Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletAugust 22, 2019

Ministry Stories

Sister Joy Marie Milos, CSJ

“Teaching In the “Global Village”

As I was completing my doctoral studies in Christian Spirituality at The Catholic University of America, I never imagined I’d wind up digging ditches and hand mixing cement in Mexico twenty years later! Of course, that’s only one of the many surprises these last couple decades have brought.
The first was undoubtedly coming to Gonzaga University (Gon ZAG a to westerners and basketball fans, by the way) in Spokane (Spo CAN, that is), Washington. When I was called for an interview twenty years ago this spring, I remember saying to friends in D.C. and Albany, “Oh, well, I’ll never see the Northwest again. Why not go for an interview!” Three days later I came back with a job offer totally different from the one I went to interview for and things have never been the same since.
My ministry at Gonzaga began as half-time director of CREDO sabbatical program and half-time in the Department of Religious Studies teaching in the MA program in Spirituality. It was a source of constant creativity and in my first five years I created and taught more than twenty different courses! After those first five years, I switched to full time teaching and, for the first time, began teaching undergraduates.
Given the size of our department, we are all able to teach in our areas of expertise. As a result, I continue creating and teaching courses that combine my interest of classic themes and traditions of Christian spirituality with a love of feminist and liberation theologies. Along the way I was encouraged to create a new spiritual direction training program to meet the needs of our area and the wider church. We’ve just graduated our third cohort in May and have sent out participants across three states.
In addition to expecting teaching, writing and seemingly endless committee meetings, Gonzaga, a Jesuit institution, has a deep commitment to service in the larger community. That, plus my own long-standing interest in decent housing needs, combined to draw me to the newly established Habitat for Humanity affiliate my second year in Spokane. Since it was new, it didn’t take long for me to be drafted as a Board member, a position I held for over ten years. The Spokane affiliate has now built 166 homes and has provided permanent decent housing for 317 family members.
During my tenure as a Board member, I had the opportunity to participate in my first Global Village experience when we worked building homes in Arequipa, Peru. That extraordinary trip also provided an opportunity to visit with our sisters in Peru. In addition, it was stimulus to keep working on my Spanish, a project which would prepare me to take on other Habitat adventures.
For the past several years, after I had mastered enough Spanish to cover all emergencies, I have taken several groups of Gonzaga students to do Habitat builds in central Mexico. We are usually a group of about a dozen and we work in remote rural villages where median income tends to be less than $3,000 per year. We spend most of the year raising funds for the trip and the building project. Almost all work is done by hand and there is rarely anyone who speaks English in the area. For our students, it has expanded horizons far beyond their imagining. For me, it has offered an opportunity to work and live closely with students, experience a bit of very concrete (a bit of pun intended!) work among the poor and integrate some theological reflection and practical commitment.
Our typical days have gone from 7:00 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. Lunch breaks have included women of the village making local foods—some of which we have helped produce. Typical work assignments have included mixing LOTS of cement, hauling dirt, digging foundations and whatever else needs doing on any given day. In most cases we have moved from the foundation to the poured roof top in the course of our two weeks of volunteering.
This summer I took two groups, one of students and one of adults. We’ve all decided that it’s been one of the more challenging and life-giving experiences we’ve had in a long time!
by Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Joy Marie Milos