BY AMY MALTZ
For someone who actively describes herself as non-religious, one of, if not the most, essential and grounded parts of myself is absolutely my religious identity. I was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish household. For those unfamiliar with this terminology, just as there are different denominations of Christianity (Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, etc.), there are also different denominations of Judaism; The most traditional being Orthodox, followed by Conservative and Reform. Reconstructionism sits somewhere in between Conservative and Reform Judaism. I grew up with services spoken primarily in Hebrew and traditional Jewish rituals actively being observed. However, men and women mingled together in our synagogue, and as a young girl, I was encouraged to become a Bat Mitzvah (a coming of age ritual that in Orthodox circles is reserved solely for boys).
Even without the ritualistic practice of attending Friday night and Saturday morning synagogue services, my upbringing would have remained quintessentially Jewish. Mezzuzahs are carefully nailed to each main doorway in my childhood home and there are kitschy plaques with punny Jewish sayings adorning our kitchen “Shalom Y’all”. My mother never failed to nag me about my homework or my driving, or my friends stating: “I can’t help it! I’m a Jewish mother”, and we never missed a community Passover seder. One of my clearer childhood memories is a Kindergarten class around Christmas time. Santa had come to our class and when it was my turn to sit on his knee, I proudly proclaimed “Santa doesn’t come to MY house.”
BY BRIANNA NIELSON
I began my Freshman year of college afraid to step foot on BART (the Bay Area’s form of public transportation) by myself. Stereotypes of Oakland, feelings of discomfort with mental illness, and thoughts of self-doubt around my ability to confidently navigate unfamiliar territories initially prevented me from exploring a place I now consider to be part of my home. But as I unlearn my implicit biases and grow in my own self-confidence, my comfortability in navigating a city also increases. I ended my Junior year of college flying to Rome by myself, navigating cities and airports I had never been to before, purchasing coffee and train tickets in a language that was foreign to me, and learning to discern whether my feelings of discomfort were due to actual danger or simply a result of my sheltered and privileged upbringing. Apart from the two-minute breakdown I allowed myself to have inside a bathroom stall in Rome’s largest airport terminal, I handled a flight cancellation, missed connection, and overnight stay in a random airport hotel with a sense of calmness and grace my Freshman-year self would have never imagined I could possess. Over the course the last few years, I sought out opportunities to further this personal growth, seeking experiences that would challenge me to notice what conditions I feel unsafe in and question why that might be and building relationships with individuals who would encourage me to continue leaning into that discomfort.
BY ADELE MCKIERNAN
Well before I knew them as the guiding principles of Loretto Volunteers, I found simple living, social justice, intentional community, and spirituality compelling. They each held large parts of my attention but I found them difficult to tend to when I was in distress or crisis. It’s a cruel fact of life that what we most need is often most difficult to access for the very reasons we long for it.
Shortly before moving to Tobin House to start my Loretto service year, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) following the most extended and severe period of psychological pain I have ever witnessed in myself. Clinically speaking, BPD is a mental illness marked by instability that tends to appear in in four major areas: cognition, impulse control, interpersonal relationships, and affect. It’s a condition as all-encompassing as it sounds, the implications of which have affected my life in profound ways. Though BPD has long been one of the most stigmatized and misunderstood mental illnesses, after years of mis-diagnoses, an exasperating trial and error of medications, and a handful of hospitalizations, being able to reframe these experiences in terms of an accurate diagnosis has brought me great peace of mind. This helped me identify with what I was newly able to see as treatable symptoms not permanent personal flaws, in a way that helped me work through and begin to move past them. Properly defining something can make us less at the whim of matters previously gone unknown or misunderstood.
BY ISABEL NGO
I’ve always considered myself a little weak. I don’t exercise very often. I get cold easily. My back and limbs cramp up way more than they should after I sleep in a weird position, or even after a night of dancing. But what I lack in physical strength among the volunteers I live with, I make up for with my attention to detail, particular tech and gadget know-how—from using Twitter to handling our old fashioned can opener, and of course, by disposing the house’s occasional roaches. Not to mention what I’ve been learning at Villa María (my volunteer placement), it’s been a period of small personal victories since moving to El Paso, TX from my home in California.
BY LINDSEY FAUST
While the Loretto Volunteers read through our handbook on opening retreat, exploring our four core values - social justice, simple living, spirituality, and community - one term stuck out to me immediately.
In I Am The Way, Loretto’s guiding document, members of the Loretto community commit to simple living by promising “to hold all things lightly.”
When we spoke about the phrase, we spoke in terms of material goods - detaching ourselves from lives of extravagance to instead focus on our own inner growth and commitment to our communities and justice work.
But as the first half of my time as a LoVo has stretched behind me, this phrase has come back to me over and over in relation to a different core value: spirituality. I have often found myself wondering what it might mean to hold God lightly.
BY MARI NUÑEZ
Prior to leaving El Paso for college, I vowed to myself that I would permanently relocate. The desert sunsets were already far behind me, and my eyes were on a different horizon. I was going to be a New Yorker, through and through. It took some adjusting, but I was able to transplant myself with ease. I often got asked which borough I came from, chuckling internally at the success of my ruse. With plans of attending law school straight out of college, this ruse would have become my reality.
BY SAWYER HILL
When at the Motherhouse for opening retreat a good 9 weeks ago I gave Sister Kathleen my oft used half joking line about being “religious, but not spiritual” and she didn’t laugh.
A woman with a soft face, short gray hair with micro-bangs cut in a straight edge, a shared alma mater and an ability to listen. She’d responded with warmth during our prior conversations—particularly regarding the trans-erasure at that same not aforementioned shared alma mater—so I was hoping for at the very least a polite chuckle at my statement.
Instead, she told me she didn’t think what I’d said was true.
BY MADELINE HERRIES
I am incredibly blessed to be writing this from the Loretto Motherhouse. When I found out that Nerinx’s Peace and Justice club was sending a group of students here, I immediately asked if I could tag along. The eight students I am with blow me away with their wise ideas and powerful insights. I am blessed to share in their joy, sorrow, exploration, and contemplation.
Somebody recently asked me what it is like to work with high schoolers. I have trouble explaining that these young women are not just high schoolers, they are Nerinx girls. They seek more than an education. They seek knowledge, self-awareness, community, self-expression, and true understanding of each other. They speak their minds and try to find creative solutions.
BY JES STEVENS
It’s been four years since I was a Loretto Volunteer. Four years! Some days it feels like my time working in D.C. as a Lovo was so long ago. And other days, it seems like it was just yesterday that I was living in intentional community in Junia House. Over these four years I’ve had some major life changes. I moved back to St. Louis, worked a job that I knew wasn’t going to be a career, started and completed grad school, and am now working full time job that I love. All these developments have been transformational shifts from what came before. And as you can imagine, outside of these career moves a lot of other things have happened in my personal life over the past four years, too.
BY MELISSA CEDILLO
Every August, the Loretto Community hosts a week long retreat at the ‘Motherhouse’. The Motherhouse is located in rural Kentucky, among tall stalks of corn. The bright green leaves and stillness of the creek give the farmland a sense of peace. This year I was there, marking the beginning of my year of service as a Loretto Volunteer.
But halfway through the retreat, the "real" world interrupted. My phone lit up. From the headline “Sexual Abuse” and “Catholic Church” jumped out at me.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.