Bart Thompson remembers well the first time he heard about International Samaritan.
“In the fall of 2004, I was a freshman at St. John’s Jesuit High School, where Fr. Vettese was President from 1992 to 2007. I remember in my first week of class seeing an article framed on the wall, from the Toledo Blade I believe, describing our students’ experience on one of the first SJJ service trips to Central America in the mid 1990s. At the end of the article, it said that the students came back with nothing in their suitcases. They had given everything they brought with them to the locals except the clothes on their backs. And I knew in that moment that I wanted to serve like that, to give everything I had to those who needed it more than I did.”
And serve, he did. In 2007, Bart went with fifteen seniors on an IS service trip to Guatemala City. His group helped tutor students, take care of nursery school children, and do maintenance projects in the buildings. He calls his experience there “life changing.” When he returned, he decided to use his athletic and leadership skills to continue to help IS help those in need, and organized a 335-mile charity Bike-a-Thon. The event was a huge success, and has since become an annual event. This year was the 5th annual Charity Ride and it brought in $11,035 in donations.
Bart says that several factors have contributed to his drive to serve those in need, including his faith, his family, and his education at SJJ. He adds, “I also think you realize the commonality of humanity… Service is something that goes beyond one’s faith or religion. When I went to Guatemala when I was at SJJ, I had classmates on the trip who were, besides Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim, and Agnostic/Atheist. Serving goes beyond faith; it is built into the framework of what it means to be human. Those you serve, even if they are a world away from you (literally or figuratively), are often not so different from you.
They may speak a different language or talk differently, dress differently, have different religious, cultural, political values, and they may live in absolute poverty while you live in the world’s upper echelon of financial security, but you can almost always find common ground with the people you serve. I think experiencing that connectivity–realizing you share something in common with someone who seems so different from yourself–is a very powerful thing.”
Dan Kennedy, S.J. is a Jesuit Scholastic in First Studies pursuing a Masters in Philosophy at St. Louis University.
Several years ago, he joined International Samaritan on a service trip to Guatemala City. He says of the experience, “Just as important as actually entering the Jesuits, it was an experience that has helped me think of what type of Jesuit to be: one who lives a life with a concern for and close to the poor.” Since then, he is very committed to continued support of IS, because he says, “it continues to work with some of the most marginalized communities in the world to improve living conditions as IS empowers people to shape their own futures.”
His service inspires others to give as well, such as recently when his family an friends gave donations in his name to commemorate his first vows into the Society. Like Bart (above), he often takes a leadership role in his service.
“Leadership is about implementing a vision of a more just, creative, and loving future. Part of this vision in the area of service always involves empowering other collaborators and humility to recognize one’s own limitations.”