By Michael Chapuran
Executive Director of Dominican Volunteers USA
From Dominican University to the University of Notre Dame to Creighton University, from service-learning to ecotheology to Hebrew Bible exegesis—the impact of former volunteers in the world of Catholic higher education is vast, and so was the impact of their service year in the Dominican Family on their formation. Just ask Dr. Claire Noonan.
“It is wonderful to share the news of those who have been impacted by these sisters,” Claire says. Claire is a former president of the board of trustees of Dominican Volunteers USA, and now directs the Siena Center at Dominican University in River Forest, Ilinois. The Siena Center sponsors a lecture series and other programming to “bring faith and scholarship to the critical issues of church and society.” Claire is also, of course, a former volunteer.
Ask her what influence the volunteer experience had, and she is left to respond, “Where to begin?” Claire served as an Apostolic Volunteer in 1992-93 in Atlanta before going on to earn her Doctorate in Ministry from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. While Dominican Volunteers USA is only 10 years old as a national collaboration of the Dominican Family, the theologians presented here (including Claire) come from its largest predecessor—the Apostolic Volunteers—sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa and founded by Sister Marcella Connolly, OP. The program served the underserved by placing more than 350 volunteers from 1974 to 1999 around the country in social justice ministries and community with vowed religious sisters. Additionally, through consistent prayer, study, and example, it simultaneously helped facilitate the faith formation of the volunteers as leaders in the Catholic Church.
Claire always invites the local Dominican Volunteers (and staff) to the Siena Center-sponsored lectures. In fact, Fr. Bill Lies, CSC—another former Apostolic Volunteer (1984-86 at the Connections Adult Learning Center in Chicago)—was invited to DU from Notre Dame to give one of those lectures in 2010. He spoke about his formation, including being “Dominican by adoption” from his service and living experience with Dominican sisters. As a “green kid from central Minnesota coming to the west side of Chicago,” working with the poor was very important to Fr. Bill and continues to be. In 2002, he was appointed to be Director of the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame. He had previously earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Now at the annual Notre Dame Service Fair (which his Center sponsors), we often see him pointing graduating seniors to the Dominican Volunteers USA table.
Fr. Bill is not the only former volunteer at Notre Dame. Angela Appleby Purcell (Volunteer 1992-1993 at Blessed Sacrament Parish/Rosary College in Chicago) just accepted a position as the director of spirituality programs for the Notre Dame Alumni Association. For the previous four years she was the director of the Pastoral Leadership Practicum in their Department of Theology—not to mention she wrote the grant proposal that established the practicum. She has taught Catholic social teaching and served as an RCIA director, hospital chaplain, campus minister, and director of marriage preparation. Angie earned her M.Div. from Notre Dame in 1997 after following the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters to Maryland after her volunteer year where she then taught religion at a Catholic high school.
Fr. Bill and Angie both have a strong dedication to service-learning as former volunteers, and they are not alone. Consider Dr. Jennifer Reed-Bouley (Volunteer 1990-91 at the United Stand Family Counseling Center in Chicago). Jennifer earned her Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from Loyola University in Chicago. Until she became the director of the Theology Program at the College of St. Mary (Omaha, Nebraska) earlier this year, she directed the Service-Learning program for seven years (and taught theology, of course). Jennifer believes in how “transformative experiential learning can be,” recalling not only the service year with Dominicans but also a three-week service/immersion trip shortly thereafter with Sister Margaret McGuirk, OP (Sinsinawa) to Central America. She reflected on howliving in Pilsen—a low-income and largely Mexican-American neighborhood—during her service year taught her about the challenges surrounding immigration, and the subject is a current research interest of hers today. She pays the experience forward by leading an annual spring break trip with students to examine issues of immigration at the United States/Mexican border.
Jennifer’s husband, Ken Reed-Bouley, was also an Apostolic Volunteer (1990-1991 at Hales Franciscan High School in Chicago). He currently ministers as the associate director for the Creighton Center for Service and Justice, whose mission is to “engage students in community service, reflection and action on behalf of justice and sustainability.” Ken earned his M.A. in Pastoral Studies and M.Div. from Loyola (Chicago) in 1996 and 2001, and then his M.B.A. from Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) in 2006.
Dr. Jason King (Volunteer 1993-1994 at St. Pius V School in Chicago) is now an assistant professor of theology at St. Vincent College (Latrobe, Pennsylvania). Jason earned his Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.). He has written extensively on the theology of marriage and Catholic teaching on dating, taking the program’s motto “At the heart of ministry is relationship” to a whole different interpretation. When asked about his service year, he reflected, “You come out of college and think of your vocation, your career, your needs… In the service site, you come to think of everyone else’s needs. It’s one of those moments of suffering… It’s very formative.” It was very fitting the word he used to later describe the sisters was “compassionate,” which literally means to “suffer with.”
All of these former volunteers have gone on to be leaders in Catholic higher education, and each one is a testament to the positive influence a post-graduate service program can have—especially one so dedicated to intergenerational living. Each one included living with vowed religious as a highlight of their service year about 20 years ago. In their interviews, they shared that it was in Dominican community—through mentorship and experience—they learned about living with and respecting difference, sharing the joys and sorrows of each person’s life journey, living out values of social justice and simple living, and discerning vocations. It was there they learned that “At the heart of ministry is relationship.”
Dominican Volunteers USA places men and women in Dominican community and ministry throughout the United States. To read the full version of this article with more volunteer profiles, or to learn more about volunteer service, visit www.dvusa.org.