The Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation (IFR) at Chestnut Hill College communicates important messages and values every day, and in six years, those messages are many.
The Institute shares the legacy of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and their mission of unity and love for all without distinction. Through research and scholarship, outreach and service, and education and skill development, the Institute remains a driving force, raising awareness for global issues that impact us all.
The Institute started in 2008, with the creation of the Garden of Forgiveness as a sacred place for reflection, meditation and prayer.
“We wondered what it would look like if Chestnut Hill College made a commitment toward forgiving?” says Catherine Nerney, SSJ, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. “We also asked ourselves, ‘What if we tried to heal relationships as soon as some kind of wrong or pain was done?’”
The IFR launched in 2009 and continues to work toward “oneness” and healing conflicts, while cooperating with multiple campus organizations such as the Office of Serving Learning’s Leadership, Engagement and Service (LENS) initiative, Student Government Association, student leaders and various staff, faculty and administration members.
“It is important to have IFR at the College because it signals to others in the community that forgiveness and reconciliation are important parts of our campus life,” says Emily Schademan, director of student activities and member of the Institute’s planning committee. “The Institute gives the opportunity for the campus community to learn through professional lectures and different methods of education and prayer.”
The Institute hosts an annual Forgiveness Day and this year Shujaa Graham and his wife, Phyllis, discussed Graham’s incarceration and the time he was wrongfully accused of murdering a prison guard in 1973. Other events last year included a one-woman play in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a lecture given by one of the foremost Thomas Merton scholars and interpreters of his writings, and a “Conversations that Matter” event that asked nine different types of families to present their stories.
“One of the goals of the Institute is to provide a place where genuine conversation can occur,” says Sister Cathy. “Right now, I can say that people recognize Chestnut Hill College as a place where dialogue is promoted.”
One of the ways Chestnut Hill College students have become part of IFR is by taking a forgiveness and reconciliation course taught by Sister Cathy. Students spend an entire semester exploring alternatives to violence, sharing stories, and learning theories to making choices and acquiring skills that embrace forgiveness as a way of life.
“We create this world,” she says. “We change one person, one group and one neighborhood at a time. We aren’t saying we are going to change the whole world, but we start from where we are.”
—Cristina Diaz ’15