Mercy Center forges faith and service

Mercy Center group

Student members of the service corps volunteer with nonprofit organizations throughout the wider community. (Photo by Rayne Lewis '13)

The creation of the Mercy Center this summer has brought together the vitality of faith combined with service. Started by Campus Ministry, the center has combined service learning, social justice, the Pearson Town campus farm and the Catherine's Cupboard Food Pantry efforts under one roof.

"We want to teach students not just doing things right but also doing the right thing," says Rebecca Hilton, director of Campus Ministry.

The center's motto of "Service Leadership and Learning" reflects its focus on educating students about social justice issues so they can discuss, advocate and take action on behalf of the most vulnerable, says Hilton. Housed in the renovated Campus Ministry offices on the bottom floor of the Heffernan Center, the Mercy Center's a hub of energy and action.

That action can take the form of preparations for sending 42 volunteers to Spring Break Workfest (the largest number ever), coordinating food drives and volunteers for the weekly food pantry distribution, shaping how the farm can teach schoolchildren about sustainability, or making sure the 27 students in the service corps on campus have what they need to volunteer at sites in the wider community. In other words, never a dull moment!

"Faith matures in works and works find their motivation and energy in faith," says Hilton. She says the Center is guided by the principles of Catholic social teaching and the Mercy legacy of direct service, justice education, and advocacy. "It becomes the environment in which leadership skills are developed and practiced and conscience continues to be formed," she adds.

Frank Daggett ’80, ’07 is in charge of social justice activities and forms the student volunteer leaders, who work on Hunger & Homelessness Week, Midnight Run to distribute clothing and supplies to homeless people in New York City, the Rick Charette concert to gather toys for the holidays and much more. Michael Blais ’09 is newly in charge of the service learning program that integrates community service with academic classes. Michial Russell is in charge of Pearson Town farm, and Amy Russell is the coordinator of Catherine’s Cupboard.

"It all fits under the mission of the college," Hilton says. "We wanted to take initiatives that existed separately and ground them institutionally as a manifestation of our Mercy mission in action."

Doing so has united the various parts of the campus community: faculty, staff, alumni and students in coming together to serve for community planting day, harvest celebration, Thanksgiving Basket drives and faculty/staff pie baking. The Standish community has also embraced the farm and pantry's outreach to town residents in need.

Hilton smiles, thinking how broad the spectrum of service reaches – from the sophomore nursing major who drives the volunteer bus to the pantry each week to the 92-year-old woman who donates her time to greet and register pantry guests every week. Now that’s service at its richest and fullest.

"I think this is what Catherine McAuley meant when she said, ‘One can never say it is enough,' but even she would have to agree, that while we aren't done, we've made a good start."