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Students spend spring break embracing Catholic Worker tradition

Malgorzata Rozko (right) tutors a student during the ABI trip in Atlanta. Credit: Matt Palkert

By: Samantha Sanchez, Managing Editor

The average college student spends his or her spring break sleeping or catching up on studies, but some spend the week serving others. Fifteen Dominican University students split into two groups to visit Kansas City where they focused on community and peacemaking and Atlanta where they learned what it means to “welcome the stranger.”

The Alternative Break Immersion (ABI) trips are organized by University Ministry as opportunities for students to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture. They come back from the one-week trip with a different perspective on others as well as themselves.

Jessie McDaniel, Kamelia Habina, Megan Graves, Patrick Magner, Dominic Schwab, Willa Skeehan, Jamie Zwijack and staff member Antonia Waters traveled to Kansas City and visited the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker community. The goal of the trip was to experience the life of a Catholic Worker by living in the community, sharing resources and praying together.

The Catholic Worker movement began over 75 years ago with the creation of the Catholic Worker newspapers by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. The paper soon grew into a house of hospitality and then into a community. Today there are over 200 communities dedicated to nonviolence, peacemaking and providing hospitality to the homeless.

The Dominican students also had the opportunity to engage in Cherith Brook’s outreach program which included eating in a soup kitchen and visiting with the homeless.

All the students who participated had a positive experience on the trip. Zwijack, the group’s student leader, is planning to become a Catholic Worker after her graduation, and the trip reassured her that a life of service is the right fit for her and her future plans.

“The more time that I spend with my own community and with other communities, the more I realize how important that type of lifestyle is to me,” Zwijack said. “And the more I think about it, the more I am thinking that I’d really like to be a Catholic Worker forever; I am thinking more and more that this is what I am called to do. So for me, the most valuable thing that I took away from our trip is reassurance. I was very reassured that I am meant to be a Catholic Worker for a long time and that it will be a lifestyle that is sustainable for me and for my family.”

The students who traveled to Atlanta provided a different, but equally important service to the community. Spencer Campbell, Erika Leksan, Benora McBride, Molly McGrail, Arelys Perez, Malgorzata Rozko, Pam Wolf, Corey McClure and University Minister Matt Palkert spent some time with Dominican sisters, associates and volunteers during their trip.

The group helped tutor students in reading comprehension and math skills at Global Village School, a school for refugee girls between the ages of 12 and 25. They also helped out at the International Community School, which serves elementary-aged students from 40 different countries.

Once again, a goal of the trip was to help students gain better understanding of themselves and others. In this case, that understanding of others was focused on refugees and how to help a group that goes largely unnoticed by society. For group leader McClure, the trip’s most memorable experience was learning the importance of those that choose to serve others.

“I rediscovered how one person can have an effect on a community,” McClure said. “We met a group of Dominican sisters who graduated from Rosary College, who work with people in their community to promote change and improve of the lives of individuals who are often forgotten.” Palkert said the service trips are more than visits, but a path toward building lasting relationships.

“I think these trips are some of the best opportunities that Dominican has to engage the world,” Palkert said. “We’re engaging in the world’s needs not as tourists but as people who have a concern about the betterment of the world. Service is a way for us to address some of these needs as a vehicle towards relationships. God doesn’t want us to be separate, God wants us to work together so that everyone can have a life of joy and dignity.”

In addition to the ABI trips, a group of Dominican students traveled to the Sinsinawa Mound over spring break to visit with the Dominican sisters who live there, provide service and learn about the Dominican mission. Another group of students in the post-baccalaureate pre-medical program traveled to New Orleans during the break to do service with Habitat for Humanity.

The ABI trips also occur during the fall and summer seasons. Past groups have visited Dubuque, Iowa; Montgomery, Alabama; and Salem, West Virginia. The trips cover an array of topics including sustainability, prayer, community, immigration, racism, refugees and homelessness. While the trips are relatively short, ranging from a weekend to a full week, they seem to have a lasting impact.

“If I were to make a list of the most important experiences that I’ve had in Dominican in the past four years that I’ve been here, all of my ABI trips would be on that list,” Zwijack said. “I definitely don’t think I would be in the same place I am right now had I not gone on these trips.”

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