By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

WEST CHESTER – Fourteen West Chester University Newman Club students, led by their chaplain, Father John J. Nordeman, got their summer break off to a good start. Through a trip June 2-6 to Washington, D.C., they participated in various outreach projects combined with spiritual programs and fellowship.

“Newman has a history of traveling somewhere for a project like this,” Father Nordeman said. “The Franciscan Monastery offered hospitality for our students, and Catholic University put us in touch with programs.”

The night before leaving West Chester, members tended to local needs by preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for distribution the next day at St. Agnes Day Room, an outreach program to the homeless at St. Agnes Parish in West Chester.

In Washington their base of operations was St. Francis Hall, across the street from the famed St. Francis Monastery of the Holy Land, with its exhibits of sacred sites and a replica of an early Christian catacomb. The students spent a day with the Franciscans working on a landscaping project.

Another stop was the sprawling Armed Forces Retirement Home, not far from Catholic University. Here they visited veterans in residence in the La Garde Building, part of King Health Center. They assisted at a luau, bringing the aged residents to it, serving the food and socializing with them.

Another day was spent at Jeanne Jugan Residence, a home for the aged conducted by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Some visited residents in the dementia wing; others assisted at lunch, helped in the beauty salon, peeled vegetables, assisted at bingo or brought residents down to Mass. It was a special Mass celebrating the 60th anniversary of ordination for retired Archbishop Joseph Dimino of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is in residence.

Although incoming Newman Club treasurer Alex Paez will only be a sophomore next year, he’s participated in several outreach programs, both at West Chester and at his alma mater, Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J. The most memorable part of this trip was meeting the elderly veterans.

“You hear their passion for their country; they defended our way of life and they risked their lives,” he said. “They come from a different era and appreciate the simple things. It makes you realize what is important. It is strong faith and strong families, not iPods and plasma TVs.”

For Paez, a political science major and possible future lawyer, the Newman Club has been an oasis.

“Growing up in a Catholic home, then coming to a public university, the Newman Club is a place where I can practice my religion with people like me,” he said.

Hilary Scholz, who will be a senior and the club president next year, is a graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor. In her years at West Chester, she has always attended Mass because, she said, she loves her Catholic faith, but did not become active with the Newman Club until this past year.

“I had a nagging feeling God wanted me to get involved,” she said.

For her, too, visiting the veterans was also the best experience, although, “it was the most difficult,” she said. “Their life is so completely different than mine. But it’s good to reach out to people who are different than yourself because sometimes they are the ones needed to be reached the most.”

A music major whose long-time ambition was to be a high school band director, she said that might change. “I’ll have to see where God is calling me,” she said.

As for programs such as the Newman trip to Washington, “I definitely recommend it,” she said. “It’s been an awesome experience, sharing faith, serving others and doing it for God, which makes it so much more enjoyable.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.