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Spirituality and service are 2 important pieces of a student's experience at Villanova. This week Fresh@News interviews Dr. Beth Hassel, P.B.V.M., the Executive Director of Campus Ministry at Villanova.
Fresh@News: Those of us who live and work at Villanova know that Campus Ministry is one of the most active departments on campus, and that its programs reach out to all members of the community. What are some of the things you do?
Dr. Hassel: Campus Ministry serves students, faculty and staff by offering a variety of opportunities for spiritual growth and development. Campus ministers plan weekly and weeklong service opportunities for students, faculty and staff. Campus ministers prepare students to be leaders at campus liturgies. Ministers who are experts in faith development offer a wide variety of opportunities for spiritual growth including weekend and evening retreats, faith sharing groups, ecumenical fellowships, and Bible study groups. Although our focus grows out of our Catholic and Augustinian heritage, we serve the entire community; students, faculty, and staff of all religious backgrounds participate in our activities.
Fresh@News: How would a first-year student typically become involved with Campus Ministry?
Dr. Hassel: Actually, we met many of the first-year students even before the school year started, through their participation in one of our ecumenical retreats for new students. This past June, over 200 students participated in the Connections Retreat. At New Student Orientation we met with all of the incoming students and invited them to be active participants of the Villanova Community through service and spirituality programs. During the school year, there are other programs specifically for freshman such as the Freshman Escape. The Freshman Escape is held three times a year. Approximately 50 students spent the weekend away as an “escape” from the hectic campus life in order to reflect on their Villanova experience thus far. Community Outreach of Villanova (COV) offers opportunities for new students to serve and learn from the marginalized. Students tutor, mentor and organize opportunities for youth in many church related agencies. The RUIBAL (Reaching Urban Individuals by Action and Love) Challenge invites students to share their talents and skills in an after school program in West Philadelphia. This opportunity challenges first year students to share a talent they have developed with others. All talents are welcome such as: cheerleading, coaching, ballet, arts and crafts and drama.
Fresh@News: How do you reach new students with your programs?
Dr. Hassel: We publicize our services through the Campus Ministry web page, the Villanovan, the university weekly paper, email, flyers, church bulletin, posters, and word of mouth. Many students will come into our office in St. Rita’s hall on main campus to find out more about the various programs; however, we also have a presence in the residence halls. We have eight graduate student interns who work in our office and live in the residence halls. Our graduate interns are in their late 20’s and do a lot of the outreach; especially to first year students. The interns work closely with the RA’s and students in the building to plan service opportunities. Some of the activities include food drives, gift sharing groups, retreats, hall masses, adopting families for the holidays and even Saturday service projects. We’ve been very pleased with the work our staff has been doing!
Fresh@News: At Villanova there is always a lot of talk about community service. Are first year students involved in those programs?
Dr. Hassel: Service to the marginalized groups of society is a major part of our ministry, and we like to see our students get involved early on in their college life. We have service activities for our students nearly every day. For example, we regularly take groups of students to the St. Barnabas Shelter for Women. When the women who live at the center have group counseling, our students tutor and design arts and crafts projects for their children. We also have regular trips into the city where students work as tutors, in soup kitchens, or on Habitat for Humanity's projects. This year we have a number of service projects designed specifically for first year students through our COV (Community Outreach of Villanova) program, which consists of weekly and Saturday service projects for first year students. At Villanova, we are not just interested in service for its own sake; we also want our students to connect their service work to broader issues of faith and justice. All of our service activities include a period of reflection, where students reflect on and discuss what they have seen and learned through that service experience.
Fresh@News: Are there other service programs for first year students outside of Campus Ministry?
Dr. Hassel: There are many other service opportunities, starting, of course, with Villanova’s annual Day of Service, which is usually held in September. The Office of Student Life has a very popular program called Rays of Sunshine, which offers programs for tutoring, mentoring, and visiting the elderly, sick, and disabled. We find that most students decide which program they want to participate in based on the service and the experience, not on which office is running it.
Fresh@News: What about the longer trips, during spring break and fall break?
Dr. Hassel: One of our most popular activities is our fall and spring break service/mission trips. Many of our trips go to Habitat for Humanity sites. Students will be building for 4 1/2 to 5 days and will work alongside site supervisors, community members and homeowners to build/repair homes. Other students will go on mission trips. Mission experiences provide an opportunity to serve with an organization whose roots are in the community you are serving. The students may be building or repairing homes, tutoring children, visiting the elderly, tutoring at a GED center, serving meals at a soup kitchen, or working in an orphanage. We are just lining up our spring trips now. The students spend weeks planning for the trips and a Villanova faculty member or staff member accompanies each group. It is a wonderful opportunity for students to get to know one another, gain new insights into the community and themselves, and to explore the questions of social justice and spirituality. It is also a great opportunity for students to get to know faculty members outside of class.
Fresh@News: What are some of the benefits of service activities for our students?
Dr. Hassel: For a significant number of our students, service was a way of life before entering the University. For many, however, service is a new experience and becomes a way of life that they will carry through their experience here and then continue after they graduate. (One of our Campus Ministers serves as an adviser to seniors who want to do a year or two of volunteer work after they graduate and before going on to a career or to graduate school.) It all comes down to Villanova's mission as a Catholic and Augustinian institution. We are concerned with the development of the student as a total person. Service trips, and all of our activities in Campus Ministry, are dedicated to helping our students grow spiritually and morally, in addition to fostering their intellectual and professional growth. Our Patron, St. Thomas of Villanova, a Bishop and educator was, of course, also known for his activities for the poor and disadvantaged of his own day, and we try to make those values important to our own lives today.
Fresh@News: Suppose a student isn’t Catholic, Christian, or even religious, will he or she feel comfortable participating in community service or a service trip?
Dr. Hassel: I’m smiling because everyone at Villanova already knows the answer to that question. Our service work is about helping our students grow through their service to others. We have students of every religious background (or from none at all), participating in and leading trips. We welcome anyone who is open to serving and reflecting on the meaning of service, and those who participate almost invariably report that it is a positive experience, regardless of their faith commitment.
Fresh@News: What are some of your other activities in Campus Ministry?
Dr. Hassel: I have really only mentioned a few of the other things we offer to students. Our staff is dedicated to student leadership and offers opportunities to develop in many areas. We offer many opportunities for our students including: the Get Real sharing groups. These are small groups of students led by student leaders who meet weekly to share conversation and insights in to life experiences. Some of the topics for the groups are: transitions to college, relationships, prayer, growth in faith and integration of faith and service. In addition we offer personal counseling and spiritual direction. Students come to discuss challenges in coming to terms with their own identity or their relationships with others. Others come to talk about issues of loss and bereavement. We coordinate our activities, of course, with the other counseling services at Villanova, such as the University Counseling Center and the Center of Health and Wellness. We also offer the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). Often students participate in this program and choose to be baptized, to be initiated into the Catholic Church, or to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. As you might expect, many of our graduates want to come back to Villanova's St. Thomas of Villanova Church for their marriages, and, of course, we also work with alumni who are planning to marry. Parents will be relieved to hear that this is not a popular activity with our freshmen.
Fresh@News: What about students who come from other religious traditions? What opportunities for worship and prayer are available for them?
Dr. Hassel: Campus Ministry coordinates a campus wide event, World Religions Day whose purpose is to educate and affirm the diversity of faith traditions present on the campus. The office of campus ministry is a resource for places of worship for many churches, synagogues, and mosques in the Villanova area. Many of our students attend worship services in the nearby area. The office of Campus Ministry coordinates the Interfaith Coalition which provides opportunities for students of all faith traditions. We also find that students of diverse faith backgrounds attend and feel welcome at our on-campus liturgies. Students from diverse religious traditions come together as Villanovans to educate and inform the University community about religious traditions present on campus and faith opportunities open to all our students. Students co-sponsor the September World Religions Day. They seem to respond to the fellowship and community spirit of our services, and they appreciate the fact that there is no pressure on them to become Catholic. They also appreciate that students play such important roles in our services, with many of our students acting as Hospitality Ministers, Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, and Pastoral Musicians. A Campus Minister facilitates the Inter Faith Coalition, an Interfaith Retreat and is Primary Minister to students of various faith traditions.
Fresh@News: If parents want to get a sense of spiritual life at Villanova, what should they do?
Dr. Hassel: If you are a parent and you are near Villanova on a Sunday evening, I would advise you to attend a mass at the chapel at either 6:00 PM, 8:00 PM, or 10:00 PM. What you will find is a chapel filled to standing room capacity. The entire service will be planned and coordinated by students. Students will greet you as you enter, and as many as one hundred student pastoral musicians will provide the music. Indeed, other than the priest, a Campus Ministry Coordinator, and the Pastoral Music coordinator, you'll have to look very hard to find anyone in an official capacity who is not a student. The priests who serve at these liturgies are extremely popular with students, and their homilies invariably connect with the daily concerns of many of our students. The dress is casual, of course, but I think you will be struck by the intensity of the spiritual experience. Parents can always consult our website www.campusministry.villanova.edu, to get a better sense of our many activities, and, in addition, we are always available to talk to parents about concerns about college life.
Fresh@News: What other advice do you have for parents?
Dr. Hassel: College can be a time of spiritual questioning for many young people, so do not be surprised if your student raises questions about his or her religious identity. Frankly, I wish more of our students struggled with these issues. Take the time to get involved in the dialogue and share your story of faith and meaning with your child. I would advise parents to encourage their students to take risks with their faith, and not to be afraid to explore their value systems. This is a great time of their lives to raise these questions, and we try to provide an environment that is conducive to spiritual development. I would also urge parents to be supportive if their sons or daughters want to participate in our spring or fall break service trips. I know how painful it is not to have the student home for vacation, but you will be amazed by the growth in spiritual and personal development that you will see in your son or daughter as a result of this intense involvement in service and reflection. As parents you have given your son/daughter so much and now is the time to support, watch and be amazed at their personal, academic and spiritual growth.
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