Thirty-two years later, the Jesuit Martyrs inspire Marquette students through the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, 2021.

Written collaboratively by Leslie O’Connell and Ann Mulgrew

Igniting Passion: Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice Empowers Delegation to Be the Difference

An awakening? Life-changing experience? The passing years will reveal the impact of the 2021 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) on Marquette’s 11 student delegates and two Campus Ministry leaders who traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the gathering Nov. 6–8.

The Delegation of Marquette in front of the White House at a vigil asking for the repeal of Title 42: the health action closing the borders to lawful asylum seekers.
Marquette Delegation for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice Nov 2021

No doubt, the IFTJ left a lasting imprint. A call to think more broadly. Influence change more intentionally. Act more purposefully.

In the words of Hannah Schaefer, junior in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences: “I think this experience was an interruption of my daily life, and, in saying interruption, I mean that in a good way, a transformative way. I was reminded to stop and take time for others: to remember the interconnected nature of humanity.”

Assassination of Jesuit martyrs inspires Teach-In

The impetus for the Teach-In dates to Nov. 16, 1989, when members of the Salvadoran military — many of them trained at the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning, Ga. — brutally assassinated six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in El Salvador. Why? Because the priests spoke out against the government and were advocates for the poor. What began as a modest vigil in 1990 at the gates of Fort Benning has grown into the largest annual Catholic social justice conference in the U.S.

Faith and action to bring about social justice are fundamental to the Ignatian and Jesuit ministries. Mary Sue Callan-Farley, director of Campus Ministry, accompanied the Marquette delegation and portrayed the Teach-In as a gathering for “remembrance, education and advocacy.”

“It affirms our faith and the gift of Catholic social justice teaching that is the legacy of a Jesuit education,” said Callan-Farley. “It challenges us as learners — as students and as teachers — to take seriously that tradition. It’s a time of honoring everyday saints and martyrs, those that give their life for a friend.”

Today, many people from across the country reflect and remember the Jesuit martyrs annually on Nov. 16, the anniversary of their assassination.

Potent, powerful 36-hour whirlwind

As the crowd gathered in the Washington Hilton on Saturday, Nov. 6, the high-energy atmosphere felt electric — fueled by the delegates’ purpose and passion. Cheers and shouts erupted during the roll call of the various delegations of Jesuit schools and parishes.

The packed agenda — in a whirlwind format of Saturday evening to Monday morning — mirrored the urgency that so many delegates feel about social justice issues.

“Inspirational is not strong enough to describe the keynote speakers — including Rev. Bryan Massingale (James and Nancy Buckman professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University and former professor of theology at Marquette), Keya Chatterjee (executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network), and Greg Boyle, S.J. (founder and director of Homeboys Industry),” said Ann Mulgrew, assistant director of campus ministry.

However, it wasn’t just about recognized leaders. “Students my age spoke in the general meetings about initiatives and programs that they have created on their campus to make a difference,” Wendy Perez, sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said. “That inspires and motivates me to also make a change starting on the smaller scale of my college campus but eventually expanding beyond campus.”

The atmosphere turned prayerful on Saturday night, according to Mulgrew, as the group gathered for a vigil for the Jesuit martyrs, other Jesuits, and people of faith who have died because of actions for justice. “To connect their (the Jesuit Martyrs) faithful sacrifice for justice with present day advocacy calling each of us to do more, be more, was very powerful,” said Mulgrew.

For example, one experience Schaefer will remember most is the vigil to end Title 42 that took place in Lafayette Square in front of the White House on Sunday night. Title 42 is a little-known provision of U.S. health law that has been invoked since early 2020 to turn away migrants and those seeking to apply for asylum at the U.S. — Mexico border. “It was powerful to see people come together in Washington, D.C., to accompany our migrant brothers and sisters,” Schaefer said. “I hope their voices can be heard.”

Belief and action: “Find the thorn underneath”

The delegates reflected on their feelings and how being immersed in the Teach-In will influence what they think and do on Marquette’s campus upon return.

“I am feeling inspired and motivated,” said Michaela Castagnola, junior in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. “We addressed lots of different topics this weekend that stirred up a lot of different emotions. This experience really has me thinking about what my next steps are after college and looking into options, like a year of service, that I hadn’t really considered before. Sure, tackling issues of social justice can seem overwhelming,” Castagnola acknowledged. “However, it’s a matter of mindset, taking one step at a time.”

Schaefer expressed that she’s feeling reflective. “It can be easy to go about my daily life focusing on my own problems and inconveniences. However, if I simply open my eyes to the realities that others around me are facing, I can continue to become a person who seeks to sow justice and compassion everywhere I go. I was reminded that compassion and justice require action. They require us to enter into the brokenness of the world and, as Father Greg Boyle said, to ‘find the thorn underneath’ the hearts of those experiencing suffering due to a web of injustices. They also call us to educate ourselves on the issues that exist in our world today and the histories of how these issues came about so that we can better understand where people are coming from. This experience has invited me to put my faith into action and to reflect on how I, specifically, can contribute to building a more just society,” Schaefer said.

Little did the Jesuit martyrs know the impact they have made on the lives of not only Marquette University students, but the lives of all our Ignatian family as we learn of their sacrifice, honor their conviction, and model their faith that seeks justice, in direct advocacy for immigrants and for ecological justice.

May eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon our Jesuit Martyrs and the two holy women who died on November 16, 1989. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. AMEN.

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