Students Live out Faith Through Service at Area Catholic Worker House

Saint Mary's students serve breakfast at Our Lady of the Road

The first Friday of the month starts early for junior Catherine Reynoso. She sets her alarm to allow herself enough time to gather with other volunteers in the lobby of Student Center by 7 a.m. for the short trip to Our Lady of the Road, a place of respite and refuge for the unhoused guests they serve in downtown South Bend.

Reynoso and senior Kat Hannon lead 15 to 20 Saint Mary’s students in preparing and serving breakfast to visitors at Our Lady of the Road, a daytime drop-in center founded and run by the South Bend Catholic Worker community. Grocery shopping for the meal is completed the night before by the two ministry assistants. On their list: 162 eggs,156 precooked sausage links, eight bags of precooked tater tots (a note reminds them to buy more of this favorite food), and 84 clementines.

Making a meal is only a part of the ministry students engage in at Our Lady of the Road. Hospitality is offered—and experienced—in many ways, and every act of welcoming others is equally important on these Fridays. There are laundry machines on site, so some volunteers assist guests by ensuring clothes are in order and no items are lost. And students are encouraged to simply sit down with guests and have conversations as they pour coffee and pass out store-bought pastries, developing connections, and living out the Gospel through action.

The College’s Center for Faith, Action, and Ministry (CFAM) offers Saint Mary’s students opportunities to serve others and live their spirituality in practical ways. Monthly trips to Our Lady of the Road represents one of these. Through its Beyond the Belle program, volunteers can give of their time and talents in small groups on a weekly basis to any of five local partners: La Casa de Amistad, a community center supporting the Latinx and Hispanic community through services and bilingual support; Center for the Homeless; South Bend public school Darden Elementary; ND Center for Civic Innovation to help with literacy tutoring; and Saint Margaret’s House, a day center for women and their children living in poverty.


"There's no other place like Our Lady of the Road anywhere in South Bend to bring that sense of community. Everyone is a little bit vulnerable there, but we're all there for one another. You meet people you never thought that you would meet. You get to hear stories of people."

– Junior Catherine Reynoso, speech-language pathology major

Student Volunteer

Reynoso says what is different about the experience of volunteering with Our Lady of the Road is that it serves as a place where hospitality and vulnerability meet and where opportunities for unity are created with every conversation. 

“There's no other place like Our Lady of the Road anywhere in South Bend to bring that sense of community,” she shares. “Everyone is a little bit vulnerable there, but we're all there to be there for one another. You meet people you never thought that you would meet. You get to hear stories of people.”

Sarah Neitz, assistant director for justice and solidarity for CFAM, says the approach of Our Lady of the Road to service and justice work resonates with Saint Mary’s College and with the mission of the Sisters of the Holy Cross because it is rooted in the tenets of the Catholic Worker tradition. Founded in 1933 by Catholic social activists Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the movement continues to offer food, clothing, and shelter through grassroots efforts and volunteer action centered in urban areas across the United States.

“A lot of the guests of Our Lady of the Road are people experiencing homelessness, but they intentionally use that language of ‘guests' to set up a different type of service relationship,” Neitz says. “We're not coming down from on high to be able to spend time with the guests there. We're really welcoming them as people with dignity into a space.”

And since students aren’t confined to the kitchen making pancakes for guests, encouraged instead to “have conversations with the amazing people who come for breakfast,” students engage with guests, and transformational relationships form.

“You can't skip the part of kindness and dignity in any type of service relationship,” Nietz said. “The person always has to come first.”

Hannon, Class of 2024, found her way to Our Lady of the Road after what she describes as a “wandering period.” A year and a half into her time at Saint Mary’s, Hannon was still undecided on a major. But an assigned text from first-semester class Faith in Action, The Long Loneliness by Catholic Worker cofounder Day, was never far from her heart and mind. As she examined her faith journey during her sophomore year under the spiritual direction of Sister Judith Anne Beattie, CSC (“My girl,” Hannon happily affirms), Hannon discovered that Day’s work was alive and well in downtown South Bend at Saint Peter Claver Catholic Worker House.

The local Catholic Worker effort includes two “houses of hospitality”, lodging—one for women and one for men—where guests are invited to stay as long as they wish.  Our Lady of the Road is located about two miles away and open mornings Friday through Sunday for guests to eat and gather. The day center opens again briefly on every other Wednesday evening for Mass and a potluck dinner.

Hannon says the number of students rising early for Friday breakfast trips has grown from as few as three to nearly 20. The increase in attendance isn’t complicated, she believes; the work is joyful, and so welcoming others to participate (it was Hannon who first invited Reynoso to serve there) seems natural. 

“Being a student, there is a lot of pressure, and we often feel like we have to live up to a certain standard,” Hannon reflects. “But when I went to the Worker, all that was stripped away. I was just Kat, and I could be me. All that mattered was I am here, I am present, and I am being welcomed into a community—I am being received.

“But also, I am forming relationships with people that I might not necessarily have met on a college campus. It has been beautiful.”

Hannon’s experience of service and community through Saint Mary’s and Our Lady of the Road has helped her discern her next steps after graduation. She will spend the next year completing a postgraduate year of service at Andre House in Phoenix, a place rooted in traditions of both the Catholic Worker and the Congregation of Holy Cross—a place she visited this past Fall as part of a Saint Mary’s service immersion trip.

“Naturally, humans, when they don't know things, they have assumptions. They have fear,” Hannon reflects, “but I think once you're all at the same table, you're just there—you are family.”

For more information on faith and service opportunities available through the Center for Faith, Action, and Ministry, contact Sarah Neitz at


February 1, 2024 

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