At Saint Peter’s College, the Jesuit ideal of “Men and Women for Others” will always be an integral component of the education of each student, inside and outside of the classroom.
On campus, our Office of Campus Ministry and Office of Community Service work hand-in-hand to ensure students are exposed to meaningful and potentially life-changing volunteer experiences. Together, we prepare students for a lifetime of learning, leadership and service, while cultivating an awareness and appreciation for diversity that we guide them to maintain as post-college adults.
Vision 2015, a plan that seeks to advance Saint Peter’s recognition as a leading Jesuit institution, pursues a bold vision rooted in faith, reason, service and justice. Currently in its primary stages, Vision 2015 has identified the promotion of Saint Peter’s Jesuit mission and identity as one of the plan’s four main objectives.
In order to succeed in this area, our team, as well as Saint Peter’s faculty and administrators, are charged with continuing to advance a dynamic interfaith community on campus; to further integrate faith and reason into the academic curriculum; and to encourage our students to embrace a lifelong commitment to service. Although the plan was enacted less than a year ago, Vision 2015’s guidance to advance the College’s Jesuit mission and identity is already evident in the response of our student body.
Over the past few months, we have seen enthusiasm and desire among our students to help others grow to a new and higher level. As evidence, Saint Peter’s College students are the largest group in Jersey City to contribute their time to mentoring children through an opportunity with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties. Programs with a limited number of spots, such as for our “Midnight Runs” to New York City, where our students hand out clothing, food and toiletries to the homeless, are filled almost instantly.
We have connected with national initiatives such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month by participating in local fundraising events, which has raised public knowledge about these diseases in our local Jersey City community. Saint Peter’s also hosts the Church World Service CROP Hunger Walk for Jersey City, an interfaith hunger-education and fundraising event that takes place in different locations all over the world. Through programs such as the Loyola Volunteers, many students are consistently carrying out the values of service and justice by pledging at least 30 hours of service to one organization each semester.
By the end of the 2009 fall semester, our Office of Campus Ministry will have held nine retreats on campus and regionally, a record number to hold in one semester for the College.
Perhaps no other project demonstrates our students’ increased commitment to service-based organizations than our partnership with First Friends of New Jersey and New York.
For many years, Saint Peter’s College has worked with this volunteer-based organization, which is devoted to visiting individuals being detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) in Elizabeth, N.J. Known as asylum seekers, those detained fled their home country to escape conflict, persecution or natural disaster, and are currently waiting for their cases to be reviewed or dismissed. Because the majority of asylum seekers currently held at the EDC have never lived in the United States, they often languish for months with little to no contact from individuals outside of the prison.
In a gesture of solidarity, the First Friends organization recruits and trains individuals to visit asylum seekers. Approximately 35 students have chosen to visit the EDC, some of whom have gone as part of Saint Peter’s Freshman Common Reading Program, an initiative that is charged with exposing new students to issues such as persecution and discrimination through classroom study and co-curricular activities. Students have noted that working with First Friends and visiting the EDC gives them an opportunity to “step outside of their comfort zones.”
Students from the College’s Criminal Justice Club have also volunteered to visit Hudson County Corrections Center, another local facility where asylum seekers are currently detained. These students have volunteered not only to gain exposure to helping immigrants through legal practices, but to help themselves gain an awareness of “the different sides of every story, rather than stereotype inmates or make any judgments.”
Additional students continue to visit the detention centers on an independent basis. They also return to campus and tell their peers about their experiences with asylum seekers, which has influenced more students to inquire about ways to serve. This has given us the opportunity to expand programming for student service.
Most recently, the “Junkyard Dogs” project has been added to our service program portfolio, which focuses on creating a cleaner environment in Jersey City by removing trash from the streets. This is just one program, among multiple others, that has been implemented in the hope of answering students’ demand for increased service opportunities.
The continuation of programs that promote service and justice are just one of the goals of Vision 2015, as well as the Saint Peter’s College community as a whole. Our director of campus ministry, Mary Sue Callan-Farley may have said it best: “We will continue to provide opportunities for our students to walk with others in need. It is our hope that they continue beyond their experiences at Saint Peter’s College, and live their lives for the betterment of others.”
Written by: Erich Sekel, Associate Director of Campus Ministry, Saint Peter’s College
Contributing writer: Mary Sue Callan-Farley, Director of Campus Ministry, Saint Peter’s College