BY ISN STAFF | November 13, 2012
Interview with Beth Ford, Campus Minister for Service and Social Justice Programs at St. Joseph’s University.
Interview conducted by Sadie Curtin, intern at ISN
A: I am a Campus Minister at Saint Joseph’s University. My main area of focus is coordinating service and social justice programs. I also accompany students on immersion programs and am a spiritual companion for students participating in the 18th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.
My favorite part of the job is accompanying students on their journey at this particular part of their lives. I enjoy talking with students as they reflect on their struggles and joys in their journeys of their lives – including their journeys of faith, service, and justice. I find joy as they experience “Aha!” moments and slow realizations of how God might be calling them to serve and work for justice.
Q: What are your interests?
A: I have many! My graduate studies are in theology and psychology, and so I enjoy reading in those areas. I also like reading fiction and (occasionally) writing. I like to run and bike. I’ve run one marathon and a few half-marathons. Two summers ago I biked from Chicago to New Jersey to raise awareness about poverty in America. I am interested in the role of social media in ministry and social change work. I am an avid fan of farmer’s markets and cooking fresh food in-season.
Q: How did you first get started with issues of social justice?
A: I first became interested in issues of social justice in a service-learning class I took while I was a student at Saint Joseph’s University. I served at an after school program at Providence Center in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. I met children who were affected by poverty. The children no longer were statistics I had read about, but real people with names, stories, and desires for living a full human life. I studied liberation theology in this course. We read theologians who talk about God from the perspective of margins of society and the underside of history. I was angered at the injustices I saw facing the children of Kensington, and so I began to use the lens of liberation theology to ask some difficult questions. Where is God there? How is God acting? What is God asking of all of us? What does it mean to read the Gospel in light of extreme poverty and suffering? My experience in Kensington led me to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in East Africa where I spent two years deep in experience, questioning, and reflecting. I then brought these questions to my theological studies at Washington Theological Union. And now I am walking with students as we serve, learn, work for justice, pray, and reflect here in Philadelphia!
Q: How has the Ignatian Colleagues Program helped to form you as a professional at a Jesuit Institution?
A: The Ignatian Colleagues Program has helped me to deepen my understanding of the Ignatian mission in the context of higher education. I am privileged to be able to develop networks among colleagues at other Jesuit Universities. Together, we read and discuss many things: e.g. issues pertaining to the life of Saint Ignatius and the Jesuit commitment to education; Ignatian humanism; what it means to be a Jesuit, Catholic institution of higher education; Catholic social teaching and option for the poor; and various theological concepts. Together, we have experienced an Ignatian retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and together we have experienced an immersion experience in Latin America. We have prayed together, learned from one another, and are always trying to apply what we learn to our unique positions at each of our universities. The experience has been one of Ignatian formation and building networks of collaboration.
Q: What work have you done with Just Employment Policy?
A: I have just joined the working group for the Just Employment Policy. I am working with students on our campus, and we are hoping to raise awareness about worker justice issues on our own campus.
Q: What advice would you give to students who are working on issues of social justice on their own campuses?
A: Develop relationships with MANY people from a variety of backgrounds, and especially with those on the margins. Network with your peers, and gather your strength from relationships. Use facebook and twitter for justice. Educate yourself about issues. Develop a spiritual practice. Pray. Read the Scriptures and other spiritual texts. Cultivate an appreciation of beauty. Find a mentor. Carefully discern where you are called to devote your time and energy. If you are looking for some inspiration, a few of my favorites include: the prayer attributed to Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a Young Activist,” Pedro Arrupe’s prayer encouraging us to “Fall in Love.”