These college graduates took a detour off the career path to live the Jesuit values

A church in the streets

Six 20-somethings in D.C. will give up many comforts of modern life for a year to serve the sick and the poor, a nod to the pope’s teachings

Published on September 15, 2015

Hope for the future arrives in the capital on the fourth weekend of August. There are six of them. Angela. Camille. Hanna. John. Liz. Noah. They are between ages 21 and 23. Five of them are vegetarians. Four are from the West Coast. They all went to Catholic universities, although only half are Catholic themselves. Two wanted to join the Peace Corps, but it didn’t work out. Each has different conceptions of God and religion, but all six believe that this is where they are meant to be: settling into a cozy, cluttered rowhouse in the Park View neighborhood of Northwest Washington, on the cusp of a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

THE FRANCIS FACTOR:
Illustration by Maria Corte

Schedule: What Pope Francis will do during his trip to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Sign up here to follow Washington Post stories about Pope Francis’s visit, and we’ll e-mail you as they’re published.

A pope for all seasons: Francis may be empathetic. He may tweet. But he’s got everyone guessing about what he really wants.

A young nun in a disappearing world: At Bethesda’s Little Flower Parish, Sister Rachel and her elderly counterparts keep the faith as their ranks dwindle

A papal visit can’t heal these wounds: Faith abides, but the sex abuse scandal and their son’s death have alienated the McIlmails from the Catholic Church

Longing for communion: Therese married the man she loved. She goes to Mass every week, but can’t receive Communion. Will Francis change the rules?

For conservatives, sowing confusion: Francis is a global sensation, but to certain traditional Catholics, his message rings hollow

The latest on the pope’s U.S. visit

“I found a mousetrap in my room with a mouse in it,” Camille announces from her ground-floor bedroom, which is really just an anteroom off the dining room.

“Do you want a broom?” Noah asks.

“I want a broom,” Camille says, entering the kitchen, where Liz is scrubbing a Mason jar in the sink.

“Do you want some emotional support?” Liz asks.

Camille is already back in her room, dustpan in hand. “Oh, it broke in half,” she says, peering under the dresser with Hanna. They extract the pieces of mouse with the pan and start moving toward the kitchen.

“Liz, there’s a dead mouse coming,” Noah says.

“Thanks for checking in,” Liz says, drying the Mason jar.

They met each other last week and moved in together 24 hours ago. In three days, they will begin their full-time volunteer work ministering to the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised. They each get a $100 stipend per month. Their meals at home are supposed to cost no more than $1 per person. They have a joint bank account. They’re all in twin beds. There is one shower, and it leaks into the kitchen.

Camille Kammer, left, and Hanna Tadevich relax on the couch before dinner after volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen that day.

Out of the comfort zone

A simple lifestyle is one of the four pillars of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which began in 1956. The other pillars are spirituality, community living and social justice. Over the past month, in 37 U.S. cities and six other countries, nearly 300 recent college graduates have jumped off career paths and sprinted to the margins of society. They have banded together to live out these four pillars for a year, to embody the ideals of the world’s most famous Jesuit, whose church exists not in the pews of a cathedral but in the midst of people in need.

“All of us are asked to obey [God’s] call to go forth from our own comfort zone,” Pope Francis wrote in 2013, “in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”

Video: Will excitement about Pope Francis reinvigorate the church?

Play Video

The comfort zones for Angela Owczarek, Camille Kammer, Hanna Tadevich, John Winslow, Liz Galizia and Noah Johnson were their college campuses, at Fordham, Gonzaga, Seattle and Mount St. Mary’s universities. The peripheries are here in the nation’s capital, in their tight living quarters on Keefer Place NW, on the 70 bus down Georgia Avenue before the sun rises.

“There will not be a day that goes by that my brain can be off,” says Hanna, a dance student, as the bus lurches down to Chinatown in the predawn haze. She will be a mental health specialist at the McClendon Center, which serves adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses.

She feels wildly underqualified, but that’s the point. Otherwise, she’d be in her comfort zone.

They visit each other’s worksites during this first week together. They take the 80 bus from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom, where they are greeted by smartly dressed State Department employees hurrying to their offices and a line of men waiting for breakfast at Miriam’s Kitchen, which serves the homeless and will be Noah’s place of work. Since they’re present and able-bodied, the six housemates help prepare and serve breakfast for 170 guests.

“Ruined for life,” says Bob Glennon, the kitchen’s director of social services, repeating a JVC catchphrase that explains how the experience transforms one’s understanding of the world. There are FJVs — former Jesuit Volunteers — all around the District, including in the Senate (Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania). Glennon was a Jesuit volunteer in the ’90s, working with the homeless population in Atlanta.

“And here I am,” he says, surrounded by people in need, “20 years later.”

Top left: At Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, Liz Galizia dishes out oatmeal to Robert Corcoran, 65, while she volunteers with fellow members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. For a year, she and her five housemates will embody the pillars of the JVC: simple lifestyle, spirituality, community living and social justice. Top right: Camille Kammer works with Reginald Williams, 50, a resident at her workplace, Joseph’s House. Williams is trying to rent an apartment following stomach surgery. Camille’s five housemates are spread across the city, helping and serving those who live on the margins of society.

Tattoos and toilet paper

They’ve jumped right into deep philosophical conversations, but they don’t yet know each other’s personal histories, bathroom habits and breaking points. They’re just discovering each other.

There is the profound: Hanna has “Rauha,” the Finnish word for “peace” — which is also her great grandmother’s name — tattooed near her collarbone, and over John’s heart is “his wound is his strength,” which he got two months after he came out to his parents.

There is the practical: Liz can’t have soy. Noah is lactose intolerant. They need to decide, as a group, if they want to pay for WiFi or whether that violates their communal understanding of “simple living.”

“I expect a lot of change,” says Angela, who’s already completed one year in the JVC, in New Orleans, and is the only non-rookie of the house. “I think people can be apprehensive about community. Not only are you living in a community of strangers, but there may be a point in the year where you feel like a stranger to yourself. And that’s one of the most exciting parts of this.”

The rowhouse on Keefer Place is decorated with evidence of past volunteers: group photos hung around the living room, light-beige carpeting that may have once been white, a D.C. mural in one of the bedrooms that reads, “This city leaves a mark on you.” There’s a local JVC support network and a spiritual adviser who will guide them throughout the year. Their rent and utilities are covered through the partner agencies with whom they’re volunteering.

The six of them aren’t doctrinal enough to follow the pope’s every move, but his pronouncements affirm their passion for service.

“It is better to have a Church that is wounded but out in the streets,” Francis tweeted in May, “than a Church that is sick because it is closed in on itself.”

Their mission in the District is to be out in those streets, to work with (not for) the needy, to strip away the luxuries and distractions of 21st-century living that insulate them from one another and the world.

Their first communal grocery trip comes 72 hours after moving in together. Angela, Camille and Hanna are staring at the fine print on bags of toilet paper in the Safeway on Georgia Avenue NW. The generic brand is $5.69 and the name brands are about $6, but they’re looking at the number of sheets and plies. They each get $90 a month for groceries and $7 a month for household items, so every penny counts.

“Ninety-five cents per 1,000 sheets,” Angela says, scanning one option. “Though I do think this one is single-ply.”

The group passes a display of Starbucks autumn blend — 10 ounces of ground coffee for $9.99 — and some of them grab a bag, inhale the pricey aroma and return them to the shelf.

Simple living.

They might cut their own hair, or not cut it at all.

They will curb their coffee habits and forget the college-caliber drinking.

They will be fine with showering while two others are using the bathroom sink.

They will distinguish their wants from their needs, and this will bring them closer together.

Top left: Camille Kammer, left, Noah Johnson, Angela Owczarek, John Winslow and Hanna Tadevich discuss shopping items during a grocery trip to Safeway. Each volunteer is provided with $90 a month for groceries and $7 for household items, with the goal of meals at home costing no more than $1. Top right: Hanna Tadevich leans on the shoulder of fellow Jesuit volunteer Angela Owczarek on the bus ride home after an exhausting day of volunteering, setting up banking accounts and visiting volunteer work placements beginning at 4:30 a.m.

The first week

Angela doesn’t need the divine to feel and share radical love.

Camille might like to be a Catholic priest, if only it were permitted.

Hanna wants to be a movement therapist for survivors of trauma.

John believes that you can be Catholic and still have questions and uncertainties.

Liz, who can make 20 kinds of smoothies, wakes up each morning with a sense of joy.

Noah, a mechanical engineering student, is always putting challenges in his way.

They are idealistic. They are nervous. They know they are fortunate white interlopers in a city that isn’t theirs, working with populations that may or may not be open to their good intentions.

Week 1 of 52 is exhausting.

Noah is out the door before 5 a.m. to get to Miriam’s Kitchen in time for breakfast. Camille and Liz walk together to their worksites in Adams Morgan, the latter to counsel pregnant women at the Northwest Center, the former to be a companion to the dying at Joseph’s House. Down on F Street NW, John blinks away tears as he reads letters from jail at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. At Georgetown University’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service, Angela tries to square the wealthy aura of the manicured campus with the tattered neediness of the surrounding homeless population.

Each evening they return to the house on Keefer Place, where one of them is always in charge of dinner. On the Panasonic turntable is one of the vinyl records that have been acquired by other volunteers over the years.

Simon and Garfunkel.

Fleetwood Mac.

Cyndi Lauper.

They sing. They dance. They collapse on the couches and caress each other’s hair and constantly tidy up. The late-summer twilight is white and diffuse. The windows are open. The fans are on. There is no A/C. The thermostat reads 82, then 83. On an end table next to the faded floral couch is a framed cover of Rolling Stone magazine featuring Pope Francis and the headline “THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’.”

Some of them might try to catch a glimpse of the pope when he visits, and they’ve joked about sending him a last-minute invitation to their humble abode. If he were to show up on their periphery, they would welcome him. Then they would challenge him, because change doesn’t happen without challenge. What about female priests? What about speaking definitively on gay rights?

“It would not be just a fan moment,” Camille says with a wry smile, “because what good is that?”

Clockwise from left, Noah Johnson, Liz Galizia, Angela Owczarek, Camille Kammer, Hanna Tadevich and John Winslow pray before dinner in their shared home on Keefer Place NW in Washington.

Around the table

Cat Stevens is a rollicking whisper on the turntable.

Now every second on the nose . . .

They circle up around the dinner table.

. . . the humdrum of the city grows.

They squeeze one another’s hands. New beginnings. Camille begins to pray out loud, from a blessing by United Methodist minister Jan Richardson.

“And the table will be wide and the welcome will be wide.”

This year Camille will look death in the face and see the face of God.

Reaching out beyond the throes . . .

“The arms will be wide open to gather us in.”

Angela will venture under overpasses in the freezing cold.

. . . of our time.

“And we will come unhindered and free.”

John will watch the sun rise over the Supreme Court.

We must try to shake it down.

“And we will turn toward each other without fear.”

Liz will take the trembling hand of an expectant mother.

Do our best to break the ground.

“And we will become bread for a hungry world.”

Noah will pull people from the margins toward self-sustainment.

Try to turn the world around . . .

“And we will become drink for those who thirst.”

Hanna will use art to reach people who are screaming on the inside.

. . . one more time.

“And the blessed will become the blessing, and everywhere will be the feast.”

THE FRANCIS FACTOR:
Illustration by Maria Corte

Schedule: What Pope Francis will do during his trip to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Sign up here to follow Washington Post stories about Pope Francis’s visit, and we’ll e-mail you as they’re published.

A pope for all seasons: Francis may be empathetic. He may tweet. But he’s got everyone guessing about what he really wants.

A young nun in a disappearing world: At Bethesda’s Little Flower Parish, Sister Rachel and her elderly counterparts keep the faith as their ranks dwindle

A papal visit can’t heal these wounds: Faith abides, but the sex abuse scandal and their son’s death have alienated the McIlmails from the Catholic Church

Longing for communion: Therese married the man she loved. She goes to Mass every week, but can’t receive Communion. Will Francis change the rules?

For conservatives, sowing confusion: Francis is a global sensation, but to certain traditional Catholics, his message rings hollow

The latest on the pope’s U.S. visit

Editor’s picks

This popemobile parade is probably your best bet at seeing Pope Francis in D.C.

It will be one of the few times the general public will get a chance to see the pontiff without a ticket.

How Catholics feel about abortion, immigration and gay marriage

Catholics in Washington D.C. are less supportive of legal abortion access than are those in New York and Philadelphia.

Credits