[Fresh] Interview with Dr. Beth Hassel

Kelly Eastland (kelly.eastland@villanova.edu)
Thu, 15 Nov 2001 13:13:26 -0500

Interview with Dr. Beth Hassel, P.B.V.M, Executive Director, Campus
Ministry

Fresh@News: Those of us who live and work at Villanova know that Campus
Ministry is one of the most active departments on campus, and that its
programs reach out to both Catholic and to non-Catholic students. What
are some of the things you do?

Dr. Hassel: Campus Ministry serves students, faculty and staff by
offering a variety of opportunities for spiritual growth and
development. Our Mission and Ministry team organizes service
opportunities for students, faculty and staff. The Liturgy Team
coordinates campus liturgies. (In a typical week we offer from 18-25
liturgies on campus, which are attended by between 1500 to 2000 members
of the community.) The Catholic Outreach and Evangelization team offers
a wide variety of opportunities for spiritual growth including weekend
and evening retreats, faith sharing groups, ecumenical fellowships, and
Bible study groups. Although our focus grows out of our Catholic and
Augustinian heritage, we serve the entire community; students, faculty,
and staff of all religious backgrounds participate in our activities.

Fresh@News: How would a first-year student typically become involved
with Campus Ministry?

Dr. Hassel: Actually, we met many of the first-year students even before
the school year started, through their participation in one of our
ecumenical retreats for new students. This past July, over 200 students
participated in either the New Student Retreat or SERVE Retreat. At New
Student Orientation we met with all of the incoming students and invited
them to be active participants of the Villanova Community through
service and spirituality programs. During the school year, there are
other programs specifically for freshman such as the Freshman Escape and
Freshman RIOT. The Freshman Escape was just held earlier this month.
Approximately 40 students spent the weekend in Ocean City as an "escape"
from the hectic campus life in order to reflect on their Villanova
experience thus far. RIOT is a weekly opportunity for freshman student
to discuss real life issues and experiences happening at Villanova as
well as an opportunity for students to get to know the University
community better through conversation with other student leaders, campus
ministers, faculty and staff members.

Fresh@News: How do you reach new students with your programs?

Dr. Hassel: We publicize our services through flyers, posters, and word
of mouth. Many students will come into our office in St. Rita's hall on
main campus to find out more about the various programs; however, we
also have a presence in the residence halls. We have four graduate
student interns who work in our office and live in the residence halls
(Katherine, St. Monica, Stanford and Good Counsel). Our graduate
interns are in their late 20's and do a lot of the outreach to students;
especially freshman. The interns work closely with the RA's and
students in the building to plan service opportunities. Some of the
activities include food drives, gift sharing groups, retreats, hall
masses, adopting families for the holidays and even Saturday service
projects. All of the interns hold weekly office hours in our Campus
Ministry South office, located on South campus. We've been very pleased
with the work our staff has been doing!

Fresh@News: At Villanova there is always a lot of talk about community
service. Are first year students involved in those programs?

Dr. Hassel: Service to the marginalized groups of society is a major
part of our ministry, and we like to see our students get involved early
on in their college life. We have service activities for our students
nearly every day. For example, we regularly take groups of students to
the St. Barnabas Shelter for Women. When the women who live at the
center have group counseling, our students tutor and design arts and
crafts projects for their children. We also have regular trips into the
city where students work as tutors, in soup kitchens, or on Habitat for
Humanities projects. This year we have a number of service projects
designed specifically for first year students through our Serve program,
which consists of Saturday service projects for first year students
(http://www.campusministry.villanova.edu/serve.htm). At Villanova,
however, we are not just interested in service for its own sake; we also
want our students to connect their service work to broader issues of
faith and justice. All of our service activities include a period of
reflection, where students process and discuss what they have seen and
learned through that service experience.

Fresh@News: What about the longer trips, in spring break and fall break?

Dr. Hassel: One of our most popular activities is our fall and spring
break service/mission trips. This Fall we offered 19 trips. About half
were to Habitat for Humanities projects from South Carolina to
Colorado. The other half were mission trips to an established site in
a local area, which included trips to New Orleans, Alabama, and a
service learning experience with "Global Citizens Network" on a Navajo
reservation in New Mexico. We are just lining up our spring trips now.
The students spend weeks planning for the trips, and a Villanova faculty
member or staff member accompanies each group. It is a wonderful
opportunity for students to get to know one another, gain new insights
into the community and themselves, and to explore the questions of
social justice and spirituality. It is also a great opportunity for
students to get to know faculty members outside of class.

Fresh@News: Do our first year students get involved in these trips?

Dr. Hassel: We don't encourage first year students to get involved in
the break-trips, especially for the fall break, when most are so eager
just to get back home to their friends and families. Frankly, there is
so much demand for these trips that we are just as glad that the first
year students don't start right away. First year students are
encouraged to apply for the spring, but many more will be going as
Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors.

Fresh@News: What are some of the benefits of service activities for our
students?

Dr. Hassel: For a significant number of our students, service was a way
of life before entering the University. For many, however, service is a
new experience and becomes a way of life that they will carry through
their experience here and then continue after they graduate. (One of
our Campus Ministers serves as an adviser to seniors who want to do a
year or two of volunteer work after they graduate and before going on to
a career or to graduate school.) It all comes down to Villanova's
mission as a Catholic and Augustinian institution. We are concerned
here with the development of the student as a total person. Service
trips, and all of our activities in Campus Ministry, are dedicated to
helping our students grow spiritually and morally, in addition to
fostering their intellectual and professional growth. Our Patron, St.
Thomas of Villanova, was, of course, known for his activities for the
poor and disadvantaged of his own day, and we try to make those values
important to our own lives today.

Fresh@News: What are some of your other activities in Campus Ministry?

Dr. Hassel: I have really only mentioned a few of the other things we
do. Our staff is dedicated to student leadership and offers
opportunities to develop in many areas. In addition we offer personal
counseling and spiritual direction. Students come to discuss challenges
in coming to terms with their own identity or their relationships with
others. Others come to talk about issues of loss and bereavement. We
coordinate our activities, of course, with the other counseling services
at Villanova, such as the University Counseling Center and the Center
for Drug and Alcohol Awareness. We also have a new program for Campus
Ministry Interns, who live in the residence halls with our students, and
offer first year students special programs in spirituality and
service. We also offer the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of
Adults). Often students participate in this program and choose to be
baptized, to be initiated into the Catholic Church, or to receive the
Sacrament of Confirmation. As you might expect, many of our graduates
want to come back to Villanova's St. Thomas of Villanova Church for
their marriages, and, of course, we also work with seniors who are
planning to marry. Parents will be relieved to hear that this is not a
popular activity with our freshmen.

Fresh@News: What about students who come from other religious
traditions? What opportunities for worship and prayer are available for
them?

Dr. Hassel: There are dozens of churches, synagogues, and mosques in the
Villanova area, so many of our students attend worship services in the
nearby area. We also find that students of diverse faith backgrounds
attend and feel welcome at our on-campus liturgies. They seem to
respond to the fellowship and community spirit of our services, and they
appreciate the fact that there is no pressure on them to become
Catholic. They also appreciate the fact that students play such
important roles in our services, with many of our students acting as
Hospitality Ministers, Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, and Pastoral
Musicians.

Fresh@News: If parents wants to get a sense of spiritual life at
Villanova, what should they do?

Dr. Hassel: If you are a parent and you are near Villanova on a Sunday
evening, I would advise you to attend a mass at the chapel at either 6
P.M., 8 P.M., or 10 P.M. What you will find is a chapel filled to
standing room capacity. The entire service will be planned and
coordinated by students. Students will greet you as you enter, and as
many as sixty student pastoral musicians will provide the music. Indeed,
other than the priest, a Campus Ministry Coordinator, and the Pastoral
Music coordinator, you'll have to look very hard to find anyone in an
official capacity who is not a student. The priests who serve at these
liturgies are extremely popular with students, and their homilies
invariably connect with the daily concerns of many of our students The
dress is casual, of course, but I think you will be struck by the
intensity of the spiritual experience.

Fresh@News: What other advice do you have for parents?

Dr. Hassel: College can be a time of spiritual questioning for many
young people, so do not be surprised if your student raises questions
about his or her religious identity. Frankly, I wish more of our
students struggled with these issues. Take the time to get involved in
the dialogue and share your story of faith and meaning with your
child. I would advise parents to encourage their students to take
risks with their faith, and not to be afraid to explore their value
systems. This is a great time of their lives to raise these questions,
and we try to provide an environment that is conducive to spiritual
development. I would also urge parents to be supportive if their sons
or daughters want to participate in our spring or fall break service
trips. I know how painful it is not to have the students home for
vacations, but you will be amazed by the growth in spiritual and
personal development that you will see in your son or daughter as a
result of this intense involvement in service and reflection. Parents
can always consult our website http://www.campusministry.villanova.edu/,
to get a better sense of our many activities, and, in addition, we are
always available to talk to parents about concerns about college life.

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