By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Travis Nolan paused outside the campus Catholic center at Southern Methodist University to snap a quick photograph of a building framed against the early morning sky. His progress across the parking lot on Feb. 4 marked an early start to an otherwise quiet, sleepy Saturday morning.
Nolan, a junior from Richardson, was one of a handful of SMU students gathering as part of the Catholic Campus Ministry at SMU’s “Service Saturday,” a monthly effort to help the student community connect their faith with service.
“Linking the Eucharist with Christian lifestyle is fundamental, and this is a really concrete way to do it at least once a month for students,” said Father Wade Bass, chaplain and director of the Catholic Campus Ministry at SMU. “Everybody is on board with service, but not everybody gets why they have to go to Mass. So, this is a way to start bringing those two things together.”
Each “Service Saturday” starts with Mass, Father Bass said.
“We pray for the people we are about to serve then we go serve and then we come back to talk about how we encountered Him,” he said.
Father Bass said similar service during his collegiate days helped shape his servant’s heart.
“You have got to connect the Eucharist with going out and living the Christian life,” Father Bass said. “I worked for a summer in the Bronx. We had Mass every day and then we would go out and serve people. For me, that’s when my faith really started making sense.”
On this particular Saturday, the students gathered at 6:45 a.m. for Mass prior to traveling to Progressive Baptist Church East in southeast Dallas, where they would assist at a food pantry with the nonprofit “Empowering the Masses.”
Dylan Ott, a junior from Florida, serves as one of the campus ministry’s service coordinators. He helped connect students with the south Dallas nonprofit.
“This organization has done some really great things,” he said. “They have a great group of volunteers. And I’m excited to get to help them continue to do great things.”
Likewise, Nolan, who grew up in the St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church community in Richardson, attending the parish school, said he felt Saturday service projects were a good way for the student community to embrace the apostolic mission of their Catholic faith.
“A big part of what Jesus tells us as a part of our faith is to go out and serve those who are less fortunate than us,” Nolan said. “This is a great way for us to do that.”
For Dakota Rose, a freshman from Santa Fe, New Mexico, the “Service Saturday” offered an opportunity to not only give back but also to get involved.
“I’ve been looking for a place on campus to serve as I have been wanting to do something to give back,” said Rose, who when she does not attend Mass on campus at SMU visits nearby Christ the King Catholic Church.
“The opportunity to be able to work hands on with people, or even with foundations that work with people, who didn’t have that same level of privilege I had growing up, I think that is important. It makes me just all the more thankful for what I have.”
“Empowering the Masses” is a nonprofit organization that provides resources, like a food pantry, while also conducting job training. The food bank serves between 300 and 350 families a week in partnership with North Texas Food Bank.
Executive director Tammy Johnson founded “Empowering the Masses” because she grew up in poverty herself.
“I know all too well what it means not to have a good meal,” said Johnson, whose husband Leonard Johnson is pastor of Progressive Baptist Church East. “I remember when I was younger, we would have to go to the pantry, and it wasn’t a good experience. I wanted to offer people in our communities a better experience so I started with a food pantry and then added the rest of the programs.”
Those programs include classes, which are virtual and in person, offering soft skills training, phlebotomy certification and community health worker certification.
Johnson said she always enjoys having the SMU students on hand to help as they did on Feb. 4.
“It’s wonderful to have them here,” she said. “They’re always upbeat, they’re always willing to serve, and it just brings youthfulness and joyfulness to what we are doing here.”
Despite the early morning start, Regina Moreno Vera, a SMU sophomore from Mexico City, said it’s easy to get excited about helping those who are less fortunate.
“I think any time you have the opportunity to make an impact on someone else’s life, you should do it,” she said. “It’s just awesome to be able to go out and spread kindness toward others.”