Santa Clara University


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Alum of the Week


Paul Shoaf Kozak

Interfaith Coordinator

There are few, if any, experiences in life that make us ontologically different. That is to say, they change us at the core and move us to understand the essence of who we are in a wildly more profound way. Typically, these are experiences that provoke infinite amounts of gratitude. Participating in La Casa de la Solidaridad, whereby I was gifted the opportunity to be immersed amongst the Salvadoran people and their social reality for a semester, was a life experience that drastically altered my ontological view of self. Although this chance to know a part of El Salvador happened back in the fall of 2002 when I was a junior at John Carroll University majoring in Political Science, I continue to interpret and re-interpret my own identity and purpose through the pair of lenses given to me by Griselda, Paty, Fito, Julio, Boris, Reina, Melvin, Carmen, Padre Luis and many others.

Today a significant form of this aforementioned meaning making occurs for me outside of Boston, MA at a county jail, where I am employed as Interfaith Coordinator (a fancy title for prison chaplain). In accompanying 1000+ men and women who are “locked up”, I frequently encounter the same virtues of hope, resilience, courage, and faith that I came to witness first in the Salvadorans. Granted the pain and suffering felt by these inmates is particular to this unique reality. At the same time, it is precisely through solidarity, community, and loving kindness that their pain and suffering begins to be redeemed.

I came to the Northeast of the United States in 2009 with my companion, Rebecca. While she completed a Master’s Degree of Social at Boston College, I studied theology there. She now works as clinical social worker for an organization that serves people affected by HIV/AIDS. Most recently, we have been graced by the births of our two children, Luca and Joaquín. Caring for children has only heightened our sense of urgency to manifest goodness and truth in this world. It is a desire and a vision that I first learned of through Romero, the UCA martyrs, and all of the Salvadorans who faithfully gave themselves for others in the hope that their seeds would one day bear fruit for what Dean Brackley might call God’s Kingdom.

A few weeks back during one of our spirituality groups at the jail, an older gentleman remarked, “This group is salvation for me.” Besides naming his own experience, he also puts words to my Casa experience. At that time in my life, it was salvation. In 2014 I see the Casa as a salvific experience that is ongoing.

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