Spiritan Mission Experience lends helping hand across the country

Duquesne students get in a paint battle with Dominican teens during SME summer camp.
Duquesne students get in a paint battle with Dominican teens during SME summer camp.
Madison Pastrick | Layout & Ad manager
Madison Pastrick (layout & ad manager) took part in one of the trips mentioned. 
Most Duquesne students have heard the story of the Spiritans, whether it was from Adam Wasilko’s presentation freshman year, or on A-Walk during Heritage Week. But how many students feel that the Spiritan mission has truly impacted their experiences here at Duquesne University?
The general knowledge is typically that the Spiritans were Catholic immigrants that settled in Pittsburgh because they saw a need for education and opportunity amongst the city’s poor immigrant families. This missionary endeavor is right in-line with the Spiritan way of life, which focuses on leaving worldly possessions behind in order to become one with communities in need, all of which is guided by faith, of course.
It’s an inspiring life that our Spiritan founders led, but their story does not end here. There are students right here at Duquesne that are living out the mission of the Spiritans through their involvement with the Spiritan Campus Ministry (SCM). One of the most immersive ways students are doing this is by participating in a Spiritan Mission Experience (SME), formerly named Cross Cultural Mission Experience (CCME). SCM hosts these trips and formats them in a way that allows students to learn about the Spiritan mission by traveling to deprived communities and learning about these areas through faith-based engagement in which students participate in service activities, cultural immersion and spiritual growth.
These groups of students go to a variety of locations across the U.S. and other countries, including Baltimore, Md; Chicago, Ill; Mullens, W. Va; Immokalee, Fla. and San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic (DR).
As described on their website, “SME’s are an opportunity for people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths and majors to come together for a common mission of service and to learn and share our faith and stories with each other and the communities where we work.”
The activities within these trips are completely contingent on the community which is being visited. For instance, those traveling to Chicago will focus their service efforts on the city’s homeless community, while those travelling to Immokalee are working with immigrant farmers and laborers.
On the Mullens trip, Rachel Wentz, a junior biomedical engineering and nursing major, describes her services as such. “The community that we worked with was struggling with establishing new ways to create jobs and boost their economy. In West Virginia, lumber is readily available, so the new way they thought of was to build log cabins out of the lumber and sell them. During our days there, we aided in the building of their first log cabin.”
The service aspect of these trips goes far beyond its physical implications, however. “There’s a whole different part of what we do which is social justice, which is like the continuation of charity,” Campus Minister, Brenda Merrick said. “Charity is feeding mouths when they’re hungry. Social justice looks for the deeper issues and fights for change.”
That’s why these trips also have a heavy emphasis on cultural immersion. By exposing students to very humble backgrounds, and engaging them in vulnerable conversations with the people within these communities, students are able to see these areas for more than just their struggle, but their humanity.
“They don’t go to change the community, they go to become one with the people there,” Merrick said.
These authentic interactions lead to authentic relationships. Describing the relationships she formed during her trip to the Dominican Republic, senior elementary education major, Bella Guzzi said, “I am still in touch with many of the people from the DR that I met on the trip. I plan on keeping in touch with them and hopefully, returning eventually to visit them.
I think of each of their positive attitudes, their willingness to share and give anything they could and their kind hearts, that were so full of joy. I will carry that with me as a reminder of who I hope to always be. San Juan de la Maguana and its people has a piece of my heart.”
These trips are also a great way to meet other Duquesne students who have a similar passion for service.
“As with every service trip, you walk into a week knowing almost nobody, but you come out of that week feeling like you have eight new best friends,” said Duquesne alumna Rachael Reiner, describing her trip to Baltimore/Dayton. “This group of students were complete strangers to me in January. Now, we have inside jokes and a week­­’s worth of memories to share for the rest of our lives.”
Merrick believes that a strong aspect of these trips is that they allow a diverse group of students to come together to apply different backgrounds and experiences of faith to a singular cause.
“The trip itself, you come into it with whatever faith background you have, and you serve from that faith background,” Merrick said.
Above all, SMEs are meant to leave a lasting impact on students. Unique to many other opportunities on Duquesne’s campus, these trips allow students to learn about other cultures through personal and authentic interactions.
“There’s always a reluctance to go outside of what is familiar and comfortable to venture into the unknown; but past that unknown usually lies a reward,” said supply chain management major, Lance Robertson, describing his trip to Immokalee. “For us, that reward was being humbled by first-hand experiences of the plight that immigrants in this country go through in hopes of pursuing a better life. No news article or presentation would do that justice.”
Through service, solidarity, education and lasting relationships – all led by your own personal faith – these trips fully embody what it means to be a Spiritan.
Applications for SME’s are currently open for submission. They will be accepted until Sept. 30 and can be found on Spiritan Campus Ministry’s page of the Duquesne University website. The cost of each trip is only $100, and each student is asked to fundraise for supplies prior to their trip. This year, SCM is hosting four trips during Spring Break, and one over the summer.