The Dream Act: A Social Justice Issue

More than twenty years of monastic life still influences my patterns of living and thinking. For instance, when I hear of some trouble or need, my first thought is to take it to God in prayer. Since beginning the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola, I have been urged to think in more tangible ways such as getting involved in social justice issues, or making a difference by my voice, my hands, and my presence.

And so that evening of June 14, 2012, I found myself driving down Charles Avenue mixed in with the many cars and people joining the Sailabration events going on at that time. I was not heading for the Inner Harbor, or even Fort McHenry.  I was on my way to the Cathedral of the Incarnation for a talk called “Pray, Study, Act: the Dream.”


I had no clue about the Dream Act, who it affected or that it even existed. But an invitation to the event sparked my interest, and I felt the gentle nudging of Loyola’s message that we get involved in social justice issues pushing me to do something. So I set aside my summer studies (I was taking two summer courses at that time) and headed out to hear about this issue for myself.

I had no idea that a youngster brought to the states as an infant and whose family paid state taxes still had to pay out-of-state tuition at a local state college. I did not know that this law affected veterans as well. I did not know that 12 other states have already passed the Dream Act and made it law. I did not know that Maryland’s version of the Dream Act was the strictest of all versions, had passed the legislation and been put into law, only for a referendum that put the law on hold and place it on the ballet for a vote in the fall. Most of all, I did not know that children of immigrants who had not become citizens had the most difficult time going on to college because of the restrictions. They had an uphill battle to become self-supporting and independent.

The speakers at this event were varied, from Rev. Glenna Reed Huber of the Church of the Holy Nativity to the Very Rev. Hal Ley Hayek of the Cathedral. Father Joe Muth of St Matthew Catholic Church gave a slide presentation explaining the Dream Act and its implementation in 12 other states. Youth directly involved and hoping to go on to college gave testimony of their status and their difficulties, and asked us to help the Dream Act pass in the state of Maryland. They spoke of their identification with the United States as the only home they have ever known, of their desire to experience the American Dream.

As I was sitting there congratulating myself for getting involved in a social justice issue, I looked around the small room. There were only 83 individuals gathered in the basement of the Cathedral, of which 13 were presenters, at least half of the rest where sponsors of the event, and only a handful were interested spectators. Among this small crowd I found two of my classmates. Elation.  Here we were, three Pastoral Counseling students, gathered here not because of a classroom assignment, or to gain extra credit. We were here on a busy weekday evening because we cared.

The Pastoral Counseling program teaches its students the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm to those we serve. But Loyola takes us a step further: to get involved with issues of social justice. The workshop offered me and my classmates the opportunity to learn the truth about an issue of social justice. And we spent that time willingly so that we could understand those who are vulnerable to the law and in need of advocacy.

As we left the workshop, the three of us met up and began to chat. We discussed the issues addressed at the meeting, as well as our summer classes and our time left in the Pastoral Counseling program. We did this naturally, as if this was something we do all the time. For the Pastoral Counseling program has taught us our job is to listen to real individuals telling their story of hope, of fear, and of dependency, and to find concrete ways to address those issues.

A Jesuit’s Journey: Maryland by way of Zambia and Lusaka

Excuse me, please” a voice called from the back. “What you are explaining, it is the one way ANOVA?” The voice came from an International student, Nicholas Penge. The class, Statistics and Research Methods.

Nicholas Penge

Nicholas Penge

Nicholas Penge is no stranger to education. His father, a teacher, first worked in the schools owned and operated by the Coppermines in Luanshya, Zambia.  At ten, Nick’s father moved the family north, as he changed his employment by working for the government as a teacher in the Primary school.

Nick loved learning. He admits that even from his earliest years, he also felt drawn to the priesthood. Thus he entered the minor seminary secondary school, and later joined the Franciscans. After two and a half years, though, Nick believed the fit not right and left.

Nick then enrolled in the University. But unrest and riots caused the government to shut it down, and again, he headed home. He could not help but wonder where his life-work lay. As he thought about this question, he found himself again attracted to service, and with the encouragement of his parish priest, he went to a “Come and See” hosted by the Jesuits in Lusaka.

“The ‘Come and See’ event really grabbed my heart,” Nick says now. He entered the congregation and was sent to Zimbabwe for his first studies. This time the fit felt right.

As Nick went through the various stages of his studies, he found that psychology interested him quite a bit.  When he went on to minister to various people, whether it was as an assistant in a parish, director of vocations, chaplain to prisoners or vulnerable mothers, he could see that he needed more when dealing with the cases brought before him. “I could see that the cases were not totally spiritual, but psychological as well,” he admits.

And so Nick began his search once again, this time for a program that would not only combine spirituality with psychology, but would offer him a Master of Science degree. He consulted with friends and colleagues, and found many who recommended Loyola University of Maryland’s Pastoral Counseling program. Nick applied and came to the United States in 2011.

As he finishes his first year, Nick says that this program is important to him. “Before, people came to me with problems that were psychological as well as spiritual. I felt my lack of psychological understanding did them a disservice.” Nick hopes he may continue on to the PhD program, but admits, that decision will be down the road.

A Journey of Faith and Fulfillment

A journey of faith and fulfillment. When I read those words on the Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling website, I felt the connection. I have come to see my life as journey, one that needs discernment, one that believes in destiny. I was facing yet another major life change when I felt the call to enter the Pastoral Counseling program. 

My first discernment of journey came early in life. I felt called to the monastic life when still in my teens.  I applied and got accepted into a monastery. Following that call required privations and sacrifices, leaving family and friends behind as I forged a new family, community and life. I found the call challenging but remained in it for many years. Finally, circumstances made it clear I needed a change. Though it proved the most difficult decision in my life, I accepted the call to move on and left the monastery.

But moving on can mean so many things. I found it hard to identify with my peers when I went on to college.  I felt out of place with my colleagues when I got my first job. I watched life progress and felt as though I were standing and watching it through a window, forever wondering where I fit in. Perhaps I had somehow gotten lost on my journey, perhaps I had missed my turn or wandered into areas I was not meant to be.

Then I found the ad in Commonweal describing the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola. It mentioned calling, journey, and spirituality. I felt the attraction, I felt it to be the fit I longed for.

When I came for my interview, I knew my first test would be getting accepted into the program. Next, I would have to complete the requirements. But I was no stranger to sacrifice and challenge, to discernment and prayer.

Best of all, I have found classmates in this program who have had similar experiences, whose journeys have not been straight and narrow, but rather winding along a path of uniqueness. I am thrust into a group that is no stranger to suffering, sacrifice, and challenge. Here, I no longer look out the window and wonder about the rest. I sit at table and discuss, share, and experience.

I find strength in learning of the journeys of others. I find inspiration, comfort, and encouragement at the commitment others are making to be in this program, seeking a degree in Pastoral Counseling. I find that many, like me, are changing careers, forging a new path, accepting the daunting challenge of becoming a Pastoral Counselor.

And so I continue with my journey, working in the Master of Science program, hoping to become a Pastoral Counselor. And I know I am not alone.

Food for Multicultural Issues

I was cruising down St. Paul’s street in downtown Baltimore heading off to class when suddenly three youths stepped out in front of my car. My tires squealed as I slammed on the brakes, just in time. Then I waited. The young men stood in front of my car for about 20 seconds, watching me intently. Then they disappeared back where they had come.  During that time, I was not sure what to do. Had I heard the Multicultural Panel before this incident, and listened to Ryan Heeman tell a very similar story, I might have had a better clue. You see, I am white, and the youths were African American.

 If we are going to meet with this kind of dilemma in normal life, life as a counselor will bring even greater challenges. How can I be sensitive to someone who is LGBT? Am I aware of the cultural differences between Asian or African or Hispanic and the dominate white American? Have I ever stepped into the life of someone of another faith tradition, or enjoyed a celebration in another culture? These are the questions the Multicultural Panel at Loyola Pastoral Counseling Department addressed April 26, 2012.

 Professor Katherine Oakes, who teaches a course on Diversity Issues in Counseling, planed the panel. She brought in a number of MS and PhD students to share personal accounts, dissertation work, and clinical experience. They had a lot to share. 

 For each of us, there are limits to our understanding and our knowledge of other cultures. Dian Adams spoke of the clinical insights she has gained in addressing a client’s cultural context. She spoke honestly about having made assumptions, assumptions about how her client perceived herself. And she was wrong. She candidly admitted that had she asked, she would have been in a better position.

 Ryan Heeman recounted his personal perspectives on what post-racial means to him and what it might look like in his personal experience as a “Generation-Y’er.” His own story mirrored mine, except that Ryan knew to look the individuals in the eye and treat them as nothing more than some youths out to have fun.

 Other panel members addressed the issues of religious tolerance and understanding, and individualist and collectivist world views. They are not unique to a culture, says Inna Edara, speaking of his own findings in his dissertation research. And commonality is also not a given, according to Thomas Skeeter, who recounted his visit to Haiti. He expected to find something similar to his own community. Instead he learned that some Haitians could not understand how the African American community failed to reach out to them when they came as immigrants to America. The Haitian youths envied his opportunities for education.

The session ended with suggestions for more presentations and work in this field. Professor Katherine Oakes hopes to continue discussions on diversity and multicultural issues in the Fall of 2012.