here’s a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness, Catholics say, is external. It emerges from the everyday contests: when you get the job you wanted, make it through a yellow light, or earn admission to your dream school. Joy, on the other hand, is internal. It fills us when we are at peace with ourselves. It cannot be changed by a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad life.
Nick Genovese, BC ’16, walked into the offices of ESPN in 2017 and had a feeling he was about to be very happy. He had been communicating with an executive of ESPN for several weeks and was invited in to the Manhattan headquarters for a tour. Anticipation built as he saw the studios and met his potential co-workers. When he was sent up to the vice president’s office on the top floor, he knew “something” was going to happen.
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From across the table, the executive slid a folder toward Genovese. Inside was the contract for a position at ESPN—the only thing that Genovese can remember ever longing for. Genovese said that as he sat there, making small talk, he started to buy into the ESPN lifestyle more and more. The executive asked him what he studied during his time at BC. Genovese replied theology and film, and told him that he was currently working for a Catholic media company, prompting a reply that shook Genovese straight off the course he had been planning for so long.
“He just made a joke,” Genovese said. “He kind of tapped my shoulder and goes ‘So you’re preparing to give up your faith for sports?’”
Genovese retreated into his own head for the next minute, trying to grapple with the truth of what the man had said. When his mind entered back into the office, he told the executive he wouldn’t be taking the job. He was met with confusion, and then frustration. They couldn’t understand how Genovese, who had been enthusiastic about the company for weeks, could turn down the best job offer he could have hoped for. Genovese didn’t understand either.
“I was trying to convince this man as much as myself that I didn’t want the job,” he said.
Genovese walked out of the office, and into nearby Central Park. There, he sat and cried. He had already told his parents about the interview, explaining to them that he had a good feeling about it. His feared that friends, many of whom were businessmen from the Carroll School of Management, wouldn’t understand why he did what he did. He didn’t know where to turn next.
“Faith played a big role in my time at BC, but I always thought I was going to go into that kind of sports media,” he said.
Genovese began rifling through his wallet, searching for any clue as to who he could call. He found the contact information for Peter Folan, who had worked as the Assistant Director of First Year Experience when Genovese was an orientation leader during the summer before his sophomore year. He went home and drafted a 10-paragraph email, explaining that he had just ruined his life.
“I thought 22 years of life was going to culminate in this experience and it wasn’t,” he said.
After a few restless hours, Genovese received a call from an unknown number at 7 a.m. It was Folan on his work phone, telling him that there was a new opening at Catholic Memorial High School where he worked. Folan encouraged Genovese to apply. Within a few days, he had landed the job as a campus minister, teacher, and coach.
“I knew it was for some greater purpose that I wasn’t going to ESPN,” Genovese said.
This wasn’t exactly new for him. He worked for Campus Ministry for three years as an undergraduate at Boston College—his first encounter with the office being only two weeks into his freshman year. He received word that his coach from four years of varsity baseball had lost his home to a fire. Remembering the Campus Ministry presentation from orientation, Genovese headed over to see if it really would welcome him with open arms, as it had promised. When he walked in he was met by Rev. Tony Penna, the current associate vice president and director of Campus Ministry.
“Looking back, making time for this kid he had never met before was incredible,” Genovese said.
Genovese tearfully sat in Penna’s office, explaining that he wanted to do something for his coach—a clothing drive, a fundraiser, anything that could help him out. Penna said that it would be really hard to make that kind of thing work. Only a few weeks into the school year, no one knew Genovese or his coach, making it difficult to impossible to raise anything. Still, his desire impressed the campus minister.
“That right away told me something about Nick,” Penna said. “He was a man of empathy—a great capacity to really feel the hardship of someone else.”
Penna was so moved, he reached for his own checkbook and handed Genovese a check for $500. He told him that he trusted that he would put it to good use. Genovese met with Penna every week after that.
“It was the first time I really felt at home at BC,” Genovese said. “If there’s anyone in life who prompted me into this situation, it’s him.”
It’s this kind of one-on-one conversation and attention that Genovese tries to bring into his own work now. He thinks kids should be three things: seen, known, and valued. He hopes that by gaining their respect, he’ll be able to change the narrative for a lot of the things they’ll encounter as they grow up. Genovese emphasizes the point that they should aim to be the best version of themselves—not just for their own satisfaction, but so they can give themselves away to the world.
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Being in an all-boys Catholic school, Genovese has seen the way his female colleagues are treated by students. He said that oftentimes, they aren’t given the same respect as their male counterparts. Genovese chalks some of this up to immaturity, but notes that media like Barstool Sports—the satirical sports and pop culture blog that caters mostly to adolescent boys—is a major cultural influence for the boys that he works with.
“Part of my calling in life is to use digital media for telling a narrative that is true, and hopefully has a little more substance and value than that of Barstool,” he said.
To kick off the year, he asked his students who their role models are. Ninety-nine percent of the students stated that men—particularly Tom Brady—are who they look up to. When Genovese asked if a woman could be a role model, many of them said no. He said he was perplexed by this, but took it as a sign that he should lead by example, not just in respect to the treatment of his female colleagues, but in all of the ways he conducts his life.
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Genovese says that if nothing else, he wants his students to think about why their lives are meaningful. Why are they here? What do they stand to give on to the world? Often, Genovese said, we get caught up in what others want, or what we think we want. But if we stop and ask ourselves these big questions, we’re less likely to come up with answers that point us toward status, or money, or prominence. This kind of thought is one of the things that attracted Genovese to Campus Ministry during his time at BC.
“He felt the vocation had merit, it meant something,” Penna said.
Penna cites Genovese’s willingness to change and grow as one of the reasons he is capable of being so successful, in campus ministry and beyond.
“He really wants to keep growing,” Penna said. “He keeps making himself available to try new things, to risk a little, to leave comfort zones to kind of expose himself to new opportunities.”
True to that point, Genovese isn’t sure that he wants to write off reentering the media world entirely. He still has the passion for storytelling, something that he’s brought into the classroom through a broadcast television class and a daily school broadcast during homeroom. And for this, Genovese is more than happy.
“I think this is the most joyful experience I’ve had in my life,” he said.
Photo Courtesy of Nick Genovese