Sunday, July 25, 2010

Exploring faith at USF and Quesada Gardens

USF educators Seth Wachtel, Melinda Stone, and Dayle Smith at the Quesada Gardens Initiative's "home office."

It sounds like the set-up for a joke: A gardener, a community organizer, and a religious leader walk into a bar...
These characters are usually not thought of together. But there is something similar about each of them, something that links them to one another despite differences.


Spiritual leaders need it, of course. Gardeners need it to push seeds into dirt hoping for plants. Community organizers need it as fortification in the daily work of bringing people together as a path toward improving lives.

"By Spirit and Deed," an article by Kimberly Winston that appeared in USF Magazine, explores the role of faith and community involvement in the context of the Jesuit tradition. It draws on experience from a service-learning partnership between the University of San Francisco and the Quesada Gardens Initiative in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

Religion and spirituality need not be confined to church walls any more than raising plants or organizing people must be purely earthly pursuits. For many people, strength of "spirit," health of the planet, and socially-just relationships between diverse people who live near one another are all part of the same vision.
The Bayview Hunters Point area of San Francisco is a gritty neighborhood that usually makes the news only when gunshots are fired. Here and there, discarded tennis shoes droop from telephone wires, broken glass glitters in the gutters, and split garbage bags belch forth refuse onto the sidewalk. Drivers keep their car doors locked, more intent on passing through than passing time.

But it is here, in a few hard-won plots of dirt that dot the neighborhood with lettuce, tomatoes, fruit trees, and even corn stalks, seven miles and a world away from the University of San Francisco’s tidy campus, that the school and its students live out the Catholic and Jesuit identity of their university. “The fundamental desire of Jesus was to create a world that was fair and balanced and a help to those with the least ability to help themselves,” said Seth Wachtel, an assistant professor of architecture whose students have helped design and build the dozen or so green plots of the Quesada Gardens Initiative, where local residents, many of them poor and underserved, grow their own food. “To train students professionally and emotionally to use their skills to develop a fair planet is very much in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition and very much the mission of the university.”

Kimberly Winston is a freelance journalist who covers religion for several national publications. She is the 2005 recipient of the American Academy of Religion's award for best in-depth reporting on religion and the author of three books. She lives in the Bay Area and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Who said it, and what what they said:

“To train students professionally and emotionally to use their skills to develop a fair planet is very much in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition and very much the mission of the university.” Seth Wachtel, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Community Design at USF, and the catalyst of many service-learning partnerships around the globe.

“When people ask about the Catholic character of the university, I think it is important to understand you cannot find it in any single place,” Stephen A. Privett, USF President

“I don’t feel connected to Catholicism. But that is one thing I can have a lot of respect for: the message to help others.” Irene Kim, 2009 USF graduate

"[Social justice at USF] is just always on your mind, it’s just a part of your process.” David Castro, 2009 USF graduate.

Both Kim and Castro contributed to the Quesada Gardens Initiative, and plan to direct their careers in architecture to design for the poor and underserved.

No comments: