Friday, April 22, 2016

Jon Dwyer’s Impact on the Students of Saint Martin’s

Jon Dwyer is the current director of Campus Ministry at Saint Martin’s University. But what makes him unique is not his job title, but his personality and his interactions with students. Jon has had an impact on many students at Saint Martin’s, but isn’t often seen in the spotlight. I wanted to show an insight into his personality and hear from other students how Jon has impacted their life.

Jon Dwyer - Saint Martin's staff photo
I had the opportunity to meet Jon Dwyer in my first few days at Saint Martin’s University. Jon Dwyer was an advisor for the Benedictine Scholars and I met him initially through the program. I’ve also worked with him through Campus Ministry and on the Obsculta retreat. I realized just how much Jon gave to the students and how much of an impact he had on their lives and so I wanted to talk with him and other students to learn more about Jon.

When I interviewed Jon, I initially asked him about his work. I had done some research on the position from Saint Martin’s website and Pacific Lutheran University’s, but they weren’t really clear on what exactly the director of Campus Ministry did. Jon said a lot of his responsibilities as director is fluid and that it “grows and adapts, depending on what’s going on.”

The office of Campus Ministry is charged with providing “sacramental and spiritual opportunities” to the student body, regardless of their faith. Jon’s job is greatly tied into the university through the portrayal of the value of Faith, one of the four core themes of Saint Martin’s. He works closely with students in both the student mass, student led liturgies, and through the Benedictine Leaders and Benedictine Scholar’s Program.

When asked what drew him to the job, Jon explained how his entire adult life has been dedicated to ministry. He previously worked for ten years in social justice ministries before getting involved with Catholic secondary education, where he first worked with Campus Ministry. Jon was excited when the opportunity appeared to work in higher education and “leapt at it,” looking forward to being able to work with students as they transition into their adult life through university. Upon his arrival at Saint Martin’s, he told me he felt an “immediate sense of comfort and opportunities to meet students and be with students, regardless of their religious faith.”

Jon explained to me how his “whole life and his understanding of himself and the work … is completely driven by [his] faith.” He feels motivated and informed by what he feels called by God to do – and when asked how his faith plays a role in his interactions with students, it was clear that Jon’s disposition is that of an educator. The kind who not only helps you learn, but pushes you forward to carry the torch yourself. Jon explained how his experience as a parent has given him a lot of insight to the “developmental process of students and an appreciation of the richness and complexity of their lives.” Jon told me he feels a sense of awe given the “privilege of being able to interact with the students that God has put in [his] life.”
Obsculta 4 group photo
And that privilege feels shared among the students who interact with Jon Dwyer. There are significant ways in which Jon has impacted lives at Saint Martin’s, one of which is through the Obsculta retreat. Jon said that Obsculta “grows out of a retreat that came from Spain in the 1960s and was adapted to high school and university Campus Ministry programs.” Jon’s most specific experience with retreats was the 4-day Jesuit Kairos retreat. When Jon arrived at Saint Martin’s, he was very interested in adapting that retreat to fit the university.

He wanted to be able to have “a significant retreat experience that would bring the students, and faculty and staff into an opportunity to build community and to have a spiritual experience, that’s not necessarily defined by the Catholic faith, but broader than that … it needed to be specifically and consciously Benedictine.”
From that, the idea of Obsculta came to fruition. Jon described how being open and listening to ourselves, each other, and God, as we understand God is an important part of how Benedictine spirituality works.

One of the students I spoke with, Amy Pollard, a senior at Saint Martin’s University, spoke about how her Obsculta experience had a huge impact on her. “Obsculta was a really meaningful interaction with [Jon Dwyer].” Amy had been on the Obsculta retreat as a junior and was a student leader this past year. Amy mentioned how “I got to work with him and see him in a totally different light than what I was used to.”

Jon’s trust in students shines through all the little interactions he has with them, too. He said, “my absolute favorite part of my job is the retreat program, and this year we began a program for freshmen students called the Vigil’s Retreat. And so, the opportunity to work with students in this capacity is my favorite thing.” Beyond that, Jon described working and interacting with students as the most important thing to him. It shows when you talk to him, he is speaking from his heart and focusing his whole attention on you.

Cohort 2 of Benedictine Scholars at Mt. Angel, Oregon
I asked Jon what the most important thing was about his job and he said, “working with the students is the most important thing to me. It’s the part of my job that gives me life and it’s why I get out of bed in the morning.” He described his work with the Benedictine Scholar’s as a unique experience, being with a group of students as “they enter into the school until they leave, so that’s a real privilege,” Jon told me. He smiled and nodded his head when he finished talking about how he enjoys interacting and working with students, adding, “those are the areas where my heart soars.”

Dean Decker, a senior at Saint Martin’s University, recounted some of his interactions with Jon, mentioning how “he makes everything feel genuine in a carefree and loving way, and is probably one of the best examples of the values of Saint Benedict that has come through Saint Martin’s.”

Dean talked highly of Jon, stating that it seemed everything he did was with intention and the moments he shared with students weren’t downplayed or typical, but genuine and real. Dean described for me one of his most memorable interactions with Jon, talking about his experience at Father Alfred’s funeral, a member of the monastic community who passed away.

“I had never been to a Catholic funeral before … they do things a little bit differently, they hold a big mass,”Dean told me, “there was standing room only. I didn’t hardly know anybody there … Jon and I kind of stood in the back, and he explained to me why they were doing certain things at the funeral."

It was clear that having a friend by his side made Dean feel more comfortable being at a funeral of someone he had been close with. Dean continued saying as the funeral ended, he wasn’t sure why it was taking everyone so long to exit the church.

"Being the last people out of the church, I realized, with Jon, that there was an open casket, and people were saying their last goodbyes. That was the first time I saw a dead body, and Jon doesn’t necessarily know it, but I don’t know that I would have been able to exit that place as calmly as I did without having somebody like Jon by my side."

In moments where Jon Dwyer might not even have to say words, the relationships he has built with students is powerful for them – in ways as Dean described in his story, and even in small everyday interactions. Dean mentioned during our interview, “I know that Jon has impacted and influenced a lot of lives on campus. Especially mine. Jon, to me, has become like a second dad. I feel like I can go to him for any sort of reason.”

An aspect about Jon Dwyer’s character that makes him unique is the way he greets people. He doesn’t give the typical ‘hello’ or ‘how’s it going,’ but instead asks ‘are you ok?’ It’s something the students certainly noticed.

Sarah Moore, a senior at Saint Martin’s University mentioned “When he asks you that, it makes you stop and think, like, am I ok? What is good? What is bad? What is important?” As you pass by Jon, he greets you, first with your name and then asking you that question, “are you ok?”

Dean told me, “the first few times, I think it kind of took me aback. Like, what do you mean am I ok? Yes? I guess? What kind of question is that? Who asks that? Jon Dwyer asks that.”

I asked Jon about why he greets people that way and he laughed before responding to my question, saying, “I don’t know if I have an answer for that and I don’t even know how it happened. I only gradually became aware that that’s how I greet people.” It was brought to his attention over 10 years ago, he told me, and people would ask him why he did that, to which Jon said “it becomes a personality trait and so it just kind of sticks with me.”

Amy Pollard mentioned how, for her, it is a nice greeting, that “instead of just being like a broken record, like he actually cares about how I’m doing and what’s going on in my life.” Amy admitted that “sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, I’m not ready to just drop everything and share every little detail about the day … but it’s so nice knowing that he’s there to support me.”

Jon spoke further on his own interpretation of why he greets people asking if they are ok.
“It’s funny, I think in some way my assumption is that everybody is always carrying around a lot with them, and so the assumption ‘are you ok, are you doing ok,’ it’s not because I think that your life is falling apart, I have no idea what’s going on with your life, I’m just assuming that you’re carrying something around … so I don’t know, it’s just a quirk.” 
It may be a small thing for him to do, but to the students it does have significance, it reassures them he cares. Sarah said, “it makes you feel kind of special, because it’s not just the ‘hey how are you,’ ‘good,’ ‘good,’ ‘ok see you later.’ It’s not a yes or no question, it’s an open ended one.” Whether through the retreat work with Campus Ministry, working with students, or e
ven day to day interactions as simple as a greeting – it’s clear Jon Dwyer has impacted the lives of students on Saint Martin’s campus as the director of Campus Ministry. He brings his personality outside of the office and into student’s lives, finding ways to ensure they are getting through the struggles of transitioning through college.

When asked if he is “ok” by Jon, Dean says,
“If you’re ok and you’re in a good place and you’re happy, then that’s all you can ask for. And that was, and is always Jon’s first concern, if we’re ok.”


Written by Josiah Dailey

Photos retrieved from:

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