By Mike Gabriele
Those steeped in the Jesuit mantra of a “faith that does justice” know what “magis” means. By itself, it is simply a Latin word that means “more.” To the Society of Jesus and their Ignatian partners in mission, it means “doing more for Christ, and therefore doing more for others.” It usually entails reaching out to those on the margins, those struggling to get by—the poor, the lonely, the imprisoned, the sick. The magis is indeed a challenge, a challenge to rise up against adversity and out of our comfort zones so that we can meet the disadvantaged where they are and truly walk with them. Accompaniment is the first step in offering ourselves to others in service.
This year in particular, the call to “do more for Christ by doing more for others” has never been more dire. Who could have foreseen the invisible tempest that brewed against our nation and the world in the form of a highly contagious and often deadly coronavirus?
And yet, as the virus made its way into all 50 of our states—closing businesses, social gatherings, schools and universities— the need to serve the less fortunate became more important than ever. To add to the challenge, those in need of help suddenly became more than the poor and the sick. Many self-sufficient people abruptly found themselves without access to groceries. Millions of happily employed Americans one week were jobless and struggling to make ends meet the next. Health care workers accustomed to organized shifts and routine patient care were thrust into a danger zone, often ill-equipped to protect themselves from exposure. But the most troubling aspect was that this was not taking place in some thirdworld country. These were our neighbors … our friends … our family.
To make matters worse, in a desperate effort to get a grip on the pandemic, stay-at-home orders were imposed throughout the country. Businesses were forced to shut down. Key supply chains were suddenly in jeopardy. Schools and universities closed and sent students home. Jesuits and their colleagues found themselves in un – chartered territory—wanting to serve others while under strict guidelines NOT to interact with anyone.
Where there is God’s will, however, there is always a way. Our Jesuit schools and universities stepped up to live and breathe the magis as never before. Without literally a day to spare, many Jesuit institutions shifted gears to meet increasingly new demands quickly. The immediate need for protective gear for hospital staff and health care workers was paramount. Loyola University Maryland joined a host of other Ignatian social enterprises in Baltimore and began using its lab of 3D printers to help mass-produce plastic face shield parts to be assembled for local hospitals. “First responders and health care workers are today’s heroes,” said Matthew Treskon, technology librarian at Loyola University. “I’m glad my colleagues at Loyola and I could use our skills and technology to support our community.” The university also offered pro-bono business counseling to small businesses fighting for survival during the pandemic.
Fordham Prep stepped up to assist health care workers on the front lines as well. As New York’s COVID-19 cases started to spike, Fordham prep’s president, Fr. Christopher Devron, SJ, learned of the extraordinary surge of patients at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx and the increased demand for personal protective equipment. Without a moment’s hesitation, the school immediately donated all of the safety goggles from its science laboratories. “Jesuit education is committed to service and advancing the common good,” said Fr. Devron. “I am so pleased that our resources could assist.”
In addition to masks and protective eyewear, another commodity became in short supply for first responders— food. Fordham Prep moved swiftly on this need too, raising $40,000 to help feed emergency room workers. As a way to also assist a local restaurant, the money was donated to a nearby deli that in turn kept the ER fed twice a day, a great win-win for everyone.
Similarly, the University of Scranton came together to help struggling area restaurants and low-income families at the same time. It developed a program encouraging Scranton residents to donate money to be used for gift-cards from local restaurants which were then given to families facing a financial burden. The program raised $8,000 on its first day. “The COVID-19 crisis created additional hardship for those who were already experiencing economic insecurity,” said Julie Schumacher Cohen, assistant vice president for community engagement and 6government affairs at the University of Scranton, who led the development of the program. “This was an effort to support the well-being of community members in need and help our local economy.”
Students from Jesuit universities who now found themselves suddenly off campus and back at home also discovered ways to help and raise money. Instead of lamenting over her senior year getting cut short at Georgetown University, Ariana Mastrogiannis organized a GoFundMe campaign that paid local restaurants to deliver meals to the emergency departments and intensive care units of New York hospitals, where her cousin is a resident physician. She exceeded her $7,000 goal.
Loyola School in New York City started a fundraiser called Lunch 4 Life that provides hot meals for the staff at Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem. An anonymous donor even stepped forward and gave $20,000 to the program. At St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, campus ministry began a “hands-off” donation campaign to get students involved in delivering food and clothing to local community drop-off centers in need of items.
Creative thinking and fast action became a reflex at these Jesuit schools and universities. Suddenly faced with $60,000 worth of food that would potentially go to waste with students no longer on campus, Fairfield University quickly donated the food to the Connecticut Food Bank. “It was a significant amount of food,” said Duane Gornicki, Fairfield’s general manager of dining services. “She (the food bank coordinator) was so moved, she broke down and cried.”
The examples could go on and on and fill this magazine from cover to cover with stories of how our Ignatian family stepped up to “do more.” That is what living the magis is all about. When we realize that by serving others, we are serving Christ, the drive to “do more” becomes second nature. AMDG.