Maria College, an educational community dedicated to the values of scholarship and service, offers the opportunity for students to pursue the connections between the common good and the work they are preparing to do in the world, or in many cases, the work they are already doing. In the course of teaching RES 201 at Maria College, I’ve encountered students with remarkable vision and dedication to service in their local communities. In one class, a student described her volunteer work with a local refugee organization, the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), and a fellow student in class shared that she herself had benefited from the hospitality shown by this organization when, before joining the Maria community as a student, she came to this country as a refugee. This classroom encounter led to a joyful moment of recognition, gratitude, and wonder at our interconnectedness in the world.
Another student, Jodie O’Connell-Ponkos, enrolled in the Occupational Therapy program at Maria, engages in legislative advocacy work with the Amputee Coalition. Jodie shares, “Being an amputee for 34 out of 50 years of my life, I’ve watched and listened to what, not only my experiences have been as an amputee, but those of my peers. The Amputee Coalition is that platform that allows amputees to stand up for our rights. We go to Washington as a group and we talk to legislators to get laws changed or new laws approved that will allow us to have better prosthetic limbs, or to even to get the approval so we can have a prosthesis. The Amputee Coalition has gone to insurance companies on the behalf of an amputee to get proper approval for the prosthesis that will enhance their lives. It helps the amputee to feel like there is hope, and someone does understand and is in their corner, helping us fight for our rights in terms of equality, fairness and consistency across the United States.”
We are fortunate to have such students at Maria, individuals committed to the common good through their service-oriented professional and volunteer work in their communities. As student Roy Soucie observes, “It is not enough to stand by and let someone else do something. Even one small thing in your own community may inspire a bigger change in the community. Catherine McAuley did this on a larger scale and her legacy continues to this very day.”
Through recognizing and honoring human dignity in ways large and small, from legislative advocacy at the capitol to holding open a door in a gesture of kind welcome, though volunteer work and service-oriented professions, Maria students embody the spirit of compassion and service that sustains and deepens our shared experience in this community of learning.
Tara Flanagan, PhD
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies