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Ignatian Spirituality Comes Alive in San Jose
Friday, Jul. 19, 2013
Prof. Elizabeth Drescher’s Ignatian Spirituality students spent part of their Spring 2013 quarter at the Santa Maria Urban Ministry center in the resource-challenged Washington neighborhood of San Jose. Their experiences are a wonderful tribute to the values of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit Order who is celebrated on July 31 during the Feast of St. Ignatius.
The course (TESP183) has a community-engagement project requirement, which the class then explores through the lens of Ignatian themes like "finding God in all things," spiritual imagination, or social justice.
Rather than having the students sign up for a variety of projects through the Ignatian Center, this quarter Drescher decided to have students focus exclusively on one agency, the Santa Maria Urban Ministry, affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real.
Students worked in four loosely defined teams: teen mentoring, neighborhood beautification, ELS tutoring, grade school tutoring, and food bank organization and distribution.
The signature project, which was led by Religious Studies major Susan Lewin, was the development of a mural at the center in which community members and students collaborated on the design and painting over several weeks. The students also somehow managed to get donations of paint for the project. It was a remarkable success for a community whose landscape is often scarred by graffiti.
Less-visible projects were also significant. Two students, Hugo Luna and David Obatake, developed particularly significant mentoring relationships with the teen group. Obatake inspired one group by bringing them to the TEDx talks on campus. Luna mentored one teen to help him in his devoted quest to get into college, and has continued to do so beyond the class.
Another student, Emily Domrose, realized that domestic workers in her English as a Second Language group not only struggled with English, but also had limited reading skills in Spanish. Undaunted, she undertook to teach English and Spanish language skills. Rainey Brown and Duncan Gilmore used their business management skills and interest in food to reorganize the food pantry.
Drescher said the students learned a new way of looking at the applicability of Ignatian principles in a world where learning is often oriented toward very specific career goals – toward the more 'practical' education rather than “conceptual” principles such as educating the whole person.
In their experience with the Santa Maria Urban Ministry community, however, she said students saw Ignatian ideas come to life in their own concrete experiences, in their very practical engagements with the people with whom they formed relationships at SMUM.
“It was a remarkable privilege for me as an educator to watch that unfold, and it's clear that many of the students were changed through the experience," said Drescher.