Patrick Downes: A True Man for Others

by Amanda Judah


On March 19, Patrick Downes addressed a packed Yawkey Function Room for the Ignatian Society’s inaugural “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” lecture (AMDG). The lecture series aims to attract a speaker who embodies the values of this Ignatian mission, whose Latin translates to, “For the greater glory of God.” Downes’ efforts over the past five years have made him more than eligible to speak in the series. As a double Eagle, he  is well versed in the oft-quoted “men and women for others” motto of the University. His speech illustrated how this title can become “the most powerful” in a person’s life, if they are willing to accept the fact that humans are responsible for one other.

Downes’ story was centered around the events of April 15, 2013, when two bombs were detonated at the Boston Marathon finish line. As spectators, he and his wife Jessica were wounded by the blasts, requiring a long hospital stay and three amputations between the two of them. On a nearby projector, Downes displayed photos of Boylston Street minutes after the bombing. He wanted the audience to experience the reality of the violent events. While Downes never shied away from describing the physical and psychological challenges he faced after the bombings, his narrative focused on the outpouring of empathy he felt.


The 2005 alum’s background in clinical psychology was evident when he mused, “Do others that face trauma have support? Does their city rally around them to create a shared sense of meaning? Do they have access to funds for their medical care?” 


By lamenting the general lack of these benefits, Downes emphasized his appreciation for the  “overflowing love and support“ he has received in the past five years.


First, Downes explained that he received the opportunity to interact with others whom he never would have known otherwise. One such group was his “Boylston Street Family,” who had all been affected by the bombings in some way. He appreciated having a “built-in support system” that allowed each unique individual to have “their own story of recovery.”


Downes and his wife, Jessica, also got to know the team at Walter Reed Hospital (normally a facility for veterans), who provided specialized rehabiltory services and several surgeries. Since the couple was, in some ways, able to relate to the soldiers they met there, Downes acquired a new perspective on combat and service. He was proud to report that the Walter Reed team is welcomed in Boston every Patriot’s Day for the Marathon.


Another supportive member of the couple’s recovery team was a service dog named Rescue, who joined them after they left the hospital. Downes reported that this was the best form of “medicine” for his wife.


Because of the love Downes experienced, he was able to truly carry out the Ignatian mission of helping others. The couple first reached out to children by writing a book titled Rescue and Jessica, demystifying protesteics and the use of a service dog. The book aims to show “how a person with two prosthetics can still be playful,” and answers many common questions that children have. They also gave back to their alma mater by establishing the “BC Strong” scholarship, supporting students “who [have] shown great determination in the face of adversity.”


The couple hasn’t limited their activism to the local area, however. They are currently promoting the Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes Act, which would allow victims of domestic terrorism to receive treatment at military facilities. Downes described these efforts with passion and sincerity.


Downes and his wife grew to recognize forces of good in the face of unexplainable tragedy. The Ignatian Society believed that the couple’s efforts to create love from suffering made Downes a particularly apt speaker to inspire men and women for others.

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