Sunday, October 17, 2021

Catholic Schools Teach Value of Community Service

Much is often made of student academic and athletic achievement at Diocesan schools. But at the core of Catholic education is another building block that will serve students, and their communities, for years to come.

Community service is a significant expectation and, in some cases, a requirement for Diocesan students. The idea of being servant leaders following in the footsteps of Jesus is one that is stressed in schools across the area.

Saint Patrick School in Carlisle serves preK 3 to 8th grade. All students are able to participate in school-wide service projects throughout the year, and the middle school (grades 6-8) is required to submit at least five hours of community service each trimester, for a total of 15 each school year.

Kelly Cloak is Saint Patrick’s middle school religion teacher and said the 15-hour number is a baseline to encourage creative and ongoing service in the school, parish and community. Cloak said the goal is for service to be a habit, not a “once and done item on their checklist.”

The service requirement is a way for students to put Catholic social teaching into action and practice, Cloak said.

“Matthew 25 is clear that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, sick, and imprisoned, and bury the dead, and otherwise minister to the least among us, we do it for Jesus,” she said. “Providing opportunities for servant leadership both here at school and out in the community helps our students find and cultivate the leader in each of them.”

Alanna Grove is in 8th grade at Saint Patrick and has a wide variety of community service experience – from school projects to community work at local and state parks, a local arts-based charity and a food pantry.

“Community service has allowed me to grow closer to the members of the community. It allows me to help others in ways that are important to me,” Alanna said. “From the park service to art murals, it has allowed me to use the talents with which I’ve been blessed.”

Alanna’s mom Beth Grove said she appreciates that the school stresses the importance of service.

“It helps reinforce the message we teach our children at home, to be stewards of this Earth for others,” Grove said, adding that she remembers hearing that message as a teenager in a homily by Father William Forrey, former pastor at Saint Patrick Parish and now the interim vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese.

At Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, students must complete 80 hours of volunteer service before the end of the first semester of their senior year, which is a minimum cumulative total of 20 hours for each year. The requirements are spread over three categories: church, Delone Catholic and community.

Kate Phenicie is the Director of Spiritual Life, Works of Mercy Student Service Coordinator and Foundations of Faith Teacher at Delone. She said the Works of Mercy (service) program is an integral part of the overall curriculum.

She said the emphasis on service is “in accord with our motto, “Be Doers of The Word,” (James 1:22) and our obligation to educate students to be responsible world citizens and active participants in their faith.”

Delone renamed their service program the “Works of Mercy program” a few years ago to emphasize the Lord’s call to serve others as brothers and sisters in Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). Phenicie said the school hopes that students are truly able to view and asses the ways in which they can help others and then put their talents and gifts into practice.

“We have seen this bear fruit with the many students who go above and beyond the minimum requirement of hours,” she said. “Perhaps most rewarding, however, is to see the students who pursue service in college and in their personal lives.”

The list of ways in which Delone Catholic students serve their community is long and varied, as with so many of the Catholic schools in the Diocese.

In particular, though, Phenicie recounted one example that highlights the power of student community service. The school’s Toys for Tommy Drive honors Tommy Laudani, a 2018 graduate who passed away five months after graduation after a long battle with DSRCT, a rare form of cancer. To honor Tommy’s memory, a friend and classmate, Margaret Grenchik ’18, partnered with Tommy’s brother, Bobby Laudani ’17, to collect new toys to be donated to families at Johns Hopkins, where Tommy received treatment. Close to 250 families benefit from these gifts.

“We are so proud of the selfless work that Margaret and Bobby are doing to honor Tommy, and of the response from our community when the time to collect the toys comes,” Phenicie said.

Kyla Hockley is the principal of St. John Neumann Catholic School in Lancaster. The school serves preK 4-8th grade and is a new name in a new location that continues the history of St. Anne Catholic School.

Although several things changed as the school transitioned from St. Anne’s to St. John Neumann, Hockley said the commitment to service remained strong. It was so strong that the new school’s mission statement includes a nod to it: “As an authentically Catholic community, we welcome and value each person’s giftedness while inspiring growth in Truth, Wisdom, Faith & Virtue. We exemplify Christ’s love in service to others.”

St. John Neumann has at least one service project a month that is a school-wide endeavor; sometimes they are annual events, sometimes they are specific to a community need. The school does not have requirements for service, although the 8th graders who are preparing for Confirmation do.

“It’s part of the fabric of who we are,” Hockley said.

Hockley added it’s important that students learn about the groups they are helping. She said the school is working on having classes build relationships with community agencies so they can deepen their commitment.

It’s Hockley’s hope that students will realize that if they keep their eyes open, they will see and can help people in need. Sometimes it’s big projects and sometimes it’s acts of kindness. When St. John Neumann partnered to collect items for A Woman’s Concern, a pregnancy and parenting resource center in Lancaster, the school held a baby shower so the students could feel like a part of the process. She said they also talked with agency representatives about how some babies start life without the basic needs many take for granted.

The positive peer pressure of having a school community that values community service is very important, Hockley said.

“If this is what everybody does then it’s part of your culture,” she said.

Creating a positive and lasting culture is a big part of what Catholic schools look to do. Crystal Noel, Academics & Data Specialist with the Diocese of Harrisburg, said this commitment to service is a crucial part of every Catholic school.

“Student service policy 5135.2 states, ‘Christian service is an integral element of our Catholic life and of our educational programs. Students in an age-appropriate manner, should be introduced into the practice of providing service to others,’” she said. “Catholic schools focus with parents as the primary educator, to educate the whole child: academically, spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally.”

Learn more about Catholic education in the Diocese of Harrisburg by visiting GoCatholicSchools.org.

By Lisa Maddux, Special to The Witness

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