Authentic Eagles: Peter Folan On Core Beliefs

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Peter Folan, Office of First Year Experience

I am an educator and a teacher at my core. It is in my bones, and it is a blessing that guides me in my life. I view the world as a classroom to be explored, where knowledge must be discovered, where passions are born, and where our faith is tested. Different classrooms and experiences, some traditional and some not, have shaped my identity and beliefs.

My identity was cultivated in middle and high school classrooms through classic literature. Reading in my room each night before bed fed my imagination and opened my eyes to a world of ideas. My Irish family challenged my thoughts around a dining room table every evening. Heated conversations and spirited debates on the topics of politics, history, and religion stoked beliefs that existed within me, gave them life, and gave me the confidence to share them.

Singing in the choir and molding clay on a potter’s wheel provided me with an appreciation for the divine beauty that exists in music and the transcendent value of great artwork. By filling bird feeders and tending to a garden, I came to value dirty fingernails and rolling up my sleeves. I also came to appreciate the grandeur of the natural world and the beauty in watching small things grow.

Competing on the wrestling mat, football field, and track taught me the values of grit and determination. Through athletics, I also learned to value failure and the lessons that are found in it. By coaching Special Olympics soccer, I experienced the inherent goodness and joy that comes through competition. Empathy and compassion were infused in me through that experience as I came to value people who are often marginalized and ignored in our culture.

These tangible experiences tested the values that were preached at home, in school, and through the gospels of the Bible. Experiential learning complimented the liberal arts curriculum that I received in school. It was through these experiences and reading that I came to form my identity; reflection integrated these values and helped me to articulate them.

My faith developed through the ritual power of mass, the sacraments, and the reflective nature of prayer. I was fortunate to have great conversation partners who validated and modeled ways that I could have a relationship with God. These were critical in my life.

My beliefs and faith were tested when my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Sitting in the lobby of Dana Farber for seven years and finally at my mother’s bedside in Brigham and Women’s Hospital caused me to lose my faith for a time period. Thankfully, I found it again in St. Patrick’s church in Watertown, as I gave her eulogy to a packed congregation filled with friends, extended family, former students, my father, sister, and pregnant wife.

Working at Boston College for the past six years has helped me to understand and appreciate the value and benefits of a liberal arts curriculum. I have come to deeply appreciate the legacy of the Catholic Church and its intellectual tradition. I have also deepened my appreciation for the Jesuits and their distinctive educational tradition and spirituality.

My own faith has deepened as I have come to recognize that God is always and everywhere at work. Through reflection and dedicated conversation partners, I have come to search out key moments of transcendence in my own life where I have come to feel God’s love. It is within these movements that I have come to express my faith and tried to pass it along to the students that I have taught and encountered.

I have tried to have students reflect upon their lives, broaden their horizons, and gain valuable skills to help them to pursue truth, define their character, and engage in a life-long intellectual and spiritual journey. I believe that I have taken more from these conversations than I have given. I have learned much about the inner workings of peoples' hearts, which has helped me to heal my own heart and to find great strength in today’s youth.

Whether it is giving a lecture in a classroom, facilitating a community-based conversation, leading a retreat, or through an intimate one-on-one conversation, I have tried to help each student I encounter to grow in mind, heart, body, and soul. I have come to learn much about myself through these interactions at BC and feel blessed to have met such amazing students.

I am the sum of my experiences, for better or worse. The lessons that I have learned and the person that I am have been forged through many experiences. I think that too often we retreat from who we are and our past. I have come to recognize that by understanding my own past that I am better able to have the courage to accept myself and build a life that best represents me. I plan to continue to teach people to find and embrace the mysteries of life and find their deepest desires, so that they too can discover where their joy resides.

When we embrace the journey and stop focusing on a destination, than we can finally be happy. I am comfortable in who I am and try to be at my best each day. I believe that by trusting in my beliefs, I am a better father, husband, brother, son, uncle, friend, and human being.

Reflecting on our core and letting our internal compass guide us are key ways that we can live authentically and become the person that we are called to be. I know and take pride that I am called to be an educator and find great strength in it.