Real World

Jan. 12-18, 2006
Real World
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps offers Ignatian Principles and Hands-On Service

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps was forged on the blasted, wintered wastes of Alaska. There in the Copper Valley, volunteers arrived under the auspice of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus to help the priests and the Sisters of St. Anne in their labors among Native Americans. “Nobody planned it, it just happened,” said Father Jack Morris, SJ, who arrived in 1964, eight years since the first volunteers traveled to Alaska to help Father Jake Spils, SJ, a priest who had been there for 25 years already.

Father Morris, now the pastor at St. Mary’s by the Sea in Rockaway Beach, Ore., volunteered his service to the Oregonian bishop and became the Corps’ first director. He also gave it the name Jesuit Lay Volunteers before changing it to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. With Father Morris’ guidance, the volunteers became a proper organization as he developed application forms and put together trips for new volunteers.

During that time, many of those who came to serve in Alaska were conscientious objectors. After three years under the guidance of Father Morris the JVC flourished under the leadership of then Father Bill Davis, SJ. According to Father Morris, Father Davis “really blew the whole thing up.” In an anniversary homily reproduced on the JVC’s website, Father Morris compares that period to “an explosion in a mattress factory.” Now the volunteers can be found throughout the U.S. and the world. Internationally, volunteers are dispersed in such places as the coastal desert of Peru, the Pacific Islands of Micronesia, South Africa and Belize.

One spring even leapt as far as upstate New York as some volunteers found their way to Syracuse. Six volunteers are currently in the Salt City, having arrived from all parts of the U.S. Here they minister to the poor and underprivileged in a variety of places. A New Jersey native, Paul Retkwa helps out at L’Arche and Connecticut native Paul Sgoutas is at the Center for Community Alternatives. Steve Gonzalez of Southern California serves at the Samaritan Center, and Amy Fink of Montana is at the Bishop Foery Foundation. Another Californian, Kathleen Stout, is at the North Side CYO.

A recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., Paul Morales works at Sarah House, an 11-room house that provides a dwelling for families that have a relative in a nearby hospital. Currently, there are 18 people living in Sarah House. “I wanted a year in the real world [before embarking on post-graduate studies] and a year in service would mean more than a year working,” Morales said. The Omaha, Neb., native elaborated that volunteering offered him an opportunity to “grow in his spirituality” through living by the JVC’s four principles: social justice, simple living, community and spirituality.

According to a mission statement on the organization’s website, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps “offers women and men an opportunity to work full-time for justice and peace. Jesuit volunteers are called to the mission of serving the poor directly, working for structural change in the U.S. and accompanying people in developing countries.” A typical volunteer is in his or her early 20s and has completed undergraduate studies.

Felicia Castricone is the director of the Northside CYO in Syracuse. A native of Alexandria, Va., Castricone served in the JVC in Syracuse from 1981 to 1983 after graduating from Villanova. After obtaining her master’s degrees in religion and social work from Yale Divinity School, she desired a return to Central New York where she had been offered a position. She said that her years of service in the JVC were an inspiration.

“I always believed in a spirituality of action and service and that fit with the Jesuit approach,” she said. “It’s a way of integrating my spirituality into my daily life.” After she started at the Northside CYO, Castricone was quick to apply for a volunteer through the JVC and ever since then, one has served there.

A graduate of Gonzaga University, Stout said Syracuse was her first choice for an assignment. She investigated several Catholic volunteer services before finally settling on the JVC. An agency of Catholic Charities, the Northside CYO provides youth programs including after-school programs and preschool programs as well as aiding in refugee resettlement. “It’s been great. I work primarily with kids and teens and then I do some work with mothers,” Stout said. “I’ve picked up [refugee] families at the airport and the look on their faces when they arrive for the first time is amazing.”

Carol Schaefer of Catholic Charities has worked closely with members of JVC for two decades. She described the young people from the Corps as “indispensable.” “They’re young, bright, committed folks who’ve given 110 percent for a year or more of their lives,” Schaefer said.

Father Morris envisions the JVC, a product of the Post-Vatican II era, as part of a bold new zeitgeist in Catholic spirituality. “It’s an indication of the priesthood of the laity and that’s what’s exciting to me,” he said.

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