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Saint Xavier students find God in non-traditional settings

Students drawn early to service

news story imageChicago (March 12, 2008) Patricia Smith works 20-plus hours a week at a Jewel grocery store, carries 17 credits at Saint Xavier University, serves as a campus minister and still finds time to volunteer at a homeless shelter. 

“I have these feelings about social justice and making a difference,” said the SXU junior. “You can learn and discuss theories of what you should do, but then you have to actually do what you’re talking about.” 

What reasons compel some young people to pursue an early life of service while others are content merely to go to class and have fun with friends? 

SXU Professor David Neff believes some students are on a spiritual quest. 

“I think many of them are already searching at a deeper level, and it can be hard for them to find God in a traditional setting like church. They’re looking for intensity, something transformative that will take them to a new place,” said Neff, who teaches the University’s God and Social Action class in which students are required to minister weekly at a service site away from campus.

Once a week, the students meet as a group to review individual service, discuss related readings and, perhaps most importantly, share personal experiences and provide support to one another. 
In order to enter the class, all students must first pass an interview process with Sr. Cathleen Cahill, R.S.M., administrative director of Pastoral Ministry. 

“Service is at the core of the Sisters of Mercy mission,” Cahill said. “We want to ensure our students are doing this for the right reasons, not just to earn three credits toward a degree.” 

Cahill places the students with various service groups, including 
Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and the Aquinas Citizens Literacy Center. 

Smith volunteers at the Southwest Chicago Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS), an ecumenical group serving the homeless. There, she welcomes guests and provides meals and clothes. Smith said working with people in real need has been a time of epiphany. 

“Some of the discomfort I was feeling before I started at PADS was that I felt guilty about everything that I have that they don’t,” Smith said. “But I’ve since realized that the homeless don’t need pity, they need dignity. The people at the shelter are our guests. That was a big breakthrough for me. The aspects of social justice and focusing on service and human rights, that’s what appeals to me about Catholicism. I think that’s why I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and do this.”  

Saint Xavier belongs to Campus Compact, a coalition of more than 1,100 colleges and universities and 6 million students who are committed to fulfilling the public purposes of higher education. 

The organization recently published a report noting an increase in student service among the national student population from 28 percent to 32 percent. Faith based institutions reported the highest levels of service with 49 percent.     

-SXU-