Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale
Not even a global pandemic can stop the University community from igniting change, a feat evidenced by the 15th annual St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service. Since 2006, thousands of students have spent this day demonstrating the values of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas at dozens of service sites throughout Philadelphia. Although the Day of Service was originally meant to be a one-day event, students’ enthusiasm for it transformed it into one of Villanova’s most beloved annual traditions, drawing an average of over 5,000 students each year.
The Day of Service is named in honor of St. Thomas of Villanova, the sixteenth-century archbishop of Valencia and Spain and namesake of the University. Known as “The Father of the Poor,” St. Thomas was famous for his generosity and love towards those most in need, truly embodying the Augustinian value of Caritas. Inspired by St. Thomas’s example, almost 2,000 students signed up for this year’s St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service, despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, however, looked a little different. Instead of attending a live welcome at the Jake Nevin Field House, volunteers kicked the day off at 9 a.m. with a virtual welcome from Student Committee Director Casey O’Donnell and University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A, Ph.D. O’Donnell began by reiterating the important purpose of the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service: Love.
“To love,” she explained, “is to actively choose the good of others over ourselves.”
She also highlighted the increased importance of love right now in the midst of the pandemic, saying, “This call to love is even more crucial than in the past.”
Father Peter graciously thanked everyone for signing up, giving this important message:
“Don’t ever lose that sense of humility that guides you, the benevolence that motivates you, and that selflessness that defines you as a Villanovan.”
These qualities were present as students began their assigned volunteer activities. Instead of boarding busses to service sites throughout the greater Philadelphia area, students clicked “Join Meeting” on Zoom or went to socially distanced gatherings to do their assigned service activities with their group. These groups ranged from various fraternities and sororities, to the Campus Activities Team, to a number of reunited Orientation Groups. If a student was not a member of a registered Day of Service group, they had the option of registering as an individual participant.
One such student was freshman Gemma Kraztuel, who joined various other individual participants at the Alumni Gym to send e-cards to children at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Although it was an activity that could have been done alone in a dorm room, Gemma enjoyed the opportunity to do service with her fellow Villanovans.
“The Day of Service is all about community,” Kraztuel said. “Seeing other Villanovans working to make a positive difference in the world motivates you to do the same.”
Once all cards were signed and packages were sent off, volunteers concluded their day with a community mass on the Campus Green. This liturgy was representative of the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service as a whole, with students sitting at least six feet apart from one another, participating in the same activity and being one community.
While the Augustinian value of Caritas is at the core of the Day of Service, it does not solely belong to this one day a year.
From the Caritas Commitment to holding doors open for others, Caritas is at the heart of the Villanova experience — something the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service very graciously reminds us all.