A few years ago I found myself, after graduation, at a bit of a loose end. Once a week a few friends from university would meet for coffee at a rather swish little café on Dawson Street to read over one another’s post-graduate research. We were all, in one way or another, working on related subjects although we were all in different schools. There were archaeologists, theologians, biblicists, and philosophers – all researching interconnected things. After beginning the doctoral reading I happened to lose funding, but out of interest and the hope that funding would soon come, I continued with this process of research and sharing. As we were all out of waged employment, at the height of Ireland’s economic meltdown, four of us decided to begin a volunteer project. We would offer our hands to educational schemes in the city. The parish priest in Ballymun put us in touch with the coordinator of the Jesuit third-level support organisation in his area, and we were off. Six years of Biblical Studies and Theology and I found myself teaching maths and history in the best environment I have ever worked in. Two of the original gang have now moved abroad with their PhDs completed, and two of us are still volunteering.
This afternoon I was informed that the director of the study and training program wanted to see me. The words ‘director,’ and ‘wants to see you,’ never sound great when they go bouncing about my head. As part of the Catholic counter-reformation the Society of Jesus was set up my Ignatius Loyola to deal with people like me. That historical awareness may have been the first alarm bell. What could I do? I did the only thing I could: I gave him a call and dropped round to his bachelor pad for coffee. It was money! Payment to a volunteer for a year’s worth of maths tutorials. Okay, I’m not volunteering for money, but then as a biblical scholar I do get the idea of not muzzling the ox on the threshing floor. Feeling like the biblical ox I received the payment with gratitude, and have decided to use it for the project. We put out a call for donations last year and one of our old volunteers in London asked his wedding guests to donate – and they did, and very generously so. Now this! Calculators, maths sets, past exam papers, and log books are now guaranteed for the foreseeable future. That is definitely payment enough.