Engaging Religious Diversity at the High School LevelBy Mary Ann Wallace
Interreligious dialogue at the high school level is exciting and challenging. All our efforts begin with prayer and encourage reflection and openness in the spirit of Ignatius,who urged his companions to find God in all things.
The process of defining and sharing religious identity begins with orientation in freshman year. There, first-year students are led in small groups by senior leaders. For their part, the senior leaders, prior to leading the freshmen in small groups, have reflected on JSEA’s “graduate at graduation” document, which encourages students to be loving, religious, intellectually competent, open to growth and committed to justice. Themes of diversity, interreligious dialogue and the practice of Jesuit education are also incorporated into the day. The senior leaders are crucial to the success of orientation, for as Ignatius did, they take the students where they are and begin the process of helping them learn a way of proceeding. This is the starting point of the students’ journey through high school. Throughout their time at Brebeuf Jesuit, students will realize that their religious identity and openness to all other religions will have an impact on every aspect of their lives.
Brebeuf Jesuit is a Jesuit, Catholic school that encourages interreligious dialogue. The student body is approximately 50 percent Catholic, 37 percent Protestant and 13 percent non-Christian.Mass is offered each day before school and during the school day on holy days of obligation. Seniors celebrate baccalaureate with a mass, and reconciliation services are celebrated during Advent and Lent.
CampusMinistry has an advisory board of students from various religious traditions: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist. This group is instrumental in planning all school-wide prayer services and advising campus ministers about their religious traditions. A typical element of our common prayer services is a call to prayer from different religious traditions. Students sing or recite a prayer in the language of his or her religious tradition and then translate it into English for all gathered to understand.A small gesture, it fosters an awareness of the religious diversity in our community as well as in the larger world where they will ultimately work and lead. Likewise, scriptures from the different religions are incorporated into services. This spring’s prayer service was celebrated on Holy Thursday on the theme of servant leadership. Students participated in a food drive, and the collected goods were visible at the service. The prayer service itself included a call to service from the different religions.
Each school day begins with a prayer over the public address system.We use the interreligious calendar from the National Conference for Community and Justice of Chicago and Greater Illinois as a resource and invite adult and student volunteers to lead prayer.Again, students of different religious traditions pray and the entire community shares in this diversity. Each day closes with the familiar Ignatian Examen, helping us reflect on the actions of our day and our opportunity to serve God more closely the next day.
On retreats, senior leaders and adults are asked to share their religious experiences, encouraging retreatants to do likewise. This sharing stimulates discernment of what God is telling each of us. Several years ago on a freshman retreat, when a senior led the group in a Muslim morning prayer, a prayer not familiar to most retreatants, they sensed from the leader’s reverence that this was a holy and sacred experience. Retreatants are also asked to volunteer to pray before meals, which may result in traditional Catholic meal blessings, Hebrew prayers or more spontaneous Evangelical Christian prayers.
In addition to campus ministry, the board of trustees, administrators, faculty and staff of the school grapple with what interreligious dialogue truly means and looks like in our school. One example that reflects the celebration of religious diversity at Brebeuf Jesuit is an all-school prayer service on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. This prayer experience is organized by the Jewish Student Union. The same group also organizes a Seder meal during Passover, open to all students and their families, and the lighting of a menorah in our front lobby during the eight days of Chanukah. The menorah rests on a table close to the wreath, similarly lit during the weeks of Advent.
Complementary to the intentional efforts fostering interreligious dialogue at Brebeuf Jesuit is the daily interaction of students that gives way to dialogue. This often happens over lunch or during time together in student commons. It regularly occurs during meetings of the campus ministry advisory board, often with the question, “Well why do you do that?” It likewise happens when friends support each other through the fasting periods of Lent or Ramadan.
We continue to be companions on the journey of life at Brebeuf Jesuit. Our attempts and struggles with interreligious dialogue are part of our identity, and the culture of the school is enriched because of our willingness to be companions, especially spiritual companions.
Wallace is Co-Director of campus ministry at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, where she has served for 15 years, spending 12 years prior to that in parish ministry.