The Catholic University of America

Aug. 10, 2011

Long-term Service Is Life-altering for New Graduates

  In December 2010, Catholic University long-term service graduate Matt Aujero, far right,  and two senior students from St. Francis High School of San Jose, Costa Rica, take a break digging holes for a new fence at an elementary school in Pavones, Costa Rica.

Each spring, while most newly graduated college students are trading in research papers for resumes and backpacks for briefcases, about 15 Catholic University graduates fly off to faraway places for long-term service.

Instead of entering the paid workforce or graduate school right away, these young people spend a year or more helping the needy around the world. And while seeking to improve others’ living conditions, these graduates are altering the course of their own futures too.

Charitable work is an integral part of student life at Catholic University.

According to its mission, the University strives to be “faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ as handed on by the Church” and of “service to the Church, the nation and the world.” So, Catholic University students are encouraged to perform works of mercy, including long-term service projects after graduation.

Typically, long-term service involves volunteering at least a year in a charitable project organized by a non-profit organization. The work is unpaid, though often includes a small stipend, room and board, and health insurance.

Every autumn, the University hosts a long-term service fair to introduce students to service groups. At last year’s event, 50 domestic and international long-term service organizations were represented.

This year, long-term service graduates may log hours from their long-term charitable work in Catholic University’s Cardinal Service Commitment, a University-wide campaign in which students, alumni, faculty, and staff are striving to perform 125,000 hours of service by next Founders Day, April 10, 2012. The service campaign is part of a yearlong celebration of Catholic University’s 125th anniversary.

Long-term lay service goes back to apostolic times. Following Christ’s call to care for the “least ones,” lay people in the early Christian communities tended to neighbors in need. Across the years, lay people like Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Saint Frances of Rome, and Saint Francis of Assisi fed and clothed the poor and nursed the sick — and they drew other lay people into the work.

The phenomenon of young adults committing to a formal period of volunteer service after graduation is relatively new. At the end of World War II, a movement began to organize youth to assist in underdeveloped nations.

Since then, college students have been heading to Africa, Asia, and South America with religious and secular nonprofit groups to dig freshwater drinking wells and teach in schools.

Most of Catholic University’s long-term service graduates go through Christian faith-based groups like Associate Missionaries of the Assumption and Lasallian Volunteers — lay volunteer organizations connected to religious congregations.

In fact, God is at the heart of service, say Catholics involved in charitable work.

“The witness to charity finds its measure in Christ. The search for justice does not fulfill the task of charity,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, in a July 15 article in the Vatican’s newspaper, “L’Osservatore Romano.” The council oversees the Catholic Church’s charitable agencies.

When looking at those in need through the lens of faith, “you’re really looking at the value and the dignity of the human person,” adds Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, Catholic University’s associate director of campus ministry and community service.

After graduating from Catholic University in 2001, Mendoza Waters spent two years of service with Jesuit Volunteers International in Belize.

Keeping God in focus is beneficial also to the volunteer, she explains.

Volunteers involved in faith-based projects tend to live and pray together. Mendoza Waters notes that “students can do things on their own, but for a young adult who is still trying to figure out their faith, I think that a faith community can help that” with spiritual resources, accountability, and encouragement.

That’s essential in the first, formative years when graduates are trying to find their path, spiritually and professionally, Mendoza Waters says.

Long-term service in a faith-based environment changes lives, observes Mendoza Waters. The experience, she says, “made me re-question, re-look at my decisions, the way I would raise my family, the profession that I choose, how I’m going to live out my faith.”

This year, charitable works — including those performed in long-term service projects — may be logged in Catholic University’s Cardinal Service Commitment, a service campaign marking Catholic University’s 125th anniversary. In thanksgiving for more than a century of God’s blessings at Catholic University, students, alumni, faculty, and staff are striving to perform 125,000 hours of service by next Founders Day, April 20, 2012. For more information and to log hours, visit



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