Hello, and welcome to my blog!
My name is Matthew Petersen and I am beginning my third year at Loyola University Chicago. I am majoring in History with a recently declared minor in Religious Studies. Originally from Los Angeles, I came to Loyola to experience the steadfast interdisciplinary Jesuit education and a real winter. Loyola’s core tradition of “women and men for others,” an important facet of social justice, also appealed to me. I grew up in a household where the walls were – and still are – lined with posters of historical figures in the American labor and social movements of the twentieth century, including Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My parents even enlisted my siblings and I to participate in several strikes and marches in support of my father’s work in organizing labor unions for hotel and restaurant workers. Therefore, it was a natural inclination for me to choose an institution of higher learning where the mission of social justice rests upon the will of the community to act for the betterment of the world.
I decided to apply for the Ramonat Seminar out of a desire to learn more about a woman whose name I carry, and to understand the fundamental work of a historian. Before arriving at Loyola I had a limited knowledge on Dorothy Day besides the fact that I was named after her or that she led a socio-political lay movement in the twentieth century. In the fall semester of 2015-16 academic year I enrolled in a course with Professor Nickerson that examined various radicals and reformers in American social history, including Dorothy Day. Through an assigned reading of Paul Elie’s The Life You Live May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage I finally grasped a more profound understanding of Dorothy Day’s life and work. I was especially captivated by her pre-conversion years as a journalist for several politically-left publications. However, this left me unsatisfied, wanting to go further in my research. I felt that applying to be a Ramonat Scholar would allow me to do so in an effective matter. I am grateful for the in-class discussions and the upcoming guest lectures, both of which will ignite new ideas and my current comprehension of Dorothy Day and the American Catholic of the twentieth century. As I enter my third year at this Jesuit university I am delving into different career pathways. I am curious about the historian’s strategies in researching material, and to consolidate that information into a well-formulated paper. I believe that the Ramonat Seminar is the perfect opportunity to explore careers in history and to enhance my skills as an undergraduate student, which will especially be highlighted during the independent research component of the course.
Also, you may be wondering about the title of my blog. I decided to construct a title based on some core aspects of my identity: my Roman Catholic faith and my “hereditary” drive for social justice. My first name, Matthew, derives from one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. So while I may not actually be Matthew the Apostle nor did I contribute to the New Testament, I hope this blog will act as my own testament to the work I will encounter throughout the Ramonat Seminar. My second name, Day, originates from my father’s fascination with the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day. Her fearlessness and perseverance are remarkable of the Catholic-American tradition, principally through her advocacy of the marginalized and her desire to socially improve the world.
Dorothy Day, “Servant of God”
Dorothy Day is certainly an icon of twentieth-century Catholic-American history, and still proves to be relevant in contemporary social activism, as commended by Pope Francis in his historic address to the United States Congress nearly a year ago. Her valiant deeds and evocative words are an inspiration to the Loyola University Chicago community. More recently, members of the community came in solidarity with the university’s dining hall workers, who were in negotiations to renew their contract with Aramark. Students For Worker Justice (SWJ), a non-sanctioned university organization, arranged with Unite Here Local 1 to hold several rallies in protest of the dining hall employees’ employer throughout the 2015-16 academic year. Victory ensued on March 31 of this year, and the Aramark employees were guaranteed higher wages, more affordable healthcare, and a 40-hour work week (Loyola Phoenix). The Loyola community and SWJ are exemplary models of Catholic social justice activism. Those in support of the dining hall workers showed companionship and echoed Pope Francis’s call to action on behalf of the oppressed.
Members of the Loyola community and Unite Here Local 1 hold a rally in support of university dining hall workers.
(Courtesy of Loyola Phoenix)
Considered the foundation of Catholic social teaching, Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum called for the respect of the worker’s dignity, and outlined the rights of workers (i.e., forming labor unions). I did not realize until arriving at Loyola that Roman Catholicism has a rich history in championing for workers’ rights. I am delighted to see my peers, professors, and other community members living out this simple ideal of justice for others.
Pope Leo XIII
Thank you for reading, and I look forward to continue sharing my journey in the Ramonat Seminar!