During the first week of January, the Phoenix area will be aswarm with football enthusiasts from the Notre Dame community, eager to cheer their beloved Fighting Irish onward to victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl.Among them, however, will be eight Notre Dame students compelled by an additional, more serious purpose.
While some of them undoubtedly will find their way to Sun Devil Stadium on Jan. 2, the students also will be serving meals to homeless people, studying new methods for teaching the children of low-income families, meeting pregnant women in need of housing, and trying their best to experience and understand life as it is lived by the poorest inhabitants of the Valley of the Sun.They will be doing their school work, in other words.
The students are among the approximately 200 Notre Dame undergraduates enrolled in a unique course called the Urban Plunge.
Administered by the Universitys Center for Social Concerns, the Urban Plunge is designed to sensitize participating students to the sights, sounds and smells of poverty in a nation whose affluent citizens too often fail to notice them.In addition to the reading, discussion and report writing characteristic of more conventional undergraduate courses, the Urban Plunge requires a 48-hour immersion experience, during which the students visit and serve in some 30 cities nationwide.In inner city neighborhoods, homeless shelters, halfway houses, urban clinics, food banks, and child care centers, Notre Dame students have an opportunity to meet the people who suffer most deeply from poverty and the people who struggle most bravely against it.
Urban Plunge students visiting the Phoenix area will be staying with families in St. John Vianney Catholic Parish in Goodyear, assisting teachers in the classrooms and on the playground of the largely Hispanic parish grade school.They will meet with the
community of six Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) teachers who serve on the faculty of St. John Vianney and two other schools in the Phoenix diocese.ACE is a Notre Dame-founded program that gives college graduates an opportunity to earn master of education degrees while serving as full-time teachers in understaffed Catholic schools nationwide.
The students will visit and help out at Maggies Place, a residential program for pregnant women in need of housing. In addition to learning the history of the program, they will have a glimpse of its community life, help with cleaning and cooking, spend some time with needy mothers and play with their babies.
They also will visit and serve at André House of Hospitality, a ministry to homeless people founded 21 years ago by two Holy Cross priests from Notre Dame.André House, begun as an attempt to follow the tradition and example of the Catholic Worker movement, now serves some 600 meals a night, six days a week to the homeless or hungry of the Phoenix area.Among other services the house offers are free clothing distribution and assistance in finding employment.
The Urban Plunge attempts an integration of study, service, experience and reflection, and one which hundreds of Notre Dame alumni remember with fondness and gratitude.
Which may partly account for its frequent inclusion as a conversation topic at their post-victory tailgate parties.