I spent my entire life in public schools, and when I started at Loyola University Chicago, I was unaware that retreats were a regular part of Catholic schools. I will never forget my first day of college: It was hot and sunny and I had to rush to throw my entire life into a tiny dorm room before embarking on a pre-freshman-year retreat.
Along with about 20 other freshmen, I was bussed off to a retreat center in Woodstock, Illinois. On the way, the conversation turned to all the previous retreats my classmates had gone on.
I had never been on a retreat, and was dumbfounded that anyone else had. Sure, I had heard of my friends who had been confirmed in the Catholic Church going on such retreats in order to make the sacrament. But there, on that crowded, stuffy bus, it felt like everyone and their mother had been on at least two. Some people even toted intricate cross necklaces, which they clinked together like champagne glasses, mutually shouting, “Kairos!!!”
I sat in silence through the conversation, until someone turned to me and said, “Hey, did you do anything like Kairos in high school?”
But I was the odd one out. Though I knew I was entering a Catholic university, I truly could not have imagined the vast number of Catholics there. For some reason, I did not foresee the Catholic presence I would be entering into.
What I mean by Catholic presence is not what you may be thinking. I am certainly not referring to an adherence to strict dogma, Bible studies, or any expectation to attend Mass. Rather, the Catholic presence I encountered was one of absolute kindness—a gentleness for the human condition marked by a desire to fight for social justice.
Little did I know entering into a Jesuit school would be the best decision of my life. It all started that first day on retreat: my Jesuit education taught me all about taking time to reflect and be grateful and to use my abilities to help others.
I’ve been passionate about social change and human rights for most of my life. And sure, I could have found this on another campus; most colleges are a hotbed of political and social fervor. However, Jesuit universities are so focused on the idea they weave it into almost every course.
From the get-go, I was taught about vocation, or finding where one’s great joy meets the world’s great need. Everything I learned was in relation to this idea: What do I want to do with my life? How can I use this in the service of others?
At Loyola, I found that an entire university held the same values as I did. We all wanted to help; we all wanted to change the world for the better.
My environmental science classes learned not just about pollution and climate change, but how to fight for the planet’s justice. Journalism courses didn’t teach just professional skills, but focused in on race in Chicago. I learned about real issues and how to work to better them. Instead of simply learning a trade, I learned how to be human.
Jesuit institutions teach more than just skills and knowledge. They teach empathy, kindness, and generosity. They teach day-to-day reflection and the importance of caring for people on an individual level (Jesuit alums will recognize this as cura personalis).
My Jesuit education transformed my life and, just as Loyola’s shield says, I truly believe I have been prepared to lead an extraordinary life with the education that can only be offered at a Jesuit school.