Feb. 3, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 10
Four representatives of the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry's largest student group, the 20 to 29-year-olds, discuss their faith experiences and what led them to enroll in IREPM:
Caroline Kondrat, 25, Cleveland, MS/MSW program
Background: graduated from John Carroll University with communications degree; Peace Corps volunteer from 2001-03 in Kenya, taught basic math and business skills to village mothers and cared for children orphaned by AIDS; worked in campus ministry at John Carroll, coordinating social justice initiatives and international immersion trips.
My time in the Peace Corps affirmed my desire to pursue social work. However, I also learned from my time in Kenya that I wanted a program that would help me and those that I will work with to be able to process our experiences within the context of our faith. Just after finishing my first semester at IREPM, I feel as though I am better equipped to engage such conversations and am very excited to find that my hope of the dual degree program offering a more holistic approach to the work I will do is indeed, just as I hoped it would be!
My faith in God has not been affected by the [sexual abuse] scandals, but my faith in the Catholic Church as an institution has. The scandal served as a wake up call for me to no longer romanticize the Church. Until the scandals were revealed, I guess I was naive and thought that the Church was above society and those who worked in churches were, in a sense, "holier than thou."
I never really cared one way or the other because I never viewed the Church as being "my work." However, the scandals brought to light for me the realities of the Church - it exists within our society, is comprised of human people, and is vulnerable to everything that comes along with that. Also, I realized that we are the Church, and as part of the Church, I have a responsibility to work towards the realization of the best aspects of it.
JoAnne Harbert 26, Indianapolis, Social Justice concentration
Background: earned bachelor's degree in visual communication design with a minor in photography from the University of Dayton; worked with Jesuit Volunteers International teaching graphic communication, photojournalism and English at a journalism school in Mwanza, Tanzania.
After living abroad, I decided to learn more about theology and pastoral studies. I enjoyed teaching, but I wanted to be able to teach more than just art. Many of the jobs I found interesting required degrees in either theology or pastoral ministry. I was impressed with the IREPM's mission statement, and with their progressive vision and commitment to justice. I decided to come without even visiting first. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was better than I had expected. There is a good sense of community, and an obvious sense that this is a group of people committing to helping the Catholic Church evolve in the 21st century.
IREPM has helped me to clarify some of my own faith and theological ambiguities, but it has also introduced more. I feel that the deeper I go into the mysteries of faith, belief and what it means to be human, the more questions I get, and the more it challenges the assumptions I have been making up to this point. It is a little unsettling, but also quite exciting. I feel that my studies are acting as a catapult that can propel me into investigating these matters further in my future work.
As far as what that work will be, I'm not quite sure. I will graduate in May, and I am currently job searching. I am interested in the broad area of social justice education, and I am staying open-minded as I consider the job possibilities that I encounter.
Being out of the country, I did not experience the Catholic Church scandal in the same way as many others. I consider this, as do my friends, to be one of many problems in the Church. It is important to remember that the Catholic Church is universal. It exists all over the world. Sometimes we forget and allow ourselves to believe that what we see in Boston is reflected all through the world. It is possible to find pockets of both good and bad everywhere.
Glynn Forkey, 24, Buffalo, NY, MA/MSW program
Background: has degree in psychology from St. Bonaventure University; while in college worked for non-profit agency doing home visits in basic life-skills training for developmentally disabled individuals; worked for two years with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry in Philadelphia.
My experience volunteering was the impetus for my choice of graduate degrees and programs of study: I ministered to/with populations of poor, homeless, abused, mentally ill, addicted and criminal individuals of all ages and cultures, and found that basic social services in the city left something severely lacking in terms of pastoral presence and real care for the individuals who needed their assistance.
I am getting an MSW to attain the skills, knowledge and resources I would need to return to a ministry setting such as that one and be able to provide in a pastoral way for those services for people who otherwise "slip through the cracks" or can't manage to jump through all the hoops of the social welfare system.
My faith is the core of my reasons for getting this degree and pursuing this type of ministry outreach. The only reason I returned to school to get these degrees is to make me more effective at helping to meet the needs of people like those I lived with in Philly basic services, resources, and benefits are a struggle for many people to get effective assistance attaining.
I hope to return to a ministry setting again, hopefully with and among people who are in need of the skills, resources and knowledge of a social worker. Otherwise, it will be hard to justify having further separated myself from those brothers and sisters by acquiring two advanced degrees, which bring access to status, wealth, etc. that I am decidedly not interested in.
Megan Pryor, 23, Los Angeles, Religious Education
Background: received undergraduate degree in filmmaking from Loyola Marymount University; active in campus ministry during college.
After I graduated I worked toward becoming a film producer. It was a miserable climb defined by unbearably long days and I received little sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. I quit after about two years and through a series of blest events I ended up with a full-time campus ministry position and fell in love with my soon-to-be husband.
I had a strong desire to be involved with religious education but I knew that did not want to be an elementary school religion teacher. I am more interested in looking toward new methods of education that empower the laity. IREPM's program on Total Community Catechesis is a fundamentally new way of teaching people about their faith in that they get a sense that their faith is theirs to claim, something of which they can take ownership.
The present disillusion that has come as a result of the sex scandals and church closures leads people to feel as though they have no control, no voice. They would rather leave the faith and find another community with which to worship or stop attending any worshipping community entirely. Imagine a scenario in which someone comes into your house and begins acting out of order and pushing people around. Now, you wouldn't say, "Well, I'd better leave." You would act like a homeowner and take control of the situation. But people in the Church don't think that way and this is a fundamental problem that I feel better education can remedy. Religious education typically ends with the sacrament of confirmation.
Another positive aspect of Total Community Catechesis is that it seeks to educate beyond this sacrament; it acknowledges that there is room for growth, especially in parents who are the primary religious educators of their children.
I would say that people - especially those in my post-college, early 20s age group - want to discuss matters of faith. IREPM affords those opportunities in a number of ways: through liturgy, lunchtime discussion groups, holistic formation groups, the Faith and Justice Committee, and immersion trips. The IREPM house also has a wonderful homey feeling. It's a place that people want to stop by and share a lunch and there are always spiritual conversations going on in the kitchen. I have caught more insight from Dr. Colleen Griffith over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches than through my undergraduate theology minor.