Service Learning: A Foundation of Catholic Education

Through service learning, Catholic colleges and universities allow students to combine contemporary education with a servant's heart.

When applying for college, students ask, “What should I expect in an education?” Graduates want the assurance that their experience will prepare them for success in a dynamic and unpredictable job market. Some expect lively discussion, engaging professors, and a challenging curriculum. Others emphasize extracurricular activities, opportunities for personal wellness, and supportive mentors and friends.

At Catholic institutions, there is another element that deserves attention: service to others, which embodies the universal themes of Catholic social teaching through personal action.

The Catholic emphasis on service infuses every aspect of its intellectual heritage. Pope John XXIII described this as “the solidarity which binds humanity together as members of a common family.” Eric Bridge, Coordinator of Service Learning for Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, simply says, “Being Catholic means to be involved.” Rooted in the Hebrew prophets, whose writings call for God’s people to recognize the suffering of others, the basis of Catholic social teaching is “inseparable from our understanding of human life and dignity,” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With this in mind, Catholic colleges and universities prepare students to engage that human solidarity, combining a contemporary education and a servant’s heart. Inspired by examples of Catholic leaders around the world, students become agents for authentic positive change in their communities.

At Aquinas College, students volunteer locally, regionally, and internationally to serve others. Service learning programs are designed to inform students about a civic need and empower them to make a difference. From volunteer construction with Habitat to Humanity to the service retreats of Nazareth Farms, students grow spiritually and intellectually while providing needed aid. “The call of being Catholic is to be actively involved,” Bridge explains, “to be ‘in the world, but not of the world.’ I think the early Christian community had a very deep sense of that.”

Furthermore, service learning provides opportunities to build connections between people of different faith traditions. While the foundation is distinctively Catholic, all eligible students are welcome to participate, regardless of their background.

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About John Wofford

John Wofford graduated from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2013.


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