Bergman, ‘A Man of Faith and Justice,’ to Retire in May

The bookshelves lining the Creighton Hall office of Roger Bergman, PhD, look just about like any ample collection held by a professor of longstanding.

Look closer, however, and the way Bergman has organized his books takes on a decidedly different tack from his fellow academics. The arrangement is not by author, not by title, not by time period, not even really by subject so much as by asset.

“Virtue” is one of the headings. As is “Liberation.” “Christology.” “Catholic Social Teaching.” “Justice.” Good works to have on hand for the director of Creighton’s Justice & Peace Studies Program.

“When people talk about the Justice & Peace program, it’s one of the most mission-driven academic programs on campus,” said Bergman, who first arrived at Creighton as a lecturer in the Department of Theology in 1989 and will retire as a professor emeritus in the Department of Cultural and Social Studies at the close of this academic year in May. “We’ve always been glad to say that when we talk about a faith that does justice, it’s front and center in this program. It’s one of the first programs of its kind in a Jesuit school and we like to think it’s one of the strongest.”

In his nearly 30 years at the University, Bergman has shepherded the Justice & Peace Studies Program from its beginnings as an academic minor to a major course of study, and from a few interesting courses to a full program.

“As a minor, we had a handful of students who were very eager, but it took me some time to realize that there are people who want to make justice a career pursuit,” Bergman said. “It’s part of the Jesuit educational mission people get most excited about. We started pushing for it and, in 1995, I became the founding director of the program.”

In the 22 years since, Bergman said he and the 169 students who have graduated with a Justice & Peace degree have been under no illusions that the inauguration of a program aimed at doing justice, working for peace, and creating advocacy could dry up the world’s seemingly infinite store of injustice, poverty and racism.

“I learned a long time ago that any one problem is going to come and go, but there will always be a need for work toward justice and peace,” Bergman said. “It’s just part of the human condition. What we talk a lot about in class is how to sustain oneself for the long haul. Students will often say that we don’t pay enough attention to the contemporary issues and I get that. But I think when we can concentrate on the foundations, we are better able to deal with what’s happening in the here and now.”

And on occasion, he said, the efforts have been rewarded and students and faculty alike have been blessed to see the light.

In 2016, Bergman began a summer Faculty-Led Program Abroad to Haiti that gave students insight on the political, economic, environmental and health care challenges facing the Caribbean nation. He hopes to continue accompanying the trip, even in retirement.

“It just feels like a good topping-off to everything that we’ve been able to see happen at Creighton,” he said. “I see it as a legacy among other legacies, the main one being a number of those 169 graduates who are out doing great things and good things in the world.”

Bergman and his wife, Wendy Wright, PhD, a professor in the Department of Theology who will join him in retiring at the end of the academic year, plan to split time between Santa Barbara, California, Omaha and Lincoln, where the couple have three grandchildren.

In his time at Creighton, Bergman initiated the annual Markoe-DePorres Social Justice Lecture Series in 1994, has taken part in dozens of panel discussions, published or delivered hundreds of papers, articles, book chapters, talks and presentations in journals and at conferences around the world. In 2011, he published a book, Catholic Social Learning: Educating the Faith That Does Justice. In addition to the Haiti trip, Bergman has been a tireless traveler in helping students to see social justice done.

For all the books in his office, Bergman knows that the true heart of learning — especially in the pursuit of peace and justice — is found in contacts not concepts, in personal encounters not abstract data.

“How do you do social justice?” he often asks. “Well, we don’t just sit in the classroom and read books. We go out and talk to people, meet them where they are.”

This spring, Bergman was bestowed the St. Ignatius Award from the Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality.

The citation read, in part: “For Roger, campus life is necessarily a participation in the world around us, including influences working to distract us from awareness and interaction. His classes create bridges between campus and world, head and heart, talking and walking, thinking and doing […] This man of faith and justice is a man for others.”

For his part, Bergman said he sees himself in the role of a quartermaster, equipping Creighton students who come under his tutelage for a life tied up in the lives of those for whom justice and peace are sometimes faraway hopes.

“I want them to think about the value and virtue of justice,” he said. “I hope they leave here with the tools to see justice done. Those tools can help build a useful framework for negotiating the complexities of living in a big community which is, after all, what the world really is.”