Write your service experience

News from a new memoir collection project: Seeds of Service.

Here’s their introduction:

Have you committed a year or more to post-graduate service in the United States?

Do you have reflections to share about your experience in one of America’s faith-based service programs?

Are you interested in being part of a published work?

We are looking for you!


We are seeking individuals who have completed a year or more of service in a faith-based service programs in one of the 50 states or U.S. territories during the years 1995 – 2011. We are interested in hearing from former volunteers who served in either urban or rural areas and in a faith-based programs of any religious tradition, be that Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and others!


Continuing the Story….

As we reflect back on the past four years, we are incredibly grateful for the people who have supported this work–those who believed in our idea before it had a publisher, those who had enough faith in it to offer us a contract, those who have read our book and our blog, those who have engaged with these ideas through speaking engagements and reading circles throughout the country. It has been so encouraging to learn that there is, in fact, a need for the voices of young women in our Catholic tradition. Although we will continue to speak about From the Pews in the Back, we have discerned that the time has come to push pause on this blog. We encourage folks to take advantage of the resources offered on the website, and definitely be in touch if we can be of support to you in any way as you gather reading circles and continue the story in your own way.

Peace be with you,

Kate and Jen

I’m (Sort of) Catholic–And I Vote

by Kate Henley Averett

While the way in which I identify with is complicated (does “non-institutionally affiliated, non-Mass attending, preacher-of-the-Gospel-at-all-times with a thoroughly Catholic theological imagination” even make sense to me, let alone to anyone else?) and tends to vary from day to day, the question of Catholics and voting resonates with me a great deal. As infuriated as I get when the Church tells us who to vote for, and which issues matter at the expense of which other issues, at the end of the day, I would be lying if I said that being Catholic doesn’t impact how I vote. Because it was through Catholicism that I found social justice. And it was through learning more about Catholic social justice that I found liberation theology, and came across the idea of the preferential option for the poor and the oppressed. And it was taking myself to task, really thinking about what implications a commitment to the preferential option for the poor has for the ways that I act in the world, that has most informed the political opinions I hold today.

While my Catholicism influences how I vote, I have certainly never thought of myself as a typical Catholic voter. I was intrigued, then, to get an email this week from Catholics for Choice with some interesting statistics about Catholics and voting. Not only are Catholic voters not more conservative than the general public, the email stated, but the views and voting trends of U.S. Catholics largely mirror that of the general electorate. While less than half (43%) of U.S. Catholics rank abortion as a “very important” issue to them in this election cycle, almost all (92% and 91%, respectively) feel that the economy and jobs are the among the most important issues. Furthermore, “only 14% of Catholics in the US agree with the Vatican’s position that abortion should be illegal,” and “only eight percent of Catholics believe that the views of the US bishops are ‘very important’ in deciding for whom to vote.”

So while I probably still fall (much) further to the left of the political spectrum than most Catholic voters, I’m actually not all that atypical – I’m informed by my faith tradition, but at the end of the day, it is my own conscience, and not the commands of Church officials, that has the most influence over how I vote.

Kate Henley Averett dreams of a day when she can regularly vote for candidates who are pro-reproductive rights, pro-universal health care, anti-death penalty, anti-militarization, and deliberately and openly feminist, anti-racist, and anti-heteronormativity, with a commitment to eradicating poverty. Until then, even though she often feels more like she’s voting against people she doesn’t want in office than for people she wants in office, Kate still votes anyway.

Potential Saints

by Nelle Carty

In Loving Memory of my mentor and friend, Patrick L. Rattigan.

When I first started as a theology teacher at a Jesuit high school in a Chicago suburb, I had an official mentor who supported me through the academic year. There were no desks available next to my mentor in the department office . The closest space was next to the oldest faculty member in the department, and maybe the school. The other teachers, tip-toed around this no-nonsense, cranky, old man, who knew more than anyone. Everyone said hello to him, but there was a level of respectful distance that colleagues kept from this veteran educator. Pat, the old-timer, not only had a desk next to mine, but shared the same free periods. Being one of the youngest teachers in my department, and a naturally extroverted person, I didn’t know I was supposed to be respectfully afraid. So, I talked to Pat as much as he permitted during our planning periods. I began picking up the mail in his faculty box to save him a trip, and in return he started leaving me occasional lesson plans and helpful tools. As the months passed, Pat became my unofficial mentor, and eventually, a good friend.

This experienced educator lived for teaching and had created fine-tuned lesson plans incorporating a style all his own. Pat loved art. He was well-known for creating beautiful PowerPoint presentations that incorporated classic paintings relating to the various theology lesson plans. Occasionally, he would share one of these PowerPoint slide shows with me to use in my classes. He rarely shared these lesson plans with other teachers, so I felt honored to be given these pedagogical treasures. His appreciation of art added a unique dimension to his passion for teaching theology. Pat taught me that art engaged students on a different level. It allowed them to understand our Christian narrative without the confusion and limitations of words. Paintings offered a personal experience that was open to the Spirit.

When All Saints’ Day came around on that first year, Pat gave me a non-art related gem. He reminded me what All Saints’ Day was about. “Nelle, remember to tell your freshmen that we all have the potential to be saints. It’s not about being perfect. In this day and age, people place the saints upon impossible-to-reach pedestals. It’s our job to close the gap and help them see that sainthood isn’t synonymous with being perfect. It’s about being our truest self—the one God created us to be.”

Pat may have said that the 14 year-old, first year students needed to hear this, but I think I needed to hear this, as well. Occasionally, these words come to mind, and I smile thinking of Pat’s truth-filled lessons. Pat retired from teaching a few years ago and died this past February 2010. Pat wasn’t perfect, but he dedicated his life to teaching young people. Through works of art and literature, he challenged students to recognize the sacredness in the world and within each of us.

On this November 1st, we remember all of the people who have lived faith-filled lives. May these holy people who are no longer physically with us, remind us of our own potential and call to be saints.

M. Nelle Carty is trying to remind herself that sainthood is not so far away as it seems.

The Fairness of God’s Embrace: Reflections on Sunday’s Readings

by Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello

In my day job as a professor of American Studies I work to help my students question and explore “facts” about the United States that are often taken for granted. The standard narrative (the supposed “fact”) that I’ve just finished exploring with one class is the notion that “America is the Land of Opportunity”. We have thought about where this idea comes from, the cultural and political structures and systems that keep it alive, and its limits. Just last week we considered the ways in which unspoken advantages of gender (male), race (white), language spoken (English), and class (middle/upper) have opened up opportunities for some while making opportunities hard to access for others. After thinking about women, people of color, non-English speaking Americans and those without family support or a bit of luck, commonly held beliefs are harder for my students to sustain uncritically. What looks like an issue of “hard work” = success at first glance gets a lot more complicated. Class materials often upset my students’ sense of the United States as a pure meritocracy where fairness reigns.

Fairness. The sense that dedication and following the rules matters. Fairness. It is something that I honor and desire and encourage. I suspect this is in part a result of growing up in a family of six siblings and complex family negotiations. Fairness. It is something that my 8-year-old seems particularly sensitive to in playground debates and when discussing the relative size of desserts. Fairness…it is something that I can’t get away from when reading and reflecting on this week’s readings – especially the Gospel. When I engage with the text via my Ignatian training and imagine myself in the story I always find myself to be one of the unnamed persons on the street who is angered by the choice Jesus makes: Zacchaeus gets to host him? Really? Really…..? It doesn’t seem “fair”. “So what,” I find myself thinking against my best wishes. “So what that he said he will (future tense!) give away his possessions (hrmph!). He’s been taking advantage of others forever!” (Insert your favorite self-righteous stomp and head shake here).

And then I return to the first reading and I am swept into a gentle reminder and into a softness of metaphor and imagery where I am called to let go of my bean-counting sensibilities and remember that I too am a sinner and that I too am one of God’s creations and that I too am loved and embraced—because I too am of God and God is in me. The lyricism of the phrases (“how could a thing remain, unless you willed it/or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”) calls me to see myself and then to see others in a new light. We are worthy, we are loved, we are OK. I can understand the gospel more fully in this light. I still can’t picture myself as Zacchaeus. I can’t see the story through his eyes, but I notice him in the tree and I am more aware of his desire to find a way (back?) to God. I know this path.

But I would be remiss if I did not own up to the fact that as a woman in the Catholic church I am stuck on the “fairness” issue: There are so many who are called. There are so many who are ready now. There are so many who have fought the good fight and lived the good life and are ready to take up posts as leaders in the church and these women, these people made in God’s image…are not invited in. I think that my fixation on fairness may need to stick around for a while.

Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello holds a PhD in American and New England studies from Boston University. She is currently an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and coordinator of American studies at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts, where she teaches many courses inspired by her time in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the 1990s.

One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

By Rebecca Curtin

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; very God of very God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. We believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

– the Nicene Creed as usually recited by Orthodox Christian congregations

Growing up I never knew the Nicene Creed was the source of such controversy. As a child I thought such things, the things I learned by heart, that I recited together with my family, week after week, year after year, were indelible, that they had always been just as they are now.

But, of course we learn as we grow older that this is not so. Even something as old, as seemingly stable as the Nicene Creed has for me in adulthood taken on a new level of perplexity. Indeed, adulthood itself seems to be a sort of endless complication of things that used to once be so simple.

On Sundays, I usually attend an Antiochian Orthodox Church near my home with my partner, a cradle Orthodox. We love the welcoming, tight-knit community there, and the high concentration of converts makes it so that my blond hair doesn’t immediately betray my non-Orthodox status.

Sometimes during the service I almost forget I’m Catholic, even when we cross ourselves (the Orthodox tend to cross themselves a lot) and I do mine “backward.” I have grown to love the abundant incense, the prostrations, and especially the icons, that second congregation that despite its two-dimensionality somehow seems to peer out at the congregation and participate in the service as we do. If the Catholic Church for me has always been clear the clear, bright, and light infused colors of stained class, the Orthodox Church is the luminous golds, and earthy browns and reds of the icons.

I do feel out of place at Orthodox church when we recite the Nicene Creed. The Catholic and Orthodox versions of the creed are similar, but the differences are so central to the theologies of both traditions that disagreements over them have had shattering repercussions and, some argue, directly led to the Great Schism of the eleventh century, when the two churches formally separated. These differences seem small now (i.e. the difference between “essence” and “being” or the addition of “and the son” when stating from whom the Holy Spirit proceeded) were at one time considered matters essential to salvation.

When it is time to say the creed, I usually stumble along reciting the Catholic version softly to myself, which is difficult to do when everyone around you is reciting something just a little different. But then, perhaps ironically, but also soul-liftingly we all say in unison that we “believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” Despite our creedal differences here is a reaffirmation of unity that has always seemed to me at once comforting and also mystifyingly naïve.

But, earlier this month the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation released a statement “Steps Toward a Unified Church” which includes a commitment to a common “statement of faith,” a common creed. The Catholic Church concedes that, in the interest of Church unity, “the original Greek form of the Creed of 381, because of its authority and antiquity, should be used as the common form of our confession in both our Churches.” If unity is achieved, Catholics will recite the version of the creed now used by Orthodox churches.

Perhaps this all seems somewhat superficial. After all, the Orthodox Creed as printed above is very similar to what is recited in Catholic churches. Can we count these small agreements as real achievements when the Church has huge issues to tackle like the ordination of women, the future of Catholic higher education, and the place of the LGBT community in the Church?

But, words are so very important. The words chosen by early church councils, used in our liturgies, and by our theologians are the basis for so much of Church dogma. And, small steps like this acquiescence on a point that at one time seemed incontrovertible reignites my hope that important change is possible in the Catholic Church. I rejoice, perhaps selfishly, that true communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could be possible. And, I cautiously celebrate this small indication that the Church may be willing to consider compromise when a higher end is within sight.

Rebecca Curtin holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Harvard Divinity School. She lives in Somerville, MA.


Felicia Schneiderhan

My first thought always when hearing today’s Gospel is “Good, I don’t have to be perfect.”

See, I have this perfectionism thing going. My spiritual advisor reminds me that my perfectionism is really pride in disguise; really me trying to be God. “And where’s the God in that?” she asks.

Well, God’s not in the room at all. If I practice perfection, I have no need of God. Self-sufficiency! Let me do it myself! And let me get it right!

There are days when I “to-do” everything right. From the minute I wake up till the minute I go to sleep, I follow the rules and the to-do list to a perfect T. I wake up when the alarm goes off and instantly put my feet on the floor, ready to go. I do my morning prayer and meditation as specified. I eat what I am supposed to. I spend within my budget. I am on time. I get along with everyone – if only because I am so attuned to following the plan for the day that I have little time or attention for anyone. (Interacting with others is never on the to-do list.)

I’ll admit, these days are few and far between. But when they happen – oh, the glory of perfection! The rapture of going to sleep knowing that every piece of my puzzled day snapped perfectly into place. I am indeed proud on days like these, because they prove I can manage my own life, thank you very much.

Funny thing on these quests for perfection: they are sought alone.

For example: I have recently discovered that nothing brings out my perfectionist tendencies like being a new mom. I am so inexperienced and dead-set on doing everything right for my four month-old son that I miss the obvious.

Sleep books stack high on my nightstand, so I can stay up late reading about how to perfect my son’s sleep schedule, so that his brain will develop perfectly and he will be perfectly happy all the time. According to my current reading, he should be napping three times a day, at 9, noon, and 3, and then going to bed for the night sometime between 6-7. This is the daytime schedule: 9, noon, and 3. This is the schedule.

Yesterday my husband spent the afternoon working from home, and he observed me trying all sorts of means to get our son to take his 3 o’clock nap: ignoring his fussing and crying; lying down with him in our bed. This went on for nearly an hour before Mark changed his diaper and gave him a toy and he settled down. An hour later, at dinner, our baby ate voraciously.

“Maybe he was hungry,” Mark said. “Maybe that’s why he couldn’t settle down to nap.”

After a few minutes of defensively denying that I could ever miss my son’s hunger cues, I had to admit, Mark may have been right. Our son will eat just a bit, fall asleep, and as soon as I put him in his crib, he’s wide awake again, and I spend an hour trying to get him to fall back to sleep. I interpret his fussing and crying as sleep-deprivation, which may only be partly right. But had I stopped and been present in the situation, rather than vehemently sticking to the plan of perfection, I may have noticed that perhaps he had just nodded off early and needed to finish his meal.

If I am so set on following the plan perfectly, I miss the reality of the situation. I miss the other person. I miss the relationship.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisee who follows the law perfectly, speaks his prayer to himself. Whereas the tax collector, a sinner, would not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, for he knew to whom he was talking. Following the rules is beside the point; what’s important to God is that we enter into a relationship with Him. So often, our failings make it possible for us to acknowledge our need for God, to enter into the room with him. But joy and gratitude could serve this purpose just as well. In the end, our fulfillment is not from doing everything right, but from connecting in a meaningful way to God, and to those around us.

%d bloggers like this: