Catholic school students serve community

There’s a moment every Catholic high school can count on when service requirements are announced.

A groan from a student or two can be heard when a class is told what is expected of them.

There is another moment, however, that goes less noticed. It’s when those once annoyed students who thought only of themselves not only accept their task, but embrace it as well.

“There’s a little bit of resistance at first,” said Meaghan Tracey, the service coordinator for Calvert Hall College High School in Towson. “We tell them if you have good relationships with kids, do that. If you like being around the elderly, we can find something for you to do. I think they find once they’ve gone once or twice in their service, any hesitation is gone.”

With the start of Catholic Schools Week in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and around the country, the theme is Celebrate Service. Volunteerism and service is not something strictly contained to Jan. 25-31.

Schools around the archdiocese see students go above and beyond the demands of service throughout the year. They become regulars at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, retirement communities, grade schools and in dilapidated neighborhoods.

“I see horizons being opened and widened,” said Bishop Walsh School principal Sam Torres. “Many students are busy with their own academics and don’t always find the time to focus on the less fortunate.”

Students in fifth through 12th grade at the Cumberland school are required to accumulate 75 hours of community service before they graduate. Although younger students may be making small inroads toward that goal, students at the high school level become a constant presence in the Western Maryland community, according to Mr. Torres.

“The majority of our graduates do not stop at 75 hours,” Mr. Torres added. “They are in the hundreds. They’re ministering in church, involved in the local YMCA and volunteering at the hospital. We also say to them they have a Christian responsibility to reach out.”

When the 2009-10 school year begins in September, Bishop Walsh will become the lone Catholic education institution west of Hagerstown.

“With the population in decline, it makes our service that much more visible,” Mr. Torres said. “It almost seems like it continues to expand.”

A representative from the archdiocesan Division of Catholic Schools said all high schools have service requirements, even though it is not mandated by the church.

Each school differs in the amount of service demanded. Students at Seton Keough are required to contribute 45 hours during their four years at the school, according to its communication director.

Even beyond the hours, Seton Keough’s Vincentian Outreach Club works with local senior communities, while other organizations on campus develop community leadership amongst the student population.

Last March, the school held the Kathleen Bowen Walk-for-Hope to raise money for students with cancer. It raised more than $20,000.

Calvert Hall, by contrast, requires just the junior class to fulfill 24 hours of service during that year.

That may seem small, but Calvert Hall said there is more to service than just requiring hours. Students work with a specific population in need and write papers of reflection about their interactions and what they learned.

The goal is to raise a consciousness of the people in the world. The program results in changed lives, both inside and outside of the school, said Calvert Hall campus minister Mark Parisi.

“At Calvert Hall, it is expected as something we do,” Mr. Parisi said. “It’s part of our faith tradition.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.