Being our best

By Justin Thirstrup

If you were unable to make it to Eboo Patel’s lecture this past Thursday night, you missed out. Dr. Patel is a dynamic speaker with a powerful message. In short, his core belief is that religion can serve as a bridge of cooperation rather than as a barrier of division. It is a beautiful idea and one with which I firmly agree with. The problem, however, is that you cannot stop with the idea. You have to put in some work to make the idea a reality. Bridges don’t just appear overnight. Many people spend many months planning, preparing, and finally working to actually build a bridge. The same reality must be applied to our metaphor for a bridge between faiths.

As Benedictine University explored interfaith cooperation on Thursday, faculty and staff were invited to a special session with Eboo Patel. In that session, Dr. Patel challenged us with two questions. First he asked, “When does Benedictine University look its best?” Second, “Is it worth the trouble it takes to get to our best state?”

I have spent some time thinking about those questions since Dr. Patel asked them and I wanted to share some of my reflections with all of you.

As a new hire in University Ministry, I haven’t been at Benedictine for an especially long amount of time. A few weeks is hardly enough time to gain an accurate perspective of anything. Yet, I feel like I can easily answer Dr. Patel’s first question.

For me, Benedictine University was at its best when it welcomed me with open arms. Everyone I met during my first few days was nothing but welcoming. I was greeted with warm smiles, friendly handshakes, and even a hug or two. The students, faculty, and staff of this university had nothing but great things to say about this place, and I was made to feel very much at home.

You might think those kind words faded away after a few days, but you would be wrong.

The people I continue to encounter are nothing but wonderful to me, and because of them, I feel very much like a member of the Benedictine University family-even if I have only been here for a few weeks. And the truth is, I am very much honored to be a part of this family. The warm welcome I received is the same welcome I have seen offered to all of our students. There is a great partnership among the members of our faculty and staff, and it is very clear that the people who work here care about each other just as much as the students they serve.

In my first few weeks at Benedictine, I have tried to return the favor. I’ve already been a first-hand witness to the dedication our faculty and staff have for the students, and I’ve been humbled by just how hard the students work in return. No one seems to take this place for granted. We all know that we need to put in some work to make Benedictine University the amazing place that so many of us are able to call home. My commitment to all of you is that I will do my best every day to serve you in whatever ways I possibly can.

I’m not trying to be overly positive. I know there are bad days, and some people might not yet feel like a part of the family like I do. Yet, in working with the people I have met, so far, I can’t help but to be optimistic about the future. We are constantly improving and trying to make ourselves better, and that is an effort I am so proud to be a part of.

So, my friends, I go back to those original questions that were presented to me by Eboo Patel. “When does our university looks its best?” The answer is any day that we strive to live our lives according to our Benedictine values. I have yet to find a day when that isn’t the case. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but I think we’re doing a pretty great job. “Is it worth it?” Look around at all the amazing people who are a part of our family and tell me that it isn’t…

Justin Thirstrup is the new Pastoral Associate for Outreach in University Ministry at Benedictine University. He can be reached at (630) 829-6028 or via E-mail at