The Catholic University of America

Honorable Mention
Papal Essay Contest
Joanna Berry
A theology major from Joliet, Ill., Class of 2008

After graduating from a public high school, I felt drawn to a Catholic institution for college. With one visit to Catholic University of America and Mary's Shrine, I knew that this place would be my next home. There was something distinctive about this new Catholic atmosphere that not only led me to learn more about my faith through theology and philosophy, but also challenged me to serve others. Reflecting on the fruits of my Catholic education, I see that this journey has taught me how to serve others generously and to strive for a healthy integration of reason and faith.

On the first day of my freshman year, my philosophy teacher, a Dominican priest, repeated the opening lines of Aristotle's Metaphysics: "All men by nature desire to know." Even though I didn't even know what philosophy was at the time, I felt this spark of Aristotelian desire, which has slowly grown into a longing to develop my knowledge and truly apply myself to my studies. I have a thirst to learn more about my faith because, with a Catholic education, I've discovered that not only does faith enhance reason but also reason enhances faith.

Since I was Protestant until 1997 and attended Lutheran and public schools through high school, it was a new concept to have my entire life, including the classroom, steeped in my Catholic faith. The focus on our Catholic identity has really helped my faith grow because there are constant reminders of faith: seeing crucifixes in every room, walking into class with a priest in his clericals, and stopping for Lenten Adoration in Caldwell Chapel on the way to class. Serving as a resident assistant and a student minister, I have really been challenged to step up and become a mentor for others as they experience challenges ranging from severe depression to questions about the faith. It is moments of faith that strengthen me on the journey: a conversation in a freshman residence hall basement about the struggles of faith without having family around, asking residents for prayer requests and seeing them open up to God in their lives, and seeing a smile flash across a girl's face after going to the sacrament of confession for the first time in months. This gives me the desire to continue to serve.

In my four years at CUA, I've developed my passion for service - for it is in serving others that we see the face of Christ. Since the first Friday of freshman year, I've worked with the homeless of D.C. This ministry has become more than distributing food; it's about giving from the heart, starting a conversation, and seeing the dignity in each person. Last week, James, a homeless man who I met three years ago, smiled and said, "When you first came, you were like one of those scared freshmen, but you've really developed into a confident, humble leader." This man in McPherson Square gave me one of the most defining compliments I've received because I felt challenged to not only keep the faith but also grow deeper in my faith and share it through my actions.

It was during my past four years at CUA that I truly have been formed in my faith so that there is not only an understanding of the faith but also a passion to share the gift that I've been given through my Catholic education. These fruits of Catholic education have transformed my life and opened my heart to hear God's call to give my life in service to Him. As I followed this desire to know, journeyed deeper in my faith, and really entered into the joy of giving, I felt a constant pull from God that He was calling me to religious life - to live as a missionary who reaches out to share the Gospel with the poor. As I prepare for my entrance on June 1, 2008, into a missionary religious order, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, God has provided me with a sense of peace about the future because I've been able to develop this passion for faith-filled service during my time at CUA.