10 Things I Learned as a Janitor at Steubenville

10 Things I Learned as a Janitor at Steubenville

The Chimney Sweep. Firs Zhuravlev.

You’ll forgive me for taking a moment out of exam week to write a half-silly post. My brain is fried, as is the brain of my partner in crime, Andrew Sciba. Sometimes you just need to write something ridiculous to find something meaningful.

I grew up with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In the various phases of my development, I’ve been:

  • A Neat-Freak (I used to hate pizza … because it was messy)
  • A Handwasher (Germs! Germs! Oh, the humanity!)
  • A Hoarder (Am I sure I don’t need this old battery packaging?)
  • A Counter (Let me do that again until I reach the next prime number…)
  • A Checker (Did I shut the iron off?)
  • A Scrupulant (Sins! Sins! Oh, the humanity!)
  • A Self-Corrector (Well, not really a self-corrector, more of a self-clarifier, but I’m not sure that term really captures it either…let me research it for a few hours and get back to you…)

Since my mid-teens, I’ve tried to expose myself to things that would slowly condition and eradicate my OCD. One Spring semester at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I decided to become a janitor.

For those of you who don’t have OCD, janitorial services are the final frontier of the OCD patient. I learned in that time that college students don’t know how to use bathrooms. Here are some other things I learned, a random assortment of insights all connected, somehow, to the world’s least loved profession:

  1. Janitorial services is the perfect job for someone who wants quiet time to pray. Think about it – no one comes into the bathroom when you have the little orange cone outside the door. You could keep it there for hours and just sit, thinking where generations of brilliant men have done their best thinking. Seriously, though, it’s a great time for silence and prayer – especially if you work the night shift. I remember vacuuming one classroom after another, just enjoying the fact that those silent moments were shared only between me and God. If you need more silence in your life, consider becoming a custodian.
  2. Women’s restrooms are strange places. I was cleaning the faculty women’s restroom after hours one day and there was a whole shelf dedicated to holding bags, perfumes, hairbrushes, and other things. Heck, the room even had its own vestibule with benches in it, I suppose just in case the lady profs wanted to go in a group and someone got exhausted from brushing her hair. It was classy, but strange.
  3. Men’s restrooms are spartan. Of course, I’d always known this, being a guy, but for you ladies out there who had suspicions that men’s restrooms must be very plain and unkempt, you’re absolutely right. In fact, when I have to take my daughter to the potty in a public place, she always mentions that it’s a “boy potty.” She can tell at first glance by the look of it. If we men ever do decide to kick it up a few notches, it won’t be with a shelf for hairbrushes, it’ll be television sets in the stalls set to the ESPN.
  4. Janitors are people, too. One of my fellow janitors was very emotionally needy. I’d stop for a few minutes to chat with her – though it was never my favorite conversation of the day – because for the first time in my life, it had really hit me that the people who work behind the scenes don’t get enough attention. When you see a janitor, smile at him, tell him thanks, hold open a door for him, or think twice about dropping that Twinkie wrapper on the floor.
  5. Steubie students are, by and large, honest kids. There was a cell phone in one classroom that sat there for months waiting for its owner to come find it. It was never stolen. Things get stolen everywhere – a friend had a PDA stolen while he was at seminary – but that phone in Egan Hall just sat there untouched by thieving hands.
  6. God loves janitors. Everyday in the crowded Christ the King Chapel, the janitors lined up among the front pews, walkie-talkies set to a low hum, to hear God’s Word and receive the Eucharist. They came in filthy clothes, but they had clean hearts. They’re some of the best people I know. You’ve got to consider it: isn’t God’s own Son something like a janitor? I mean, look at His job description: Savior – Reports to the Big Guy Upstairs – Cleans up the entire mess humanity’s gotten itself into, receives little praise in return. Financial Remuneration: None. Sounds like a janitor to me! Janitors are holy people, too. One of the janitors at Franciscan keeps a chalkboard of all the names of his workers and their significant others. It’s a prayer board. He prays for them all everyday. I think I might still be on it (I was the last time I visited). It’s great to know a man that holy is praying for me.
  7. Janitors aren’t stupid. I’m not saying who, but one of the Steubie janitors has like a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering or something. I’m not kidding. He never brags about his intelligence because he’s humble (I only heard about it through a residence director). He just loves working there and going about his life of service, the kind of service you and I cringe at. I always respected that.
  8. Never whip an industrial electrical plug. You know what I mean – the cord is stretched out like 30 feet in front of you, so you wrist-snap it quickly to one side and it comes flying toward you. It’s fun to watch, but it’s painful when that big industrial model whacks you in the shin. It tore a hole in my jeans and left a mark on my leg I still have to this day, 6 years later.
  9. Sometimes white collar workers are dumber than blue collar workers. I laugh at pompous academics who think fancy book-learnin’ trumps good old common sense. You’d think being an architect would make you a brilliant, well-qualified person. Whoever designed the showers in St. Francis Hall forgot to make the floor slope toward the drains. The water just collects until janitors sweep it into there. Yep. Guess who figured that one out? The janitors.
  10. Janitors put up with a lot of… Yeah, I’m going to leave that one alone.

To this day, I sometimes look back and wish I was a janitor again. Yeah, it would drive my OCD nuts, but it was good work with good people, and it was a way of serving others in the quiet background. I think that’s where most of us are meant to do our best work.


  1. Thank you for this post. Both my father and my mother-in-law were janitors. My father, as well as my mother-in-law when she was alive, are (were) pious, prayerful individuals. My father used to pray out loud in the empty office buildings where he worked. He always seemed to have a great time. There’s something about this profession that draws the best people!

  2. Thank you
    I am a lunch lady/custodian
    @ a Catholic high school and have made very similar observations.
    I love my job too. And I pray my rosary while cleaning using the mp3 player on my phone.
    Thanks for this article.

  3. So I am curious if you are cured of your OCD now, or significantly better? I don’t think OCD is part of God’s plan for anyone–more like mischief set upon us humans by the Devil. And knowing how difficult it can be, I hope you are successful in overcoming it. Keep up the janitorial work! God bless!

    • I still have OCD, but it’s much more controlled now.

      I’m also not a janitor anymore, and my chores at home aren’t nearly as relaxing. :-p

      • Mine is so bad, I have to call it CDO… so it’s alphabetical.

        • That was a funny OCD joke Andrew. Thank you for bringing a great sense of humour to this forum.

  4. Thank you for this inspiring post. It talks about simple sincere humility without being too preachy.

  5. Just fantastic. I’ve always had a touch of OCD myself (of the germaphobe variety), and really appreciate your sense of humor. Such great thoughts on humility. Thank you!

  6. The Francis showers!!!! Oh man does that bring it back….that vacuum.

  7. What a great article! When my little sister was in high school, her chemistry teacher had to take leave for a couple of months for health reasons. The school looked around for a substitute and somebody mentioned the janitor, who happened to have a Master’s degree in Chemistry. My sister said he was fantastic–far better than the regular teacher, and could explain difficult concepts with ease. The students all begged him to stay. And they begged the administration for him to stay. But it was not to be. The regular guy came back and the janitor returned to his duties. But the students looked on him with awe after that, and gained a greater respect for the janitorial staff in general.

  8. I have to agree with this post. I myself suffer from OCD, but it is not even there hardly.

    My Dad has worked as a janitor at church, for nearly ten years. I have helped him off, until last summer every weekend.

    This job is a very humbling job and since I don’t get paid for it it is even more of a sacrifice.

    I think considering i am only a sixteen year old girl, who is unusual to spend her weekends up at the church instead of spending time somewhere else, that my work seems more special.

    People mention that I seem to always be there ready with a helping hand.

    I agree stronlgy with no.4 I get ignored sometimes and even people I know don’t acknowledge me.

    Since I do jobs very few people are aware of, I find them to be very special. They are the ones I do as acts of love and charity to GOD.

    At night, when everyone is gone I get the whole entrie chapel to myslef and Pray infront of the tabernacle, for hours into the early morning at times.

    It is so peaceful and no amount of money could replace that for worikng at the church.

  9. This reminds me of being a mom.