“The passage of time within our current history, rather than restricting or constricting gospel vision, has revealed its capacity for expansion.”
BY JACKIE SCHMITZ
A year as a Loretto volunteer involves navigating a lot of transitions. For me this year has included a transition from college to post-grad life, a transition into a new home and community, as well as a transition into a new job in a new field of work. Transition periods are difficult because of the large amount of uncertainty they bring, but they also provide room for growth. At this point, I am halfway done with my Loretto year. I’ve already seen so much growth both in my personal and professional life. It hasn’t come without challenges, but I truly feel Loretto has helped me grow closer to the person I want to be.
Mary Luke Tobin is one of the Lorettos that has been an inspiration to me during this year of transition. Our volunteer house is named after her, which prompted me to learn more about her legacy and begin reading her book, Hope is an Open Door. Mary Luke was president of Loretto from 1958-1970 during the time of Vatican II. She was one of the 15 women invited to audit the council giving her the opportunity to listen in on the many conversations that shifted much of the Catholic Church’s approach to spiritual expression. Mary Luke writes about the changing attitudes within the Church during the time of Vatican II, but also candidly recalls the shift in her personal faith expression from one that was centered largely around personal morality and piety to one that embraces a concern for social justice and the human condition.
This transition in Mary Luke’s spiritual life is one I can relate to. This year more than any other, I have cemented the importance of social justice activism within my faith expression. Through my work at Missouri Health Care for All, I’ve learned how to translate the ideals of social justice into concrete action. Part of my work includes running MHCFA’s Story Bank Project which collects stories of people’s real experiences accessing health care. I collect story leads, conduct interviews with community members, and connect those with stories to political advocacy efforts. Listening to stories from people all over Missouri who struggle to afford the health care they need has increased my understanding of the moral implications of public policy.
Political activism needs to be included in our faith expression. Mary Luke recounts how Vatican II referred to the Church as the people of God for the first time. If the people are the Church, inevitably, the Church must be involved in addressing the realities of people’s lives. Poverty, racism, sexism, and war are issues that faith cannot gloss over. Yet, statements from Vatican councils can only do so much. We as the people of God, the Church, need to push ourselves to create societies in which social justice is a reality, and this involves politics. This is something that Mary Luke understood.
In her book, Mary Luke tells the story of how the Loretto sisters filed a lawsuit against the Blue Diamond Coal Company. The Loretto community bought shares of stock in this coal company in order to have decision-making power and push the company towards protecting the environment. When the company refused to recognize the Loretto Community as shareholders, the sisters were left with no choice but to file a lawsuit. The coal company released a statement noting their confusion on how “the vocation of the good sisters” led them to being involved in their business practices. I picture Mary Luke laughing at this. She sassily spends the rest of the chapter explaining how the “vocation of the good sisters” has led them to countless risk-taking in order to work against the evil affecting people worldwide.
Yet, the transition of the Loretto community towards greater political activism was, like most transitions, not without growing pains. Mary Luke remembers that some sisters of Loretto were marching at Selma during the Civil Rights Movement, practicing civil disobedience, and attending anti-war demonstrations while other sisters were suspicious and uncertain about these public actions. The community eventually determined that they needed to reckon with this time of transition and decided to draft a statement of support for their fellow sisters. They agreed that action for social justice was made imperative by the gospel and they would respect their fellow sisters in whichever way they chose to be involved.
Mary Luke and the Loretto community have shown tremendous courage in being open to change during times of transition. They’ve inspired my spiritual growth this year, and I will continue to reflect on their wisdom as I tackle new transitions both during and after my time as a Loretto Volunteer.
Jackie Schmitz is from Des Moines, IA and graduated from Saint Louis University in 2017 with a degree in Neuroscience and Public Health. She loves camping, hiking, and traveling. Jackie is serving with Missouri Health Care For All in St. Louis as a community organizer and advocate for healthcare accessibility. She is excited to join the amazing and spunky Loretto sisters in working towards social justice.
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.