Surrounded by heroes
2006 graduate writes about the impact of Jesuit education
Did I find the Jesuits, or did they find me?
My childhood is ripe with memories of my great-uncle, the first priest and Jesuit I ever met, hosting Mass for my extended family. As a young boy, I put down the sticks and mud pies to listen to this man who had traveled the world over before I was even born. The mysterious awe with which I regarded my uncle, the traveling priest, transformed over time into the contemplation of a hero.
As I grew older, my world became greyer as I encountered poverty, violence, and the injustices facing many in the world today. I came to realize my uncle had spent most of his time abroad in war zones ministering to refugees. With all of my doubts about the quality of this world, I saw this hero whose blood ran in my veins.
On my first day of high school at Loyola Blakefield in Baltimore, my uncle and father encouraged me to visit the statue on campus depicting St. Ignatius surrendering his sword. I searched the etchings on the side of its base and found the name of my uncle’s younger brother. Surrounding his name were others; all were fallen alumni from the Second World War. Alone and in a new place, the meaning of humility was tacitly impressed upon me as I stood underneath the kneeling saint.
In many ways, I spent the next nine years unraveling the impact of that moment. And while I had the opportunity to travel a bit, just like my great-uncle, my most important travels were within. With the Jesuits—through high school, in college at Loyola University Maryland, as a member of their volunteer corps in Alaska, where I served for 12 months after I graduated from Loyola—life became, very clearly, about others. I understood how my education would be wasted if I became its sole beneficiary; how the world would wilt if I left it unexplored; and how justice would be impossible without loving, encountering, and serving all of creation.
During this time perhaps the most influential person in my life appeared in the form of a cantankerous, smoking, and cursing individual who snapped me out of my daydreaming and compelled me to live in—and not beyond—this world: another Jesuit. Years later, perhaps the most enduring lesson I learned was atop a black diamond trail on a dark Alaskan night, as I depended on my friend, a young man with autism, to coach me down the hillside. Today the Jesuit mission reverberates in my work as Director of Social Service at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Baltimore and as the director of Camp Umoja, a non-profit that serves children living in Baltimore City public housing.
Until justice is realized, the world needs for us to be unsettled. That being said, the greatest gift the Jesuits have given me is dissatisfaction. Since my earliest encounters with the Jesuits and Jesuit education, I have been and will continue to be hungry for education, thirsty for justice, and surrounded by heroes.
Steven Pomplon earned his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Loyola in 2006. He served the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for 12 months in Alaska following graduation. Today he is Director of Social Service at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Baltimore.