Generation Next

Julio Minsal-Ruiz celebrated his graduation from Xavier in May as any happy graduate would—surrounded by family and friends and eager to get on with the next phase of his life. In Ruiz’s case, that’s as a Jesuit. With his degrees in psychology and philosophy, Ruiz is fulfilling a dream he’s had since going on a retreat in the seventh grade at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami. But it wasn’t until he came to Xavier, where he joined a young adult Catholic group on campus and met Tom Kennealy, S.J., that he began taking formal steps toward Jesuit formation. Guided by Kennealy, he began interviewing with Jesuit provincial leaders in Miami in December.

Joining the Jesuits was practically preordained for Ruiz. So is his future in the Antilles Province, a focal point of Hispanic and Latino Catholic culture that encompasses Miami, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The Jesuit influence began with his grandmother in Puerto Rico, where Ruiz was born and where his father still lives. She was involved in the Jesuit parish near her home, and when the family moved to Miami when Ruiz was a baby, their Jesuit affiliation moved with them.

Now, having been accepted as a novice in the Antilles Province, Ruiz is following both his passions as he prepares to enter the Jesuit novitiate in Santiago, Dominican Republic—barely 300 miles west of his family’s home in San Juan.

“The Dominican Republic is one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I came back and applied through Miami because I feel the Hispanic culture is much more a part of the Jesuits in Miami, and I can identify with them. I feel more culturally at home with the Jesuits in Miami.”

The novitiate, of course, is just the start. Ruiz will study and work for 10-12 years before he is ordained. “The decision to be a Jesuit came with a lot of thought and prayer, but it’s not like I’ve never wanted to have a family,” he says. “It’s more like sacrificing that for a higher good.”

What I Learned

What a difference four years can make. How much can you grow in that time? How much can you learn? How much does your worldview change? Last May, representatives of the Class of 2009 participated in a forum in which they reflected on the personal transformations they experienced in their time at Xavier.  Their answers are insightful and honest—and perhaps more than a little reminiscent of
the thoughts of countless other Xavier graduates through the years. Here’s a little of what they said.

Chelesa Alexander
“One of the things I’ve learned is that everybody has this sense of, ‘OK, once I have a vital role in this organization, it’s time to say “How can we be better?” ’ Xavier kind of exemplifies that. Look at what is going on around campus. The campus has changed in the four years I’ve been here, and it seems that Xavier is always asking, ‘How can we be better?’ I’m going to have that mindset of ‘How can I be greater? How can I be better? How can I grow?’ ”

Matt Melon
“I think there are two things I’ve taken away from the Jesuit aspect of my education: recognition that we have a lot of privilege being a part of this institution, and what we can do with that privilege to help make the world a better place. We ended up changing the mission  statement for the Summer Service Internship from saying that we are aiming to be ‘men and women for others’ to ‘being men and women with others’ to signify solidarity and accompaniment, and show we are working with people rather than for people.”

Carrie Gilbert
“I think that, for me, the most important thing when I graduate is to not lose that hunger to know more. I think that college in its essence is about knowing and constantly asking questions, and I don’t know if that is so fostered outside a college institution. So I have to continually want to know more, even though I’m not being graded on it. I need to take that with me.”

Matt Robinson
“Just as you’re learning in the core curriculum and you’re learning to tie together all of these different aspects of living and being spiritually guided and a person driven for others, you can take that into an organization. I’ve seen that over the past three years—club discussions and growth, clubs reaching out to other clubs for help, and all sorts of different ideas. No club is an island, and no department is an island
We all tie in together and we can all draw strings from each other.”

Alex Allen-Tunsil
“My junior year, I was the president of an organization at Xavier called GOAL—Gentlemen Organized for Achievement and Leadership. It’s a small male support group run through the Office of Multicultural Affairs. That was pretty much my introduction into student leadership. One of the things I had to learn was that you put a lot of work into the programs we put on, you’d like for everybody to come, you’d like for everybody to love it. But the fact is that sometimes that just doesn’t happen. You have to learn to deal with that frustration.
To be a leader, you have to have some level of resilience …  you have to let it be a learning opportunity and a chance to continue to grow.”

Lydia Powell
“I think probably one of the toughest things for me—it’s gotten easier for me to handle in the past four years—as a leader and as a minority on campus is to realize that everyone’s experiences are different, that everyone is different. I think back on a few moments when some people have said something or did something that offended me. Over the years, I’ve really learned to not allow the actions or the sayings of other people to really get to me and make me that upset, but to use that moment as a learning experience or to educate them.”

The Reluctant Servant

The voice on the phone speaks easily and laughs often. John P. Foley, S.J., may be several lifetimes removed from his youthful days at Xavier, yet, from the tone of his voice, it’s hard to imagine the 1958 graduate ever sounded more enthusiastic, more humble or more filled with wonder. Life, after all, is a beautiful mystery. How else to explain this son of a Chicago car salesman standing in the White House last year receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’ second highest civilian honor?

“I’ve always found God in my life where I least expected to find him,” Foley says with a sparkle in his voice.

Indeed, Foley has a long history of finding deep meaning and fulfillment in making choices he didn’t want to make, going to places he didn’t want to go and doing things he never planned to do. He reluctantly entered the priesthood, reluctantly became a Jesuit, reluctantly went to the missions in Peru and was ambivalent—if not exactly reluctant—about returning to Chicago 34 years later to help launch Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, which is built around an innovative program in which students pay for their education—and gain invaluable life experience—by working in entry-level office jobs at large corporations. In the process, he presided over the growth and development of numerous K-12 Peruvian students, lived through periods of civil unrest and violence, and offered some Hispanic students of Chicago’s South Side a hope and sense of purpose they could not previously imagine.

A quiet murmur fills the west wing of the White House. It’s December 2008. Foley and a group of fellow honorees are standing face to face with President George W. Bush. The President hands Foley a blue box containing a gold medal embossed with an eagle over green leaves: the Presidential Citizens Medal, awarded to citizens who have “performed exemplary deeds or services for his or her country or fellow citizens.” The list of awardees includes, among others, athletes Muhammad Ali and Hank Aaron, civil rights activist the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and now Foley.

“I’m in the Oval Office and I want to pinch myself,” he says. “What am I doing here? What happened?”

Foley can perhaps be excused for failing to recognize the full extent of his accomplishments—and their implications as a model for the future of Catholic education in progressively difficult economic times. He was, after all, awfully busy. As the Cristo Rey idea took hold, Foley helped develop the work-and-study model into a national network of 24 schools—and more are on the way, including one in Cincinnati in 2010. By the time he resigned as president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School to become president of the Cristo Rey Network in 2005, Foley had raised $26 million and created a $2 million endowment for the flagship school. He’s now chairman of the network’s board.

Success, as they say, begets success. And, along with success often comes recognition: besides the Presidential Citizens Medal, recent years brought Foley several honorary doctorates, the National Catholic Educational Association’s 2007 Seton Award and a 2009 Pax Christi Award from St. John’s University.

Foley may wonder at these things, but Jim Gartland, S.J., isn’t surprised. Gartland, a 1980 Xavier graduate, succeeded Foley as president of Cristo Rey High School. He joined the Jesuits in 1983 and spent his regency working with Foley in Peru. Gartland was involved with the feasibility study for the school in 1993, and it was he who suggested Foley to head the new project.

“John is charismatic, and his enthusiasm is contagious,” Gartland says. “He always says, ‘It’s Christ who leads. We simply lend a hand.’ Well, John’s personality brought many hands to the project. People love to be with him. He’s fun. He’s a hard worker, but he believes you should have fun.”

This sense of fun permeates Foley’s conversation, even when discussing the more difficult decisions of his life. The younger of two brothers, Foley attended Loyola Academy, graduating in 1953. The idea of becoming a priest surfaced early. Foley resisted.
“I was very taken with the local pastor,” Foley says. “He was a member of the country club and a good golfer. He was a very good man. He would come over to our house and play bridge with my parents a lot. He was definitely an influential figure in my life.”
Foley tried to get around that influence. “I never wanted to be a priest,” he says. “And then I decided that being a priest was what God was calling me to. So I reluctantly decided to be a priest. Even though I went to Loyola Academy, when I thought about the priesthood, I thought about diocesan priesthood because I knew the Jesuits didn’t belong to country clubs. I started thinking if I was going to go that route, that I wanted to make it as painless as possible.”

A close, trusted school friend then weighed in on the matter, urging Foley to become a Jesuit. So, as a high school senior, Foley went to see a counselor at Loyola Academy who told him that he wasn’t ready for the Jesuits. “He said ‘No way until you go to college because you aren’t sure yet.’ That was the best piece of advice I ever got,” Foley says. Foley was also momentarily relieved, but the advice only delayed the inevitable. Foley spent his first year out of high school at Georgetown University. And it was there—on March 7, 1954—that he attended the funeral of John Smith, S.J. As he looked at the dead priest and prepared to pray before the casket, Foley got his vocation. “I said, ‘That’s the way I want to die.’ ”

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Peru sits along the western coast of South America. What isn’t covered by the Andes Mountains is jungle or arid plain. It’s hot. It’s poor. And it’s the last place in the world John Foley wanted to be. Committed at last to his Jesuit vocation, Foley spent four years at the Milford Novitiate in Milford, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, learning the life of a priest while simultaneously earning a bachelor’s degree in Latin from Xavier. In 1961, following three years at Loyola University of Chicago where he earned master’s degrees in sociology and
education, Foley was poised to begin his one-year regency as a French teacher. But his life took another unexpected turn. Pope John XXIII asked all religious groups in the United States to send 10 percent of their personnel to Latin America. Some were interested. Foley wasn’t.

“I thought, ‘Thank God they all want to go to the missions, cause I sure don’t,’ ” he says with a chuckle. “I ended
up in Peru. I was 25. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Language was the first hurdle. “I didn’t know any Spanish. None of us did,” he says. “I came down and lived in the novitiate in Peru for about four months just trying to get my tongue loose so I could be able to say something in Spanish.” Initially “bummed” because he was assigned to teach grade school, Foley quickly realized that the accepting, uncritical nature of his young students provided the perfect foundation for his growth as an educator. He settled into his work, moving the next year to teach high school, eventually working in a total of three schools and serving as president of two of them.

Matt Garr, S.J., arrived in Peru as a novice in 1965 and soon met Foley, who was then working at a Jesuit high school in the southern city of Arequipa. The two worked together several years later and have remained friends since.

“What impressed me—and for that matter everyone else—about John is his smile, which is the manifestation of something much deeper, namely, his friendliness,” Garr says. “When you are with him, you are the most important person. He isn’t distracted by other things, and he is genuinely interested in you.”

Latin America was a place of unrest during those years, but Peru was less affected than some countries. To be sure, there were dangers—particularly when the anti-government Shining Path organization was in full swing in the 1980s and early 1990s—but Foley saw many successes. One of his students from that grade school class, Alberto Bustamante, rose to become prime minister of Peru. He saw other students become Jesuits; helped develop a program that aided city children in understanding the needs of the poor in their own country; and was involved in starting a center to aid working children. As far as Foley was concerned, Peru was home. “I just thought that’s where I was going to leave my bones,” he says. “I loved every minute of it.”

Then—when he least expected it—change came again. “The Provincial of Chicago came down,” Foley says. “He said, ‘Would you ever consider coming back? I want to start a school in Chicago for Hispanics.’ ”

Foley hadn’t thought about working in America again and didn’t particularly want to. Gartland, who was presenting the meeting, recalls the moment. “John said, ‘I’ll do what the Society of Jesus asks me to do.’ I think his response says a lot about his character.”

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Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood has long been an American port of entry for succeeding waves of immigrants. Washington Post columnist George Will once called Pilsen a “heartland Ellis Island.” It’s the kind of place where people move in and stay only until they can afford to move out. Most recently, it’s an Hispanic enclave with Spanish as its primary language, from street signs to daily commerce.  It’s an insular area—many residents have never made the 15-minute trip to downtown.

Against this backdrop, Foley returned to Chicago in 1995 to begin “by far the hardest year that I ever spent. I was totally out of sync in Chicago.” There wasn’t much time to get in sync. Foley was assigned to a three-person team charged with opening a new high school for low-income, at-risk Hispanic students. With virtually no money in hand, they turned to consultant Richard Murray, who helped develop a plan in which, ultimately, teams of four students would work in the offices of some of Chicago’s biggest corporations. Each student would work one day a week and the company would pay the school the equivalent of an entry-level wage for one worker annually—now between $26,000 and $30,000. Unlikely as it may have sounded, the idea worked: Cristo Rey opened in September 1996, about 20 months after Foley returned to the States.

Beyond the work component, Cristo Rey’s operating principles are unique on several fronts. The school has no entrance exam. Potential students come in for an interview, and a primary key to admission is their desire to be part of the school. Personality also figures into the equation: Students who are too shy to ask questions or to admit they don’t understand something won’t qualify, although they may come back at a later date and try again. Those who are accepted go through a pre-first year orientation boot camp designed to teach them the cultural skills necessary to succeed in dominant-culture office environments. These include behaviors ranging from making eye contact—which Hispanic children may be raised to see as a sign of disrespect—to shaking hands and taking phone messages. Once in, students are expected to do three hours of homework nightly, and the school enforces a zero-tolerance policy for such things as drugs and violence.

“We have found gang symbols in a person’s notebook and he’s gone,” Foley says.

But the rewards are great. “To our surprise, the educational breakthrough here is that when they see that there’s a place in that professional office for them, their self-esteem goes over the top,” Foley says. “They never suspected that would be a place where they could find a future, or even be welcome. All of a sudden there’s a future to this whole thing.”

To be sure, there are issues to work out. Gartland says that, in the face of family mobility and academic rigor, retention across four years remains a big problem. But the vast majority of those who make it are accepted to at least one college or university. Xavier now has welcomed about 21 students from the Chicago school in recent years.

“We’re learning,” Foley says of the network. While the Chicago school continues to be exclusively Hispanic, other network schools—which may or may not use Cristo Rey as their official name—serve students from a variety of backgrounds. “Our mission is generally to guarantee the product and guarantee the name Cristo Rey. We have 10 mission effectiveness standards. Our job is to keep people honest about using the name.”

And though he’s “ecstatic” about the success of the model thus far, it’s also clear he’s taking nothing for granted. At the end of the day, Foley remains in awe—and pleasantly surprised. “God continues to surprise me,” he says. “I think that’s what it is—it’s discovering that our God is a God of surprises.”

Miracle Man

Tom Siemers isn’t sure what inspired him to bid on a large painting of a nun. “For some reason I was just compelled to have it,” says the 1953 graduate who won it at a charity auction in the early 1970s. Years later the spontaneous purchase proved to be a good investment, as Siemers and others believe the nun in the portrait had something to do with saving his life.

At first, Siemers and his wife, Susan, didn’t know anything about the painting until a houseguest recognized the nun as Sr. Frances Schervier. Schervier founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in 1845. The house-guest later sent the Siemers a prayer card that included Schervier’s image and a novena—a series of prayers said over nine days.

The couple kept the card in a drawer and didn’t think much about it until 1989  when Siemers suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. He was rushed to the hospital and underwent multiple brain operations to stop the bleeding. The outlook was grim. Siemers was unresponsive and was given a 10-percent chance to live. As her husband lay in a coma, Susan began praying the novena. After finishing it on the ninth day, she went to the hospital and found him awake. At one of Siemers’ follow-up appointments, his doctor explained that the surgeries did not work. Confused, Siemers asked him how that could be possible. “He just smiled at me and pointed up to the sky.”

Now, more than a decade later, a tribunal formed by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is investigating if this might sanctify Schervier for sainthood. Schervier was beatified in 1974,  but for her to become a saint, it has to be proven she was responsible for Siemers’ miraculous survival. The tribunal is still gathering its report to the Vatican. Regardless of the outcome, Siemers is convinced the 19th century German nun is the reason he’s alive.

Life in Prison

Terry Collins is a lifer—but on the other side of the prison bars. Collins, who received his master’s degree in criminal justice in 1980, is director of the Ohio Department of Rehabil-itation and Correction, overseeing one of the state’s largest agencies—13,000 employees, 51,000 inmates, 34,000 people under parole and a $1.8 billion budget.

Collins started his 32-year career in the Ohio prison system as a social worker at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville before becoming a warden at prisons in Lorain, Chillicothe and Lucasville. “I remember my first warden telling me, ‘If I can keep you for five years, I can keep you for life,’ ” Collins says. “That’s the way it is in this business—it kind of gets in your blood.”

A native of Hillsboro, Ohio, Collins jokes that the corrections world first got in his blood when he became a resident adviser at Morehead State University. “I sometimes think that was my first job as a warden—looking after 190 freshman boys.” Ironically, it was while leading his freshmen on a tour of Lucasville he landed in the prison system. “During our visit, someone said they were hiring,” Collins says. “That was a Friday. They said come back Monday for an interview. I started a week later.”

Collins returned to Lucasville as warden in 1993 after riots took 10 lives and caused $40 million in damage. Today, his charge is larger: making every prison in the state work. With a prison system at 130-percent capacity, the state needs to make some tough decisions, he says. Mandatory sentencing, especially for drug crimes, has put people in prison who don’t need to be there. He favors sentencing reform and is a huge proponent of community corrections alternatives for low-risk offenders. “If you want to lock everybody up, that’s fine with me, too, but you got to figure out how to pay for it.”

Into the Wild

Jene Galvin is a true wilderness man. This summer he was a volunteer park ranger at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska, stationed at Chinitna Bay, a remote area only accessible by bush plane, patrolling a grizzly bear viewing area and watching out for poachers.

This is his second year volunteering for the park service. As an avid backpacker, Galvin’s visited Alaska the last 10 years and has had his share of up-close-and-personal bear encounters. He proved to be experienced for the task.

However, Galvin’s adventures started in an urban setting. After obtaining his master’s degree in education and guidance counseling at Xavier, he began teaching for Cincinnati Public Schools in the inner-city neighborhoods. Realizing traditional methods of teaching weren’t working with the kids, he decided to start his own charter school in 1975, without support from the school board. The New Morning High School consisted of a bunch of “hippie kids and teachers,” as Galvin describes them, who took learning outside the classroom and into the real world.

With Galvin’s guidance, one class took its assignment all the way to the courtroom, building a discriminatory case against Cincinnati shop owners who posted signs forbidding or limiting the number of students in their stores. Gaining the support of former City Council member Jerry Springer, the students won. However, a year later the ordinance was overturned.

From there, Galvin started another alternative school for high school students interested in communication professions. Students earned full credits while getting a leg up in the world of journalism with access to their own TV studio and sound room.

In the late 1990s, Galvin began a radio career, hosting an evening talk show on WDBZ in Cincinnati. “It was like Rush Limbaugh, “ he says. “But for the left.” That led to another radio gig, this time as co-host of “Springer on the Radio,” which was syndicated nationally until 2006. Now, he’s back at Xavier as an adjunct professor and coordinator for the Institute for Politics and Public Life’s “American Dream” video blog project, in which students use Flip video cameras to document the public’s view of “the dream.”

Galvin has his own dream, though. “Throughout my life my passion has always been the outdoors,” says the adventurous granddad. He’s hoping the park service starts sending him out for longer stints.

Gridiron Glory

 At age 92, John Paul Sheetz is finally slowing down. After a lifetime of athletic activity, including coaching his nine children in baseball and football, Sheetz now keeps up with sports, especially Xavier basketball, by watching it on television.

Nearly 70 years ago, it was Sheetz who helped put Xavier in the nation’s spotlight.

On a hot night in August 1940, Sheetz and 68 other college athletes from across the country convened on Chicago’s Soldier Field to play what for many would be the game of their lifetime: a college all-star game against the professional Green Bay Packers. Though some of the details are fuzzy, Sheetz, who now lives in Cary, Ill., has no trouble recalling the pride he felt as the player in the Xavier uniform. The All-Americans put up a good fight, but that night, in front of a packed stadium of more than 84,000 fans, the Packers solidly defeated them 45-28.

Winning was not the point, Sheetz says. The schools got national recognition and the players—several of whom were recruited onto professional teams, and even Sheetz got a look by the Chicago Bears—got national exposure. But for Sheetz, the support he received at Xavier from his teammates and the entire student body, who waged a crusade for his nomination to the All-Star team, was overwhelming.

“I made the All-Star team, which included a tryout with the Chicago Bears,” he says. “But it was a very minor tryout. I was pretty fast, but it didn’t last very long when they found out I only weighed 160 pounds.”

Golden Anniversary

As a boy, Paul Anthony O’Brien relished the stories of adventurous missionaries he read about in the Maryknoll magazines his father brought home. How romantic, he thought, traveling to far-away places, living in primitive settlements, working nobly to bring basic services to the poor forgotten peoples of unknown lands.

Now, after celebrating his 50th anniversary as a Maryknoll Missionary priest, O’Brien is relishing a lifetime of doing just that. His 33 years in Bolivia involved service and a grab-bag of wild adventures—no electricity or plumbing in Riberalta, riding reluctant horses to rural out-stations of the San Jose parish, risking piranha attacks in the Beni River.

After graduating from Xavier in 1951 with a philosophy degree, he tried to evade what would be his calling. He served two-and-a-half years in the Army. Then he tried law school, but his heart wasn’t in it. Finally, he listened to the message that kept playing in his head: You can be a priest. He thought of joining the Jesuits, but he didn’t want to teach. He wanted to travel. So he entered the Maryknolls, and just before his ordination in 1959, he received his first assignment: Bolivia.

“Being a missionary is the greatest sacrifice,” he says. “It’s romantic. The need, the abandonment, the lack of priests is what turned me on. I was assigned to a language school for six months, then to Riberalta in the northeastern corner of Bolivia.”

Aside from a couple of stints back home for training in pastoral counseling and parish work, O’Brien stayed in Bolivia. His last assignment was in La Paz, at 12,500 feet above sea level, where he worked for more than 20 years. There he accomplished perhaps his most important work—founding Casa Nazareth, a spiritual center offering a program of retreats in the style of the Jesuits’ Ignatian spirituality. That ended in 2005 when health issues brought him back to New York where he continues his prison and hospital ministry.

But his heart, if not his mission, remains in Bolivia. “I still hear from a number of my Bolivian friends, and I still send them money,” he says. “From them I learned simpatico. They’re very family-oriented. I hope it changed me a little bit, maybe made me more of a heart kind of person.”

Extra Credit

In May 2007, Leo Klein was looking forward to a sabbatical. Since coming to Xavier in 1970, he not only taught, but he also served as chair of the Department of Theology, director for campus ministry, rector of Xavier’s Jesuit community, Provincial of the Jesuits’ Chicago Province and, most recently, vice president for Mission and Identity. Ahead lay two things: dual knee replacements followed by traveling. Before he could do those things, though, he fell and broke a hip, putting a hold on the travel and a focus on healing.

Now back with new body parts but his same enthusiasm, Klein is launching a new project known as “The Second Fifty” that addresses how people view the second half of their lives when they are less active, a time he calls “diminishment.” He held an inaugural class last year that attracted about 20 alumni. They discussed how to live in the “diminishing” time of one’s later years and still “find God in all things.” The program was so popular, he’s starting a second class this fall.

“When I teach freshman theology, we look at the nature of religion and read about the Hindus. I’m entranced by the fact that Hindus divide their lives into three sections: the first is when they’re students, the second is when they’re homemakers and the third is a period for reflection and understanding of their lives. They believe in reincarnation and getting ready for the next life.”

“We have people here who need meaning for their later years. So we needed a program to help people pull their lives together and understand it. We planned it through the summer of 2008 and offered it to Xavier alumni in Cincinnati that fall. We met nine times over nine months. They had work to do between sessions, books to read, DVDs to watch and a theme each week. One was our image of God, and we watched ‘Oh, God.’ It’s a wonderful film.”

“We talked about how to deal with diminishment. Things start going away and you have to leave things behind. Friends die. How do you look at all that? Finding God in all things is a really tough nut to crack but you must crack it or life will not be all it could be. How do you handle diminishment? How do you see this as a part of your life?”

“The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said there is divinization of all our activities early in our lives and also in our passivities later in life. During diminishment, can you find God in your passivities as well as in your activities? If so, then that’s the divine milieux. It’s an important part of life, as the Hindus teach us. We’re all living to be older, and we don’t have a spirituality to go with it.”

Compliments to the Chef

Harvey Golden knows how to run a kitchen—and has the title to prove it. The American Culinary Federation’s Cincinnati chapter recently recognized him as the “Chef of the Year” for his culinary skills and impressive volunteer work.

When he’s not in the kitchen, Golden—owner and executive chef of MPG Events and Catering, and Gravy Comfort Cooking—is fulfilling his duties as chair for the ACF Chef and Child Foundation, speaking to kids about nutrition or volunteering to help organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Golden’s love of cooking began early in life. Following high school, he earned his culinary degree at the Midwest Culinary Institute. After getting married, though, he decided to get “a real job” working for a Fortune 500 company as an operations team leader. He attended Xavier’s weekend degree program, earning his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. But by 2006, he became frustrated with the corporate world. “It was amazing how well-paid some of these people were to be so dysfunctional,” he says, “whereas in the kitchen, you have no choice but to work as a team.”

Golden began cooking up his next career move as a personal chef. To attract clientele, he dressed in his chef coat and frequented grocery stores and elevators in office buildings. “Everyone wants to talk to the chef.”

His tactic worked, and within six months he had enough business to rent a commercial kitchen. Quickly he started catering for corporate events, which required another move. His new catering kitchen just happened to be in a vacant restaurant. Last December, Golden reopened it as Gravy in nearby Goshen, Ohio, which serves Southern-style comfort foods. He describes it as “a Cracker Barrel with a beer and wine license.”

As part of his catering business, Golden also hosts team-building workshops for corporations. With Iron Chef-type exercises and cook-offs, he helps employers and employees break down communication barriers so they can work more collaboratively. “I kept all my team-building activities from Xavier. I guess it pays to be a pack rat.”