I never expected my life to change in a bowling alley, but it did, and I have my Jesuit education to thank for it. When I enrolled in a sign language class last semester, I figured it’d be interesting, and maybe something a little different, but not much else. Who knew it would help me realize the purpose and profundity of a Jesuit education, and what it means in my life.
In Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach’s The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice, he claims that Jesuit education must be transformative for the student’s mind, body, and spirit. But transformative in a way that not only alters the self, but others.
He says, “Today our prime educational objective must be to form men for others; men who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ” (29). How exactly sign language could fulfill this objective wasn’t immediately apparent when I began taking the class, yet it all changed that fateful day in the bowling alley.
Like every other Saturday of my college career, here I was, still a little sleepy, watching my buddy Sean bowl. As a member of Loyola’s Best Buddies program, an organization dedicated to the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I have known Sean since my freshman year. He is incredibly bright, fantastically artistic and has a certain quality that draws people into his presence. Sean’s one limitation is that he cannot speak. We’ve always communicated with smiles, hugs, handshakes, and nods. For us, physical presence had always been more important than spoken words. But back on this one particular Saturday, Sean looked at me, made a sign with his hands and then proceeded to walk towards the bowling alley restroom. As I was waiting for him to return, it dawned on me, “Sean just used the sign for bathroom!”. What I once thought was just some random hand gesture was actually his way of telling me something. When he returned, I couldn’t contain my excitement. “Sean, do you know sign language?!” I almost screamed. He nodded emphatically. I soon began signing, his name, my name, bowling ball, literally anything I could think of, and he understood me. Not only did he understand, he signed back, and for the first time, we were able to communicate in a shared language. It was a beautiful, moment. It was transformative.
That day, I saw God. Yes, I saw God in a bowling alley. It was the culminating moment of my Jesuit education. For the first time, what I learned in the classroom could be directly applied to my service. That moment was seeing God in all things, it was for the greater glory of God, it was eloquentia perfecta, it was every other Jesuit phrase that has imbued my learning thus far. It was a moment where the “inescapable network of mutuality” (1) that Dr. Martin Luther King refers to in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, was palpable and real. My communication with Sean offered an inexplicable feeling of connectedness with him, with my education, with God, and myself. It was the Jesuit values personified.
Without even realizing, I was engaging in the direct action that Kolvenbach and King so desperately call for. By taking a course and then using its content for the betterment of myself and others, I was being a “co worker with God” (King 6). I wasn’t present in Birmingham, nor did I attend the Conference on Commitment to Justice, but the principles that Kolvenbach and King advocated for in those situations are alive and present in my life today. Though one’s education is never complete, I feel as though mine has reached a point of fulfillment, all within the confines of a bowling alley.