Committed to Service of Others

Beginning with the sisters learning on the job as nurses in the civil war, Saint Mary’s women have been committed to serving the needs of the community. From the earliest days service learning has been an integral part of the education program and calls for building inclusive communities, engaging in service to others, and promoting social responsibility. Learning and contributing to the campus farm in the early 1900s to now serving coffee in a local pay-it-forward cafe, service-learning is embedded into the education at Saint Mary’s. Projects within courses enable students to work directly with local organizations, using their knowledge and skills while assisting worthwhile programs.

Core teaching and our values-centered education at the College looks critically at the difference between helping, fixing, and serving. Often taught before going out into the community, students review the clear differences and resolve to serve others. In helping, we seek to provide relief, often temporarily, viewing ourselves as superior and our help as necessary. With fixing, we seek to fix something believing that we already have the knowledge and experience to save or fix a situation or problem in the community. When we serve we views others as whole, the relationship in service is a two-way street in which both parties benefit, learn, and grow from each other.

Rebuilding Together Photo

The commitment to service learning was more formally cemented into the Saint Mary’s education when the Office of Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE) was founded in 1991. At the time, a current Saint Mary’s student conceived the idea of an office of volunteer service after hearing a speech by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB. Sharon Zint Marts ’92 heard Sister Joan speak of the power of hope in serving the community. Marts took that inspiration to be a source of hope to the world and she pushed to open the Spes Unica Resource and Volunteer (SURV) center on campus. In the beginning SURV was staffed completely by students and functioned primarily as a clearing house for information on volunteer opportunities and needs in the wider South Bend community.

As time passed the center grew, finally bringing in a full time director in 1997. Sister Linda Kors, CSC, helped SURV to expand its reach, taking students on immersions every fall and partnering with other campus offices to offer pilgrimages to places where the sisters served abroad.

In the summer of 2004 a name change was proposed for the SURV center. The Office for Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE) offered a subtle shift in the direction of the center – with a focus not only on service but on understanding the root causes of injustice and marginalization. Yet the mission of the center remains true – to promote a life of social responsibility and to “continually assess [our response] to the complex needs and challenges of contemporary life.”