Bridge or Barrier: More Reactions to Wearing the Habit to School

"Hey, aren't you the friar guy?"

This was the question posed to me while walking the halls at college. I continue to wear my habit to SXU on Fridays and while most students just look and stare, others are beginning to ask questions about it.

Perhaps what surprised me the most about this encounter was the he approached me on a day when I wasn't wearing my habit.
It was a good opportunity to explain who I was as a Capuchin. "I'm also a student-friar," I told him. I explained the need for me and the other post-novices at the college to understand our identities in the world, in a setting like college, and how that all fits in to our commitment to live Capuchin life.

"So how come you sometimes wear it and sometimes not?"

 The decision to wear my habit at school took a bit of discernment. One of the growing tendencies, much like this student, was the amount of discussion that took place when I wasn't wearing my habit as opposed to when I did. It was clear that the habit was a representation and a witness of who I was as a Capuchin, but it was somehow a barrier for people to approach me.

"When I'm a student, people talk to me," I answered. "We can talk, share info, and even collaborate on homework or commiserate about a hard test or a tough professor. When I put my habit on, my role here changes because people see me different."

I told him how people stare, but don't talk. People change their tone of voice and how they speak. People are curious, but are intimidated and don't ask questions until I take the habit off.

We had a great conversation and we even acknowledge each other in the hallway. When I look back at this event, I ponder how people react to me when I wear the habit. While I want to be able to witness the decision to live a vowed life, I also want to be able to interact with students, engage in conversation, and even share a laugh or bemoan a bad test with my classmates. Can an article of clothing be a witness and a barrier?

More and more students are starting to ask about my life as a Capuchin friar. Personally I think it's a great thing. I'm still trying to understand how the habit either encourages or impedes questions from others.

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5 Response to Bridge or Barrier: More Reactions to Wearing the Habit to School

April 12, 2011 at 10:45 PM

Hi S.E.V. Hope all is well. I think it's both to different people. Just do what you feel is best.


April 14, 2011 at 7:14 AM

I ask the same question. Is the wearing of a habit giving witness? I brought a student Dominican friar to lunch one day. In the restaurant I said hello to a few people I knew, but no one approached us. The next day, one of my friends asked me who the sheik was?
While it is true, this question gave me the opportunity to explain,even evangelize, was the habit giving witness to a completely different religion to all the other people who never asked who he was?

April 14, 2011 at 8:26 PM

The individual in need will see your habit and know they can approach you and receive a compassionate response. To the person who cringes away in embarrassment your habit triggers something in them from which they wish to retreat; and something within themselves they need to conceal from those they wish to impress.

April 15, 2011 at 11:35 AM

well, the habit is probably the single most effective means of showing you're a Franciscan. The passive nature of it means you don't have to impose it on people, but happily glide down the street or into a library. People stop and stare? That's pretty awesome. Also, now that the ice has been broken and people are asking about your life, why not assume the religious authority you have and wear it more often? It will be a bold move, but you live a bold life! :D

Over here in Canterbury, there are Franciscans who walk into town from the study centre and I pass them by every now and then. I find it amusing that when I see a friar coming toward me, I see the heads turn and the eyes land on him, but then I nonchalantly raise my hand and go, "Hi! How have you been ?" and they respond in kind.

The heads then stare at me ^_^.

May 8, 2011 at 6:33 AM
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