Mercy in Action: Meaningful Service as a Way to Live out the Catholic Faith
One of the great joys of my job as a theology teacher is to teach students from diverse religious backgrounds. I cannot assume that every one of my students knows basic Catholic teachings, or that they will agree with them. This is such a gift for me as a teacher, because I am challenged to think creatively about how to explain these teachings. It is a gift to our students, too, who are being prepared for real-life experiences with people who are different than them.
One of the ways in which Mount de Sales can cultivate a Catholic culture that embraces diversity is through serving others. To truly make a difference in a student’s life, a community service program cannot be a punishment for a minor crime, meaningless requirement, or unpaid labor such as an internship. Service must be an opportunity for students to engage with other people, and to learn about and respond to the needs of others while learning about themselves in the process.
Community Service as Servant Leadership, Works of Mercy, and Serving the Needs of Others
This year, we launched Mercy in Action, a program that promotes meaningful service among members of our community. Inspired by the Catholic faith modeled by Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy in Action plans events so that students serve alongside each other and become more connected with the genuine needs in our community. Through Mercy in Action, students, faculty, and staff in our school community cultivate servant leadership, live out the corporal works of mercy, and understand and provide for the needs of others.
Servant leadership is a subversive model of leading through knowing a person’s needs and attempting to help them in some way. It is a style of leadership that demands authenticity, personal growth, and self-awareness. It subverts an understanding of leadership that is about power or wealth. It also inspires people to be better versions of themselves.
Christ’s Model for Mercy
The corporal works of mercy are part of Catholic spirituality that strives to model Jesus’ actions of serving others during his life. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, burying the dead, and giving alms to the poor are all ways in which the Catholic Church has identified as ways for people to meet the needs of others around them.
Of course, there are other works of mercy that might be more subtle, but still have a profound impact. Things like assuming the best about someone, helping to keep someone warm by donating winter wear, cleaning up someone’s house or yard, and patiently tutoring someone in a subject that comes easily to you also fit into this model for service in high school.
This model of service enables a person to truly encounter others and their needs. It promotes creativity, compassion, patience, communication skills, working well with others, and many other virtues that parents and teachers of high schoolers find valuable in their students. A quick Google search proves that helping others can help people live happy, fulfilled lives.
Furthermore, during a very chaotic time in life, high school students have the ability to realize that they have genuinely done something good in the world. This model of service discourages a stereotype of elitism among students. Plenty of Mount de Sales students are elite through their athletics, behavior, and academics, but as a Catholic school, we want to discourage students from believing that they are elitist. Meaningful service is a way to prevent elitism, or a perception of elitism. When people see MDS uniforms in our community, I want them to associate them with how often they serve the needs of others.
Mercy in Action Projects
Through Mercy in Action so far this year, we have:
- Painted and cleaned 12 houses through Rebuilding Macon and Rebuilding Together Warner Robins
- Tutored elementary aged students at Alexander II for four days a week since October
- Knitted and crocheted hats for people receiving chemotherapy at the Central Georgia Cancer Center
- Made crafts with children at the Children’s Hospital
- Fed and shopped with 65 people at the Saint Peter Claver Food Pantry
- Learned alongside elementary and middle school students at Saint Peter Claver
- Played bingo with residents at Saint Paul’s Apartments
- Painted ceiling tiles for the Coliseum Hospital
Faculty and Staff Involvement
Faculty and staff members who are active in Mercy in Action continue to find ways to pair students with meaningful ways to serve the community, and help them realize that they have the ability to transform the world through serving others. Mercy in Action embodies a model of service that embraces diversity and strives to make a difference in our community. Through serving alongside others, members of the Mount de Sales community see how a fulfilled life involves not simply “us” versus “them” but embracing differences of all kinds of people, learning from each other, and developing kinship.
By Betsy Holcomb, Upper School Theology Teacher and Mercy in Action Coordinator