Had things been different, I might be a priest today. Instead I became a director of development.
It didn't happen just like that. It started with a man named Fr. Phil Land, SJ, in a basement kitchen in the northeast section of Washington, D.C. Phil was one of this country's greatest promoters of Catholic social teaching. He died seven years ago.
I first met him in 1985; I was a recent college grad and an intern at the Center of Concern, a Jesuit-founded social justice advocacy group in Washington. What I most remember about warm and witty Phil was the reverential way he, then 74, would hobble downstairs to prepare for the center's Friday liturgy.
Horned-rimmed glasses perpetually sliding down his nose, he would put bread on a plate and pour a small glass of wine from a jug, the same wine we used to accompany cheese and crackers during the center's frequent forums on economics, nuclear disarmament, or women's rights. This simple bread and wine would become Christ's body and blood, I observed incredulously. I had never felt so close to the sacrament. It all seemed so ordinary yet extraordinary.
As Phil continued his role as liturgical coordinator, my esteem for him and for others at the center grew, and my faith underwent a transformation. At the time I was on the verge of joining the United Church of Christ, a denomination that allowed women to become ordained ministers. It was the United Church of Christ, in fact, that had sponsored my internship. "This church appreciates my gifts, the Catholic Church doesn't," I naively thought. I had selected the Center of Concern internship not because its mission was Catholic or Jesuit but for its commitment to justice.
Engaging in the center's ministry forced me to stare at my Catholic heritage anew in a mirror that reflected vibrancy and hope even for me, a lay woman. The Jesuits and their colleagues at the center presented the Church as my church, our church. They taught me that theology is a living force in leading the Church to its best self. And they showed me that if we are faithful, we are all called to be theologians.
With that new image, how could I leave the Church? But how could I work for it? I needed to pay rent, buy food, and pay off student loans. The work I fell into was fundraising. My vocation became selling the missions of various institutions doing worthy and generous work for society.
The development field has enabled me to raise money for a variety of good works, including educational programs and exhibits at a science museum, minority scholarships and new physics laboratories at a major university, and strengthening public schools through a graduate school of education. For the four years I spent as director of development at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I supported the education of learned ministers for compassionate ministry.
It took four different jobs for me to realize that raising money, pure and simple, is my ministry.
I have come to understand myself and my work as a critical thread between the haves and have-nots. My fundraising weaves for society a blanket whose threads are a combination of the extraordinary wealth of American culture and the people and institutions that desperately need it.
Convinced of philanthropy's sacredness and of the importance of attracting talented people to the fundraising profession, I sponsored a seminar on the ministry of development and public relations at Weston. It attracted eager students, mostly lay, who for the first time made the connection between resources and ministry, especially pioneering ministries so desperately needed by our Church.
Through this seminar I shared my vision for the field. My hope was as the school's graduates move on to direct annual funds, sponsor events, research donors, and promote planned giving, they will find God even in fundraising's most mundane mechanics.
What a joy it was to represent this microcosm of the Church's future. Like other theology schools, Weston prepares nearly equal numbers of laity and priests and other religious. And one-third of the school's student body comes from abroad. At orientation last fall, I sat next to a Hungarian Jesuit, the school's first student from that country, and was later greeted with the group grin of three Vietnamese priests who had come to study. I became friendly with a retired corporate executive who had recently left his corner office in Boston where he analyzed profit margins to inhabit a library carrel where he ruminates about the Council of Trent. Over lunch one time he told me that throughout his successful career he was faced with the question, "Is that all there is?" He seemed to be finding "more" as a graduate theology student.
One day a woman pulled me aside and "anonymously" placed a check for $5,000 into my hand.
"I used to give all my charitable dollars to direct service," she told me, "but my studies at Weston have converted me."
An oncologist who saw patients on Mondays and Fridays was studying the Old Testament on the days between. He sat next to religious provincials, missionaries, lawyers, managers, venture capitalists, and Gen-X grads of Holy Cross and Marquette.
When Weston's president and I would visit donors, we would be overwhelmed by their expressions of gratitude to the Jesuits. Many voiced the familiar Tip O'Neillism that "the Jesuits made me all I am," but most were concerned about the future of Jesuit education and ministry. Given the diminishing number of Jesuits, they wondered, who would maintain Ignatian ideals as a vibrant force in all of the Society's many institutions?
Nanette Cormier, development director for the past four years at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, edits Jesuits and Friends, a publication of the Jesuits' New England Province, and is a development officer at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. When not working, she spends time with her husband and three young children.
The new generation of Jesuits will play a critical role. Weston's Jesuit graduates go on to a variety of ministries. They lead Nativity Prep schools and direct Ignatian vision programs at Jesuit high schools. One oversees a ministry to gangs in East L.A. By their sides, members of other religious communities find equally impressive ministerial niches. Following her theology studies the former president of the Maryknoll Sisters now teaches scripture to seminarians in Africa. Another sister has developed an innovative ministry to homeless teenage girls in a crime-infested corner of London.
These are not the only lights on the horizon. During my time at Weston, I saw the laity time and again carrying the torch of Ignatian ideals to Jesuit and non-Jesuit institutions: one Weston grad now organizes retreats at an Assumptionist college; a current student and mother of two directs religious education at a suburban parish; another graduate oversees a volunteer program at a Jesuit university; while another sits on ethics committees for cancer services to children at a renowned hospital.
And then there is Martha, who now teaches high school religion. While working as a nursing home chaplain as part of her field work, she was visiting an elderly man who suddenly had a heart attack. While the medical staff worked to revive him, Martha sought a priest to give him the Sacrament of the Sick. Unable to find one, she reached into her soul and put to work what she had learned in three years of theology and pastoral studies. Placing her hand on his head, she gave this man a final blessing and held his hand until he died. Phil Land would have been proud of Martha. I certainly was. Hearing her story made me so grateful to have played a small role in helping her, a scholarship student, to graduate from the school where I minister. And so grateful to the Jesuits for helping me to understand the holiness of the fundraising profession.
Holiness in fundraising? Not a usual word to describe the field, but undeniable to me. The ministry of education, even education for ministry itself, requires resources. As the old saying, "Even a prophet has to eat," even a theology school has to pay its bills-financial aid, internet access, library books and journals, student housing, and, of course, the salary for the friendly front desk receptionist.
My role at Weston enabled many precious moments. My work was the behind-the-scenes pep rally for debates about evangelical vs. mainline Christian interpretation of the Biblical Apocryphal texts, midweek prayer vigils among lay students, prison ministries of Jesuit scholastics, and parish outreach to Haitians by one faculty member.
So I'm convinced of my profession's holiness. Without fundraisers, it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for the Scripture scholar or social ethicist or systematic theologian to prepare the future Phil Lands and Marthas to serve the Church and the world in faithful and creative ways.