Sunday, May 16, 2010

Compelling Christian Service

Yesterday I sent the following email to Fr. Horan, whom I'm hoping has the conscience to be embarrassed at the mess we've made out of "service hours" in the OC. Whenever you find Catholic kids paying through the nose to do exactly the same things convicted juvenile delinquents do, you know you've arrived at the neglected trash heap of educational innovation!

Dear Fr. Horan,

We're the Catholic Worker House of Hospitality here in Orange County, California. We're also the grateful recipients of the work of many volunteers who join us each day. With the current risk of traveling in Mexico, destinations shifted, and we experienced an overwhelming increase in the number of students seeking "service hours." While Catholic schools locally seemed to have initiated the practice in the OC, it has now spread everywhere. We're worried about compulsory Christian service.

We are averaging 1000 compulsory volunteer hours each week, and we are asking everyone we can find to help us "rethink" service hours. More properly, we're looking for for someone, a priest, a youth minister or director of education who has tackled this problem theologically: What would Jesus have us do with service hours?

Our prayers and reflections thus far have yielded some insights, but little, at least here in the OC, in the way of policy directions:

  • In some fashion, the student is often the poorest person in the process.
  • Most of our problems as Catholic Workers are with the compulsory nature of hours.
  • Little pedagogy accompanies the demand for hours.
  • Hours seemed to be valued alike regardless of their value to the poor, the student, the school or to Christ.
  • Once hours are initiated at a school, almost no re-visiting of the process takes place.
  • The mechanics of the process invites cheating and fraud; some hours here are sold.
  • The level of support given to students and parents is not commensurate with the fees paid to the school - the hours are an afterthought, yet still compulsory.

Clearly, assigning students a number of hours and threatening to suspend their graduation is not in the best tradition of Catholic Education.

We are desperate for your thoughts, however fragmentary, on anything that could make compulsory service more consistent with Catholic Social Justice teachings. We hope you forgive the unsolicited nature of the request. We're casting our bread upon the waters.

We wait in joyful hope...

Br. Dwight Smith, O.S.F.
OC Catholic Worker
See also:

Whenever I write to ordained men about serious issues, I balance the probability I'll be ignored against the two years it took me to become a professed third order Franciscan. I need all the support I can get, especially from the Saint of all Creation.

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