Marie (Reigstad) Ellis ’10, Lobbyist and Advocate, Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice
Director, UST Law Alumni Board, 2012 & 2013
Member, UST Law Annual Giving Committee, 2011 to present
The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.
I could take the easy way out and write a blog post about how I live the mission through my job. After all, I work as a lobbyist and advocate for Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice. This article could write itself.
But, the mission of the UST School of Law encompasses more than our occupations. Each of the graduates, faculty and staff of the School of Law interprets this mission differently. For me, it is a calling to integrating faith and reason.
During my 1L year, my cohort and I were the guinea pigs for a new class called “Foundations of Justice,” taught by Professor (now Dean) Vischer. We were assigned to read Somersett’s Case, an English case involving an American slave brought to England. I was called on to present the facts of the case.
After my perfect articulation of the facts, Professor Vischer asked a startling question: “Marie: Why is slavery wrong?”
I stammered, “Uh…because…it is. I mean, what? Everyone knows it’s wrong.”
He asked again.
I got pretty flustered. I assumed the assignment was to read and understand the facts of the case then regurgitate them in class. Instead, I was caught trying to explain the deeper, moral and seemingly self-evident questions of why slavery is wrong. I was utterly unprepared.
This is what the mission means to me: not just understanding facts, but searching for truth and using a lens of faith and reason together to find that truth. Sometimes, “searching for truth” means asking questions with seemingly obvious answers to better understand your own reasoning.
After we talked more in class and I spent time thinking and reading, I was much more prepared to answer the question of why slavery is wrong. I developed a deeper understanding of my own faith tradition, which states unequivocally that all people have inherent dignity which cannot be lost.
Now I advocate at the Minnesota Legislature for increased funding for the Homeless Youth Act, which will provide urgently needed funding to assist homeless youth. The program itself not a tough sell – there is vast agreement that no young person in Minnesota should sleep under a bridge. The main problem right now is funding. Those of us who are advocating for the bill use two arguments: moral arguments and arguments embedded in reason. Morally, it is wrong for a teenager to sleep outside because they have nowhere else to go. Rationally, we know that supporting homeless youth provides a significant return on investment for the state and our communities.
When I integrate these moral and rational arguments, I’m not just creating the most persuasive arguments for the policies I’m advocating for. I’m living the mission of the UST School of Law. In my memory, I hear Dean Vischer ask, “Why?”, and I know it is time to integrate faith and reason and continue my search for truth.