Dear Prep Community,
Ms. Maryanne Conway was my religious studies teacher in my junior year at Fordham Prep. To be honest, I loved being at school, but during my first two years I wasn’t in love with being a student. During my junior year, it was like a switch flipped, and I went from a kid who appreciated where he was and tolerated the necessity of an academic life, to a young man who became interested, invested, and hungry to learn. While some of that was certainly due to brain biology and a need to grow, there was also a nurture piece. I happened to have exceptional teachers at the same time (as I did through my entire high school career, but didn’t always realize it), and when I was ready for them, they were there for me. Ms. Conway was one of those teachers. She was the first teacher I had who really gave me a firm understanding of Ignatian spirituality, who taught us and let us practice imaginative prayer and contemplation, and helped us put our faith into action. Through what I now recognize as exceptional Ignatian pedagogy and a great level of compassionate accountability, she accompanied us with infinite patience and the highest standards as we navigated that gradual transformative process. I can’t imagine she or I would ever know how long my experience in her class would echo throughout my life.
I reflect on my experience with Ms. Conway as we enter into March, which is National Women’s History Month and Mission Month at the Prep. In my own life, she is one of many influential women who helped shape who I have become and am becoming, and she fulfilled this role while animating the Jesuit mission. The impact of women on the mission is so great, that I dare say the Prep and the Society of Jesus itself may not be here without them.
The Jesuit order’s existence is inextricably tied to amazing women throughout its history. In fact in 1522 after Ignatius was injured from the infamous cannonball, he was seen limping from Montserrat to Manresa by a Spanish noblewoman, Inés Pascual, who made sure that Ignatius received food, shelter, and medical attention. While Ignatius was preparing to go to Paris for his studies, he looked for opportunities to secure funding. Inés Pascual would accompany him, using her influence to give him access and make the case to her contemporaries to support him in these efforts. She became known as a shrewd fundraiser and a successful business woman on Ignatius’s behalf and was the first recipient of one of the many letters Ignatius wrote to his companions. Then there is the story of Infanta Juana, a noble Spanish woman who, after much debate within the Society and under a degree of secrecy, took scholastic vows in accordance with the Constitution of the Order in 155. She lived her life and died as a Jesuit. It is a fascinating story, but one that points to an exceptional and important role of a woman in the history of the Jesuit mission. It is also worth noting that Catherine the Great was the driving force for keeping the Society alive after Pope Clement XIV issued a Papal brief to suppress the Jesuits in an attempt to eliminate the order. In short, if it were not for women, it is likely the Jesuits and their works would not be here today.
This has paved the way for a living tradition of great women who animate the mission at the Prep, accompanying generations of students on their journeys to becoming men who make a difference in the world through faith, intellect, love, service, and a commitment to justice. We are blessed to have colleagues who have helped make the Prep the unique institution it is today, from Josephine DiPaul, the Prep’s assistant librarian who in 1964 became the first Prep’s female employee, up to and including Kat Lee our fine arts teacher who joined the faculty last September, each woman who has been part of our community ever since, making a difference in the lives of colleagues and students for generations. It is important to show an ongoing appreciation for their presence and a recognition that the Prep would not be the same institution without them. It is vital to understand the role of women in the history of our school and the Jesuit order, both out of gratitude and an understanding of how essential their presence is to our existence, our identity, and our ability to accomplish this mission. If not for women, not only would we be a lesser institution, but we would not be here at all.
I was fortunate enough to have Ms. Conway in my life. I can’t tell you how fortunate we are to have the women of the Prep in ours.