Finding her stride
A 2005 graduate reflects on her Jesuit journey
There were a few buzz words I learned as an undergraduate student at Loyola that I could fluently throw around to feign a mastery of the Jesuit vernacular.
I knew that I believed in the value of an education that prioritizes the whole person. I could draw the inextricable link between the service of faith and the promotion of justice. And I could articulate the means by which contemplation in action encouraged me to live so as to glorify God.
But I didn’t know why.
To be fair, it was not Loyola’s job to define the ‘why’ for me. My Jesuit education at Loyola incited a desire to live as a humble servant for others; however, I needed to determine what that meant outside the confines and security of a Catholic college campus.
I began my post-grad ‘why’-seeking journey in the Pacific Islands of Micronesia as a Jesuit Volunteer for two years in response to God’s call to come to know Him better through His people and their beautiful culture.
I have searched back in the Loyola professional community as the University’s cross country and track and field coach.
I’ve looked in the complex current political issues that challenge or bolster our identity as Catholics.
I’ve hunted in the unrest that plagued Baltimore in April, splashing longstanding racial tensions, oppression, poverty, and injustice across the national stage.
My search continues today in my role as executive director of Back on My Feet Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way they see themselves so they can make real change in their lives that results in employment and independent living.
The organization is rooted in relationship building. Running is our common interest, our excuse to gather as a community three mornings a week before dawn. And while the conversation may start superficially with distance, routes, pace, hills and other running jargon, after enough miles, it turns into talk of dreams, careers, and futures.
Incarceration, addiction, and homelessness are three of the most highly stigmatized and three of the most highly pervasive issues we struggle with in our City of Baltimore. While Back on My Feet (BoMF) is not naive in purporting that running is the solution to these systemic issues, we are taking bold strides to create a space that nurtures empowerment, self-sufficiency and equity—a space that is entirely absent of ‘them’ and wholly committed to ‘us.’
One could argue that our most basic needs are food, clothing, and shelter. I’d argue that shortlist is missing the human need to feel valued, acknowledged, and loved. When you create a space where people are built up instead of broken down, where they are given a chance and are surrounded by the resources and support necessary to build the skills and confidence requisite for success, it is impressive to witness the transformative power of putting one foot in front of the other.
At my core, at the intersection of my values, my education, and society’s greatest needs, Baltimore is our city. These are our neighbors. We tend to categorize people in the stereotypical boxes with the adjectives that make it easier for us to exonerate ourselves of the personal responsibility we have to take care of each other. But at the end of the day, whether we want to admit it or not, we are all interconnected.
The members of our BoMF teams are the parents of children who will inherit our Baltimore. They are the inmates who will, upon release, move in down the street from us. They are the men who need to be the role models for our aspiring youth, breaking the cycle of drugs, poverty, violence, and trauma. They are the change-makers who have the capacity and potential to return to our communities to improve them for the better. And their lives are valuable, too.
Issues don’t go away because we lock them up, institutionalize them, or shun them—because they are not issues. They are people. And they deserve the persistent dissolution of the walls that divide us.
So while my own search for the ‘why’ is far from over, it has been only upon leaving Loyola that I have begun to understand the formative role a Jesuit education has played in my journey and in the cultivation of my faith.
It is not that I found any prophetic answers in any of these places or roles, but it has become more evident that Loyola had a profound impact on the way I relate to the world. Reverence, humility, compassion, empathy, presence—they are not simply inherent; they are learned and must be practiced.
I didn’t simply receive a degree from a Jesuit institution—and by default, the conferred title of “a woman for and with others.” I graduated from Loyola indoctrinated with a desire to incorporate these values into whatever it is I allow to define me, and the obligation to relentlessly pursue Christ in the other and fulfill the responsibility we have to take care of each other.