In less than four months as an intern at The Faith & Politics Institute (FPI), sophomore Dominika “Nika” Hoefle earned the respect of FPI president Liz McCloskey.
“Nika was what we would call our ‘uber’ intern,” McCloskey told EMU News Service. She described Hoefle’s performance as “superb” in that she took initiative on projects, while asking necessary questions, seeking approval before proceeding, and understanding that she was in a support role to FPI staff.
Hoefle landed at FPI as part of the Washington Community Scholars Center (WCSC), a program under which students from Eastern Mennonite University and several of EMU’s sister schools live cooperatively in an EMU-owned building in northeast Washington D.C., take classes and go on educational outings, and do internships in D.C. organizations.
Upon arriving at FPI in January, Hoefle became immersed in preparations for FPI’s 14th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage, which took place March 7–9, 2014. Pilgrimage Chair John Lewis (D-GA) led the delegation to the Mississippi Delta and then to Selma, Alabama. There the group crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in commemoration of a horrific event on March 7, 1965, when Lewis and many other civil rights demonstrators were attacked by police as they peacefully attempted to cross the bridge and march to the state capital of Montgomery. Lewis himself was severely injured in this attack.
Six weeks after this, April 23-27, FPI embarked on its first European pilgrimage in its quarter-century of existence – and second international pilgrimage (the first was to South Africa in 2003) – to the island of Ireland. This trip, like FPI’s dozens of pilgrimages to historically significant sites in the United States since 1991, aimed at fostering greater understanding and reconciliation among leaders of Congress.
In support of FPI’s permanent staff and under their direction, Hoefle prepared extensive briefing documents to help make both trips a success. She also became a member of the team of travelers.
For the Irish pilgrimage, FPI enlisted the help of another WCSC student, senior Kara Lofton (who had been interning at Sojourners as an editorial assistant), to join the travelers and post updates via FPI’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as the group moved through the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In addition to two members of Congress – Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) – the delegation included: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; Nettie Douglass, founding chair of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives; Anne Anderson, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States; Kevin Murphy, police chief of Montgomery, Alabama; three university professors with expertise on Ireland; two representatives from the NAACP; and a number of business leaders.
“We were able to take our Civil Rights Pilgrimage and model an international trip after that,” said McCloskey. During the civil rights pilgrimages, participants (called delegates) were able to hear personal narratives from people on both sides of the divide. This successful model was employed in planning the trip to the island of Ireland, where the FPI delegates interacted with leading political and religious figures in the long-standing conflict over political control and socio-economic equity there, including Michael D. Higgins, president of the Republic of Ireland, and Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume. The FPI pilgrimage was widely covered by the Irish media.
Working on Capitol Hill, FPI promotes effective government through reflection and conversation across racial, religious, ideological and party lines, according to its website. The institute aims to cultivate a spiritual community of men and women who seek “a better way to do the people’s business.”
Hoefle could not be reached for comments for this article, as she is visiting her family in Thailand this summer and traveling around that region. But she shared lodging with Lofton during the Ireland trip, and often told Lofton of her pleasure in working at FPI.
The feeling was mutual. “She had a sweet spirit that meshed very well with the culture and environment we try to cultivate here,” said McCloskey. “She has a special heart for peace and reconciliation work so it was very fitting she was the one to come [on the two pilgrimages].”
Kimberly Schmidt, WCSC director, said that Hoefle was the latest in a long line of EMU interns at FPI. “We’ve had someone there just about every spring since about 2002,” she noted. “Almost all of these interns have participated in Faith & Politics’ annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage.” Schmidt, a professor of American history, went on FPI’s 2009 pilgrimage.
Others from EMU who have interned at FPI: Jeremy Blake ’05, Liza Heavener ’07, Cathrine Blum ’08, Regina Wenger ’09, Robert Alderfer ’10, Daniel Herring ’10, Karissa Sauder ’10, Sarah Roth Shank ’10, Heidi Boese Derstine ’11, and Joo-Ah Lee, class of 2015.