By Gordon Nary
Pat: I first found out about St. Matthew’s through a friend of mine soon after I moved to Baltimore in 2010. I had recently returned from my two years abroad as a Jesuit Volunteer in Punta Gorda, Belize and was looking for a parish community that was racially diverse and inclusive in spirit. After doing some church shopping to see what was available around the city, I landed with St. Matthew’s because of the community’s expressions of love, hospitality, and its commitment to justice.
Our pastor, Fr. Joe Muth, is a gifted preacher who brings scripture to life in a way that translates the challenging messages of love and justice to our present day here in Baltimore and the US. I leave mass each week feeling cared for the by the community and challenged by the message of the Gospel. For me, this is what church is all about.
Gordon: Congratulation on your new job as Assistant Director, Outreach & Advocacy in Loyola University Maryland's Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) in Baltimore. What are your principal responsibilities?
Pat: Thank you so much! It’s been an exciting transition during my time at Loyola. The main focus of my work in CCSJ is to engage in the policy and advocacy initiatives at the local and state level, representing the university as a means of actively living out our mission with a commitment to justice and Ignatian citizenship. The work is also about connecting the campus community to opportunities for citizenship as well. As I move further into the work, it’s been energizing to get to know the folks in the surrounding neighborhoods of our campus who are so deeply dedicated to making our city a place where all of its members can thrive. I have so much to learn from them and I am grateful for the teachings they have offered me thus far
Pat: During my five years on staff with JVC I accompanied volunteers serving both domestically and internationally while cultivating relationships with our agency partners, primarily in Connecticut, Washington DC, Belize, and Tanzania. So much of that work was about journeying with volunteers as they grappled with questions and realities of injustice, who they were being called to be in the world, and how their relationship with the Divine helped shape that path. I learned so much about myself, others, and God during my time as a Jesuit Volunteer and so it was a real blessing to be able to be a part of others’ experiences as a staff member. There’s a real power in community, and I experienced that so deeply through my time with JVC.
Gordon: Please share with our readers your work in Belize.
Pat: I lived in Punta Gorda, Belize for two years as a Jesuit Volunteer and worked at St. Peter Claver Parish doing mainly retreat ministry work both in town as well as in the Mayan villages throughout the Toledo district. My work varied from day to day, which I loved. Some days I would drive an hour or two out to a village to lead a confirmation retreat while other days I would be around the office spending time with colleagues as we cracked jokes, shared meals, hoped for a cool evening breeze. My time in Belize changed so much about my life. It opened my eyes, heart, and spirit in a way that I could have never expected. Still today, I am learning from that experience. It continues to shape who I am in this world, supporting and challenging me as I evolve with the Spirit.
Gordon: You are currently working on an MA in Pastoral Counseling - Spiritual and Pastoral Care with a focus in spiritual direction at Loyola. What interested you in these studies, and what has been your most challenging course thus far and why?
Pat: It feels as though so many of my life experiences have led me to where I am now and to this field of study and ministry. My family upbringing, my undergraduate studies in social work, my time as a Jesuit Volunteer and the years of supporting others during their time of service, the thread of the Spirit was being sewn throughout it all. In looking back at these experiences, I can see that I’ve felt most connected to others and the Divine when I am fully present to another during times of joy and difficulty. I believe that to be the work of offering spiritual and pastoral care, accompanying an individual or community, no matter where they may be in life.
I think I’d have to say that my most challenging course thus far has been Loss and Bereavement with Shep Jeffreys. It was challenging in the sense that a great deal of the work was looking at my own unfinished business related to loss. Grief and loss are something that we will all experience in life, whether it be a change in employment, a shift in a significant relationship, or the death of a loved one. Having the tools to work through these experiences of loss are so essential and yet within US society, we are taught to do all that we can to avoid those emotions and realities. There is a gift to be received in facing loss, and that is gratitude for what was offered and the opportunity to rely on others and God in a new and different way. It certainly isn’t easy, though there is strength to be found in the process. I wish everyone had the opportunity to take this course. It feels as though it should be a requirement for all of humanity because there is so much to be gained from it.
Gordon: You also are certified in Yoga Teacher Training. We appreciate publishing Hatha Yoga: A Spiritual Practice for Christianity in the Western World Today What aspects of Yoga have you found most beneficial to your professional and spiritual life?
Pat: There are so many! What I have learned from my yoga practice is that my time on my mat teaches me so much about my life off of it. My mat becomes a place where I experience myself so fully - physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally - and it’s where I experience God in the same way. One day I may practice from a place of gratitude for the gift of my body and all that it offers me. The next day I may find myself in a place of frustration and impatience as my mind wanders and fills with anxiety for all that lies ahead in my day. Both of these serve as an opportunity for me to connect with my breath, be present to what is, and turn towards God.
Gordon: You obviously have been strongly influenced by Jesuit teaching and social perspective What are the Jesuit teachings on our societal responsibilities?
Pat: There are so many for this as well! Ultimately, what I come back to is the truth of God being present in all things - every person, every plant, every experience. This teaching is what I use as my guide. I recognize that my worldview and lived experience is not the same for everyone. And so, my work is to witness the Divine in all, to listen to and learn from the experiences of others, the incredible knowledge that comes from our earth, and all that is.
If I can truly see God present in everything and everyone around me, it is then that I am able to recognize the connection between us all. This is what motivates me in my work for greater inclusivity and equity for all of creation. My words and actions should show this. The policies of our country should protect this. Our Church should represent this. There’s a lot of work to be done. God is calling us to it daily. Though I oftentimes fail, I do what I can to be a part of it, knowing that God lies within the work.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and for your commitment to those in need.