2022 Martyrs Award includes $25,000 Grant Presented to Kolbe House Jail Ministry

The award ceremony included the presentation of a $25,000 grant to the organization and speeches from Loyola students, staff and members of Kolbe House.

The 2022 Martyrs Award was presented to Kolbe House Jail Ministry on Nov. 16 as part of Loyola’s celebration of Ignatian Heritage Month. The award ceremony included the presentation of a $25,000 grant to the organization and speeches from Loyola students, staff and members of Kolbe House. 

Ignatian Heritage Month is celebrated every November at Loyola to remind students of Jesuit values and history, The Phoenix previously reported.

“St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged all he encountered to seek God in all things, to serve those in need, and to become people for and with others,” Loyola’s website reads. “As Loyola begins its annual celebration of Ignatian Heritage Month, we are called to reflect upon our journey together in hope.” 

The award commemorates a faith-based organization which works with oppressed and marginalized communities, according to Loyola’s website. The award has been presented at Loyola every November since 2015 and honors the legacy of eight Salvadoran martyrs who were killed in 1989. As explained in the speeches at the award ceremony, the martyrs represented Jesuit and Catholic ideals and were killed for speaking out against the corrupt government during the Salvadoran Civil War. 

The nominees for the Martyrs Award are chosen by Loyola faculty, staff and students and the finalists are approved by the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. The President’s office confirms the winner.

Kolbe House Jail Ministry is an organization affiliated with the Archdiocese of Chicago and aims to aid families and individuals who have been a part of the criminal justice system, including those incarcerated and the recently released, according to their website. Kolbe House was established in 1982 and provides various types of ministry, including in-jail, family and re-entry programs for Cook and Lake County jails.

The ceremony began with a speech from Claire Noonan, Loyola’s vice president for mission integration. 

“This event is situated at the heart of Loyola’s Ignatian Heritage Month and carries the theme we have chosen for 2022 — journeying together in hope,” Noonan said.

“Hope is the seed of liberation,” Noonan said in her speech, quoting Jon Sobrino, the martyr’s colleague. This quote, written on the front of the card given out at the start of the ceremony, connects the theme of Loyola’s Ignatian Heritage Month to the work of Kolbe House. 

Following Noonan’s speech, a prayer of remembrance for the Salvadoran martyrs took place, with students speaking in both English and Spanish. 

Loyola’s newly inaugurated president, Dr. Mark C. Reed, spoke about the meaning of the award and how Kolbe House’s initiatives align with the university’s Jesuit values.

“For Loyola the award is both a symbol and an action in line with our mission to accompany others to a more just, humane and sustainable world,” Reed said.

MaryClare Birmingham, Kolbe House’s executive director, spoke about the organization’s beliefs in her acceptance speech. Kolbe House implements the ideology of restorative justice by focusing on the need for re-education and reform rather than harsh punishment for convicts, according to Birmingham, she said the Kolbe House staff hopes to see this method further implemented into the criminal justice system, Birmingham said. 

“Every person is more than the worst thing they ever did,” Birmingham said. “At Kolbe House, we’re there to see the whole person. To recognize that they have a family, they have friends, they have experiences and stories, they have talents.”

When asked about how Kolbe House will utilize the grant money, Birmingham said it will greatly support the organization. 

“We raise all our own funds, we have a small amount of support from the Archdiocese, but otherwise all of our work is through donations and philanthropy, and so this is a very helpful form of support for us,” Birmingham said. “To receive this is so affirming that the work we are doing is what we should be doing.”

Shelby Davinroy, a junior global studies major, became involved with Kolbe House through her Sociology of Violence class. She explained that the class required 20 hours of service learning, which she dedicated to writing letters to inmates and volunteering through Kolbe House. 

Davinroy said Kolbe House definitely earned the Martyrs Award.

“They dedicate their lives to volunteerism and service to those who need it,” she said. 

Davinroy was able to connect with inmates through the letters she wrote, empathizing with them and providing words of encouragement.

 “It’s just a really great experience and I learned a lot about myself and my place in society,” Davinroy said.

Pablo Perez, the social director for Kolbe House, said the award signifies more than the organization itself. 

“It’s an honor, but I think it’s more important we acknowledge that the award is not really for us,” Perez said. “It is for all the men and women we minister to.” 

Perez, who is also a permanent deacon for the Catholic Church, said Kolbe House values working with the school communities and students. He emphasized the importance of having students work with Kolbe House.

“It is really important for us to reach more young people, people from universities, because they are the future and they are the ones that are going to make the changes,” Perez said. 

Perez, who is also a chaplain in maximum security at Cook County Jail, recounted an experience of working with the incarcerated.

“Last week, I went to see someone who was 19 years old,” Perez said. “It is being present and letting him know that whatever he needs, I’ll be there for him. I could visit him once a week, I could talk with him, he could reach to me as a chaplain, and I’ll go see him.”

Perez said he considers Kolbe House ministry a passion because he can make an impact through the organization. 

“I know, whatever I do, it makes a difference in somebody’s life,” Perez said. “Maybe the difference is just by giving them hope and giving them their light, so they don’t completely lose themselves in the dark place they are in.”

Birmingham said the award is an honor and strengthens the relationship between the organization and Loyola. 

“We are over the moon, we are so honored to be associated with the legacy of the martyrs and their commitment to living the lives of testimony to the Gospel,” Birmingham said. “To be in a closer relationship with Loyola University is a huge uplift for us. We love the work of Loyola. We are thrilled to strengthen that relationship.”

Jennie Colville

Jennie Colville