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Above, Creighton University graduate student Annie Townley of Omaha, middle, helps till the soil during a service project last fall at Shadowbrook Farms near Lincoln. Below, Peter Sobczyk, a Briar Cliff University sophomore from Holy Ghost Parish in Omaha, helps paint a wall at Noah’s Hope Animal Shelter in Sioux City, Iowa.

Catholic colleges stress service, solidarity

Until moving off campus last year, senior Brady Fehringer at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., joined other students on meal plans that pass up Wednesday evening dinners – and use the money to prepare and deliver food to needy people in town.

A member of Holy Family Parish and 2012 graduate of Holy Family High School, both in Lindsay, Fehringer said he was involved in community service projects in Lindsay, but he found "so many opportunities to reach out and help others" at Benedictine – including building homes for the poor in St. Joseph, Mo., El Salvador and Peru.

And he is just one example of students from the Archdiocese of Omaha who are serving the broader community through Catholic colleges – and learning that being Catholic requires walking with Jesus, which means walking in solidarity with the poor.

Three other students from the archdiocese told the Catholic Voice that through service – at Creighton University in Omaha and Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa – they also have grown in faith and commitment to social justice.

Each institution views Catholic social teaching through the prism of their founding religious tradition, school officials said: Jesuit at Creighton, Franciscan at Briar Cliff, Benedictine at Atchison. But all say Catholics witness to the Gospel more effectively by acting in solidarity with those who need their help – or simply their presence.

Fehringer said his interest in service grew at Benedictine College after taking "The BC Experience," a mandatory one-credit-hour freshman course, which stresses the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the rule of community in Benedictine life.

Now, Fehringer said, he hopes to work in international poverty relief after graduating next May in marketing, international business and history.

At Briar Cliff, students must take "The Franciscan Experience" as freshmen and complete 80 hours of community service, said leadership and service coordinator Alicia Harper. Creighton University provides service opportunities through its Schlegel Center for Service and Justice, and the school’s Magis Common Core Curriculum of classes required of all students stresses Catholic teaching and Jesuit sensibilities.

"It’s part of the pedagogy of teaching students to live out this faith, to do social justice and be better human beings," said Ken Reed-Bouley, director of Creighton’s Schlegel Center.

For Briar Cliff sophomore Peter Sobczyk, a member of Holy Ghost Parish in Omaha, service has included "picking the stems off the apples" for a Sioux City animal shelter, so it could sell caramel apples as a fundraiser.

"You have to get in there sometimes and get dirty," said Sobczyk, a business major and 2015 graduate of Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue. "But you know, in the end, it’s helping others in need."

Sisters and third-generation Creighton students Annie and Ellen Townley credit their experiences at St. Pius X Parish, St. Pius X/St. Leo School and Marian High School, all in Omaha, for cultivating their hearts for service.

Both saw poverty in the Dominican Republic during a 10-day visit as Marian students to the Creighton-affiliated Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC). But as Creighton students, Ellen Townley said, "advocacy has taken on a larger role for us."

A junior biology major, Ellen said she has helped refugees study for U.S. citizenship at Omaha’s Yates Community Center. Annie, now a graduate student in Creighton’s accelerated nursing program, has mentored and tutored younger children at Families in Action, located in south Omaha, and teens seeking high school equivalency diplomas at the Educational Opportunity Center near Creighton’s campus.

Sobczyk’s and Ellen Townley’s career plans are still taking shape, but Annie Townley said she might serve poor patients abroad after she finishes her nursing program at Creighton next August. Annie said her career goals crystallized after she returned in 2014 to Creighton’s ILAC center and worked four months with 3- to 12-year-old Dominican children at a before- and after-school center.

"I want a career in which service is a daily component, where I can walk with people on a daily basis," she said.

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