Leading the Jewish Community at a Catholic University

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By: Diana Vargas (Loyola Junior)

Diversity is a word taken for granted these days. 

Having the chance to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds in a university campus has not always been so common. Loyola, a Catholic university, decided to embrace diversity before it was commonplace to do so. This diversity started with the integration of students from other religions, particularly the Jewish community.

Patti Ray is a seventy-five-year-old woman born and raised in Chicago and has been part of the Loyola Community since 1987 when the Hillel Campus Ministry was founded. Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world present in many universities today. In Loyola, it started with Patti Ray, the Founding Hillel Director Emerita. 

Having retired from Hillel, Ray is now the Hebrew program mentor and advisor of the Loyola-Israel Student Alliance (LISA) and is deeply passionate about her work with both Jewish and non-Jewish students at the University. Ray is full of anecdotes about her days in Hillel and her time in LISA. 

*This interview has been modified for length and clarity*

RodgersEdge Reporter: Where does your story begin here at Loyola? 

Patti Ray: I always say, “The Jews did not go knocking on Loyola’s door and say, ‘We want in.’” Loyola came and did something that no other Catholic University did for another twenty years. They said, “We think it’s important to have a Jewish community on our campus,” and that’s huge actually. And so the Hillel came to me and said, “Would you do this?” because my work already was being a director of a Hillel.

RodgersEdge Reporter: What were some of the challenges you faced starting Hillel? 

Ray: I had a person that I knew from my college days he was the chairman of the physics department at Loyola, Jewish. I said what’s it gonna be like to be here. Should I be nervous? And he pointed me to something hanging on his wall. He showed me an ad that Loyola University had put in the Yiddish edition of the Yiddish newspaper in 1921. If Loyola put an ad in a Yiddish newspaper, I knew they weren’t recruiting Catholics. So here’s Loyola at a time when most people didn’t want Jews, that Loyola was advertising for Jewish students… I was embraced personally by every university administrator but so was the initiative to start a Jewish community. That sentiment didn’t start in 1987 Loyola had Jewish students when no one wanted them it hired Jewish professors when no university would hire them. 

RodgersEdge Reporter: What is your favorite memory from your time at Hillel?

Ray: The year the Hindu students organized there was a woman who became the president and organizer. She was in classes with the Jewish and Muslim women who were presidents of their organizations that year. These three women: Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu were friends and the Hindus said, “You both have spaces, we are trying to start a Hindu group, we want a space”. So guess who went to the ministry, the Jews and the Muslims went to the Catholics and said, “The Hindu students need a space!” Such an important Loyola dialogue!

RodgersEdge Reporter: How did you transition from Hillel to LISA (Loyola-Isreal Student Alliance)? 

Ray: A world of bridges and not walls, that’s me! So my students in my last year wanted to start a group of Jewish and non-Jewish students that celebrated Israel’s initiative because Israel was getting such a bad name and nobody sees all the good there and all they see are the CNN sound bites. So some of my leaders of Hillel and students in the Hebrew class who were also not Jewish said, “Can we start an organization? Can you be our advisor?” I said: “You know what, I’m the Jewish campus minister. I can’t do Jewish and non-Jewish.” Two weeks after I retired and LISA was born, seriously! I retired from Hillel and then I could do what the students wanted: an organization that brings Jewish and non-Jewish students together. 

RodgersEdge Reporter: Is that the purpose of LISA? 

Ray: The purpose is to be a multi-faith organization and to partner with other organizations to highlight Israel’s initiatives. Initiatives in multiculturalism, ecology, sustainability, education, and culture. It’s a logical next step to what I was doing with my Jewish students. To work on bringing people together from different faiths and cultures.

Rodgers Edge Reporter: What are your plans for the future?

Ray: I do wanna be the Jewish sister Jean! I think I will end my time with LISA but I have no idea what we will be doing. As long as I get excited about the things we are able to do and I can help students do those things. At the point when I don’t get excited then I think I would say time to go but I don’t know when that is!

For more information on Hillel go to: http://metrochicagohillel.org/luc

For more information on LISA go to: https://luc.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/loyola-israel-student-alliance

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