A May 27 Catholic Standard article profiled Kara Fitzgerald and Jonathan Jerome , winners of the President's Award at CUA's commencement ceremony on May 15. The award is the highest honor given to graduation seniors in recognition of service, leadership and outstanding scholarship. See the article below.
From: Catholic Standard Date: May 27, 2010 Reporter: Mark ZimmermannOn their first day of classes at the Catholic University of America as freshmen four years ago, Kara Fitzgerald and Jonathan Jerome met in Spanish class.
"She was my first friend (here)," said Jerome, a theology and religious studies major from Charlotte, N.C.
They found out that they were living in the same residence hall, and they soon became best friends and study partners. In their senior year, they both served as student ministers, mentoring freshmen. In addition to providing spiritual guidance to students, they also arranged alcohol-free social activities at their Washington, D.C., campus and in sites throughout the nation's capital. During their time at Catholic University, both participated in mission trips, serving the poor in foreign countries.
And at Catholic University's May 15 commencement, the two friends walked up together to receive the CUA President's Award, the highest honor given to graduating seniors, in recognition of prominent leadership, outstanding scholarship and for exemplifying the ideals of Christianity.
"Walking up the steps with him was so fitting... having my best bud along," said Fitzgerald, a social work major from Newton, Conn.
Jerome said that serving as student ministers gave them the opportunity "to bring Christ to other people, and to be Christ for other people." In addition to serving as spiritual mentors to younger students, the student ministers organized retreats, prayed together, joined each other at weekly Masses in their living room, and they coordinated outings to basketball and hockey games, and to the symphony and circus.
Both students are preparing to enter careers that involve serving others. This fall, Jerome will serve as director of Catholic campus ministry at the University of Pittsburgh's Johnstown campus. Fitzgerald will go to graduate school at the University of Michigan, to complete a master's degree in social work. Some day, she hopes to do international development work. Describing his friend's approach to life, Jerome said, "It's always, 'what can I do to better serve others?' "
Earlier this year, Jerome helped organize a campus-wide initiative called CUA Cares for Haiti, following the devastating earthquake there. A team of students organized a collection for Haitian relief, and Jerome helped coordinate a prayer novena. "We found there was a need to join them in prayer. Our prayers were something we could send them... It was something we could give them and be (united) with them," he said.
Both President's Award recipients said that the mission trips they took as CUA students had a lasting impact on their lives. During spring break of his sophomore year, Jerome served on a CUA mission trip to Jamaica.
"It was the best week of my life," he said. Jerome said he went to Jamaica expecting to serve the poor there, and they ended up reaching out to him. "They have so much more to offer, and so much love to share," he said. That experience instilled a deeper desire on his part to love and serve others as a way of living out his faith. "We are called as a Catholic people to go out and serve," he said.
During her sophomore year, Fitzgerald joined a CUA mission trip to Tanzania. The experience, she said, "kick-started my interest in the developing world." Serving in an outreach program sponsored by the Brothers of Charity, she worked with children with developmental disabilities. The people there welcomed her as a member of their family. "These people had so little. They relied on each other, and they loved each other so much," she said.
Witnessing the outreach to street children and refugees, Fitzgerald said she learned "how a group (can) come together, and work together to better each other's lives." Their faith, she said, "was on fire."
Two years ago, Fitzgerald and Jerome joined other CUA students in welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to their campus, where he addressed a gathering of national Catholic educational leaders. Jerome said the experience revitalized his faith, as he witnessed members of the CUA community grow even closer together as they participated in that historic visit.
"It was so cool to see us welcome him to America," said Fitzgerald, who gathered with CUA friends early that morning to wait for the pope's arrival hours later. The papal visit's theme - "Christ Our Hope" - resonated with her, she said. "It gave us hope in the Church, and the future of the Church."
Also during her years at Catholic University, Fitz-gerald served as a cardinal ambassador, guiding prospective students and their families around campus. "I could see the difference it was making for me, and I wanted to help others benefit as well," she said.
The new CUA graduates said that their years there have shaped their lives, and their future aspirations.
"CUA has made me feel much more confident in myself and in my faith, and confident enough to live out my faith every day," Fitzgerald said. "...I feel like I can go somewhere, say I'm Catholic, and be confident to live out those ideals."