Young Catholics Put Faith into Action during Spring Break

 By John W. Yaquinta WEST VIRGINIA— When most college students think of spring break, they think of a week of relaxation, possibly a trip to the beach. But for many young Catholics attending colleges and universities in West Virginia, it is a time to put their faith into action—a time to serve.  These faith-filled young people made service a priority by participating in mission trips at home, across the U.S. and in other countries. Wheeling Jesuit University students embarked on four trips during the school’s spring break Feb. 22-March 2. Eight students and two chaperones went to Boston to work on social justice issues relating to immigration and diversity with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Eleven other students and two chaperones traveled to Camden, N.J., to work with issues of urban poverty. This group worked with the Romero Center in Camden, a Jesuit ministry that connects students to a variety of different urban ministries with speakers and faith-based reflections, while a third group of WJU students went to Mingo County, where they helped provide free health screenings, CPR classes and health education. The group was made up of 13 students studying health-related fields and two chaperones. The fourth group was sponsored by the university’s Appalachian Experience Club and worked at the Big Laurel Learning Center in Mingo County and helped by chopping wood and doing manual labor projects. “As a Jesuit university, our mission is to educate students for life, leadership and service so we believe it is essential for our students to learn the skills necessary to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply that to the real world,” said Erin McDonald, assistant director of the Service for Social Action Center at WJU. “Encouraging our students to get involved in the community stretches them beyond the classroom and connects them to transformative experiences that develop critical minds and compassionate hearts.” Moira Reilly, campus minister at West Virginia University in Morgantown, led a group of nine students and one chaperone to Jamaica during WVU’s spring break March 22-29. They worked at various places throughout the week, including the Mustard Seed’s Martha’s House for children with HIV or cerebral palsy, Mother Teresa’s home for the elderly, Bustamante Children’s Hospital School for long-term patients well enough to spend the day out of bed and the Poor Relief Shelter and Soup Kitchen. Every evening, students discussed their work and spent a lot of time playing with neighborhood children in the yard of the convent at which they stayed. “Our trip to Jamaica has had such a profound impact on me,” said Andrea Garton, a student who participated in the trip. “It’s made me reconsider my career plans. I can’t wait to go back when I have the skills and resources to make a greater impact.” A memory that she said will stay with her for life is that of visiting an orphanage for HIV positive children. Each of her team members immediately had two or three kids in their laps. “They just wanted to be held and loved,” Garton said. Father Dan Pisano, associate pastor of St. John University Parish in Morgantown, and student leader Natalie Committee led a group of seven students to Kermit to conduct service work that same week. This group stayed at Christian Help and worked on different jobs each day, including painting, cleaning river banks, gardening and yard work. “More than anything, this trip was a learning experience for all of us,” Committee said. “I’ve lived in West Virginia my whole life, but I’d never seen the poverty that affects the southern part of the state.” Two students from Marshall University in Huntington joined students from several other colleges to participate in the Christian Appalachian Project at Workfest 2008 in McKee, Ky., where they conducted home repairs in rural areas. “We all worked on homes for families who could not afford to hire professionals. They all were in desperate need of home repairs,” said Natalie Rohan, director of Campus Ministry at Marshall. “The woman I helped had a leaky roof so we gave her a new one. Also, her children did not have beds so we purchased some beds and assembled them for her. We also put new siding and windows all around the house.”