By Jerry Duggan
Alan Ratermann’s job involves a lot of logistics: making arrangements, filling out paperwork and scheduling service opportunities for students. This day-to-day work belies the critical nature of his role at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., where, as director of the school’s Ignatian Service Office, Ratermann is a driving force behind the school’s pervasive culture of service.
“I get to help our students live out the Jesuit mission in a very real way,” he said.
Ratermann has always felt called to help the less fortunate but did not always imagine his career taking shape in this way.
As a student at St. Louis University High School, he gravitated toward the subject of English but was unsure of his career path.
Moving on to Rockhurst University, he triple majored in English, theology and nonprofit leadership studies. He began to feel called toward nonprofit work, interning for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, among other experiences.
He changed gears after he taught at Rockhurst High School as a member of the Alum Service Corps (ASC) program.
“Pretty quickly after I started the ASC program, I knew that this was what God was calling me to at this point in my life,” he said. “I loved my nonprofit work but felt an even stronger call here.”
As director of the school’s Ignatian Service Office, Ratermann works in tandem with the school’s campus ministry department to coordinate community service opportunities for Rockhurst students, as well as ensure a rewarding senior project experience for Rockhurst seniors.
Two things are particularly key to his efforts: making sure that students know what opportunities are out there and paying adequate attention to the reflective aspect of service.
“A big part of my job is making sure guys have adequate opportunities to serve in a number of different capacities – persons with disabilities, the elderly, those in poverty, etc.,” he said. “Additionally, I plan reflection nights and exercises, especially after the senior project, so that guys have a safe place to talk about their experiences with each other.”
By “senior project”, Ratermann refers to the tradition some Jesuit high schools have of requiring all seniors to participate in a service project during their senior year. Seeing the change that this experience facilitates in Rockhurst students is among the most rewarding aspects of Ratermann’s job.
“Guys come back changed by their experiences – they are grateful, more mature and learn a lot from their time there,” he said.
Getting students to broaden their horizons and see the dignity in and potential of often neglected groups in society is especially gratifying.
“To work in an assisted living facility gives many guys a whole new perspective on what goes on there – before, they might have driven by it and not thought anything of it, but now, they know that there are people with stories, experiences and wisdom – and they are changed by that perspective.”
Ratermann is humbled to be a part of the students’ experiences.
“Getting to, in many cases, accompany our guys on these service trips has been a great opportunity for my own personal growth in addition to that of our students,” he said. “Developing close relationships with our clients is among my favorite parts of this job.”
For Ratermann, it all ties back to the larger Jesuit mission.
“We can preach ‘Men for Others’ day in and day out, but without real experiences to give that statement meaning, its effectiveness is limited,” he said.
However strong a student’s grasp of theology is, Ratermann concedes it would be incomplete without the emotional understanding that only service work can provide.
“Pedro Arrupe once said that one cannot conceive of love of God without love of neighbor,” he said. “At Rockhurst, and particularly through our service program, we try to instill in our young men a love of neighbor. In doing that, we create a culture of service.”