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Advocacy & Action Immersion Trip

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step. In the Spring of  2022-2023, Mr. Stephen Garland, our President, and Mr. Dominic Zimmermann, our Religion Head of Department, went on a pilgrimage to Callan, Ireland, the birthplace of Blessed Edmund Rice, and to the site of the establishment of the Christian Brothers at Mount Sion in Waterford. The trip to Ireland set into motion a major initiative here at STMC called Service to Advocacy. As a community, we are making an intentional and conscious effort to reconnect with the mission, vision, and charism of Blessed Edmund Rice through the efforts of Action & Advocacy.  Jesus Christ, our Holy Father, and Blessed Edmund Rice all called us to stand in solidarity with those marginalized by poverty and injustice. We feel that the best and most effective way to do this is to teach our students how to be advocates and how to take on advocacy projects at home, in the United States and world wide. 

Moving from Service to Advocacy. While in Ireland, Mr. Garland and Mr. Zimmermann connected with members of the Westcourt Centre, an Edmund Rice Ministry in the North of Ireland. The Westcourt Centre has developed  links with local community groups and organizations where they develop strategies, programs and resources to support the most vulnerable social groups in the city of Belfast. In September 2023, a delegation from the Westcourt Centre, Br. Denis Gleeson, Dr. Aiden Donaldson, and Mr. Cormac McArt, traveled to Vancouver to deliver a 3 day social justice training workshop that brought together over 90 staff members and students from St. Thomas More Collegiate, Little Flower Academy, Vancouver College, Holy Cross, St. Patrick’s, & St. John Paul II Academy. This unique, first ever Service to Advocacy training workshop was held at the SJPII Centre. Please see Mr. Garland’s Message from the President in the September Knightly News newsletter for a full reflection on the Service to Advocacy training workshop.

Service to Advocacy at the ERCB School Leaders’ Retreat, Burlingame, California. On October 2, Mr. Garland, Mr. Zimmermann, and I accompanied Br. Gleeson, Dr. Donaldson, and Cormac McArt to the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers School Leaders’ Retreat which was hosted at the Mercy Retreat Centre in Burlingame, California. In Burlingame, Br. Gleeson spoke to the Christian Brothers Provincial Leadership Team and to all the school leaders about our call and our mission as Catholic educators. Br. Gleeson reminded us of why we are here and why our schools exist. Br. Gleeson used the symbolism of a spark and a flame, showing us that we must use a spark to show our students what is possible, the spark starts a fire burning within them, but then we must nurture the flame, keep it alive, feed the spiritual fire. Br. Gleeson used the inspiring lives of Blessed Edmund Rice, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Teresa of Avila as examples of lives dedicated to the service of others. Br. Gleeson tied the lives of Edmund Rice, St. Ignatius and St. Teresa together using Psalm 19, the Psalm of David, a reminder that we are called to “take a long, loving look at our reality each day, and to address the issues we see”, a reminder that it is us who must do this work, a reminder that “God has no voice but our voice” as the writer of the Psalm says, and that “Christ has no body but ours” as St Teresa said. Aiden Donaldson spoke about his work with a charity that he founded called, Project Zambia. Aiden spoke about how important the work of Catholic service workers and advocates is, even in places where there are very few Catholics. Aiden spoke eloquently about how we are able to pass on our Catholic faith and evangelize in a secular society by sharing the Good News through our works. Aiden explained that the work of advocacy for the poor and marginalized is a way to bring the light of Christ into the world and a way to spread hope and the message of redemption. Aiden compared the work of advocacy to receiving Holy Eucharist, when we take Jesus into our hearts we then have to ask ourselves, “Now that I have received this gift, am I going to keep it to myself? What am I going to do to share it?” Aiden concluded that perhaps one of the greatest lessons that he learned from his service and advocacy work in Zambia was that, “African people do not go to mass, they come from Mass”, they are inspired, emboldened, empowered by the Good News, by Holy Communion and by the message of hope, and we must be too. Finally, Aiden reminded us all that we must keep the Vision of our schools and of Blessed Edmund Rice always at the forefront of all that we do. As it says in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no Vision, the people perish.”


(Left: Joe Martinez, President, St. Laurence, Chicago, Mark Donahue, President, Brother Rice, Chicago, Dominic Zimmermann, Cormac McArt, Westcourt Centre, Stephen Garland, Dr. Aiden Donaldson.
Right: Br. Denis Gleeson.)

A Visit to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral and Catholic Charities, San Francisco. After the retreat ended in Burlingame, Br. Glesson would return to Ireland and Mr. Garland would return to STMC, Mr. Zimmermann, Corman McArt and I would go on to Chicago to meet with the staff and students of St. Laurence, Chicago, Brother Rice, Chicago, and Brother Rice, Michigan. Before we all left California, Mr. Garland, Mr. Zimmermann, Mr. McArt, Dr. Donaldson and I made a day trip to San Francisco. We decided to walk from the Civic Centre to the Catholic Charities Offices on Eddy St. As we walked the 50 blocks through the “The Tenderloin” distinct, we saw a community ravaged by poverty and homelessness. We did not speak a word as we walked. It was a very humbling experience. When we arrived at the Catholic Charities offices, we were given an audience with the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ellen Hammerle. Catholic Charities San Francisco serve San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. Ellen told us that over 10,000 people sleep rough in the streets of San Francisco every day. Ellen oversees all projects and services for the Catholic Charities. Her job is absolutely daunting. In a moment of great vulnerability, she shared with us that her task is to constantly ask people to give money to serve those affected by homelessness, but she conceded that people are simply “tired” of the homelessness issue, they don’t want to hear about it any more. This was a sobering reminder of the importance of advocacy. As we left our meeting with Ellen, we asked ourselves two questions, “Where does one start?” and “If not us, then who?” Later in the day, we visited the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. The church was awe inspiring in its grandeur, in its sophistication, and in the magnificence of its architecture. However, the most powerful experience that we had at the Cathedral was an interaction we had with a man affected by homelessness who was at mass and then was resting on the steps outside the church. The man spoke with us for 20 minutes, mostly in Spanish. He told us his story, he asked for our prayers, he would accept nothing from us, but with tears in his eyes, he apologized for his condition and asked us to pray for his family in Central America. This was a true encounter as the experience shaped the rest of our trip. The man on the steps of St. Mary’s was the Living Christ from Matthew 25:35-37, he asked for nothing but our presence and our company. When we asked him what he needed, he would only say, “I am so tired, I just need to rest.” 

 

Delivery of Service to Action Training and Workshop in Chicago, IL. After we left San Francisco, we journeyed to Chicago, IL, where we delivered the Service to Advocacy training and workshop to the staff and students at St. Laurence High School, Brother Rice Chicago, and Brother Rice, Michigan. The workshop consisted of training teachers and students how  to “look through their own windows” to identify the needs in their own cities and to formulate a plan for what needs to be done to create the Kingdom of God within their own communities. The training sessions encouraged teachers and students to direct their actions towards local social justice issues as well to expand their view beyond their windows, to look at larger and more systemic issues of abject poverty and social injustices that plague our world, especially those issues in the developing world. 

Day 1 involved Religion and Social Justice teachers, Campus Ministers, Religion Department Heads and Advocacy Coordinators and utilized a Train-the-Trainer model to first introduce the Westcourt  8 Advocacy & Social Justice Training Modules to staff members at the Chicago and Michigan schools. The goal was to increase individual’s personal understanding and awareness of the key elements of the initiatives, and to provide staff members with the tools and resources to actively teach the content of each module to their students. 

Days 2 & 3 focussed on the involvement and voice of identified student leaders within schools and took them on a similar journey through each of the 8 modules. The goal was to enable staff members to see, firsthand, the teaching of the Service to Advocacy content, and to allow students to learn firsthand from those who have help to support marginalized and vulnerable people. The third day of the workshop involved presentations by local community groups and organizations that support the most vulnerable social groups in the Chicagoland region. The staff and students were able to connect with Susan Reyna-Guerrero, the Executive Director of Covenant House, Chicago, Ted Peso, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Night Ministry, Chicago, as well as connecting with two special guests. The two special guests were Sisters Pat Murphy and Joann Persch. Pat and Joann have dedicated most of their lives to advocating for sustainable and affordable social housing in Chicago. In recent years, they have devoted all of their time to championing the rights of Latin American refugee families in the Chicagoland area. Their goal is to help these families become independent. The Sisters led the students through the process of how they defend human rights, beginning with actions like peaceful civil disobedience, and continuing with letter writing campaigns and finally meetings with lawmakers. The Sisters were truly inspiring. 

(The participants of the Service to Advocacy workshop at St. Laurence High School, Chicago, IL)

 

The Journey Continues . . . On to ACTION in Kearny, NJ. After we finished the workshop in Chicago, Aiden Donaldson returned to Ireland and Cormac McArt, Dominic Zimmermann and I went on to join Mr. McCormack and Ms. Doramal at the ACTION Retreat in Kearny, NJ. At the ACTION Retreat, Cormac McArt presented on the 8 modules related to Service to Advocacy, but he also shared the story of his own childhood growing up during “the troubles” in the North of Ireland. This was a powerful presentation. The students and staff members who attended the ACTION retreat had time to identify a need in their own communities and the students also got into groups and formulated action plans.


(The staff and student participants from the 2023 ACTION retreat in Kearny, NJ)

The Bronx and New York City. The last leg of our trip included visits to All Hallows School in The Bronx and a trip to the UN in New York City. In The Bronx, we visited with President, Ron Shcutte, and Principal, Nick Corrado, at All Hallows school. All Hallows is situated in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States. In the neighborhood that All Hallows is located, more than 25% of the population live below the poverty line. At STMC we contribute mission funds every year to support the tuition of one student at All Hallows. The next step for us, as a community, is learning how we can advocate for the families and the students at All Hallows. Ron Schutte and Nick Corrado, along with Paul Fontana, Director of Arts and Advocacy, introduced us to the gifted and talented students of All Hallows and taught us about the struggles facing families in the Bronx and about social injustices that continue to prevent Spanish-speaking and immigrant families from Latin America from having equal and just educational opportunities. Our time at All Hallows was inspiring, humbling, and transformative.

In New York City, we had an amazing opportunity to meet Br Kevin Cawley. Kevin arranged for us to receive United Nations security clearances so that Kevin could tour us through the UN and teach us about the work that he does with the Edmund Rice International NGO. Kevin is an inspiring individual; he is Executive Director of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College.  Kevin also currently serves at United Nations Headquarters in New York as the Main Representative of Edmund Rice International (ERI), and he produces a monthly newsletter for this organization on environmental concerns called Carbon Rangers/ Eco Zone Newsletter . When we asked Kevin what he does he said, “me and 4 nuns work in the basement of the UN and try to make the world a better place.” This is a gross understatement. Kevin, and the nuns that he spoke of, are changing the world. Through their work as an NGO, they are actively working to empower women, to bring justice and equality to vulnerable communities and to those affected by poverty and homelessness, and they are champions for environmental sustainability and justice. Kevin and his co-workers had direct input on the development of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Touring the UN with Kevin was an amazing experience; in the near future, we hope to bring 4 STMC students to the UN to learn from Kevin through this unique educational experience.


(Left: Students from All Hallows, The Bronx, NY, Mr Zimmermann, Cormac McArt, Mr Adams.
Right: Mr Adams, Mr Zimmermann, Cormac MrArt and Br Kevin Cawley at the UN.)

Back Home, Much Work to be Done. After we left New York, we also visited Iona University and Iona Preparatory High School in New Rochelle, NY. Mr Zimmermann and I were blessed to spend time in New Rochelle with Br Joe Cussen and to celebrate his 88th birthday with him.  We were also blessed to spend time connecting with members of the Provincial Leadership team who live in Elizabeth, NJ. Mr Zimmermann and I listened to stories and we learned from an amazing group of Servant-Leaders in Elizabeth; we even got to celebrate Br Peter O’Laughlin’s birthday with him before he headed back to Vancouver as well. 

Now that we have been back for a month, we are taking stock of the experience and looking ahead to the work that needs to be done. Mr Garland has created a workflow that allows us to put the work of Service to Advocacy into perspective and helps us stay focused on and committed to these initiatives. As a team, Mr. Garland, Mr. Zimmermann, Mr. Johnston, Mr. Matitazzio, Mr. McCormack, Ms. Doromal and the Administration team have much work to do. 

Here is a sample of the workflow for the coming months:

  • Develop a survey to send out to those who took part on Day 1, as well as those that were there during Days 2 & 3 of the workshops/training in Vancouver and in Chicago.
  • Develop and plan further training for those who participated in the Vancouver workshop and the Chicago workshop. Zoom training on modules for workshop participants (December ‘23/January ‘24) Zoom training on embedding advocacy into the school curriculum (2024/2025).
  • Develop school-based Service/Charity to Action/Advocacy initiatives for Students & Staff.
  • Develop school-based Reverence 4 the Dignity of All Life (R4DAL) advocacy initiatives for Students & Staff.
  • Develop advocacy initiatives targeting the inclusion of Parents/Families/Alumni.
  • Develop advocacy initiatives and continue to stay connected with St. Laurence HS, Brother Rice (Chicago) & Brother Rice (Michigan).
  • Considerations for future advocacy immersions for Staff/Student to Belfast (Westcourt), Geneva (ERI), New York (UN).
  • Consider hosting a future ERCBNA School Leaders Meeting in Ireland, tour Belfast, Waterford, Callan, & Dublin.

 

It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to go on this service learning trip. I returned to Vancouver with a fire in my belly and renewed energy to help STMC move from service to advocacy, and from charity to action. As we begin these advocacy initiatives, I am reminded of Edmund Rice looking out his window, and seeing the needs of his community, and seeing where dignity was being deprived. In moving from Service to Advocacy, we will have to do as Edmund did, we will have to first see with the eyes, and then see with the heart; we will learn to focus on not just doing good work, but on doing God’s work.


(Left: Br Joe Cussen and Mr Adams at Iona University
Right: Mr Adams, Mr Zimmermann, Principal, Deirdre Mone, Vice-Principal, Mario Aceto, Iona Lower School, and Cormac McArt)

Have a blessed Advent Season.

Live Jesus in Our Hearts . . . Forever!

Joe Adams,
Principal and Dominic Zimmermann
Religion Head of Department 

WongJ

Author: WongJ