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.”