Father David Smith (right) plays his violin as part of a Justice and Peace Studies celebration. The department has been at St. Thomas for 30 years. (Photo provided)

Justice and Peace Studies Celebrates 30 Years at St. Thomas

The Department of Justice and Peace Studies commemorated 30 years at St. Thomas on May 3 in Scooter’s. Students, faculty, administration, alumni, and family and friends shared their JPST memories and discussed current and future JPST happenings.

The department celebrated its founder, Father David Smith, professor emeritus from the Theology Department. Alumni shared stories about Smith and offered thanks for his guidance, kindness, wisdom, passion, inspiration and music. Smith performed on fiddle with UST faculty and staff from the Show'd Up Band.

“I was always impressed by the time he took to get to know each student, their interests and their goals,” said Michael Anderson ’05 of Smith. Anderson is a senior consultant with La Piana Consulting and works with nonprofits and foundations on strategy development and business planning.

The event connected current students with alumni of JPST. Tables were grouped by areas of practice from the Social Change Wheel, including education, volunteer direct service, formal political processes, economic development, community organizing, confrontational strategies and community building, so students could meet alumni working in areas they wished to pursue or learn more about.

Heidi Tousignant '92, an administration and technology specialist at Guardian Angels Church in Oakdale, Minnesota, said it was "renewing and energizing" to talk with so many people dedicated to peace and justice.

"It is so inspiring to hear what they (students) think about their experience and commitment to different issues," Tousignant said. "I get a lot of hope (and pride!) when I hear what they are doing with their studies and their lives."

The origins of the JPST program date back to 1983, when the U.S. Catholic bishops published, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” calling all levels of Catholic education to engage themes pertaining to the ongoing nuclear arms race. Shortly thereafter, Archbishop John Roach asked Monsignor Terrence Murphy, then president of St. Thomas, “So what are you going to do about our letter?”

Murphy responded by creating an interdisciplinary faculty committee. When the resulting program began in 1987, Smith mentored the handful of students who pursued JPST as a minor. In 1991, JPST became a major field interdisciplinary program operating out of the Theology Department.

Today, JPST is a full-fledged academic department in the College of Arts and Sciences with upward of 50 students and three permanent faculty. Students can choose from four tracks within the major: Public Policy Analysis and Advocacy, Conflict Analysis and Transformation, Leadership for Social Justice, as well as a “generalist” track.

The department was inspired by Smith’s conviction that St. Thomas students should not only grow in understanding of their faith, but also live out those convictions concretely to fulfill the university’s mission to “advance the common good.” The mission of JPST is to prepare students to be responsible critics of contemporary societies and effective agents for positive social transformation.

Some of the recent goings-on of the department include student participation in the Conflict Resolution Minnesota Conference; a joint-dialogue session with ROTC students on “Ethics of Intervention” regarding Ebola in West Africa; the attendance of and presentations by four faculty and two students at the Peace & Justice Studies Association Conference in October 2014 in San Diego; and the installation of A Peace of My Mind with John Noltner Photography Exhibit for two weeks in February 2015 (co-sponsored by six departments).