about what I do is giving you guys the youth of my priesthood.”

A sweet part of the night occurred when both Hughes and Fr. Philip Neri shared what about PC they would miss the most. Hughes shared her love for Providence sunsets and La Salle Bakery. Fr. Philip Neri explained his love for being the Chaplain on Call during traumatic events on campus and how he has appreciated that part of his ministry. “Being with students during such an intense and wounded time is something I have come to love,” he said.

The conversation got very deep when Fr. Philip Neri said to Hughes, “So, Kelly, want to talk about a guy?” Of course this lead to “ooohs” from the crowd, which then erupted with laughter when Hughes responded back, “Well, I’m clearly not meeting anyone at work.”

She did explain how a beautiful and holy marriage is something she looks forward to, and is extremely thankful for her friends she sees every Wednesday. “You’re my sisters in Christ and I love you all,” she said to the friends of hers who came to the event.

Hughes gave Fr. Philip Neri a tough question as well, asking about the difficulties of being a priest. “Vocation can be hard,” he said. “Anything that we are called to do is hard, as the Christian life is all about bearing the cross.” He explained he thought loneliness would be the challenge for him, but has learned that in life, turns out everyone is lonely. “We can’t be fully ourselves with anyone. There will always be part of us that is misunderstood.”

At the end of the evening, students in Campus Ministry and Campus Chaplain Fr. Peter Martyr, O.P. presented both Hughes and Fr. Philip Neri with balloons, flowers, and cake, and those in attendance thanked both speakers for the lasting impact they made at PC. Even though there was a lot of conversation, Fr. Philip Neri’s drink was refilled twice.

McPhail’s stayed filled as everyone helped themselves to cake, and the love for both Hughes and Fr. Philip Neri was very present in the room. Both agreed that change does suck, but it was made evident by all the people there to celebrate at Theology on Tap that their time spent at PC was good. “Give yourself to God, and the change won’t be as bad as you think. When God gives you the space you need to grow, there is so much in life you can conquer,” said Hughes.

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