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Four Decades of Service, continued...

Current head intern Sarah Fontaine ’08 has been involved with SPUD since she first sought the comfort of the Chaplains’ Office as a homesick first-year student. At the suggestion of Kim McElaney ’76, director of the Office of College Chaplains, Fontaine signed up for SPUD and spent the next two years volunteering at the Main Street Homework Help Center. In her third year, she switched to Almost Home—and was also asked to be an intern.

Fontaine has been instrumental in restructuring SPUD’s leadership. Drawing on what she learned in a class on community organization taught by assistant professor of sociology, Susan Crawford Sullivan, she proposed specific changes that were implemented this year. The structure of the program is now more hierarchical, giving each intern specific duties, encouraging individual initiative—and, says Fontaine, “taking the pressure off Marybeth. Everyone used to take all of their questions to her.” A grant from the Lilly Foundation, meant to emphasize discernment of vocation, supports the interns financially and helps the Chaplains’ Office to run the program.

Campus events sponsored by SPUD bring the College community into the discussion. In 2006, a forum on the cost of war focused attention on the financial, environmental and human ramifications of violence. This year, students took part in a Hunger and Homelessness Week and attended a panel on the Faces of Homelessness. Organized in conjunction with the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C.—where

Fontaine interned in the summer of 2007—the panelists brought formerly homeless people from Boston and Washington to the event to talk about their experiences. More than 150 people attended the program.
Fontaine credits the “huge interest in social service” at Holy Cross for the popularity of the SPUD program, adding: “We get a lot of people who come up to us at open houses and say they’ve heard about SPUD—it’s one of the reasons they’re interested in coming to Holy Cross.” At this point, Fontaine wants to turn commitment to service into a commitment to “ask the larger questions of why SPUD exists.”

For Pat Clancy, that larger commitment became a way of life. After receiving his degree from Holy Cross, he went to Harvard Law School “simply to acquire a tool to help the less fortunate.” By November of his first year, Clancy says, “I was working 20 hours a week with poor families living in community housing in the South End and suing landlords on their behalf.”
He is now president and chief executive officer of a non-profit organization called The Community Builders, which develops and finances affordable and mixed housing units for diverse communities, revitalizing neighborhoods and creating more than 1,000 new units every year.

“For me,” he says, “it was a very straight line from SPUD to my life’s work. I went from the advocacy side to the production side.”

The recipient of the Sanctae Crucis Award in 2004, Clancy recently reconnected with his alma mater—and with the students who are involved in SPUD.

“There is still a real ethos of service in this community,” he notes. “The fact that so many Holy Cross students participate says a lot about the values Holy Cross transmits. They are stronger at Holy Cross and weaker in the broader society.”

On April 6, SPUD will formally celebrate its 40th anniversary with a breakfast in Hogan Ballroom. Clancy will be one of the speakers—and several community partners will have an opportunity to talk about the relationship between campus and community. In addition, there will be a presentation about the student experience and/or a slide show.

But the focus will also be about the future.

Geiger, who is the head of the committee planning the event, notes that SPUD members spent the fall months trying to figure out the program’s next steps. It is a process that is quite consistent with the organization’s history.

“They are asking a lot of the same questions we asked,” says Clancy, who has met with the current leadership and “prodded them to pick specific changes and see what they have to do to implement them.”

“It’s very impressive that SPUD has always been so student-run and student-focused,” Geiger says—“and to see that through the generations. There have always been people interested in the same things that we’re interested in and in helping Worcester.”

And, as Fr. McFarland notes, SPUD continues to have a lasting impact.

“We see the powerful effects in the strong orientation toward service among our students,” he notes, “not only while they are at Holy Cross, but, even more significantly, after they graduate.”

Kearns-Barrett, who was co-chair of SPUD as a student, says the program—in making her “think of the world differently”—helped draw her to the chaplaincy. She hopes that students involved with SPUD “will develop a relationship with people who help them rethink their own place in the world.”

Certainly this hope continues to be realized. Soriano says he wants to become involved in “some kind of long-term volunteer work” before dedicating himself to a profession. Geiger intends to do educational research—“particularly looking into urban-rural inequalities with schools.”

And Fontaine wants to become a chaplain.

“I’ve been given so much at Holy Cross through my mentors,” she explains. “Part of my vocation is to try to be for other people what they have been for me.”

Before seeking a graduate degree in theology, however, she plans to work in a Catholic high school in the Worcester area and do campus ministry.

“I think that if you are just talking about service and not doing it,” she says, “you aren’t following through.”

Laura Porter is a freelance writer from Worcester.

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