At the heart of LMU’s Catholic identity are its students. Understanding these individual experiences in the context of their connection to LMU’s mission is essential to revealing the scope and impact of LMU’s commitment to service and faith.
In the first article in this series, the Loyolans spoke to faculty and staff about the evolution of the University, where it is now, and where it is headed in terms of Catholic identity. Catholicism is not a requirement for admission to LMU, but it does have a substantial impact on the student experience.
For junior Gabi Jeakle, who identifies strongly with her Catholic faith, the values of Jesuit education are what led her to apply and ultimately choose LMU. “I feel closest to God when I feel like my mind is working. I think what’s really unique about God choosing to come to Earth as a human [that] God chose to come to Earth with a mind and a brain. And I feel God present when that brain is working, which is so prevalent in Jesuit education. I’ll be honest, when I came to LMU I was a little surprised.
Jeakle is from Seattle, Washington, a fairly progressive city where she was able to surround herself with Catholics who were motivated by social justice. Upon arriving at LMU, she struggled to find a similar dedication to faith and service.
“I really like the intersection of faith and justice,” Jeakle said. “I really came to the Center for Service and Action as a freshman. And at the time with the leadership, I really felt like there was tension between those two communities. I often felt frustrated when I saw people at Mass and did not see them do justice and provide opportunities for service.
Jeakle hoped that the presence of Catholicism among students would be more aligned with Jesuit teaching.
“I kind of turned away from the Catholic presence here on this campus. And I really started to get into the work of justice. And I became an advocacy coordinator at the Service and Action Center,” she said.
For others, like young theology student Bella Vitullo, embracing the identity of the University was something that intimidated her. “Well, I thought it was going to be shoved down my throat, and I was really nervous about it. I mean, we’re Christmas and Easter people,” she said, a term making reference to Catholics and Christians who generally attend Mass or religious services only on public holidays.
Then, after having had a pleasant experience in a theology class, Vitullo declared himself a major in theology. For someone who did not have a strong connection to their faith, studying religion in the context of philosophy, history, psychology and sociology was something LMU could provide. Vitullo identifies as a Christian and has since developed a beautiful relationship with his religion while being able to accept the truth of many other religions.
“I grew up in Dallas, Texas, so it was all about Christianity. So that’s all I knew. And because of that, I wanted to grow a little bit more, but I also recognize and support other people. religions,” she said.
Even those who don’t practice Catholicism, like undeclared freshman liberal arts student Annie Grassie, are able to appreciate the function of a religious university as “a moral compass on which to base the values of the university.” . Being Jewish, Grassie enjoys being able to learn more about religion, but has also had unfortunate experiences with other members of the student body.
“I also had problems with anti-Semitism in this school with other students,” she said. Grassie wants education about anti-Semitism to be more prevalent on the LMU campus.
Others who are strong in their faith chose LMU because they sought a religiously supported Jesuit education.
“I decided to come to LMU for its religious ties, you know, I had heard about the values of a Jesuit education…And that’s not what was delivered to me when I came here “said Will Donahue, a political science major.
Donahue believes the teachings of other religions are not necessarily relevant to his Jesuit upbringing. “Apart from the fact that the majority of the classes I took on religious subjects seemed more interested in teaching Buddhism and other religions, I thought the school’s promise of providing a Catholic education included the teaching Catholic principles.”
Vitullo wants worship opportunities to be more accessible for her and her peers. “I wish there were more ads acknowledging religious services. I had to research and figure out when the religious services were, how open they were and what was going on with them.”
In particular, Donahue’s frustration goes beyond struggling to find a time to go to mass. He is disappointed with the implementation of more progressive ideas like the removal of a statue of Saint Junipero Serra and classes based on critical race theory, a teaching that most conservative Christians believe is heretical to their faith.
However, as Vice President for Mission and Ministry Dr. John Sebastian has previously stated, teaching these ideas and demonstrating these actions is part of what LMU believes to be its identity. “Our focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism is part of our Catholic identity,” he said. “So is our commitment to understanding all human beings as formed in the image and likeness of God and regarded with viable human dignity.”
The Jesuit values that can still apply outside of strict Catholic teaching seem to be the line that students and the University draw between what Catholicism teaches and what the University can enforce.
“I don’t think there is a time when we should stray from our Jesuit values. I think we have to look at these trends with values and we have to reinterpret them. And we have to understand that to be a Jesuit, a Catholic university, is to stand alongside marginalized people in all aspects of the world to protect and stand alongside marginalized bodies, just as Jesus did,” said said Jeakle, acknowledging the need to be flexible on doctrine. , but not in principle.
“The mission is quite clear,” Vitullo said. “A lot of it is about community and mutual respect… It’s a Catholic university, but you’re not only accepted here if you’re Catholic.”
Jeakle reminds us that the Catholic Church is constantly changing and also becoming more progressive.
“And in the end, it’s enough for the pope to say it for it to become a doctrine, isn’t it?” said Jeakle, referring to the multiple encyclicals published by the Pope over the years, including Fratelli Tutti and Laudato Ifwho reinterpreted biblical teachings in more progressive ways to meet the needs of today’s world.
Ultimately, students view LMU as a Catholic university because of its values, not the strict doctrinal teachings of the church. For Jeakle, it comes down to this: “Just caring for those we are called to care for and protecting the people Jesus has protected. I don’t think I can get any clearer than that.”