Robert A. Bourgeois

Reflection on the Dominican Pillar of Service

by Robert A. Bourgeois, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Director of Global Studies Program

You call us to heal,
to teach,
to be and to do justice,
to offer ourselves completely
to the task of your reign.
Do not accept our complacency:
Grant us a holy discontent.
Challenge us to your justice.
    -Catherine of Siena, O.P. (1347-1380) is impossible
for someone to be saved
who does not observe justice.
    -Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P. (1484-1566)

These Dominican utterances anticipated the development by the Church of its doctrine of social justice. Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, resulting from Vatican II and composed under the influence of the renowned Dominican theologian Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P., opens with these words:

The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.

Pope Paul VI soon after established the Pontifical Commission "Justitia et Pax" ("Justice and Peace,"), following which Catholic religious orders and communities, including the Dominicans, appointed their own "Promoters of Justice and Peace."

According to Deacon John Hoffman, coordinator of Dominican Ministries, there is widespread awareness among the students at Albertus of need and poverty: "Service projects pop up independently all over campus-we will never know them all ... It's in the DNA of the institution."

Under the leadership of Athletic Director James Abromaitis and Associate Director Kristen DeCarli, every athletic team takes on a service project, and every member donates a minimum of three hours of service, although this requirement is typically far exceeded. Recent community service events involving athletes in all sports include Special Olympics events on a year-round basis; a cancer benefit in Shelton; volunteering with school children at a local elementary school; participating in the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk; working with children at the Keefe Center Kids Carnival; food and clothing drives for the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen in New Haven; working for the Food Bank, the Yale Farm in New Haven, and Habitat ReStore; and volunteering in clinics, for a total of 703 hours of service in Fall 2014.

The Honors Program, directed by Professor Christine Atkins, spearheads a service project each year, and Honors students volunteered their efforts at the Cook-N-Care Walk-a-thon on campus, a canned food drive for the homeless, and as a team for an autism walk in 2013-2014.

Within the Master of Arts in Art Therapy (M.A.A.T.) program, Lisa Furman, the Community Outreach Coordinator, has folded a community service component into the student's academic program. Through the M.A.A.T. volunteers, the College has developed strong connections with the community while inculcating a spirit of service among the students, who have provided art therapy services at no cost to the Yale New Haven Hospital's Smilow Cancer Center and Pediatric Medical Unit; to special needs children at a local elementary school; and in other venues to breast cancer survivors, children of divorce, and geriatric patients.

In addition to service to the needy and suffering, there are projects which develop in the student an awareness of structures of injustice in society. Under the coordination of Sociology Professor Karen Kendrick, the Sociology Club conducted a "wage inequality bake sale" at which prices were based on the average yearly income of groups based on race, ethnicity, and gender (where white men paid $1 for a cookie costing white women 80 cents and black men 75 cents); conducted a voter registration drive; and sponsored the Movement for Justice in El Barrio to speak about grassroots organizing of low income renters in New York City.

Last year, the Dominican Mission and Ministries Office organized a Leadership Luncheon for women, including administrators, faculty, staff, and students ("How can a woman be empowered to be a leader?") and will sponsor an upcoming Leadership Luncheon for men.

In the context of tense relations between the police and the African American community, a consortium of faculty and the Office of Dominican Mission and Ministries, with the support of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, organized a panel discussion, reflecting the format of Dominican disputatio, with faculty and student presenters, and open to the College community, in order to consider the question, "Building Just Communities and Law Enforcement Relations: How Do We Do It?"

Our aim is to incarnate the following of Jesus in a spirituality of justice, of accompaniment and support of those against whom the structures of society have stacked the deck, and to develop this spirituality in concert with study and prayer.