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Vanessa Belanger
September 27, 2022

Recent Grad Came to Berry for Soccer, Left with Passion for Social Advocacy

Vanessa Belanger ’22, a political science and religion major, came to Berry with soccer in her heart, but left with the drive and compassion to better the world, plus the memories of a lifetime.

She committed to Berry after an overnight recruiting trip for Berry Women’s Soccer — which included watching soccer games with her future teammates and taking a camping trip to Victory Lake. “The welcoming team, the Berry community and the beautiful campus sold me,” Belanger says.

This sense of belonging carried over into the start of her first year, where she immediately fell into the rhythm of the team. “I came in freshman year to an instant community and family, which eased my transition to college and encouraged my confidence,” explains Belanger, who went on to become team captain. “It is impossible for me to talk about getting to Berry, or my Berry experience as a whole, without acknowledging the importance and centrality of the Berry Women’s Soccer program.”

Of course, soccer was not the only reason Belanger loved Berry. Though initially focused on political science, she added a major in religion after taking Interpreting the Old Testament with Assistant Professor of Religion Jonathan D. Parker and an Honors philosophy class with Adjunct Instructor of Religion Coleman Fannin. The scholar-athlete remarks that her combination of majors never fails to spark a reaction when she describes her education at Berry. “I’ve gotten a ‘you must be a lot of fun at family parties’ a few times — but it makes sense to me,” she says.

Belanger connected her political science and religion majors with an Honors research project: The Catholic Church, Reparations and Reconciliation. It addresses the history of slavery and racism in the Catholic Church, using the socio-political concept of reparations in combination with the theological teachings of the church to determine avenues for reconciliatory efforts.

A devout Catholic, Belanger wanted to use her love for her faith as fuel for her thesis. “At times, it was really hard to do this project. It is difficult to dive deeply into the flaws and blemishes of an institution I sincerely associate with,” she admits. However, she also found similar, genuine calls to fix those cracks, which gave her enough encouragement to continue her research.

Belanger is excited about sharing her work with different Catholic groups to bring about positive change within the church. After graduation, Belanger became involved with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and no matter where she goes next, she is well-equipped for the journey. Her goal is to work in the social advocacy sector of the nonprofit industry or chart a course for academia.

Though her Berry days are behind her, she’ll never forget the sport that brought her to campus: “There is nothing, nothing, like a post-PK-win-dogpile-celebration: it’s joy. And it’s joy because you’re celebrating with your teammates — girls who you love, who you run at 5 a.m. with, who you encourage when Coach says, ‘Okay, get on the line,’ who you sit with when you’re getting treatment for numerous injuries, who you cheer on, who you work hard for. There is no love like the love of a team. So, ultimately, I feel so blessed that I was able to play the game that I love most at such a high level, under such great coaches, and alongside such amazing teammates.”

Story by sophomore Zach Pishock

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