Fifteen Loyola community members with a mutual hunger for social justice flew to a yearly Jesuit advocacy event in Washington, D.C. last week.
The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) works to integrate various Jesuit academic institutions’ values into real-world lobbying and advocacy among the country’s senators.
Jesuit schools are well-known for their orientation toward social justice among the poor and marginalized.
The annual event, held since 1996, is a hub of Jesuit high schools and colleges. In the first two days attendees hear a variety of keynote addresses and breakout sessions centered around a particular marginalized or vulnerable population.
This year’s IFTJ ran from Nov. 4-6 and focused on immigration reform and criminal justice. Speakers addressed various other issues such as LGBTQ rights and racism.
After two days of learning, reflecting and praying, the 12 Loyola students split in two groups to discuss the issues they’d learned about with Congressional representatives from Ohio and Illinois.
Megan Barry, director of Community Service and Action (CSA) at Loyola, said the school has consistently sent a group of 10 to 15 students to the event through Campus Ministry and CSA. Applications opened in September to all students.
The IFTJ commemorates the six Jesuits murdered in El Salvador in 1989 by Salvadoran Army soldiers from a U.S.-backed El Salvador government, trained through the United States Army “School of the Americas” (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia.
The Teach-In started as a grassroots protest in Columbus, Georgia against the nearby SOA, which trains and militarizes Latin American soldiers, including those who killed the six Jesuits. In 1996, the first Ignatian gathering was held in nearby Columbus, gaining momentum and eventually expanding to Washington in 2010, according to The Ignatian Solidarity Network.
The SOA closed in 2000 but opened as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001, shifting from the Army’s jurisdiction to the Defense Department, according to SOA Watch.
Maura Stokan-Wright, a sophomore studying social work at Loyola, said her parents’ activism in El Salvador’s civil war during the 1980s contributed toward her applying to the Teach-In.
“I was inspired to seek out opportunities to put [the Jesuits’] ideals into action, and I saw the Ignatian Family Teach-In as a chance to advocate for issues that are important to me that I’ve been raised to care about,” Stokan-Wright, 19, said.
Stokan-Wright said she’s gone on multiple summer immersion trips to Tijuana, Mexico where she learned about immigration policy.
Speakers at this year’s Teach-In included the Rev. James Martin, S.J., who spoke on LGBTQ rights in relation to Catholic Social Teaching; Rev. Bryan Massingale, who spoke on racial equality; Maria Stephan of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who discussed the Catholic approach to nonviolence and peace; and Sr. Patricia Chappell, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who emphasized white privilege.
Chappell said potential allies need to listen more with silence and deep empathy. “In order to heal, [minorities] need to share [their] stories with each other and [their] white brothers and sisters, but [they] need a safe space to be vulnerable and honest,” Chappell said.
Allison Loecke, coordinator of Loyola’s Alternative Break Immersions (ABIs) — weeklong social justice trips held over school breaks — also attended the Teach-In. She managed the trip’s logistics such as lodging and transportation.
Loecke said the joining of Jesuit colleges and high schools will hopefully “get the [Loyola students] fired up about the topics discussed and commit the lessons learned to their life back on campus.”
Maggie Thompson, a senior studying political science and international studies, attended the Teach-In for the second year in a row. This time, she said she felt far more informed to speak about issues and to lobby senators.
Thompson said the ABI to Nogales, Mexico she attended her sophomore year opened her eyes to the injustices the immigrant population face and led her shift in focus toward doing policy work in the international sphere upon graduating.
“Instead of learning about just policy and just action in the classroom, I think [the Ignatian Family Teach-In] is a great basis to put those ideas into effect and also experience something I’d like to continue doing the rest of my life in my career field,” Thompson said.
Loecke said Loyola could potentially partner with other Jesuit colleges in the future to start initiatives similar to Loyola’s Dream Act tabling earlier in October. The initiative let students sign and mail letters to their state senators and representatives, encouraging an act delaying deportations for undocumented students who arrived in the United States as children.
The Rev. Mike Tedone, S.J. also traveled to Washington with the Loyola group. Tedone, who is working toward a master’s in social philosophy at Loyola, is a scholastic — a seminarian preparing to become an ordained priest.
After graduating from Marquette University, Tedone, 30, spent two years in Micronesia with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, an organization that places individuals between the ages of 21-35 into poor communities across the country and globe to live and work.
The experience solidified a greater desire in Tedone to engage in social justice, though he said that he and others can always continue to deepen their faith through doing and learning justice, especially through events like the Ignatian Family Teach-In.
“My hope is that we return with a deeper connection to Ignatian values,” Tedone said, “that we will live more fully with them on campus and in our lives in general.”