An Invitation to IGNITE

In this week’s blog, Christoper Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, speaks on the legacy of Robert M. Holstein and his work on the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in preparation for ISN’s virtual event, Ignite: A Celebration of Justice. The Robert M. Holstein Memorial scholarship supports many McCarthy Center students in internships, fellowships and community-engaged programs. 

“I can’t wait to get back to San Francisco in April. The event is going to be great. We will be in the presence of two giants when it comes to the work of social justice in the Catholic Church.” 

Those were my parting words to a friend in the Bay Area as I headed to SFO for a return trip home after a few days filled with meetings across the region. I was referring to my next trip to the area that would have taken place in late April when the Ignatian Solidarity Network planned to bestow the Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award on Fr. John Baumann, S.J. and Sr. Simone Campbell, S.S.S., at our upcoming event, Ignite: A Celebration of Justice. The annual event takes place in a different location across the country each year and we were looking forward to the University of San Francisco’s gracious hospitality. 

Like many things in life in the wake of the pandemic—my trip was cancelled and the event was delayed and eventually moved online. However, my sentiments about our honorees remain the same—Fr. John Baumann and Sr. Simone Campbell are “giants” in the Catholic social justice world. And, in honoring each of them in the name of Robert M. Holstein, we are sustaining the legacy of another great giant for social justice whose leadership led to the founding of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. 

The late Robert M. Holstein, a former Jesuit, labor lawyer, loving husband and father, and fierce advocate for social justice, was one of the founders of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Bob was so deeply moved by the murders of the six Jesuits and two lay women in El Salvador in 1989 that he sought to unite the Jesuit network to call attention to the role of U.S. foreign military training in their deaths. From the late 1990s through 2009, IFTJ was held in conjunction with an annual gathering in Columbus, Georgia, to protest the former U.S. Army School of the Americas, a U.S. military training school for foreign soldiers now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation-WHINSEC located at Fort Benning in Columbus. Nineteen of the twenty-six Salvadoran soldiers who committed the murders of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador and their companions received training at school during the 1980s. Sadly, these were just a few of the tens of thousands of innocent lives lost at the hands of Latin American soldiers trained at the SOA/WHINSEC. Bob sought to create a space where the Jesuit network could join those who gathered in vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning—where action-takers could learn more about the issues surrounding the school and be united in faith. In organizing IFTJ, Holstein laid the foundation for what would become the Ignatian Solidarity Network, which was founded in 2004.

On January 5, 2003, Holstein passed away. In a homily remembering Bob at his funeral mass, Fr. John Baumann, S.J., described Holstein as a man who “was passionate about justice and fairness for all peoples, particularly the poor and disenfranchised.” The Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award honors this commitment to justice by recognizing individuals, like Fr. Baumann and Sr. Simone, each year who are connected with the Ignatian family and have demonstrated a significant commitment to leadership for social justice.

(l-r) Rev. John Baumann, S.J. and Sister Simone Campbell

Fr. John Baumann is the founder Faith in Action, and is the current director of special projects. Faith in Action is the largest faith-based community organization in the U.S. They serve a national network of 55 congregation, faith-based community organizations in over 250 cities in twenty two states, and they are also cultivating organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Rwanda, and Haiti. Faith in Action’s mission is to assist in the building of community organizations with the power to improve the quality of life of families and neighborhoods. (Read more here)

Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice – a federal advocacy organization founded by Catholic sisters to lobby in Washington, D.C. for policies that mend the gaps in income and wealth in the United States. She has led six cross-country “Nuns on the Bus” tours focused on tax justice, healthcare, economic justice, comprehensive immigration reform, voter turnout, bridging divides in politics and society, and mending the gaps. (Read more here)

Oftentimes in this pandemic world of virtual meetings and events, some things can be a little bit less than clear. But, when we gather virtually on September 23rd to honor Sr. Simone and Fr. Baumann, it will be more than clear that we are in the presence of giants who have committed their lives to building a more just world. Regardless of the venue, Bob’s legacy and their accomplishments are something to celebrate. 

The free virtual IGNITE event is happening Wednesday, September 23rd. Donations welcome, Register here.

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