Father Peter and a few members of the A Faith That Does Justice (AFTDJ) team had a unique opportunity to join students at MIT for a meal and an evening of conversation. The Tech Catholic Community (TCC), the school’s internal program for Catholic students, invited Father Peter to speak about Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and the role of the church in responding to society’s most pressing challenges. TCC’s president, Raul, said the talk came at a convenient time: The organization’s yearly charter is its Building Bridges Initiative, focused on finding ways to spread a positive message of the church throughout the greater MIT community. Raul noted that from his experience, most students at the school tend to have an indifferent or even negative view of the Church. The Building Bridges Initiative focuses on understanding why certain students have a negative view on the church and finding new ways to have a direct, positive impact on the MIT community. The TCC leadership team feels that putting an emphasis on the church’s work to serve the marginalized in society and its use of a framework like Catholic Social Teaching to support the well-being of all people could help achieve the goals of the initiative. Given the mission and work of AFTDJ, TCC invited Father Peter to share his experiences and knowledge of CST as a part of the Building Bridges speaker series.
Father Peter began his talk with an acknowledgment of recent tragedies in our society. With the shooting in Lewiston, Maine having happened just earlier that week, and with the ongoing violence taking place in the Middle East, Peter remarked that “we’re really living in a nation that’s falling apart, and a world that’s falling apart.” He announced AFTDJ’s call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and discussed how his talk would shed light on the Catholic Church’s approach to these challenges and the suffering in our world today. It was a profound way to kickoff the talk and led into a thought-provoking night of conversation. Peter walked the students through the six foundational themes of Catholic Social Teaching, highlighted four additional modern themes, shared a brief history of A Faith That Does Justice, and added some background on the state of immigration in the Boston region and the United States today.
After the formal presentation, Peter and the team engaged in a formative Q&A session with the students. A main theme that resonated from the talk was the idea of “using the gifts of our lives on behalf of all people.” Several of the students emphasized the gratitude they have for being at a world-renowned institution like MIT. With the complexity of today’s world and the future challenges students face, they saw it as an opportunity for guidance toward finding ways to share their gifts on the MIT campus and in their postgraduate lives. One student described the prominence of analytically minded individuals at MIT and asked how he and his peers should approach the corporate world if they intend to make a difference. This provided an opportunity for Bill Sheehan, AFTDJ’s Director of Operations, to share some of his experiences from his career in the corporate world. Having been a partner in a large, international accounting firm and served as CEO of two large hotel chains, Bill shared his perspective on making a difference at each stage of one’s career. He discussed how his ability to impact others didn’t start when he occupied a leadership role and that one can start making a difference at every level by thinking about each individual he or she encounters. It was a fascinating conversation and a great opportunity both for the students to learn from Peter and Bill and for the AFTDJ team to learn what’s top of mind for college students today.
The A Faith That Does Justice team thanks the Tech Catholic Community for the invitation, a great conversation, and the pizza and dessert, and wishes it well as the Building Bridges Initiative continues.