By Ignatius Plato
Educators who are also people of color are often called upon to do extra work precisely because they are people of color. It is an expectation that is both challenging and stress inducing.
“So often, our high school teachers of color are asked to ‘be on this diversity committee’ and ‘be on that other committee’,” says Fr. Chris Kellerman, SJ, a member of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province’s (UCS) social ministry staff. “But they might be the only educator of color in the school, so they’re asked to do this kind of stuff all the time.”
A recent Colleagues of Color Retreat offered faculty and staff of color at Jesuit schools throughout the United States an opportunity to spend time in prayer with others who could relate.
“The only contextual goals of this retreat,” says Fr. Kellerman, “were to experience God through the Spiritual Exercises and to have some time to connect with others. We weren’t asking them to give us feedback on what it was like to be a person of color in Jesuit schools or to come up with an action plan or something. It was purely an opportunity to refresh their spirits and talk with God.”
Father Kellerman recalls some of the participants audibly gasping when this was stated at the beginning of the retreat.
“They were expecting the usual routine: being asked to provide feedback or teach schools how to be antiracist or something like that. People really appreciated that it was just a retreat – nothing else.”
The Colleagues of Color retreat was held Feb. 28 – March 2 at the Monserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas. Secondary and pre-secondary faculty, staff and administrators from Jesuit schools across the nation were invited to attend, with a total of 23 people participating from all four Jesuit provinces in the United States.
The idea for this retreat came to fruition when Fr. Kellerman, who recently authored All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church, approached Ron Rebore, the provincial assistant for secondary and pre-secondary education (PASE) for the UCS Province. The PASE office was beginning a social justice initiative among the province’s 13 schools at the time, and educators and Jesuits throughout the province had recognized the need for a Colleagues of Color retreat for some time. Father Kellerman was determined to make the idea a reality.
“When Chris approached me, what we wanted to do with the retreat had a clear goal,” Rebore says. “Other U.S. provinces do not have specific events or retreats for our colleagues of color, so we hoped this retreat would be a good collaboration with the other provinces while also being a renewing experience for those in attendance.”
The retreat offered a perfect framework for other PASE initiatives throughout the U.S. provinces, Rebore says. “We have a lot of gratitude for our teachers, staff and employees,” he said. “There’s definitely some added pressure that comes with being a colleague of color. Offering them a place to pray and be grateful for their time with God is a way for us to show our own gratitude to them for taking on everything they do and keeping spirituality at the forefront of it all.”
At the conclusion of the retreat, the participants exhibited camaraderie, joy and renewal. Rebore and Fr. Kellerman were buoyed by the retreat’s success.
“The PASE team wants to offer province-level programs that people both need and can get excited about,” says Rebore. “But we focus more on how we can get people in our programs to learn more about what it means to be an Ignatian educator. If they discover how they can bring a renewed version of their spirits to what they do in the classroom, then that will be all the better for the students they teach. And at the end of the day, it really is all about the students – that’s the center of it.”
Rebore also hopes that initiatives like the Colleagues of Color retreat inspire Jesuit schools through simple acts of accompaniment. “Every year, students go out into the community to serve and be advocates for those they serve. Being men and women for and with others. What our colleagues take away from these programs directly affects how they inspire the students to accompany others along the way.”
Rebore and Fr. Kellerman have tentative plans to hold the Colleagues of Color retreat again in 2025. They would like to thank Fr. Pepe Ruiz, SJ, and Danielle Harrison for preaching at the retreat, as well as Fr. Eric Ramirez, SJ, and Christina Vela from Regis Jesuit High School for helping to organize the event. A special thanks to Sara Smith, who assisted Fr. Kellerman in managing retreat logistics and who manages all programs related to the province’s educational mission.