Patrick C. Johns, Arts ’71
Staring in the face of tragedy takes a certain kind of courage.
Certainly, it’s not for everyone, clearing bodies in a tsunami’s aftermath, or fighting bureaucracy to feed the starving who literally are dying in front of you, or holding children orphaned by wars.
Yet, these tragedies are why Pat Johns, director of emergency response for Catholic Relief Services, gets out of bed in the morning.
“At this stage of my life, I’d say it has to be a calling,” Pat says. “And I’m eternally grateful to this agency. This award is being given to me, but it’s really recognition for CRS, which gives me the opportunity to make a difference for millions of people.”
Millions who’ve experienced the unthinkable.
And to think Pat wasn’t quite sure what he’d do with his life.
When he graduated from Marquette, he took graduate courses in history and political science, and was working for his dad, a bank president, while sorting through his priorities.
One thing was for sure. “I knew I didn’t want to go into banking,” Pat says and chuckles.
Call it divine intervention, but a monsignor, a family friend, was visiting Pat’s family in 1974, and Pat told him that he was contemplating overseas social work. The monsignor knew the bishop who led CRS. Within a week, Pat flew to New York and earned a job offer.
“They wanted to send me to Cambodia, a place I had hoped to avoid. I said I’d have to think about it, and they said think quick,” says Pat. That first assignment, he says, is “what gave me a niche in life. I was going into a war zone but it gave me the feeling we were making a difference for thousands of people.”
He also met his wife there, the daughter of a war correspondent.
Pat says a Jesuit education helped prepare him for his life’s work. “The social values, the concept of social justice…when you’re working in conflict situations, you have to be the voice of the victim,” he says.
His calling has brought him to more than 50 countries (Pat says his passport looks like a phone book) and allowed him to touch the lives of mre than 80 million people, about half in emergency situations.
It’s demanding and sometimes frustrating work, but he says, “to know we’ve made a difference in people’s lives provides an inner fulfillment that stays forever.”