Religion students always benefit from hearing about the vocational journeys of alumni. This was brought home to Dr. Jason Mahn in the winter term of 2016 while teaching RELG391: Suffering, Death, and Endurance, a seminar-style course which allows religion majors and minors to “go deep” into complex ideas and subject matters.
Students discuss difficult, powerful questions and ideas (such as: Why does God allow suffering?).
Sitting in around a table with open books (including the Book of Job and the bestseller "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande), students learn from the insights, observations and experiences of one another. This year that experience was augmented by visits from Vicky Gillon ’16 and Grace Koleczek ’15.
Vicky Gillon ’16
Gillon is a first-year student at Union Theological Seminary, contemplating concentration in either interreligious engagement or systematic theology. The New York institution is known around the world for emphasizing concrete and courageous pursuits of social justice, making good use of Gillon’s undergraduate academic and student organizing experiences.
She was the president of Augustana’s Interfaith Understanding group, and took the lead in organizing Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations on campus. It was during this time, also, that her academic interests in black liberation theology, interfaith studies, and systematic racism clearly emerged.
“These subjects have led me to become what I am now,” she says, “a womanist interested in eco, queer, and comparative theology.”In New York, Gillon lives on campus in a women's interfaith residency program and has been using that space for direct action organizing. She expects to complete the program in 2019, and her unfolding vocational plans include full-time non-profit work.
Grace Koleczek ’15
It was Koleczek who first recommended that Dr. Mahn read Nancy Pineda-Madrid’s book, "Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juárez," after she used the book herself in her Augustana Honors capstone. After the current students completed that reading, Koleczek joined the class for an hour via Skype, sharing her post-graduation experiences.
“It was a privilege and a joy to join Dr. Mahn's Suffering, Death, and Endurance class as alum who, just a few years ago, was sitting in that same class as a student,” she says.
Her time as an Augustana religion and Spanish major was foundational to pursuing her ministerial vocation. After graduation, Koleczek served a year as a FrancisCorps volunteer in Costa Rica (where she lived in a young adult faith community and worked in the women's unit of a nursing home) followed by a year as a nanny to three young children and “discerning where God was calling.”
She decided to pursue an M. Div. at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry and is currently in her second year of the program. She has enjoyed opportunities such as interning with a women's spirituality center and spending a summer as a hospital chaplain intern, and says about unfolding vocation, “while I hope to always remain open to new adventures and possibilities, right now my pastoral interests are primarily in women's health and accompanying the elderly.”
Dr. Mahn said it is humbling and inspiring to see how religion students continue to flourish and faithfully pursue their callings after graduating from Augustana.
What has your post-Augustana vocational journey been like? Please send a note to Dr. Jason Mahn.
Dr. Jason Mahn, associate professor of religion and director of Augustana’s new Presidential Center for Faith and Learning, speaks on the importance of the Lutheran Reformation to people today—and especially students.