Mount Mercy University recently hosted a former gang member turned doctoral student to share his story of overcoming obstacles to ultimately earning his PhD. Jason Sole was a former drug dealer, street gang member, and three-time convicted felon that was raised in Chicago. Sole turned to a gang early on his life in order to feel authority and financial stability that he could not find elsewhere. As a result of this, Sole was incarcerated several times over the course of his life. There came a point when Sole recognized he needed to make changes in his life, this is when he turned to education and earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in criminal justice and is currently completing his dissertation to complete his doctorate in public safety.
Mount Mercy students noted that “they felt compelled to bring Jason to campus because of everything that has been going on in the country, and what has happened in the past and what continues to happen. It is not often that those in the black community are given a second chance at life once placed in the criminal justice system. Jason is a living testimony of that.”
ACCU recently released the summer edition of Update, our quarterly newsletter. Read Update in full here. Peace and Justice highlights include:
ACCU President’s Letter: Celebrating 50 years of Populorum Progressio
Rivier Students Participate in Day of Service: In April, Rivier University held its fifth annual First-Year Student Day of Service, contributing hundreds of service hours to Greater Nashua, New Hampshire non-profit organizations.
Mount Marty Students Volunteer at Rosebud Indian Reservation: Eighteen students from Mount Marty College recently participated in an annual service opportunity that sends nursing students and non-nursing majors to the Rosebud Indian Reservation to work with Tree of Life Ministry in Mission, South Dakota.
Newman Students Focus Art on Syrian Conflict: The atrium in Newman University’s Dugan Library was home to a student-created art exhibit in April, with art designed to depict the conflict in Syria.
Emmanuel Students Raise Funds for Children’s Hospital: The sixth annual Emmanuel College Dance Marathon for Boston Children’s Hospital set a new fundraising record this year.
Benedictine Holds Social Justice Teach-In: This spring Benedictine University held an all-day “Teach-In on Social Justice and Race” to promote greater understanding of people and issues affecting local communities.
Aquinas Awarded Early Childhood Ed. Grant: Aquinas College in Michigan has been awarded a $900,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to address the shortage of qualified teachers of color available to lead local early childhood education classrooms.
Inspired by their mission, Catholic colleges and universities serve their local communities in many ways, including building partnerships to work for the common good. Since 2010, ACCU member institutions have partnered with community organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) to collaborate on initiatives that help people in their local communities who are living in poverty. These organizations are dedicated to empowering people to create change in their local community through solidarity and education. Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are just a few of the institutions addressing local issues of poverty through these partnerships, providing a concrete way for students to live out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
At Saint Joseph’s University, students have the opportunity to work with Urban Tree Connection, a non-profit organization funded by CCHD that works with people living in Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods to develop community-based greening and gardening projects. Urban Tree Connection (UTC) empowers members of the local community by training people in farming and other agricultural skills and making fresh produce more widely available. Their projects are created on vacant land to create safe and functional spaces that promote positive human interactions. Saint Joseph’s University’s Sustainability Committee and Institute for Environmental Stewardship work with UTC to provide access to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at UTC to faculty, staff, administrators, and students at the university. Subscribers to the CSA receive vegetables from UTC’s urban farms, supporting their efforts to transform abandoned lots into community gardens.
In addition to promoting the CSA program, students at SJU are also encouraged to work with UTC in their community gardens through the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program and the Magis Program. The Philadelphia Service Immersion Program is an optional early move-in experience for first-year students. This four-day program introduces incoming freshmen to the Jesuit values of social justice, service to those on the margin, moral discernment, and intellectual inquiry through community service learning. This past fall, six students volunteered with UTC through the program. Each evening, the students reflected on what they learned and experienced that day in a small group discussion led by incoming sophomores. Another opportunity available to connect students to UTC is the Magis Program, a semester-long service and social justice program for first-year students. Students meet weekly in small groups for community service, social justice education, and reflection. UTC is one of the sites where students can serve for the semester as part of the Magis Program.
Like St. Joseph’s, other Catholic campuses are finding that partnerships with CCHD-funded groups provide mutual benefits for all the partners. For example, the University of Dallas partnered with the local diocesan CCHD staff to educate students about the reality of poverty in the United States. Working with students and staff, together they created the Journey to Justice Retreat (J2J) to teach students about the issue of poverty in the local area and throughout the country. Using resources from CCHD such as Poverty USA, participants learned about the effects of poverty on people all over the country.
The J2J Retreat featured a focus on the CCHD-funded group Texas Tenant Union (TTU). TTU is a community organizing group dedicated to securing more and higher quality low-income housing by advocating for legislation, providing free legal counsel for low-income tenants, and offering rights education and counseling for tenants. Former diocesan CCHD intern Colleen McInerney, an alumna of the University of Dallas, says the retreat showed students the importance of CCHD in that TTU “wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much without the CCHD resources” available to it, which inspired many students to get involved with anti-poverty organizations. The retreat was well-received and students hope that the university will be able to host the retreat again in the future.
In addition to hosting service opportunities and working together on educational programming, Catholic colleges and universities can partner with CCHD-funded organizations to learn more about advocacy within the nation’s political system. Marquette University offers students a way to become involved in advocacy through courses that incorporate service learning and through an internship. Project Return assists men and women who have experienced incarceration in making a positive reentry to the community. Each academic year, students work at Project Return for ten hours a week , helping clients find jobs and housing, work through personal issues, and celebrate accomplishments. They learn about the process of reentry by visiting a prison, meeting parole officers, and witnessing a reentry court run by a federal judge. In addition to learning more about the issue, students most recently advocated with community leaders, canvassed neighborhoods on issues surrounding criminal justice reform, and organized a community mental health day.
The project also enables Marquette student interns to work with a mentor on a variety of tasks and to incorporate their own academic interests into the internship. One student intern during the past year worked to launch a mental health initiative to accommodate clients in need of psychological services. Ed de St. Aubin, Ph.D., the director of the internship program, commented, “The social justice mission of our Jesuit university is completely aligned with the mission of Project Return.” De St. Aubin noticed how the experience opened students up to more growth than a classroom could have afforded, exposing them to numerous human factors connected to criminal justice reform, such as race relations, ethnic disparities, and faith development. Recently, de St. Aubin, as well as interns Max Hughes-Zahner and Alex Krouth, were guests on RiverWest Radio Milwaukee’s show, Expo: Ex-Prisoners Organizing. Hughes-Zahner, a junior at Marquette, noted on the show that this internship “was very important for me to experience it from that side because previous to that I had really only experienced classroom learning about incarceration and prison.”
Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are working with local organizations to create community-based solutions to issues of poverty and inequality. Their partnerships with CCHD-funded groups enable them to live the values of Catholic Social Teaching and have a visible effect on the surrounding neighborhoods. Students are able to work alongside those living the issues they are working to resolve, giving them an experience of solidarity. Through a partnership with an organization funded by CCHD, Catholic universities make a difference in their communities and give students experience in what it means to have a faith that does justice.
Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
For 14 years, Fr. Garanzini served as the 23rd president of Loyola University Chicago (LUC), and he is now serving as University Chancellor. Instrumental in making LUC one of the most sustainable campuses in the country, Fr. Garanzini is deeply committed to care for creation. Fr. Garanzini was among those who took the initiative to establish Arrupe College, a two-year associate’s degree program for motivated students with limited financial resources, housed at LUC. Fr. Garanzini is also a leader in Catholic higher education, previously serving as ACCU Board Chair.
To honor Fr. Garanzini, ISN will host a cocktail reception at LUC’s Water Tower campus in Chicago on Wednesday, April 27. Congratulations, Fr. Garanzini!
Approximately 3,000 men and women are currently sitting on death row in prisons across the country. How can we build a culture of life when our justice system sees death as an answer? As Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley affirms, “We cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”
In October, Catholics are called to dedicate time to prayer and dialogue in celebration of Respect Life Month. At Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), we are taking time to reflect on the words of our past and present Holy Fathers, who call us to defend all life, even the lives of those who have done great harm. As Pope Francis has said, “Although the life of an individual is a terrain full of weeds and thorns, there is always room for the good seed to grow, and we must trust God.’’
We also reflect on Pope St. John Paul II’s challenge to followers of Christ to be “unconditionally pro-life” in his encyclical The Gospel of Life. He reminds us, “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”
Likewise, we take to heart Pope Benedict’s words of encouragement to those working for death penalty repeal. In 2011 he declared, “I express my hope that your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”
Above all, we are energized by the outpouring of love Pope Francis has shown for our brothers and sisters in prison. His Holiness has encouraged us to make room in our hearts for the Gospel messages of love and mercy. He has urged us to reject a throwaway culture that sees certain human lives as disposable and instead to “struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty… but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”
A Window of Opportunity for a Pro-life Victory
This year has been full of success for the death penalty repeal movement. Nebraska repealed the death penalty, Pennsylvania instituted a moratorium on executions, and the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled capital punishment to be in violation of the state’s constitution.
As national momentum continues to grow, judicial repeal of the death penalty in our country is a real possibility within the next few years. Ending the death penalty would be a historic step on the journey to build a culture of life. This is an opportunity for us to send a clear message that all life is a gift from God that must be respected and defended, from conception to natural death.
Your voice is essential for such a victory to take place. Catholic Mobilizing Network is humbled by and grateful for the faith, energy, and passion with which students, faculty, and administrators at Catholic colleges and universities across the country are embracing the USCCB Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Examples include:
Students and faculty at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland are working to educate their community on the death penalty through courses, workshops, guest speakers, and theater.
Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas has recorded radio interviews and podcasts on this topic, reaching countless hearts and minds.
The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, has collaborated with CMN to host conferences (the next one on November 6) that open new space for academic dialogue on the theological and practical arguments against the death penalty.
CMN’s fantastic student interns work tirelessly to help us promote our efforts.
Whether you are a veteran of the movement or looking to learn more, Catholic Mobilizing Network has the resources to support your education and advocacy efforts.
For an in-depth discussion on the death penalty, consider our book Where Justice and Mercy Meet, authored by Mount St. Mary’s University faculty and other experts in the field.
If you are looking to start a conversation with your campus ministry office or student group about the death penalty, download CMN’s free Journey of Faith Death Penalty Workshop. This interactive workshop includes a Prezi presentation, presenter script, and participant packet.
Catholics are playing a critical role in ending the death penalty in this country. We are in the home stretch, but there is more work to be done. As you join us in our work to end the death penalty, I leave you with the commissioning words from a 2005 homily given by the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: “Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing… So, go forth, and don’t be discouraged. Care for life. It’s worth it.”
Karen Clifton is the Executive Director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network.
Every October, the USCCB and the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty (CMN) dedicate the entire month to reflection, prayer, and advocacy on all life issues, with a special focus on the death penalty.
The USCCB offers a rich variety of resources on every life issue there is. From stem cell research to physician assisted suicide, the Respect Life Program webpage offers the full span of every type of promotional material and resource imaginable. This includes prayer and reflection guides, homily suggestions, a comprehensive catalog of program materials, educational articles, an informational flyer or poster, and more.
While the USCCB provides resources on the full breadth of life issues, CMN focuses on the death penalty and restorative justice. Throughout the month, CMN will be posting and advertising resources such as guides for prayer vigils, homily inspirations, data on the death penalty and more on their Respect Life Month webpage. Specifically for colleges and universities, CMN continually offers three different workshops directed specifically towards college students. The workshop titles include “Living the Year of Mercy”, “A Journey of Faith”, and “From Harm to Renewal”. The themes range from mercy in the criminal justice system, the death penalty, and restorative justice, respectively. Visit the college curriculum page for more information and to get the resources for your campus.
Don’t forget to register for CMN’s annual conference, this year entitled A New Path to Justice, which takes place on November 6 at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Find out more here and stay tuned for updates.
What is your college or university doing to celebrate Respect Life Month? Let us know!
Food for Thought Friday: On July 7, Pope Francis traveled to the Catholic University of Ecuador for an encounter with “The World of Schools and Universities.” The meeting included songs, prayers, and testimonies, and concluded with an address by the Holy Father.
In his address, Pope Francis posed some challenging questions to those involved with education:
“My question to you, as educators, is this: Do you watch over your students, helping them to develop a critical sense, an open mind capable of caring for today’s world? A spirit capable of seeking new answers to the varied challenges that society sets before us? Are you able to encourage them not to disregard the world around them? Does our life, with its uncertainties, mysteries and questions, find a place in the university curriculum or different academic activities? Do we enable and support a constructive debate which fosters dialogue in the pursuit of a more humane world?…I also have a question for you, dear students. You are Ecuador’s present and future, the seedbed of your society’s future growth. Do you realize that this time of study is not only a right, but a privilege? How many of your friends, known or unknown, would like to have a place in this house but, for various reasons, do not? To what extent do our studies help us feel solidarity with them?”