Christian morality is a hefty subject, particularly when it is being taught to a classroom filled with rebellious 15- and 16-year-old high school sophomores.

The teacher was new and no one had seen or met him yet. All we were aware of was his name neatly typed into our class schedule. Sitting there perhaps more nervous than everyone else (as this was first period of my first day in a new school), I twiddled my thumbs and paged through my textbook.

The bell rings. In walks this giant of a man dressed in black, singing the refrain to Cat Stevens’ rendition of “Morning Has Broken” and holding a coffee mug. A priest? He couldn’t be, as my schedule clearly said Mr. George Collins, not Fr. George Collins. He looked like a priest, collar and all. “Good morning, class,” was his greeting, to which we rudely responded with silence.

It was not until he wrote the class section number and his name on the board that I noticed the “S.J.” following his name. I knew who the Jesuits were because I was attending a Jesuit school. It took some explaining on his part to inform us that no, he was not a priest, but yes, he would be one someday.

Theology II, section 3 became a very interesting class. From heated classroom discussions regarding the afterlife of our favorite pets to the moral, civil and heaven-sent implications of underage drinking, George made each class a time of learning, self-growth and humor.

At a time when most students were questioning or abandoning their faith, I began to truly embrace mine because of a Jesuit formally known as Mr. Collins, S.J. It wasn’t until the year progressed that he began to tell us his personal story of life, work and journey into religious life that I started to see this man not only as a teacher but also as a person.

His life experiences as a cable installer and supervisor at the Boston Edison Company and later as a union contract negotiator (and mixed with his entrance into the Society of Jesus) allowed the reality of human trials and tribulations to become clear in my mind.

This man of faith – this man of God – began to influence my ways of thinking and responding to others in ways I don’t think he would ever begin to imagine.

The most profound thing that I took from him was a statement he made during a class discussion about the existence of God in today’s warped society. He said, “There’s a God, and it’s a God who loves us. Let go and let God.” I had an epiphany. If a 45-year-old man could articulate exactly what I needed to hear during those tumultuous early teenage times, I knew that I would be able to let go of the things in my life that were holding me back and mentally and spiritually turn to God with all of those wants and needs.

What I took most from George was the willingness to be able to let go of all of my past experiences and hurts and respond openly to God’s will in my own life.

Alex R. Boucher works in Catholic parish ministry in the Diocese of Portland as well as consulting for faith-based nonprofits in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area.