January 20, 2024

On Monday, The Catholic University of America community assembled at the Edward J. Pryzbyla Center before setting off to serve various locations in the D.C. area, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As snowflakes dusted the Catholic University campus, I teamed up with Ellie Bixenmen, a fellow student and videographer, to chronicle the bustling atmosphere of students arriving at the Pryzbyla Center.

Our first conversation was with Father Joseph Hagan, O.P. He shared his insights on community service and the continuation of Dr. King's legacy. According to Father Joseph, the community perpetuates Dr. King's legacy by “being brothers and sisters together, whatever our backgrounds, different schools, different groups, just that unity. I think that working together as brothers and sisters is something big.”

His words resonated deeply with both me and several students I encountered throughout the day.

Julie Cilano, Associate Director of Campus Ministry, said it was thrilling seeing students serving in Dr. King's honor. “I think… he understood that every person has dignity because they're made in the image of God, and that by carrying on his legacy, through MLK Day we're able to see Christ in others every time we serve.”

Then, Ellie and I gathered in the Pryzbyla Center's Great Rooms to hear Sister Anunciata Freitag's opening remarks. She highlighted the power of small acts of kindness and service, a reminder that even minor actions can yield substantial impacts.

In his opening remarks, President Peter Kilpatrick told students about service at Catholic University. He emphasized Dr. King's commitment to economic security for all and his dedication to serving and uplifting the poor.

He then gave the sea of eager students and staff a quote to keep with them as they served throughout the day and the community. “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” he said. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.’ This is what we are about today: serving with love.”

Acts of service are extensions of Catholic teaching and an integral part of the community life at the University. (Catholic University/Aaron Holmes)

At Saint Vincent de Paul Chapel on campus, Sister Anunciata and several students worked on some upkeep of the space. It was here that the impact of simplicity was emphasized. Students cleaned windows and pianos while making an impact on the campus community.

Weather impacted some service sites, but students quickly adapted, deciding to stay at the center and make cards for Best Buddies and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Anna Chiappetta, a Sophomore Psychology major said, “Even though our service site was canceled, we thought on the spot of what we could do to give back to others.”

The importance of dedication to Catholic University students allows them to serve in so many different ways; even when snow may get in the way.

Sienna DeGross, a Senior Psychology major, resident assistant, and member of the basketball team said that she “think[s] those small acts of love mean a lot to people that we're reaching out to the community and if I'm able to do anything similar to MLK, then it's an honor to work and serve and his name was work.”

We headed to Caldwell Hall to meet with Program Board members and students involved in Jumpstart. These students were creating sock puppets for local children, adding a touch of joy and creativity to their service.

We also had a conversation with Liam Jamolod, a Senior Art and Design and Marketing student passionate about service and making connections with others, who said the day is about, “honoring his legacy is all about working for service like helping others reach that place of equality that we all hope to achieve one day.”

Serving others is a key part of student life at the University. (Catholic University/Aaron Holmes)

Our day ended at Saint Anthony's Parish, a local parish in Brookland, where we spoke with Father Fred Close. During our conversation, he underscored the value of students living out their faith through service.

I asked Father Close about why students need to live out their faith through service.

His response further emphasized the importance of service in the community. “Because Jesus said, ‘No, take up your cross, and follow me.’ And you really don't know anything about yourself until you try to give yourself away. If you ask for the gift of life, you see the needs of your brothers and sisters. And then you have some gift or some time or somebody to help them and when you put it into practice. You feel better. They feel better.”

As we drove back to the campus, Ellie and I reflected on our experience, filled with a sense of gratitude for having witnessed the dedication and resilience of our peers in serving others. At Catholic University, service is a fundamental aspect of community involvement, and it's heartening to see students from varied backgrounds come together in the spirit of service.