June 08, 2020
Bridget Maley in the Philippines

Bridget Maley in the Philippines

The summer before she started the Master of Social Work program at Catholic University, Bridget Maley met a refugee from Thailand in the Philippines, where she was interning for a humanitarian organization. 

The refugee — like many others who had fled their countries for a new life in the Philippines — missed his homeland. A former radio personality and political activist who had been critical of the Thai government, he spent much of his time creating pencil drawings of landscapes in his native country. At the end of that summer, he gave Maley two of his sketches, which hang in her apartment located about two miles from the University campus.

For Maley, who now manages the immigrant support services team at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington, the drawings are emblematic of the relationship she was able to build with the man — the kind of relationship that’s at the core of community service at Catholic University.

Maley, B.S.W. 2014, M.S.W. 2017, learned to create relationships with those she served with an emphasis on dignity and the worth of the human person. “I realized the importance of not just assuming what people need, but of listening and communicating in different ways so I’m coming from a place, not of sympathy, but of empathy,” she says.

While a student at the University, Maley went on two immersion trips to Jamaica, interned with organizations that serve torture survivors and youth with HIV, and worked as a graduate assistant for community service, among other activities.

Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, associate director of Campus Ministry and community service, says close to 40 percent of University undergrads are involved in service. She notes they “aren’t looking at people’s deficits, but rather at the gifts on both sides of the relationship that can be shared.”  

Annually 15 to 20 University alums commit to long-term service following graduation. That commitment was recently recognized by the Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN), which fosters and promotes full-time domestic and international faith-based volunteer service opportunities for college grads and others. The University is among 29 Catholic schools nationwide honored as one of CVN’s 2020 Top Schools for Service.

Joe McQuarrie, B.A. 2015, was an elementary education major, member of the House Ministry, and a participant in Students on the Mount, Friday Homeless Food Runs, and two Jamaica immersion trips. On his first trip, McQuarrie spent a day at an orphanage caring for a young girl named Elizabeth, who had cerebral palsy. He says the experience “reshaped” his life.

McQuarrie found his post-graduation calling while paging through Response, CVN’s guide to faith-based service that includes thousands of volunteer opportunities. He spent a year as a full-time volunteer at Cristo Rey New York High School, where he served as a teacher’s aide and coached the baseball and girls volleyball teams. 

Joe McQuarrie poses with the girls volleyball team he coaches
Joe McQuarrie with the girls volleyball team he coaches. 

Now a full-time religion teacher and campus minister at the school in East Harlem, he’s working on his master’s degree in religious education. McQuarrie says without the experience of his University immersion trips, he wouldn’t be teaching at Cristo Rey, which provides a quality college-preparatory education for students from low-income families. 

“Catholic University gave me the experience of finding people at the margins,” says McQuarrie. “That kind of mission mentality has evolved into the kind of mindset I have at Cristo Rey.” 

Since she graduated, Joanna Gardner, B.A. 2013, has twice given talks at University retreats for students who are contemplating a long-term service experience like the one she had at Amigos de Jesús, a home for abandoned, abused, and impoverished children in rural Honduras.

Joanna Gardner posing with children
Joanna Gardner in Honduras

An English major who minored in Spanish and music, Gardner was a resident minister and an active participant in Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Gardner, who has a brother with Down Syndrome, is still in touch with her buddy and usually sees her over the summer at the New Jersey shore. 

As she approached graduation, Gardner was eager to continue using her Spanish and to serve in a way that supported social justice, so she signed up for a year with Amigos de Jesús.

During her time in Honduras, she says she saw extreme poverty and “some of the messy realities of immigration for families that are separated.” After returning to the United States, she served for two years as the communications and marketing manager for Catholic Charities Diocese of Camden, NJ, and then decided to go to law school. 

Now she represents survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking as an attorney for Philadelphia’s HIAS Pennsylvania, which provides legal, resettlement, citizenship, and supportive services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. 

Gardner credits Catholic University with helping her integrate her faith into “a service model that makes sense out in the world. My faith is a place where the suffering and sadness of the world doesn’t need to be explained away or fixed. It can coexist with love, which is infinitely stronger.”