Fruits from the Reconciliation Conference

By Gretchen Crowder

Back in late October, I was researching Thomas Merton for a course I was teaching at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. I knew I had seen an image somewhere of Merton that I had found compelling. So, I did a quick Google search and came across Fr. William Hart McNichols’ icon. Once I found Merton, I found myself clicking through McNichols’ other icons; they seemed familiar somehow. I got out my notebook from this past summer’s reconciliation conference and turned to a page where I had written and underlined “Books I MUST Buy.” McNichols’ work Image to Insight was at the top of the list.

As I scrolled through the images online, I felt compelled to revise the slideshow for my school’s upcoming All Saints Day Mass to incorporate many of Fr. McNichols’ beautiful and thought-provoking icons.

Fr Tom Greene at Reconciliation Conference 2018
Fr. Tom Greene says reconciliation with God begins with listening. 
This minor takeaway was just one of many instances when the fruits of the reconciliation conference impacted my life and the lives of others throughout the province. The province-sponsored reconciliation conference took place last June at Regis University in Denver. When we first gathered, called together by a shared mission, I was not sure what to expect. We were convened to discuss reconciliation with God, with others and with creation. This was a new type of conference, unlike any I had participated in before – a mixture of people from different apostolates talking about and having a genuine desire for reconciliation. It was timely and appropriate, new and exciting. The room was filled with people passionate about their work, but also for renewal in relationships with God, others and creation.

Reconciliation with God

The first keynote speaker, Fr. Thomas Greene, SJ, reminded us that reconciliation with God must start with mercy, and that the path to mercy is through listening to one another. Not just listening, however, but listening with empathy and compassion. Listening in such a way that we are able to enter into the experiences of one another and be changed by them.

Two days later, Fr. Greene’s words returned to me with new resonance.

We were sitting in a room at Arrupe Jesuit High School listening to a panel of representatives from the two area high schools, the university, the parish and the Jesuit community discuss opportunities for collaboration across their different works. The second-to-last person on the panel was Fr. Joseph Damhorst, SJ, who has spent a good part of his apostolic life working with Native Americans.

Regrettably, prior to hearing Fr. Damhorst speak, my experience of Native Americans living on a reservation was limited. I knew even less about the interaction of the Catholic Church with the Native American community. Listening to firsthand stories from Fr. Damhorst and two Native American women gave me an opportunity to visualize their experience, a chance to take off my shoes for a minute and envision what it would be like to walk around in theirs.

I was swept away by Fr. Damhorst’s passion and love for the Native American community. It made me want to learn and experience more. And then, on the last day of the conference, I found myself standing in a circle with the other conference participants underneath the bright sun as the Plentywolf Singers, a Lakota drum group, led us in a water and drum ritual. It was an incredible opportunity to pray with others and feel how they experience God. To me, this is what reconciliation looks like – a diverse group of people forming a circle, allowing themselves to breathe in God through the signs and symbols of another’s culture and tradition.

Reconciliation in Practice

Since the conference, many participants have continued to seek out ways to experience God through the culture and traditions of others. Christine Dragonette, social justice minister at St. Francis Xavier College Church at Saint Louis University, shared how the lessons learned at the conference are impacting the parish community.

“We celebrated Black Catholic History Month this year by posting about a different black candidate for sainthood each week,” she wrote. In addition, the parish hosted a presentation by Dr. Leonard McKinnis, assistant professor of constructive theology and African-American religions at Saint Louis University, on Divine Images and Human Imagination: On the Utility of Racialized Images of God. He explored with participants answers to the question “How might images of a non-white Jesus challenge dominant narratives of whiteness as a normative category for truth, beauty and justice?” 

Joseph Damhorst, SJ, shares his experience
working with Native Americans.

Sue Robb from St. Francis Xavier Church in Kansas City, Mo., reported that conference participants from Kansas City also expanded their exploration of what it means to enter the experiences of another.

“Our group continues to meet and do a book study on Courageous Conversations About Race,” she said. “We are just about to share our racial autobiographies. I hope to bring this to the parish after we have experienced the full scope of what it has to offer.”

At Jesuit Dallas, we continue to examine how various cultures and faiths experience God. In January, we had, for the second year, a series of prayer services focused on reconciliation with God. The first is on Christian Unity; the second explores interreligious dialogue; the third concentrates on Catholic Culture.

Our students also get to explore other cultures and traditions through our robust immersion programs. They walk alongside others in countries like Peru, Ecuador and Mexico. Now, as a fruit of the conference, they had

the opportunity to walk alongside our brother and sisters in El Paso, Texas, in January.

Father Greene reminded us that the “shortest distance between two people is a story.” A step in the right direction of reconciliation with God is listening to one another’s stories so that we may weave together the multi-colored fabric of God.

Reconciliation with Others

Chris Pramuk
Dr. Chris Pramuk encourages Jesuit colleagues to be hope tellers. 
Chris Pramuk, Ph.D., chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination and associate professor of theology at Regis University, led us through the second keynote address of the conference – “Reconciliation with Humanity” – with passion and compassion.

He began by quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ: “for Christ plays in ten thousand places. Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.” He emphasized that we are all charged with the image of God and must protect that image. We are called to be the “hope-tellers” – the ones willing to imagine what is possible and work toward building an inclusive culture of encounter in our communities.

Rich Perry, community service director at Jesuit Dallas, and Fr. Rafael Garcia, SJ, associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso, are both hope-tellers, seeking to imagine what is possible and take action.

Their conversations at the conference prompted Perry and Fr. Garcia to envision a new partnership and direction for the students of Jesuit Dallas in service to migrants through the Encuentro (Encounter) project in El Paso. Encuentro is a new initiative that the U.S. Central and Southern Province supports.

As the first Jesuit high school in the province to participate in the Encuentro project this January, Jesuit Dallas seeks to support the migrants and migrant families not just on the border but “en camino” – on the way. Therefore, in addition to the visit to the border, Jesuit Dallas students have also been supporting the FM4 Paso Libre program, a Mexican organization started by the Jesuit high school in Guadalajara. The dream of the FM4 Paso Libre project is to allow for increased refugee status and asylum for more Central Americans arriving in Mexico.

Jesuit Dallas already had programs established in Guadalajara, but the conversation with Fr. Garcia inspired a deeper form of encuentro. Shortly after the conference, a group of students went to Guadalajara and raised money to purchase items needed for the migrants and completed two service initiatives at FM4 Paso Libre. Later, the students did a full-day sponsorship of 80 migrants, which included a shared meal, a thorough cleaning of the migrants’ housing, and an opportunity to listen to the migrants and exchange stories.

As Perry said, the students had the chance to “move beyond the headlines and get to know the people.” 

Jesuit Dallas Student in Guadalajara
Jesuit Dallas student learns reconciliation through personal connection

Face-to-face interactions at the conference, like that between Perry and Fr. Garcia, are important first steps toward concrete future actions. Working in solidarity with others starts with the opportunity for time and space to consider options creatively. This was certainly true for our brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico.

Three Jesuit apostolates in San Juan, Puerto Rico, were represented – the parish (San Ignacio), the high school (Colegio San Ignacio), and the elementary school (Academia San Ignacio). The conference provided their representatives the impetus to consider how valuable it would be to work together.

One of the initiatives borne from the conference is gatherings of members of all three communities in San Juan for prayer and spiritual development. Together, through these prayerful encounters, they hope to strengthen their community and move toward the grace that comes with reconciliation.

Reconciliation with Creation

Cecilia Calvo offered the final keynote address on “Reconciliation with Creation.” She highlighted that humans have, over time, disrupted the balance between God, creation and humanity. She also reminded us that as much as it is necessary to listen to one another to reconcile with God and with others, it is also necessary to listen to one another as we try to reconcile with our earth.

She encouraged us to listen to the voices, concerns, hurts and recommendations of those who live in areas where environmental disruption is having the greatest impact. She also encouraged us to consider new ways of producing and consuming, new steps in the right direction toward the care for creation that Catholic social teaching calls us to.

The participants from Puerto Rico were inspired by the conversations on creation. Through dialogue that began at the conference and continued back home, they have made concrete plans for the future. They plan to use a single recycling company for all three apostolates. They are starting a community garden that will directly benefit the members of all three communities. They plan to use composting from the food waste and organic matter from all three communities to fertilize a field. This plan will save up to $25,000 a year and will decrease the waste production of their communities.

A Jesuit Dallas student is finding the shortest distance
between himself and an elder – through a story.
At Jesuit Dallas, Michael Riemer, the coordinator for service and justice projects, was personally inspired by the focus on reconciliation with creation. In June, he was finalizing plans for the building of his house that would break ground in October. After the conference, he met with his builder to adjust his plans. He recalled a woman standing up after Calvo’s talk and challenging the participants at the conference to do something simple for the environment – get rid of our yards. As someone who was in the process of building a new home, he felt compelled to answer the call. So, he plans on a zero-scape yard with no sprinkler system. He will also install a gutter system that will collect rainwater to irrigate some keyhole gardens, which utilize composting as a fertilizer and need limited care and irrigation.

Lasting Impact

These were just a few of the many examples of the positive impacts the reconciliation conference had on people throughout the province. It is quite a special thing when a gathering of people can produce such incredible fruits in such a short time.

At the end of the conference, we were invited to list our takeaways of the week. I wrote in my notes, “It was edifying to see so many people passionate about reconciliation during a time in our country and our world when reconciliation is desperately needed.”

The need for reconciliation has not waned in the past six months, but clearly there is positive movement toward action throughout our province. I remember one of the participants remarking, “Imagination is contagious.” Love, hope and passion for change are also contagious, and I hope and pray for more opportunities within our province like this one to motivate and encourage one another toward a culture of mercy and hope.

Gretchen Crowder is the director of campus ministry at Jesuit College Preparatory of Dallas and an adjunct faculty member for the University of Dallas.

To see more photos from the Reconciliation Conference, visit our Smug Mug site.


Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House
Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House, located in Grand Coteau, La., has provided a beautiful setting for retreats since 1938.