Before a group of young adults in an Irish bar in Arlington, Va., Brian Rhude, a senior theology major, begins a talk about his journey to Catholic University by comparing it to the bible story of the Road to Emmaus. In the story, Jesus walks with a group, listens to what’s on their hearts, and shares in their journey.
“That same accompaniment Jesus gave to those disciples is what I’ve experienced,” Rhude said at the Theology on Tap talk.
Faith didn’t play a huge role in his early life. “Food was big from early on,” he said. “I loved the way food has a way of bringing people together. Food is a way of learning about cultures and forming community.”
Early in high school, Rhude learned prayers not because he wanted to pray, but in order to get good grades. In his junior year at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Md., something changed. “Jesus wasn’t just an answer on a test,” he says. “This isn’t just something we learn. This is something we live.”
Rhude enrolled at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., to pursue a degree in culinary arts. While completing an internship, he began to wonder if he was on the right path.
He decided to complete the RCIA process, and that led him to reflect on how he got to where he was. What stuck out to him was the people who had accompanied him. His chaplain. His religion teachers. People who reached out to him and shared the faith with him. “There are people who have walked with me on this journey that I wouldn’t be here without.”
When Rhude decided he wanted to change paths and study theology, he looked at several universities. Catholic University had what he was looking for academically, and he was drawn to Campus Ministry’s model of student ministers. He now says Catholic University is “not just a place of academic formation, but of human formation.”
In his first year, Rhude met Rev. Frank Donio, S.A.C., an alumnus of the University who serves as Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus council on campus, is active on the Alumni Board of Governors, and spends time on campus giving back. Rhude soon joined the staff of the Catholic Apostolate Center (CAC), which Father Frank directs.
The theme of “accompaniment” has followed Rhude at CatholicU. During his sophomore year, he became a student minister. He also worked with Light the World, a program for high school students interested in incorporating their faith into their future careers.
In his junior year, Rhude spent a semester studying in Rome — conveniently during the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Because of his connections through CAC, Rhude was able to connect with Catholic leadership organizations, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He gained access to American bishops, inviting several of them to join the students in Catholic University’s Rome Center for a meal to discuss how they’re accompanying young people.
The following summer, Rhude was invited to serve as a moderator at the International Post-Synodal Forum to discuss the apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit. He was one of two young people from the United States chosen as a delegate and to serve as an English language group moderator.
The decision to go to Rome was not an easy one to make. At the time, his father was very ill, and he was concerned about leaving him. His father told him, “You go to Rome and take care of the cardinals.”
While in Rome, Rhude was invited to a private audience with Pope Francis as part of the Forum group. When it was his turn to greet the pope, he asked him to pray for his father. Rhude looked up and noticed the pope’s eyes were closed.
“In that very moment, he prayed for my father,” Rhude said, impressed that the pope did not risk putting off the promise of a prayer, but stopped in that moment to and be truly present with him.
In 2019 and 2020, Rhude has participated in the Mid-Atlantic Congress, a Catholic leadership conference. This year, he was part of a CAC panel moderated by Father Frank, that also included a CatholicU doctoral student, alumnus, and professor. The group presented on the “art of accompaniment” and the importance of it in developing current Catholic leaders.
Rhude never expected that his path would start in a kitchen and lead him through the Vatican. “I’m not that special,” he says. But, “God can take a sinner, and use him to work with Him through the people He’s put in their lives. He’s given us all a path.”
His journey isn’t over though. Some would say it’s just beginning.
“I’ve just made it to Emmaus. I still have to turn back around to proclaim Him.”
— Mary McCarthy Hines, director of communications and media relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.