Jesuit volunteers find new connections at the Jesuit School of Theology
There’s a well-known phrase in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps movement that the one- or two-year stints of service often leave participants “Ruined for Life” — incapable of ever again taking a meaningless job that doesn’t have service at its core.
A large number of Jesuit Volunteers might want to tack on another tagline to their experience: “Bound for JST.”
Although Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology does not keep formal count, a surprisingly robust number of students pursuing master’s of divinity or other advanced theology degrees at the Berkeley school came to JST after having served a stint as a Jesuit Volunteer. The class of 2013, for instance, had at least six JVC alums.
JVC and JVC Northwest are faith-based volunteer programs for recent college graduates who commit to working with people who struggle in underserved communities where the need is greatest. The program emphasizes living simply and working for social change in a reflective and spiritually supportive community with other Jesuit Volunteers. Each year hundreds of young adults join JVC/JVC Northwest in dozens of communities in the U.S. and across the world.
Many former volunteers report having decided while serving as JVs that they wanted to pursue a pastoral or theological career path. Frequently, that realization leads to another: that they need a theology degree to enhance their “theological chops,” as ‘14 M.Div. alumnus Luke Lavin put it. And JST’s values and contextualized theology are a perfect complement to their JV experience, they say.
Lavin currently teaches catechesis and six other subjects at a Catholic school in Seattle. He spent two years at JVC International in Micronesia, working with a beloved scholar of Micronesian history who “very much had a contextual faith” in helping the Micronesians with social problems. “I was jumping out of bed excited to go to work every day,” said Lavin, who originally thought he might go into law. “Selfishly I wanted to keep that going, and I wanted to have professional training to do that.”
Other JV alums say they felt at home with JST’s emphasis on living in community, social justice, spirituality and discernment. “I really wanted to further explore the connection between theology and social justice – that JST tagline ‘faith that does justice,’” said Beth Mueller, ’14 M.Div. alumna who spent a year in a youth shelter in Aberdeen Washington with JVC Northwest.
The JVC-JST connection is so strong that one student started a blog called JST Discernment, which invites JVC alumni to “continue the journey” at JST, noting that the same values that made their JV years such a rich experience – community, social justice, and spirituality – are abundant at JST.
As one former JV who is now pursuing priesthood at JST wrote, “The best part of JST is the community –not just my Jesuit community but the larger school community of lay students and other religious. I learn just as much from them, if not more, as in my books and assignments.”