Father Strobel '61, Founding Director of Room In The Inn, Reflects on Father Ryan Education

Catholic education inspired me to create Room in the Inn, a safe space to gather | Opinion - The Tennessean

Catholic education continues to enhance our community and inspire another generation of servant-leaders.

Charles Strobel, Founding Director of Room In The Inn
Guest Columnist

Appeared in The Tennessean on March 2, 2022
A few weeks ago, Catholic Schools Week showcased Catholic schools — in Nashville and across the country — for their educational and spiritual impact on generations of young students.   

I reflected on my own Catholic school education recently as I enjoyed the Father Ryan Legacy Gala. I was reminded of the impact that the school had on my life. 

More importantly, I saw how how education continues to inspire another generation of servant-leaders. Under the leadership today of Bishop Mark Spalding, the longstanding purpose and the lasting value of Catholic education continue to enhance our community.   
Catholic schools, like Father Ryan, produce academic excellence, athletic superiority and artistic brilliance. Yet, they do so much more.
Father Ryan and all other Catholic schools are places where students, faculty, staff and alumni meet God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We learn how to find meaning in our lives through the scriptures.

The impact a Catholic education left on me

I heard the call to service at Father Ryan. Jim Zralek established the Sugar Shack in 1958, when I was a sophomore at the school. The Sugar Shack was a place where those struggling with addiction could find work repairing refrigerators, toasters and other appliances. 
I watched how Jim treated those who needed help. He didn’t judge, criticize or belittle them. He gave them respect and offered them hope. Jim’s temperament inspired my approach to service.  

There is a direct line from the Sugar Shack's impression on me when I was a student at Father Ryan to the creation of Room in the Inn and it's continued impact on the current students at Father Ryan.  
The Room in the Inn has offered hope for more than 35 years. It brings people together from diverse backgrounds, not to discuss dogma, but to celebrate our common humanity.
In the process of gathering each evening we share, receive and become one in a common meal a communion meal. This meal brings together men and women, rich and poor, sinners and saints.
Regardless of the food — whether it's chili, lasagna, hamburger, corn, rolls and a drink— supper in at Room in the Inn carries the force of the unleavened bread, the unblemished lamb and choicest wine, eaten and drunk at those ancient Passover suppers and at the Last Supper. 
Ultimately, such a meal contains the possibility of a communion with our God among us. For more than 35 years, people have come together to do this. Reluctantly at first, there were plenty of suspicions.  

Why not share every meal?

The invitation of God to come, sit down and eat together won the hearts of all. The miracle of the communion meal was born.

All these years later, I believe it remains our most important connection. The Room in the Inn is safe, warm, clean, quiet, dependable and secure. Most importantly, it provides loving hospitality — found in the sharing, the laughter, the tears, the memories that bring us communion with each other and with God. 

Consider the opportunity you have to share the love inside you and offer the hospitality of your total respect for one another. No church doctrine or civil law need compel you. Only the hope of communion creates the kindness you offer.  

Now imagine that you are the only way that God’s communion with humanity is achieved. At this moment in time, you and you alone have that power and that element of grace. 

If the Room in the Inn supper has such power, why not share every meal? When we do that at the communion meal, it is a beautiful moment.

I have been lucky enough to bear witness to hundreds of those moments and they have brought deep, lasting meaning to my life.

This spirit of service and faith — ever-present at Father Ryan and celebrated in the communion meal at Room in the Inn— can shape all of us and provide us an example of how to love all of God’s children.

Father Charles Strobel is the founding director of Room in the Inn and a 1961 graduate of Father Ryan High School.