By Kate Barrett
In September, the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity had the honor to partner with St. Peter Claver Parish, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Justice Commission and the Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) to host Father Bryan Massingale, author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. After saying mass at St. Peter Claver, he spoke in a filled ballroom at St. Kate’s.
Father Massingale challenged us to think about the historical and incessant presence of racism in our society and in our church as a sickness in our souls. He built upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings about the necessary work to close racial gaps, rather than merely “to make them less painful and less obvious”. Father Massingale helped us to dream of a new moral vision that builds upon King’s dream of the “Great World House;” an inclusive human community, where our differences are a source of pride and celebration, and where love and justice guide how we communicate and relate across our differences. In order to realize this dream, we require a moral and ethical transformation, a change in our collective soul, a change in how we understand and value one another. Until then, our racist social customs and policies will not change. Father Massingale provided the analogy of a garden; one cannot understand the visible vegetables and flowers if we don’t go deeper to understand what is not visible, or the roots below the surface.
Father Massingale’s talk is available for classroom learning. Please contact Kate Barrett for access to the video for classroom use. Read more about Father Massingale’s time at St. Kate’s.
In October, Kathleen Norris, bestselling poet and essayist, joined us on campus to give the annual Myser Lecture entitled Spiritual Practice and Social Justice. During the day, she met with a large group students in The Reflective Woman seminar, in which she discussed her book, Dakota. Students had the opportunity to ask her questions about the book and the process of writing a book. Norris and students exchanged rich experiences and perceptions of geography and living in rural and urban places.
That evening, in her lecture, Norris problematized the practice of social justice action when it is not paired with reflection, contemplation, and knowledge. Too easily we can come to believe that we are always right and others are wrong, even evil, making it possible to demonize others. Equally, she problematized reflection, contemplation, and knowledge when not paired with action. If there is no action, there is no change. Neither practice on its own is enough.
To achieve a balance, Norris suggests we need a keen discernment of our motives. In order to do so, she shared Pope Francis’s call to encounter and genuine dialogue, which are not easy. Encounter requires opening ourselves up to the new and unknown. Genuine dialogue requires trust and humility and taking the time to really listen to each other; both involve being open to surprise, learning, and change.
Norris’s talk is also available for classroom use. Learn more about Kathleen Norris’s time on campus in Beth Hawkin's article.
What struck me about both of these speakers is how they each drew in people from multiple perspectives and viewpoints. It is easy to get stuck listening to the same news station, spending time with familiar and like-minded friends, and finding ways to confirm what we believe to be true. Father Massingale and Norris both challenged me to think about little and big changes I could make in my life to work toward King’s “Great World House” and seeking genuine encounters with people outside of my familiar circle. I wonder, as a University moving forward, how we will work toward the “Great World House?” What genuine encounters and dialogues are needed?
Also in the Center for Mission blog, you will find Donna Hauer’s reflection on our pilgrimage to Le Puy, France to learn about the heritage of our founding sisters. As you will read and see, it was a beautiful and spiritual experience. The Myser Initiative is developing a Le Puy experience for faculty and staff to deepen our understanding and appreciation for our beginnings and our call as a university to live out the charisms and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
Kate Barrett, OTD, is the Archbishop Harry Flynn Endowed Chair in Catholic Identity and Director of the Myser Initiative at St. Catherine University. She is an associate professor of occupational therapy.