How the Jesuits transformed my life

EMBRACING FAITH. Patrick Furlong, left, talks with LMU student Giovanni Falcon on an Ignacio Companions immersion trip in Santiago, Chile in 2014.

In high school, I did not even know what a Jesuit was. One thing I did know: a fancy and expensive Jesuit school like Loyola Marymount University in California surely could not be for students like me. With its manicured lawns and breathtaking ocean views, I just knew students like me were not destined for life on the L.M.U. bluff. How could we ever afford it? As it turns out, I was wrong. Fortuitously, a mix of academic and need-based scholarships transformed L.M.U. from a “dream school” to “my school,” and the Jesuit education I would receive has transformed my life.

I spent my first day at Loyola Marymount away from the beautiful manicured lawns and breathtaking ocean views. Instead, I joined a small group of students in a program sponsored by the university’s Center for Service and Action. The Center immersed me in downtown Los Angeles, where I learned about social injustice and met some of the people fighting to make the world a better place. I sat in a tiny conference room in Boyle Heights, in what was then the headquarters for Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated young men and women reintegrate into society. I met a charismatic Jesuit priest named Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy. He encouraged me and the other freshmen in the group to imagine compassion as the answer to every question.

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I will never forget the quiet intensity of his eyes. He had just returned from presiding over the funeral of a former gang member who died too soon, and when he asked his question, I heard the plea of a man begging us to consider it anything but rhetorical.

In that moment, I realized L.M.U. was absolutely for students like me. The L.M.U. I know is most distinctly found off campus, throughout Los Angeles in organizations like Homeboy Industries; or in Tijuana with programs like De Colores, a weekend immersion trip sponsored by L.M.U.; and in sacred places across the world where ordinary people do extraordinary work in the face of injustice and adversity.

In times of struggle, it is hard to follow the advice of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., to “trust in the slow work of God.” I am overwhelmed with emotion by the flood of migrants and refugees around the world who feel that their potential in their homelands has reached a ceiling—a ceiling they hope will transform into a floor their children can use as a foundation for a new life. Racial inequality eats away at the fabric of our society, a not-so-subtle reminder that there is work still to be done, despite what many want to believe.

When I was a student at L.M.U., a Jewish friend shared the story of a rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who described marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a moment when he “learned to pray with his feet.” Perhaps the pursuit of the magis is just that: never ceasing to pray with our feet, while continually seeking to trust in the slow work of God.

Father Boyle said something else when I first met him that has guided the way I approach life to this day. Quoting the Book of Ecclesiastes (2:13), he reminded us that the light is always better than the darkness. There are seemingly countless problems in the world, but I am lucky to be surrounded by some of the brightest and most passionate students and communities, fighting on the margins to make the world a little more just, a little more humane.

Pope Francis’ leadership is an incredible inspiration in times like these. But I often wake up thanking God that I need not look only to Rome for such daring servant leadership. I am surrounded by it everyday because of so many ordinary people who have the audacity to fight for the dignity of every human being because they believe in something that is as radical as it is simple: The answer to the world’s most pressing questions starts with compassion.

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