Campus Ministry staff spread mercy at local drop-in center

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Nancy Beitler serves coffee at Our Lady of the Road in South Bend. Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame.

Nancy Beitler serves coffee at Our Lady of the Road in South Bend. Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame.

Wearing a blue pullover and a white, knitted scarf, Nancy Beitler, business manager in the Office of Campus Ministry at the University of Notre Dame, poured coffee from a silver carafe, warming the cups of cold guests at Our Lady of the Road, a drop-in center for men, women and children in South Bend.

Nearby, Patrick Kronner, choral program director and organist and director of the Women’s Liturgical Choir and the Community Choir in Campus Ministry, washed dirty cups and plates in a tub of soapy water.

The two are among a group of about 30 Campus Ministry employees who volunteer at Our Lady of the Road on a regular basis, assisting with food preparation and service, dishes, laundry and other tasks in the Christian tradition of corporal and spiritual acts of mercy.

Tami Schmitz, associate director of pastoral care in Campus Ministry, leads the effort, which sprung from a recent update to the office’s strategic plan that places a new emphasis on work that “bring(s) the love and compassion of Jesus Christ and the church to the margins” among staff as well as students.

“As those entrusted with the faith of campus, and to live the gospel, this is where the rubber meets the road,” Schmitz said. “It’s literally Matthew 25: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick …”

It also corresponds with the University’s concern for human solidarity and the common good, and its commitment to service and engagement in support of a healthy, prosperous community.

In addition to volunteering the first Friday of each month on a rotating basis, Campus Ministry staff collect items for Our Lady of the Road, such as food, clothing and first-aid and hygiene items, in donation boxes around Coleman-Morse Center.

“So if someone can’t give labor, they can donate,” Schmitz said.

Our Lady of the Road

Amy Huber, administrative assistant in the liturgy office in Campus Ministry, is among the volunteers. Huber generally helps with the laundry at Our Lady of the Road.

“I love doing laundry, and what’s better than warm, clean clothes?” Huber said while heaving bags of dirty clothes over a counter at the shelter.

Spiritually, Huber said, the work “just gives me a sense of peace, knowing that you’re helping somebody who doesn’t have as much as you have.”

That’s a common experience.

“Simply put, the first time I came here and volunteered it was very emotional,” said Beitler. “And when people ask me why I say, ‘I saw the face of Christ here.’”

“It feels weird if I don’t come,” said Kronner, who volunteers at the center nearly every Friday thanks to an accommodating work schedule. “I’ve made a lot of friends here with the volunteers and the guests. It feels like a part of my routine now, my life.”

At the staff level, Schmitz said, the opportunity to serve has “inspired us individually and as a staff to be more compassionate and giving and, in its own way, lifted the spirit and connections between us as a staff.”

Campus Ministry is among a number of local individuals and organizations that volunteer at Our Lady of the Road, in addition to numerous students, faculty and staff from Notre Dame as well as Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross Colleges.

“It’s always a gift to have volunteers,” said Emma Clare, a local Catholic Worker who helps coordinate services at the near-downtown center, which shares a block with the South Bend Center for the Homeless.

That’s especially true of groups like Campus Ministry, Clare said, that volunteer on a consistent basis.

“They understand what needs to be done, so it gives us time to attend to the individual needs of our guests,” Clare said. “And it is a great encouragement in our spirit as well.”

The volunteers, meanwhile, have more time to engage personally with the guests, Clare said, and “that is one of the pillars of hospitality we try to offer folks, just relationships.”

Schmitz deflected such plaudits.

“This is really more about the Catholic Worker and us being privileged to be a part of their ministry,” she said. “We’re lucky we’re able to be a part of this. It’s rewarding for us.”

Rooted in the Catholic tradition and inspired by the charism and spirituality of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Campus Ministry aims to cultivate the faith of all Notre Dame students through undergraduate, graduate, liturgical and music ministries.

For more information, visit campusministry.nd.edu.