On a freezing Friday afternoon last December, more than 15 Catholic University students trudged toward the Metro station near campus lugging 60 boxes of leftover food. Despite the rapidly falling temperature, they were smiling and joking as they completed their weekly 30-minute ride to their destination: McPherson Square, a popular park in downtown Washington, D.C.
Homeless men, women, and a few children stood waiting with friendly waves and cheers as the students approached. As the students handed out meals, smiling and talking with the residents of the park, they often picked up threads of old conversations from the weeks before. Student leader Dan Pezzola, of Central Valley, N.Y., wrapped a few of them in a hug as he said goodbye to the homeless friends he’s made over his years as a volunteer.
“For me the best part is just seeing everyone’s faces,” said Pezzola, who graduated this January with a major in politics and a minor in theology. “Even more than the meals, what people are really looking for is a human connection, someone who respects their dignity as another human being.”
Over several decades, the Office of Campus Ministry has helped thousands of students like Pezzola learn the beauty of service, the gift of community, and the hope that faith brings to others on campus and beyond.
“We want our students to be Catholic people engaging the culture,” said Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., University chaplain and director of Campus Ministry. “Ministry is not siloed at this University. We receive incredible support across campus and in particular with the Office of Student Life that really helps us achieve one united community.”
Thanks to Campus Ministry, approximately 50 percent of the undergraduate student body actively participates in programs that serve the elderly, infirmed, and underprivileged. Service opportunities are also open to faculty, staff, and their families.
Campus Ministry also helps promote the spiritual life on campus by offering a robust schedule for liturgy, worship, and the sacraments as well as programs for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and faith discussion groups. The office also leads student ministry and plans hundreds of programs and events annually.
In 2016, Campus Ministry celebrated 15 years of international mission trips. Since starting in 2001 with just 16 students on a trip to Guatemala, the University has sent more than 700 students, faculty, and staff to serve around the world.
“Our mission is really all about bringing a ministry presence of solidarity with those we are serving,” said Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, associate director of Campus Ministry and community service. “We want our students to interact with the culture, confront their own growth, and discover the kind of person they want to be.”