Mark Potter, KBI Board Member
From early on, Mark Potter has been interested in the intersection of faith and action: How do people live out their beliefs? How do Christians live out their values in a multi-faith world? Through his studies, teaching, and ministry, Mark has explored these questions, and his background—in philosophical and theological inquiry as well as active social ministry—has played a pivotal role in the development and growth of the KBI, first as a participant in the needs assessment for a border ministry and then in his years as a board member for the new organization.
It was while teaching at Loyola Marymount University and working at their Center for Service and Action in 2005 that Mark first met Fr. Sean who was the assistant pastor at Dolores Mission Church near East Los Angeles. Mark and his family attended Mass there, and when Mark became the provincial assistant for social ministries at the California Province of the Society of Jesus in 2006, he established an office at the parish. Over many conversations and rides to the Province’s headquarters in San Jose, a friendship between Mark and Fr. Sean grew, an added benefit when the Province asked them to make initial forays to the Arizona–Sonora border to assess how it might be more responsive to the immigration crisis. That was the beginning of a needs assessment process that eventually led to the creation of the Kino Border Initiative with its trifecta of carefully considered programming—direct aid, education, and research and advocacy. As Father Sean noted, “In the initial needs assessment and then on the KBI board, Mark blessed our efforts with his profound wisdom and firm commitment to our mission.”
Mark was a college student when he first made the connection between theological training (an intellectual pursuit) and community work with those most in need (a compassionate commitment). Every spring break, Mark volunteered at an immigrant community in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a post-industrial city where residents often faced steep economic and social challenges. It was the first time Mark lived among people who were struggling. Something clicked. “Working with people on the margins brought relevance to my studies,” he says. “I gained real insight into just how the gospels were good news.” That experience reframed Mark’s perspective on his faith, and has continued to inform his decisions and actions. In one of many articles published over the past decade, Mark writes of “solidarity as spiritual exercise” (italics are his), an approach formulated over years of putting it into practice and consistent with the “accompaniment” observed at the KBI.
Mark went on to earn a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Boston College, where he helped teach a service-learning class and where his wife Kristin Heyer was also a doctoral student. He discovered the writings of Jon Sobrino, S.J. which provided inspiration and a model of a “lived commitment.” Fr. Sobrino was one of the Jesuits sent to work in El Salvador during its tumultuous era of civil war, but was in Asia giving a talk when his fellow priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were massacred in November 1989. As Mark explains, “The tragedy filled him with responsibility, and he became more vocal, more prolific. For me, Fr. Sobrino represents the unflagging commitment of putting faith into action no matter what the cost.”
Faith in action is also a cornerstone of the KBI’s mission as staff, board members, volunteers, and donors put principles into practice, serving deported migrants and advocating for a more humane immigration policy. As one of the KBI’s board members from its inception, Mark has supported and contributed to this vision.
This past summer, Mark stepped down from his KBI board duties and a decade of work with the California Province to move back to Boston with his family, taking up a teaching position at Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school for girls, grades 5–12. Kristin now teaches theology at their alma mater, Boston College, and their sons, Owen, 10, and Luke, 7, will soon be introduced to New England winters.
From their new far-from-the-border home, Mark and Kristin continue to support the KBI as monthly contributors and advocates for immigration reform. In November, Mark will bring a group of students from his new high school to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C., where he hopes to meet up with the Kino Teens from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, AZ. (Kristin has also been active in immigration issues, publishing the book Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration in 2012.)
And of course, Mark maintains his long-standing friendships with Fr. Sean and his KBI board colleagues. His time with the KBI stays with him. Reflecting on his experience helping to create the KBI and serving on its board, Mark says, “One of the great joys of my life was to be involved with the Kino Border Initiative from the very beginning.”