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SLU’s Juggling Jesuit Goes Online to Keep Billikens Spiritually Balanced


To help students at Saint Louis University build deeper relationships with God and one another, Joe Laramie, S.J., juggles – literally and metaphorically.

Known around SLU for his spiritual writing and his work as a campus minister, Laramie is both a Jesuit and a trained juggler.

And as Billikens learn remotely and live apart from one another during the current public health crisis, he’s keeping his fire torches and balls in the air as he uses juggling’s “guaranteed joyful mayhem” to help students stay connected to one another and engaged with their inner spiritual selves via Zoom sessions.

“In the 1500s, Jesuits would gather in the piazzas of Rome and Spain; they'd sing, preach, teach and gather people together,” Laramie said. “It was public and communal and grabbed people's attention.”

Embracing Society of Jesus’s performative past, Laramie has offered juggling workshops outside Spring Hall during the fall semester for the past two years.

“It's been a great way to connect with students,” Laramie explained. “They see me, it looks fun, they try it, we chat for a bit; maybe I can then invite them to a Mass or retreat – or a friendly conversation can turn into a spiritual conversation.”

“I think St Ignatius keeps calling us to build and deepen relationships,” he continued. “Try to ignore a priest juggling clubs outside your residence hall! It's a way to make a connection – and hopefully it can grow into something deeper.”

Joseph Laramie, S.J., says Mass.

Joseph Laramie, S.J., a SLU alumnus and member of the Department of Campus Ministry, draws on the Jesuits' performative past and his training as a juggler to help students explore the spiritual side of life. Submitted photo

With students off-campus as the world battles the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Laramie wanted to continue connecting with students through the hobby he’s loved since childhood.

“I thought, 'Why not try it on Zoom?'” Laramie recalled. “In this 'shelter in place' experience, students have time, they're looking to connect, to be active.”

“And, you can learn with very basic supplies – three tennis balls or even three pairs of socks (rolled into 3 balls); I start with three plastic disposable grocery bags,” he said. “Invite your family! Bring your mom! Stop by for five minutes or the whole hour! It's wholesome, goofy, active fun during a tough moment in our lives.”

Want to Learn to Juggle with Father Joe?

Learn More About SLU’s Juggling Jesuit

Joe Laramie, S.J., juggles
How long have you been juggling?

My dad taught himself with a book in the 1980s. He taught me when I was 10 in 1987.

When I was at Saint Louis University High School in the ‘90s, an alumnus came and taught a few of us to juggle clubs.

When I was at SLU as a student myself, I entertained at kid's birthday parties sometimes. I also worked as a juggler at City Museum when it first opened, as well as the First Night New Year's celebration in the city.

I also won a “Stupid Human Tricks” contest when I was in college: I juggled a head of lettuce, an apple and a chocolate cake and ate them! As a prize, I got free tickets to see David Letterman on “The Late Show” in New York.

How have you brought your love of juggling back to SLU as a staff member?

I own fire torches and used them in a video for the Honors Program last spring. And, yes, my yard caught fire!

What interested you in learning the skill?

It's fun, goofy, makes people smile. I saw it on TV or in a circus and wanted to try it.

I love teaching people, too.

Beyond reaching students, how else does juggling help you live out your faith?

I've been working on a Trinity-themed juggling homily for a few years – it’s still in process!

What does someone need to know before they join a Zoom juggling session?

Be ready to laugh and feel embarrassed! That's the fun of it.

I'll do it each Thursday at 4 to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST) (SLU time) this spring.

Catch the zoom session; then, try to practice for 5 to 10 minutes each day.

Zoom in again the next week. In seven to ten days, you'll have the basics.

Is there anything else would-be jugglers should know?

Ha. Don't try this near anything breakable!

Have Questions? 

Learn how SLU’s Department of Campus Ministry is helping students during the COVID-19 pandemic

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications.