BY ISN STAFF | October 19, 2016
In partnership with the family of Moira Erin O’Donnell, the Ignatian Solidarity Network announces the first recipients of the Moira Erin O’Donnell Emerging Leaders for Justice Award: Sara Beste (Boston College ‘05), Danny Swan (Wheeling Jesuit University ‘09), and Kristen Trudo (Loyola Marymount University ‘14).
The O’Donnell Award honors young adults who have received an undergraduate degree from a U.S. Jesuit university and demonstrated significant social justice leadership in their communities. The 2016 awardees will be honored at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice on November 13, 2016.
Moira Erin O’Donnell had only served as ISN’s executive director for less than a year when she passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 33.
While her time in service to the Ignatian family was brief, her exuberance and passion for the work of justice can serve as an inspiration for future decades of emerging leaders. In honor of the 10th anniversary of Moira’s passing on October 9, 2005, the Ignatian Solidarity Network, in partnership with her family, has established the annual award to recognize social justice leaders exemplifying a similar commitment to justice in the Ignatian tradition.
Sara Beste attended Boston College (‘05) as a pre-medical and theology student, and Creighton University School of Medicine (‘09). Spiritual formation and service opportunities were plentiful at both Jesuit universities, and in addition to her academic and professional training, Sara spent time leading Bible studies and retreats and volunteering in urban schools and Magis Clinic, Creighton University’s free clinic for homeless individuals. She additionally traveled to the Dominican Republic with Creighton’s Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC), establishing a temporary clinic in a mountain village.
Upon graduation, Sara began residency in the Bronx, working with a diverse population, including immigrants, patients living in poverty, and those navigating complex social situations. After completing her pediatric training in New York, Sara joined her husband Jason in Malawi, where they both worked in a rural village for Partners in Health, unique international NGO with foundations in liberation medicine and social justice. She served as the sole pediatrician in a district of over 100,000 people, treating children with malnutrition, malaria, HIV, parasites, and newborn illnesses.
Sara returned with Jason to Seattle in 2013, where she spent a year working for Seattle Children’s hospital before her acceptance as one of the first two Pediatric Global Health Fellows at the University of Massachusetts. While there, she completed a master’s degree in Public Health, spent three months working with the World Health Organization in Geneva working with the HIV team conducting research regarding guidelines for treatment of HIV infected newborns, and led a group of three pediatric residents on a month-long trip to Haiti to provide medical care in an orphanage.
Sara and Jason then spent six months in Mozambique, where Sara worked on a project with local doctors and nurses to increase HIV testing of newborns and begin treatment in a timely manner. She also assisted in a successful grant proposal to USAID for $25,000 in funding to continue work with HIV infected infants.
Currently, Sara and Jason have been recruited to return to Partners in Health, this time working in Liberia. Sara is the current Child Health Lead, working clinically with children who are experiencing illnesses far more severe than any other work through her career, and working to strengthen healthcare systems, develop pediatric programs, and assist in medical education. She deals daily with patients with extreme malnutrition, tumors, tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria, and experiences a high rate of neonatal mortality. However, many lives have been saved. Sara is working within her community to strengthen the malnutrition program to prevent more deaths related to starvation, to strengthen newborn care, and are working toward being able to treat Burkitts Lymphoma within the coming year. “It’s not just delivering healthcare overseas that we care about,” shares Sara. “It’s the spirit of the institution and their commitment to ‘healthcare as a right’ that resonates.”
“Sara Beste is quite simply the epitome of a Jesuit-educated person, woman, and leader,” shares Dr. Thomas Kelly. “She is building not just programs, but entire medical outreach systems to address the most challenging issues of malnutrition and infectious disease in the most remote places. Her work is rooted not only in her belief in social justice, but in her practice of Ignatian spirituality and constant discernment of calling.”
Danny SwanDanny Swan grew up in Morgantown, WV and studied English literature at Wheeling Jesuit University (‘09). While at WJU, Danny lived at the Mother Jones House, a service based intentional community in the underserved neighborhood of East Wheeling. Identifying East Wheeling as a “food desert”, Danny started the East Wheeling Community Gardens project and also participated in the Green Wheeling Initiative which worked to establish other community gardens, school gardens, and community agricultural education.
In 2013 he founded Black Swan Organics–a community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription service and weekly farm stand. In 2014, Black Swan and East Wheeling Community Gardens merged into the non-profit Grow Ohio Valley, establishing a board of directors and hiring a small staff. In two years, GOV has additionally established community gardens and urban greenhouses, educational projects, and a mobile food market. Its mission centers on serving East Wheeling and other underserved communities at risk of food insecurity, including seniors. But it is also open to the desires of others to “come and see,” as they host a number of immersion groups in Wheeling to learn about food justice and sustainability. This year, GOV has expanded its partnerships to include House of Hagar Catholic Worker, Wheeling Jesuit University, Catholic Charities, and local health clinics, and they have provided farming internships for young adults, as well as attracting the attention of local and national news media and social justice leaders such as NETWORK/Nuns on the Bus.
“In response to Danny’s vision and leadership,” explains Michael Iafrate, co-coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, “GOV is transforming how its community thinks about, grows, and distributes food,” modeling integrated city revitalization efforts and local food economy transformation. “But this is more than yet another version of the hip ‘eat local’ trend,” continues Iafrate. “GOV’s mission is rooted in Danny’s spirituality of solidarity with the marginalized—including the suffering Earth—which was shaped through his Jesuit education and by his exposure to the pastoral letters of the Appalachian Catholic bishops, ‘This Land is Home to Me’ and ‘At Home in the Web of Life’.”
Kristen Trudo is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University (‘14). After graduation she moved from her hometown just outside of Los Angeles to work in St. Louis, Missouri as a Jesuit volunteer.
Finding herself frustrated by oppressive structures in the predominantly white organizations around her, Kristen, as a queer, person-of-color, began to challenge those organizations to do more, and to be better for the oppressed populations they walked with. Her experience as a St. Louis resident challenged her to reflect more deeply on the ways in which she is privileged, and not. And with her background in writing, her reflections began to spill onto the page; and were subsequently featured on the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s website. Kristen also began organizing a working group on racial justice and inclusivity at her JVC placement, challenging leadership to consider how they might better serve their almost entirely black student population. Her experiences in St. Louis, and the wonderfully thoughtful, patient, and powerful individuals she has walked with, have inspired reflection and writing on black liberation, the oppression of LGBTQIA+ identifying folks, and the complicity and responsibility of the Catholic Church in the oppression of these groups. Kristen hopes to continue writing and finding her place in the work to dismantle systemic oppression, especially as it related to the liberation of black lives.
“In a time when faith communities must embrace difficult conversations about race,” shares Christine Dragonette, Director of Social Ministry at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church, “Kristen has emerged as a leader within the Ignatian family, helping to guide the conversation and presenting opportunities for action.”
Kristen is currently a maker-of-coffee and coffee-adjacent drinks at Rise Coffee House in St. Louis, Missouri, in addition to being a Graduate Support Advisor at De La Salle, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to supporting La Salle Middle School, a public charter school in St. Louis City, working to enhance the educational experience of its students, where she has taken action to expand her job description to include racial justice and inclusion work.