“There is a wise madness in these walls.”
BY SUSAN NICHOLS
Of the many qualities I love about the Loretto community, my personal favorite is Loretto’s reckless spirit in the face of injustice. As the quote above shows, Loretto’s spirit demonstrates a daring that allows it to be wise. It lends a refreshing playfulness to encountering power that allows individuals to generate the creativity necessary to create new types of freedoms in the face of sustained oppression.
This reckless boldness has been essential for me in navigating the small nonprofit world, where unfortunately oppressive structures that are seen on a national level are often played out via politics and personalities on nonprofit boards, within donor relationships, and even between nonprofits engaged in similar work. While the endeavor of working for justice can be both alluring and idealized, the reality is that the imperfection that exists in the rest of our world, such as imbalances of power and the inability of systems to adapt to support the most marginalized among us, play a central role in the nonprofit world as well. Even in spaces reserved for working for social justice, it is imperative that individuals working within them watch vigilantly for the unjust elements of our larger world, in the structures of our workplaces, our own interactions and those of our co-workers. We must be watchful for the places where we can disband these power structures in our local contexts, in order that we may be able to rebuild the world as we want to see it and not as it is.
This is part of the dynamic I have encountered in my nonprofit work. Some of the individuals I work with would prefer me to be afraid of them as a way to keep change from occurring. As a young person who has seen this happen in a number of nonprofits and in the world at large, this dynamic is nothing new. What is different at this point in my life is being surrounded by Loretto volunteers, Sisters, Co-members, and the reckless bravery of two hundred years of Loretto spirit that give me the courage to speak directly to those who seek to intimidate me and state simply: “I am not afraid of you.” I believe one of the most important skills I will learn this year is how to open my mouth to speak even when the outcome is uncertain and possibility for failure is high. Consequently, this is generally the dynamic if one is interested in speaking out for issues of social justice. Words are tools for justice, particularly in the hyper-local context of my workplace. Thankfully, armed with that wise madness of Loretto, I am able to use them.
Susan Nichols is from Tulsa, Oklahoma but now calls St. Louis home. She recently graduated with her Masters in American Studies from St. Louis University. While she loves school, Susan is happy to be taking a break from her studies now. Her major hobbies include dancing in all forms, playing traditional Irish music, and petting stranger’s dogs. She is thrilled to spend a year with Loretto Volunteers in her placement at the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America.
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.