NOVUS Interview With Joe Dembik (C'18)

We aren't tired of talking about NOVUS yet, our pre-NSO freshmen orientation retreat. Well, maybe a little. Which is why we're shifting gears and letting the students do the talking. We asked Joe Dembik about his experience of going on NOVUS three years ago and to share some advice for incoming freshmen. Oh, and hey, he's your student leader this year!

1. What were you like in high school? What did practicing your faith look like then verses now?

I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, so I had theology class every day and Mass and confession with my school every month. I had a decent prayer life and wanted to be a good person who knows God, but I didn't really put a lot of thought into it outside of the classroom. In college, my faith has been my pillar. I have more prayer time built into my life and I'm mindful about how I can live the catholic life as a student as a secular university. I want to be a proud representative of Jesus to others because now my faith is a serious priority to me. 

2. What do you remember most about your Novus?

I remember most of the people I met. I'm still friends with people I met during that retreat 3 years later, both rising seniors like me and upperclassmen. They're so warm and welcoming and also firm in their faith. I think I was afraid that everyone would be hyper-religious fanatics and I wouldn't be able to relate to them. But everyone was a normal college student, with the same type of worries and dreams that I had; they just made the deliberate choice to live their faith in college.

3. As a rising senior, what early advice would you give incoming freshmen?

I would say you can't be afraid to say yes, but you also can't be afraid to say no. So much is being thrown at you during your first year of college. There are so many opportunities and if there's something you really want to do, some group or class or event that really grabs you, you just have to do it. You will find people who will share your passion. At the same time, you have to know your limits. You can't do everything, and it's far better to pick two things you love doing over six you only like. Busyness and Happiness are two different things.

4. Briefly describe 3 scenarios over your past 3 years that have impacted your faith here at Penn.

The first event that impacted my faith was the Novus retreat freshman year. It gave me the freedom to practice and think about my faith in community that I never had before.

The next thing was my mission trip to Peru last winter. Penn Newman offers this trip each year. I built clean cookstoves and did some catechism 3 miles above sea level and 3500 miles away from home. It called me out of my comfort zone, away from modern distractions to serve and listen to God in a new way that I still try to live today.

The final thing was the Exodus90 program. Long story short, it was 90 days of Fraternity, Prayer and Asceticism, which meant no TV, social media, alcohol or snacking (among a ton of other stuff) for basically an entire semester, along with making time for mandatory exercise, sleep and prayer. What??? It wasn't easy, but it was rewarding. I focused my life on God and grew closer to some great people along the way.

5. What extra curricular are you involved with at Penn, and how do you keep your faith from being "just another thing that you do" here at Newman? 

Besides Newman, I'm a brother in Sigma Nu fraternity and a counselor for Camp Kesem, a summer camp for the children of cancer patients run entirely by undergrads. I'm also a TA for Psych 001 and starting a Catholic Men's Household this year. One of the ways I try to keep my faith present in my life is relating it to everything I do. I try to remember that my faith is the most important thing in my life, and the rest of my life should align with it. If it doesn't, I have to reconcile that. [ "Boom. He nailed it!" - Carolyn ]

6. Were you ever just a Church goer? How did you shift from just going through the motions to diving deeper?

I've been a consistent church goer my entire life, thanks to my parents. We were always at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Going to college, it was easy to keep that habit because of Newman. I had friends to go to Mass with that added to the experience. The dive to going deeper started, for me, with understanding the Mass better. It was important to understand why we do what we do as Catholics, and get to the heart of the readings, the acts of the priest that we've all seen a million times but don't always understand why. I learned a lot about the Mass on our Awakening retreat, and it really helped me appreciate our faith even more!