A Discussion with Father Terry Quadros, SJ, Director of the Counseling Center, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India
Background: As part of the Education and Global Social Justice Project, in May 2011, undergraduate student Deven Comen interviewed Father Terry Quadros, Jesuit Priest and Director of the Counseling Center at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India. In this interview, Quadros discusses the Social Service League (SSL) and social responsibility at St. Xavier’s, and the role of the church in promoting social justice.
Interview Conducted on May 20, 2011
Please tell me about your background that led you to this moment.
After my schooling, I did two years of mathematics and sciences and joined the Jesuit order at age 18. I later completed my Masters in psychology. My heart was directed towards pastoral work, not college work. I was invited to teach psychology and I accepted and taught for 10 years. I had attended social service league camps as an undergraduate student and later on when I was attached to the college I continued being associated with the League. I have been the Director of the League for about 25 years now. I also was counseling at the time I was teaching. I went back to pastoral work for a few years, but was soon called back for college work. My heart is really in counseling, but being in the SSL gives me an extended contact with students that I value.
I have been the hostel warden/assistant for over 31 years. I consider it a world record: I must be the only sane human being capable of looking after boys for 31 years! There is some amount of indirect counseling that takes place at the hostel.
I also give courses on fashion institutes and media institutes on creative thinking.
What does it mean to you to be a Jesuit?
My first commitment is to God. If you tell me that I made a big sacrifice, I may not quite agree with that because I am doing what I want to do. I think it is a bigger challenge to be a married couple and have children these days. I am happy to live this kind of life. For the good of the Jesuit order, we serve the mission in the apostolate we are appointed to within the framework of the Society of Jesus.
Tell me about the Social Service League (SSL).
My first love is counseling; the SSL is an add-on. I join the students in reaching out with the SSL projects (rural and urban). My commitment is more towards building people up (particularly students) so that something strikes a chord in them that they will carry social and related concerns with them throughout their life. Whether it is a 5 or 10 day village experience or working with children, I hope that even when they find satisfaction in their personal lives and their jobs, they will have this added dimension of social awareness in their lives. I always preface our village visits with the caveat that, “you’re not going to change this village but more importantly you are going to change yourselves.” With 50 inexperienced people doing manual work, we will not make a big impact. But what do they get? They get an experience in rural living: simple lives, roughing it out without toilets, sleeping on cow dung-patched floors in huts. What is important is the interaction with one another such that the team functions rather than the individual. They share a lot. I have been doing this for more than 25 years. Just now because of my age perhaps I do find all this quite tiring. My spirit is still in place though and I can well survive the rigors of camp life!
The changes and glow I see in them makes it all worthwhile. It is a rough life out there but they adjust beautifully and uncomplainingly. I see them many of them grow from being somewhat hesitant and passive individuals to becoming more confident about their abilities and adding on a willingness to take up responsibility and leadership.
People always ask me if there is a difference between young people from 31 years ago. I do not see much of a difference in the basic things. At heart and in general attitude they are much the same. Of course present day technologies like laptops and cell phones and designer clothes add much to their urban living, but these do not matter at all at a campsite. Can you work hard? Can you bear up with difficult rural challenges? Can you contribute to the give and take of teamwork at a camp? These are the things that matter. They are understandably an adolescent mix of irresponsible, careful, concerned, sensitive, brash, as careless and all the rest. For me, it is quite scary being in charge because of possible accidents at work or while taking a bath in a river. I worry because it often seems to me that they are playing games with their lives! All in fun, of course, and with a lot of enthusiasm and energy!
The SSL is completely voluntary and there are many initiatives besides the camps. There are blood donation drives, volunteering at a home for paraplegic people, PROJECT CARE (which assists underprivileged children regularly), awareness exhibitions on social issues, and an environmental initiative called G.I. Joe. They are recycling old bicycles and taking all kinds of little initiatives (vermiculture, redistributing old books and clothes, getting e-waste recycled, etc.).
How does St. Xavier’s balance creative and critical thinking?
Outside the classroom there is enough opportunity for them to be creative. It is not like 4,000 students are participating in the SSL, but many are attracted to the SSL for the social aspects. There is a lot of initiative but sustaining this becomes a problem. Students are caught in academics, family, distances, so one has to understand and accept that. Their hearts are in the right place. Earlier I used to be disappointed when plans fell through or did not quite measure up, but now I appreciate their enthusiasm and make allowances for their limitations. In these matters one has to be more realistic than overly positive!
In the SSL work and activity my hope is that they are deeply touched in some or the other. Many go on and continue to other kinds of social work, either by getting a Masters or going into Teach for India or other things.
What values do you try and portray to students before they graduate?
Academic excellence is our first focus. Academic excellence is also the value for optimizing potential and performing to one’s maximum ability. This is even true in the hostel, which maintains high academic and attendance standards for the privilege of living there. The second value beyond academics is extracurricular activities. The growth we want our students to have is an all around growth. At the end of one’s Xavier’s experience it is not how many marks you have got, but what kind of person you became that is important. The third is sensitizing yourself to social issues and people around you. The ability to connect with everybody is also an important value. As a priest, I need to engage with the rich as well as the poor. One needs to develop the ability to be comfortable talking to beggars as well as kings.
What do you see as the role of the Church in promoting social justice?
The starting point is always awareness. The Church needs to be practical in the stances it is taking. The stance can be assertive without being aggressive or submissive. Sometimes there are stated values and real values, especially about social justice. Here we are speaking about equality and yet there are people with class differences. It is not enough to say equality and liberty are fine for others without also living out those values in one’s own life. Secondly, the Church should be working as much as is possible for the disadvantaged.
How can Xavier’s graduates be a part in changing India’s future for the better?
The general atmosphere in Xavier’s is hardly political. Most of our students go into advertising, media, and management. Will they make a difference? It is hoped, but it is not as though we have a planned strategy for getting them to change the face of the country. It is my hope that through the individuals we touch, we can make a difference. One of my favorite quotations is from Krista McAuliffe who died in the space ship Challenger explosion long ago. When asked, what do you do, she answered: “I touch the future. I teach”. That statement gives meaning and immortality to what we as staff should be about at Xavier’s. We touch the future…and having that responsibility we should put in as much commitment and enthusiasm into all that we are doing here.
Related Project Resources
> The Education and Social Justice Project: International Summer Research Fellowships 2011