Two teachers and eleven students from St Bonaventure’s College in St John’s, Newfoundland, travelled to Washington, DC, in November 2016 to attend the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ). The Teach-In is an opportunity to further the Jesuit mission of forming young women and men of competence, conscience, compassion and commitment to a just global society on an international scale. The following account is by Tommy Connors, one of the teachers who went from St Bon’s:
I travelled to Washington in early November for the IFTJ with mixed feelings. First and foremost, being two days after the election that would change America … I had feelings of apprehension and nervousness. Regardless of your political views, a man who had the potential to instill fear and hate across 325 million people in one country alone would surely have an impact on a group of 13 from a windy Rock in the Atlantic Ocean.
To go along with these feelings, I was truly nervous as this was my first voyage on behalf of the school that didn’t involve a sports team. I had no idea what to expect – would I look out of place? Would I feel less than others who have been involved in the Jesuit world for much longer than I? Was I Catholic enough to fit in?
Luckily the root of my nerves and my apprehension was quickly abolished by the emcee’s opening statement that went something like this: “Regardless of your political views, race, gender or sexual orientation, we are all here for each other.” The speaker went on to talk about the feelings of apprehension many people in that room were feeling two days post-election, about the many questions unspoken in the room – Will I be allowed to be who I am in the new Trump era? Will I be accepted in America? Will I look out of place?
Knowing that many of the 1,800 people in the ballroom that day had many of the same questions made me feel a little at ease, as well as a little bad. There I was worried about fitting in for a weekend event while many others there were worried about their safety. Some had previously declared their homosexuality to the world and in some cases were afraid for the lives they had tried to make for themselves while others who were transgendered were afraid of the backlash they might receive. Others still had no conceivable reason to be worried about their safety, but were scared for the country itself.
Hearing these stories over the weekend really put my apprehension into perspective. It also made me think long and hard about St. Bon’s and what it is striving to achieve in the world. Coming from a school whose mission statement involves a respectful, safe and caring environment in which we try to form men and women for others prepared me to take everything in and to attempt to do my best to instill the values I have learned at St. Bon’s over the past 5 years to anyone needing someone to be there for them.
In the end, I am to this day still reflecting on the meaning of that trip – working for the greater good is complicated and it requires that we sort through our own feelings and challenge ourselves to grow so that we can then be there for others who need us to be ready to act in the world, and to speak with those who voices might otherwise be silenced.
This reflection was first published as a link from the Campus Ministry Newsletter of St Bonaventure’s College, called Living the Magis, in January 2017. It appeared in the newsletter’s first issue under the title “Building relationships with self and world through the Jesuit network.”