By Jerry Duggan
As director of community service and social justice at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, Rich Perry is living out what he knows is his vocation: to be a faith and justice educator.
He developed a love for all things Jesuit as a student at Boston College. Upon his graduation in 2002, he found a job at Jesuit Dallas. What started as a one-year commitment has turned into a 20-year (and counting) dream job.
“I don’t view my work here as just as a job,” Perry said. “For me, it is a way to live out my faith, which is centered on the idea that we can encounter God by interacting with and serving those on the margins of society.”
He centers his work at the school on that same basic tenet.
“The idea is that, in doing community service and social justice work, we can encounter the presence of God in those we are serving and then reflexively experience it in ourselves,” he said.
He has also earned a master’s degree in two specialty areas that have improved his work: special education and creative curriculum design.
“One third of the service work we do involves working with persons who have physical and/or learning differences. In addition, when we’re talking about social justice and integrating it with catholic social teaching, it needs to be done in a way that is creative and alive, so that students can access it an exciting way – an Ignatian way.”
His job has no “typical day,” but each is full of opportunity and excitement.
He oversees a community service and social justice program that is tailored to each grade: Freshmen focus on a spirit of encounter, sophomores on empathy, juniors on charity and seniors on social justice. This sequence is intentional. Students put it all together during their senior year, when they 1) serve at an agency in the broader Dallas community once a week for the entirety of the academic year in what is known as the service practicum and 2) complete a service-intensive assignment in which they learn how a nonprofit organization operates. They also take a yearlong course on social justice and public policy.
Another event, an “unofficial capstone” of the service and social justice curriculum at the school, is the Jesuit Special Games, an event held annually on campus for which hundreds of students, parents, alums and community members volunteer.
Perry also coordinates service-focused trips for students year-round. During the school year, students attend programs in Los Angeles, Waco, Texas, and on the U.S.-Mexico border.
This summer, Jesuit Dallas will be sending students to three countries: to Mexico to work with elder immigrants and at an orphanage, to Guatemala to work on women’s rights and environmental and nutritional initiatives, and to Peru to explore the culture and live in a community that is centered on a Jesuit parish.
Coordinating these opportunities is simplified by the strong relationships that Jesuit Dallas’ service team has cultivated with many agencies and organizations over the years.
“The goal is to provide our students with opportunities to serve in various ministries, with various groups. There is no one way to serve,” Perry said.
Perry comes into work with a smile on his face every day because he knows from lived experience that Jesuit education is special.
“The intersection of faith and justice is what makes Jesuit education stand out. The goal of my work is to help students find that intersection in a spirit of compassion and then, through that, find a way to make an impact.”