Serving the “least favored” is a pillar of the spirituality and tradition Marist High School inherited from the earliest days of the Brothers, and flourishes today with a multifaceted service program that helps students grow in faith, humility, and social awareness.
Service is not a requirement for Marist students. Instead, it is integrated throughout school life, giving students choices when it comes to what interests them. Projects include ones close to home such as tutoring grade school students right at Marist to traveling internationally to serve those living in poverty.
Locally, students deliver food, clothing, and other necessities to those in need in Robbins, Ill., each month. Others work at St. Blase’s soup kitchen monthly, while some volunteer to provide financial literacy to grade school students through the Junior Achievement program.
Marist’s senior service program allows more than 100 senior students the option of participating in daily service versus a traditional religion class. Students are assigned to one of 17 local organizations including grade schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and facilities that serve clients with developmental disabilities. Students create meaningful relationships with those they serve, and create an ongoing reflection journal outlining their experiences.
Alternatively, other Marist seniors enroll in peer leadership, providing daily support to younger Marist students in a variety of academic classes. “I took peer leadership because Marist always taught us to give back and help others,” explained recent graduate Brian Kettering ’16). “Peer leadership was a perfect way to help others right in my own community.”
Sophomore students participate in a retreat at Catholic Charities warehouse in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood. The students create food packs for mothers, children, and senior citizens. They also learn about the realities of food insecurity. Marist sophomores boxed more than 12,000 food packs during the 2015-2016 school year.
School wide events provide the opportunity for hundreds of students to participate and build school spirit. In November of 2015, the school’s service group, Marist Youth, organized a Thanksgiving food drive themed after the popular movie and book series The Hunger Games. The halls were transformed into scenes from the films, and the food collection mimicked the storyline. Marist students donated more than 5,000 food items benefitting Illinois veterans and Little Sisters of the Poor. The drive culminated in a thematic pep rally, with Marist administrators surprising students by dressing as the characters from the books.
Another popular large scale event is Relay for Life, which Marist has hosted for the past five years, raising nearly $250,000 for the American Cancer Society. Marist is the only Catholic school in Illinois to host its own Relay for Life. A student committee worked on the all-night event throughout the year, planning fundraisers, educational events, and more. “The students make this event a personal mission to help eradicate cancer,” said Colleen Pochyly, a Marist campus minister who co-moderated the event. “Every family has a cancer story and this event helps to give our students back some of the power and control that cancer takes from their lives.”
Then there are the mission trips. Marist’s campus ministry office provides multiple opportunities for juniors and seniors to participate in domestic and international mission trips that give students the chance to work hard, put their faith into action, and experience local culture. Over the past few years, that has included trips to Louisiana, New York, Georgia, Kentucky, and even Dixon, Ill., following tornado damage in 2015. There have been trips to Jamaica, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, too.
Students typically do a lot of physical labor on these trips building houses, cleaning up after disasters, and completing a variety of other needed projects. Each day’s work is capped off by an evening prayer service and reflection about the service and the people they helped. “The students come to make some powerful observations about different cultures, people’s struggles, and social justice issues,” Patrick Meyer (’10), Marist’s campus minister explained. “They realize they can help make a change.”
This past March, twelve students traveled to Colorado for a mission trip, helping prepare meals for those in need, rebuilding a hiking path in the popular Garden of Gods park, and other projects. “This was one of the best experiences of my life, and the friends that I made on this trip will never be forgotten,” explained Tim Adent ’16. “Every time I think about this trip I will remember how I felt doing this work for others.” His classmate Grace Burke said working with the other volunteers and clients was powerful. “These ‘regulars’ taught us how to frame out houses and build walls. They also taught us lessons on selflessness and integrity.”
Marist teams and clubs get in on the mission to serve, too. The National Spanish Honor Society runs fair trade sales to helps artists in Central and South America, and also helped fund a library in Costa Rica. The National Honor Society organized a blood drive, while other clubs organized fundraisers for a variety of charities. The boys and girls soccer programs worked at Feed My Starving Children, preparing meals that are shipped to more than 70 countries. The football team has done landscaping at Ronald McDonald House in Oak Lawn, while cheerleaders participated in the Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics. All teams organize a service project during the year.
Marist Chicago looks forward to connecting with Marist schools across the country on March 29, when all students and teachers will participate in the Marist national day of service to commemorate the Marist Brothers’ 200th anniversary.