Motivated by Catholic teachings, he joined the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, which provides free legal representation to inmates.
“He was a little unusual in the group of law school students who were interested in social justice issues in that he was so clearly committed to his faith,” said John J. Butler, a classmate and friend. “I thought it was admirable — a little different — but admirable.”
But, privately, Kaine was disillusioned with Harvard.
“I remember thinking two things: Why am I rushing? Life is long. . . . And also, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life, and everybody else seems so sure,” he told C-SPAN.
That is when he decided to head to Honduras with the Jesuits. But when he arrived in 1980, the missionaries had little use for his training in contracts and torts.
“They said, ‘OK, Harvard Law School? That has precisely zero relevance to anything we’re doing,’” Kaine said. “‘But didn’t your dad do something in the trades?’ And when I told them what he did, they said, ‘OK, you’re going to run our vocational school.’ ”
After nine months teaching Hondurans carpentry and welding, Kaine returned to Harvard, where a classmate named Anne Holton, the daughter of a former Virginia governor, asked him to rejoin the Prison Legal Assistance Project.
“She claims she was not only trying to convince me to come back, but pretty quickly was trying to convince me to pay attention to her,” Kaine said in the C-SPAN interview.
During a study group, she brought him homemade chocolate-chip cookies.
“Her side of the story is, from the day of those chocolate-chip cookies, I was a goner,” Kaine said. “I don’t remember the chocolate-chip cookies, but I remember her very well.”
The two became a nearly inseparable pair on campus.