A Reflection on Fr. Campbell’s Talk, “The Intersections of our Jesuit Mission, Social Justice, and Service” – Will McAvoy ’20 and Christian Realbuto ’20

On October 4th in the Hogan Campus Center, Father Campbell – a graduate of the class of 1987 and Vice President of Mission at Holy Cross – spoke about the intersections of our Jesuit Mission and social justice at the College. His audience was composed of, among others, members from Holy Cross Pax Cristi, Student Programing for Urban Development (SPUD), Multicultural Peer Educators (MPEs), and Community-Based Learning (CBL) students. Basing his arguments on biblical foundations, Father Campbell illustrated how the Catholic Church was formed with an initial emphasis on social justice. He then touched upon how many encyclicals starting with Rerum Novarum and ending with Laudato Si further clarified the church’s dedication to social justice work.  Moreover, Father Campbell explained the role of prophets in modern day society and how we can function as prophets through criticizing oppressive culture and energizing with new ideas and visions.  Shortly after, he closed with “Don’t just stand there, do something! Don’t just do something, stand there!”  In a sense, he demonstrated how, often, the most important type of service requires one stepping back and taking in what is happening around oneself, rather than trying to do everything all together.

After Fr. Campbell’s talk, the audience broke into small groups to dive deeper into several aspects of the lecture and how it applies to the student experience at the College of the Holy Cross. One area of discussion revolved around how Holy Cross students should not limit themselves to a brief two-hour window of service per week in the Worcester community while on the Hill, but should strive to incorporate service learning within their chosen career path after graduation and beyond. Moreover, several students touched on the difficulties of being exposed to the sheer magnitude of issues prevalent not only in Worcester, but across the country and globe. Students noted that SPUD and CBL sites have considerably raised their awareness of, and given physical faces to, the many social justice issues discussed in the classroom, and make them “much more real,” and “hit closer to home” — primarily for students coming from more privileged backgrounds.

Prior to this talk, we both had an understanding of the emphasis that is placed within our Jesuit identity to be men and women for and with others, working towards social justice. Through Father Campbell’s talk, we realized that these deep roots to social justice did not originate with St. Ignatius, but rather in the Bible, many years prior. In addition, we greatly appreciated one of Fr. Campbell’s answers to a question from a student in attendance after the talk, and felt that his response effectively highlighted the essence of his lecture. In short, the student stated that the concept of “charity” often has a negative, “superiority-level” connotation to it, and then asked how Fr. Campbell views the concept of charity. In his response, Fr. Campbell noted that for him, charity is simply “love,” and when acts of charity are done in this manner, they cannot be faulted for mal-intent, but out of generosity and genuine affection for one’s sister and brother. Through these two insights, we have begun to see how social justice is purposefully tied into our existence and curriculum at the College of the Holy Cross in order to form graduates with a strong sense of human rights and social equity within society.

CBL as an Approach to Service and Relationship-Building – Katelyn Lyons ’18

My first semester at Holy Cross, I enrolled in Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies — partly because I wanted to have academic concepts to back up my feminist ideals and partly because I wanted to spend time in the Worcester community. As a first year student, I was pretty sure I wanted to study anthropology. I wanted the opportunity to hear people tell their own stories and learn about experiences different than my own. I wanted to immerse myself in the communities I would become a part of.

Now, as a senior anthropology major, I am so thankful that my 18 year-old self had the wisdom to start engaging with my new community immediately. My first CBL placement was in the thrift shop attached to Abby’s House, a local non-profit that provides safe shelter and affordable housing to women experiencing homelessness. After that first semester, I went on to continue volunteering, become a summer intern, and this past summer, act as both volunteer and researcher.

As part of the Holy Cross Weiss Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to spend 8 weeks of this past summer volunteering at the Abby’s House thrift shop. Along with my volunteer work, I interviewed 3 fellow volunteers and engaged in a self-examination, with the goal of writing a paper about how volunteers make meaning of their experiences at Abby’s House. I am still in awe of the richness of my fellow volunteer’s lives. I am grateful for their willingness to tell me their stories and for their commitment to Abby’s House. One of the women let me shadow her at another Worcester organization where she volunteers and told me how people always ask why she does what she does. “You don’t have to be here,” they say, “You’re not one of us.” Her response is always, “We’re all human.” Another finds strength and community at Abby’s House, which has carried her through challenging times — including a battle with cancer. My last interviewee grew up in a “developing” country and noticed social inequalities from a young age. She knows something about almost every one of our regular shoppers and never fails to greet each person in either English and Spanish.

CBL has given me a great gift in the form of an opportunity. The first day I walked in to Abby’s House, I took great care to not just give of my time and presence, but to look for what I could learn. That opportunity to be open and humble, to give and receive, has truly shaped my Holy Cross experience and the way I approach the world. I have formed relationships with volunteers, donors, and shoppers who are citizens of Worcester. They have taught me little things like the best place to get ice cream, and they have taught me important things like the complex social, economic, and political issues facing the city of Worcester. This lesson on how to approach service and relationship-building is something I know I will carry with me, far beyond the gates of Holy Cross.