Jane Ferreira: Finding God in Their Eyes

Jane Ferreira

Jane Ferreira ’89 M.A.R. is president and CEO of the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, CT, which offers literacy and life skills to low-income women, serving 500 women annually. Previously she spent twenty-five years as a pastoral minister and educator in various U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses. She also served as an associate chaplain at Yale from 2001-02. 

Helping Women in Pain: The women we see have been hurt by poverty, poor housing, a lack of educational choices, domestic abuse, war, and rape. It’s incredible working with our students, teaching them to read or to become citizens. their gratitude is amazing to see. Since 2003, ninety-five women have gotten high school diplomas. Half go on to college; we supply scholarships. the others we help to find a sustainable living wage. We help them become interdependent; they learn to navigate the health care system, the legal, education, and transportation systems. they learn to become better mothers, better women. 

Defining “Ministry”: My initial understanding of ministry was in the institutional setting. but after 25 years there, I’ve gone beyond that. ministry simply means working with the poor. Whoever is looking out for another is doing ministry. 

Assessing Women’s Progress: Women run most parishes; they just don’t have titles. Women are community-builders. their creativity and intuition are important. collaborative ministry is valuable to running a parish; I find that women more than men in congregations are willing to be collaborative. not that women are easier to work with, but they are willing to collaborate. Sometimes you just want to erase titles and get on with the work. As for the ordination of women, I’d like it to happen. but ordaining women, having them wear a clerical outfit, wouldn’t automatically change anything, not if they simply fit into the basic seminary structure and institutional culture. Whether women are ordained or not, there needs to be a sea change, a shift in the church to a base-community approach where leadership comes from the people. 

Seeking God: What i would tell a seminarian who is trying to discern her vocation is: know who your God is. be mindful that your God might be different from the institution’s “gods.” in daily life I see God in the person who is in front of me. I see God in that marginalized person. And that’s a struggle. It’s a struggle to see God when you are dealing with people – people who are difficult because they are in terrible pain. learn to listen. I know I need to listen more – listen to God and listen to people. the institutional church talks a lot to people and at people. i do have questions about the Catholic church, but I remain a catholic who has learned much from other spiritualities.