PITTSBURGH, PA (July 21, 2016)
Liz Keller and Lydia Presper entered Duquesne University for similar reasons, and after they graduated from the university in May, they still share a common bond in the form of a profound opportunity.
Keller, a graduate in biology from Boiling Springs, Pa.; and Presper, a nursing school graduate from Akron, Ohio; are the first two participants in the Spiritan Year of Service Pilot Program (SYSP) that began in June.
Planning for SYSP was finalized in January, with the goal of engaging young college graduates in a life of faith in action, while growing spiritually in a structured “gap year” of service prior to their choice of careers or furthering their education.
During their year of service, SYSP participants have the opportunity to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Spiritan spirituality – which is rich in the tradition of prayer, community, and service to those on the margins of society — while working to be agents of positive change in the local community and beyond.
“Everything fell into place this past year for SYSP,” said Luci-Jo DiMaggio, director of mission animation in Duquesne’s Division of Mission and Identity. “In collaboration with others at the university and the Lay Spiritan Associates, the plan for SYSP was finalized this past January, and approved by the end of April.” SYSP was approved for implementation by Fr. Jeffrey Duaime C.S.Sp., provincial for the Spiritan U.S. Province — and the provincial leadership council.
“I certainly give thanks and credit to the work of the Holy Spirit for seeing the program through so quickly,” noted DiMaggio, herself a Duquesne graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and currently in formation as a Lay Spiritan Associate. “We were also blessed by identifying two fantastic candidates for the program in Liz and Lydia.”
“Before I came to Duquesne, I never really was exposed to social service activities,” said Keller, who plans to apply to medical school during her SYSP year. “After reading Duquesne’s Mission Statement and spending four years there, I realized the importance of a concrete expression of the Gospel; applying faith in action.”
Though Keller was a casual acquaintance of Presper’s while at Duquesne, both were drawn to the university because of its urban setting in Pittsburgh and its Spiritan identity. They now agree that being a Duquesne grad and participant in SYSP will aid their careers in healthcare in many ways.
“I believe both my years at Duquesne and now my year in the SYSP will influence my career as a nurse,” said Presper, who recently passed her nursing boards. “I always wanted to be a nurse since I was little, and these new experiences will help me to advocate for my patients and to help those in need.”
DiMaggio explained that the concept behind SYSP had been thought of for years by Dr. Anne Marie Hansen, a Lay Spiritan Associate and scholar-in-residence at the Center for Spiritan Studies, based upon a model utilized by other religious communities, “So why not the Spiritans?” asked DiMaggio.
Participants have two options during the year: traditional service during which they commit to 30 hours a week of volunteer work with a local social service organization, or a year with a paying job in their field, provided that their work connects in a direct way with those on the margins, plus an additional 10 hours of volunteer service. Both options include spiritual formation and commitment.
Each participant makes a commitment to live a simple existence on $300 per month in spending money. Those working in a paid position make donations each month toward a Spiritan community either domestically or abroad while still committing to live only on $300 a month. Participants who are volunteering full time, will raise funds to support their monthly spending of $300 per month. All participants live at the Spiritan Center in Bethel Park, Pa., giving them the opportunity to interact with the retired Spiritans at Libermann Hall there for regular prayer and liturgical celebrations, social activities and mentoring, as well as with the staff.
For the inaugural pilot program, Keller and Presper are working with FOCUS Pittsburgh, a community outreach ministry of the Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh’s underserved Hill District. FOCUS Pittsburgh is run by Orthodox Deacon Paul and Kristina Abernathy.
“Each day at FOCUS is different,” explained Keller, who’s volunteering full-time for the program. “I really like that aspect, since I’ve always had a lot of energy, and volunteering there keeps me going since you’re never really sure what the visitors there need. You’re continually helping them with everyday life experiences and issues that confront them.”
Presper agreed, adding she enjoys working with the self-help ministry of FOCUS, since it deals with those on the margins, “by overcoming life-skills issues through long-term problem-solving techniques rather than providing them with only temporary assistance.”
Presper, who plans to work in her career as a nurse during the SYSP year, said it is gratifying seeing clients regularly coming back to FOCUS, since the aim is to help them resolve life issues completely; she and Keller also enjoy being at the Spiritan Center, spending time working in the garden, walking on the local trails and joining the community for liturgy and other activities there.
DiMaggio met Keller and Presper through other activities at Duquesne. Keller was already volunteering at FOCUS one day a week when approached by DiMaggio to consider SYSP, and Presper was involved with the university’s Pure Thirst program, and will spend three weeks this summer in Tanzania helping with a water project at a Spiritan mission there.
“Liz and Lydia were natural choices for the program, and the Holy Spirit really put them in front of us for consideration,” said DiMaggio. “They both eagerly jumped at the opportunity when I asked them.
“My prayer for them both is that they will have a ‘metanoia’ experience through participating in SYSP for the next year. The hope is that with that type of experience they will always be more willing to recognize and reach out to those on the margins in society as they go through life,” explained DiMaggio.
While the pilot program will be conducted in Pittsburgh, SYSP could be replicated in any number of U.S. cities or Spiritan missions around the world in the future.