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Alumni Profiles

Jeremy Dunford (M.T.S – 2017)

Theology Teacher, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, Houston, Texas

 

Jeremy Dunford received his Master of Theological Studies degree last May, writing a synthesis paper entitled “Teaching Creation and Evolution in a Catholic High School.” Jeremy reflects, “While teaching math and theology at a Catholic high school in Los Angeles as a member of the LMU PLACE Corps, I discovered a passion for leading students through explorations of life’s biggest questions. I found a vocation in helping students to cultivate intellectual virtues and grow in their own faith. I anticipated that continuing my graduate studies at JST would give me the opportunity to develop the knowledge and tools necessary to be a more effective teacher.” 

Through vibrant class discussions, challenging readings and assignments, and casual conversations with classmates and professors, doing theology (not just studying it!) at JST helped Jeremy to develop as a person, teacher, and disciple. Jeremy states, “Anybody who has attended or worked in a Jesuit school recognizes the unique spirit of the Jesuit model of education. As a product of that model, I hope that I can give my students the same amazing experience that I have enjoyed.” When Jeremy reflects on his studies at JST, he recalls, “A friend once asked me why I would bother enrolling in graduate school, since instead I could simply read dozens of theological texts, many written by JST professors, and probably get the same education for much cheaper and with considerably less essay writing. What he did not understand is that a JST education (really, any Jesuit education) is far more than the content of the textbooks. Beyond the information, it is the people that make JST great—the friends and faculty whose love for God is infectious. Learning in that familial environment, with laypeople and religious supporting one another in our faith journeys, holds a value that runs deeper than reading Aquinas or Rahner alone ever could.”

Jeremy encourages current JST students to take advantage of all that JST has to offer. He says that students should attend the events, join the extracurricular groups, and build relationships. He implores, “Do not let your JST education be isolated in the classroom and the library. Also, when citing a book written by your professor, make sure you are not misquoting them before turning in the paper.”

Soon after Jeremy arrived in Houston to teach at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School, Hurricane Harvey hit. Growing up in California, Jeremy had never directly experienced any kind of natural disaster that caused such significant damage to his school and community. He states, “While the tragedy of Harvey cannot be overlooked, it has been absolutely awesome to see how Houstonians have come together as a community. I have seen families open their homes to neighbors who have been flooded out and people taking vacation time to do manual labor and work at shelters for those who have been displaced.” Jeremy himself tried to help at a shelter a few hours after the rain first stopped, but he was turned away because they already had too many eager volunteers ready to offer whatever they could to those who were not as lucky.

Before returning to the new school year, Jeremy spent a week working alongside students from Strake Jesuit, ripping out flooring, tearing down drywall, and moving damaged furniture in homes across the city. When discussing working together with his students, Jeremy mentions, “Our young men gave without counting the cost, toiled without seeking for rest, labored without asking for reward. When they easily could have sat at home watching Netflix or playing video games, they instead seized the opportunity to embody the ‘men and women for others’ virtue that a Jesuit education seeks to instill in our students.” They learned something that week that transcended anything Jeremy could teach them in the classroom.  Jeremy would like to thank JST for all of our thoughts and prayers. He beams, “They are greatly appreciated and are not going unheard. The people of Houston are mentally, spiritually, and communally strong, and we will respond with faith, hope, and love.”

If you would like to help Jeremy and the families at his school, you can do so by clicking on the link below.

http://www.strakejesuit.org/s/103/hybrid/interior-hybrid mt.aspx?sid=103&gid=1&pgid=3197&content_id=7676

Patrick J. Conroy, S.J. (M.Div. – 1983)

Chaplain, U.S. House of Representatives

 

House Chaplain Fr. Patrick Conroy leads a prayer for the players during the 56th Annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity.

Patrick Conroy, S.J. is the 60th Chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives. A Jesuit of the West Coast Province, Fr. Conroy has official prayer responsibilities and is available to provide conversation, consultation, or any other pastoral need for the U.S. House of Representative members and staff, the Capitol police and the entire Capitol campus. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi selected him for this role in 2011.

Fr. Conroy earned his Master of Divinity degree from JST. He remembers JST for the courses and friendships with students from other GTU schools, which resulted in interesting, interreligious experiences throughout the years. He remembers stimulating and challenging courses in an environment encouraging creative and imaginative theologizing. “Don Gelpi’s Sacraments course and Buckley’s Rahner course come to mind,” he says. Fr. Conroy advises current JST students: “Be sure to engage in pastoral ministry among the poor if possible. It may not be your future ministry, but it is important for understanding a Church being led by a pope with a Suffering Servant Christology,” one that keeps the poor at the center of our thinking, praying, and acting.

Watch Fr. Conroy discuss being Chaplain of the House of Representatives here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=zImxuz6SVz8

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Greg Kepferle, M.Div. ‘87 

Greg Kepferle is the CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, the social service and social justice arm of the Church in the Diocese of San Jose. Catholic Charities’ focus is on alleviating, preventing, and reducing poverty in Santa Clara Valley by advocating for policy changes, serving people in need, and convening people of faith and people of goodwill to find innovative solutions to poverty. Catholic Charities serves 40,000 people each year through 40 programs, 540 staff, and 1,200 volunteers, and with a budget of $38 million. The key part of its work is incubating innovative solutions to poverty. Kepferle states, “We can’t keep repeating failed strategies and expect to get different results.”

Discussing his role as the CEO, Kepferle says, “I am blessed to be able to go to work every day in a job I love, doing what I deeply believe in, facilitating a high-powered team of competent and compassionate change agents for the common good.” Catholic Charities is a complex enterprise with multiple stakeholders—from the people they serve, to the Church, to government funders and regulators, to its partners and competitors, and donors and investors. “As CEO of a faith-based nonprofit, I need to be as compliant as the best government bureaucrat, as entrepreneurial as the best for-profit entrepreneur, and as persistent in charity and justice as Dorothy Day.” When overwhelmed by the sheer size and complexity and daunting nature of poverty, Kepferle says he needs to remember to breathe and to remind himself of Gospel hope even during the struggle for Gospel justice.

Discussing how JST influenced his career, he mentions, “It is precisely because of my theological education at JST that I find I can best lead a faith-based organization focused on social justice and social service.” After teaching and working as a parish lay minister, Kepferle wanted to do advocacy work, and at that time Catholic Charities of the East Bay and the Diocese of Oakland were looking for a director of the newly created social justice office housed at Catholic Charities. When he started in the late summer of 1989, global and local events soon shaped the course of his work—the fall of the Berlin Wall; the martyrdom of the Jesuits, their cook and her daughter at the UCA in El Salvador; and the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Kepferle was soon hooked on the mission of Catholic Charities as focused both on social justice and on helping people with “a hand up, not a hand out.” He says, “What better way for me to put my faith into action than to help others with an opportunity to do the same?”

Looking back at his studies at JST, Kepferle reflects, “The faculty were not simply brilliant, they had a way of engaging students that invited us to question, and that stretched our theological imaginations—professors like Don Gelpi, Mary Ann Donovan, Bob Brown, Bill Spohn, Goesser, Chaney, and Coote, and many others.” He also mentions, “Being adjacent to UC Berkeley gave us an opportunity to apply our theological studies by engaging directly in the issues of the day, bringing our faith into the streets with student protests against apartheid in South Africa and against the U.S. mining of the harbors of Nicaragua in 1985. Besides studying, working, and protesting, we did have fun, going on hikes, enjoying parties and softball games. My years of study at JST also created lifelong friendships, including my marriage to a fellow GTU student, Jean Blomquist.”

When asked about giving advice to current JST students, Kepferle replies, “Keep an open mind and an open heart. Yes, study hard, but do not take yourself or your studies too seriously. When tempted to live in abstract theories always remember first the human beings who are struggling for their very survival, then see if that fine theory could mean anything to them. Find out how the lives of those who are poor or rejected by society can inform your theology.”

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, S.J., STL ‘98

Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator graduated from JST in 1998 with a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) degree. Currently, he is the president of the Conference of Jesuit Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar. The Conference comprises seven provinces and two regions, which together make up 1,600 Jesuits working in Africa. As president, Rev. Orobator is responsible for the common apostolic works of the Jesuits in Africa, in particular the common formation centers. One center is Hekima College, the Jesuit Theologate in Nairobi, Kenya, where he continues to lecture and teach theology. The other African Jesuit theologate is L'Institut de Théologie de la Compagnie de Jésus (ITCJ), in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Professor Bienvenu Mayemba, S.J., on the faculty of ITCT has served as a visiting faculty member at JST several times. The Conference has a particularly strong link with JST, considering that the majority of Jesuits serving in the common apostolic works of the Conference were trained at JST. Discussing his current position, Rev. Orobator says, “As president, I’m grateful for the contribution that JST is making to the works of the Jesuits in Africa, and I’m eager to strengthen the bond between the Conference and JST.”

Reflecting on how JST helped his career, he says, “How could I ever forget the warm welcome that I received in JST? From day one, I immediately felt at home, and that allowed me to settle, focus, and work. I did an STL in theology, and my thesis focused on the Church in Africa.”

When Fr. Orobator came to JST he knew he wanted to research and write on African theology. He continues, “Finding the right kind of environment, faculty, and resources was an important factor. Working on the thesis at JST right next to UC Berkeley gave me the initial impetus that launched my career as an African theologian. JST gave me a solid background, nurtured and fostered by my thesis director, Hal Sanks S.J., and reader Bill O’Neill S.J. I can truly say that I owe the beginnings of my theological career to the experience of JST as a formative, supportive, and rigorous academic community.

Fr. Orobator came to JST, in part, to avoid the East Coast winter. He needed a warm and conducive environment to study. “Apart from the Bay Area fog, JST offered me that place of warmth and hospitality. I remember the friendly and supportive faculty. To this day I remember all my professors by name and have remained in contact with several of them. Same for many of the students. To use a metaphor that is dear to me as an African, JST was family to me, and I always felt at home there. Friendship, colleagueship, and mentorship—these are my fond and lasting memories of my time at JST.”

Asked what advice he would give current JST students, he states, “Studying at JST is a unique opportunity to ‘meet and greet’ the world! I mean it. The people who come from so many parts of the world to form an academic community at Berkeley are truly amazing. It would be a shame not to connect, engage, and form bonds that would last a lifetime. That was my experience and I’d wish the same for current students of JST.”