Manhattan College’s Campus Ministry and Social Action has been thriving with
a myriad of events throughout the year, including faith-centered excursions that
go as far as the Dominican Republic. CONOR REIDY/COURTESY
By Jill Tuthill, Staff Writer
Manhattan College’s Campus Ministry and Social Action has been thriving with a myriad of events throughout the year, including faith-centered excursions that go as far as the Dominican Republic. While these trips were temporarily suspended during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have since made a return to CMSA’s regularly scheduled events.
The L.O.V.E. trips are immersive social justice experiences that only take place a few times a year during the college’s breaks and intersessions. The goal of these trips is to learn about social justice issues and do service work in the places that need it. Participants dedicate an hour a week during the semester before their trip to learn about the nature of the issues that they might encounter in order to best prepare them for their work. These include issues such as immigration, violence, housing and homelessness.
Brother Daniel Gardner, FSC, former interim president of the college and current executive director of the CMSA, explained that before the pandemic CMSA held five or six L.O.V.E. trips a year. In 2022, there was only one, while this year there will be three.
According to Gardner, the CMSA is hoping to get the L.O.V.E. trips back to the level and frequency that they were at pre-pandemic.
Gardner explained that the selection process for the location of the excursion is based on a rotation of a collection of sites that have worked well for the participants in the past. Two of the sites for this year are Lasallian youth ministries: the trip to El Paso, TX and the trip to Chicago.
He spoke about what the day to day life looks like for a participant of a L.O.V.E. trip.
“You cook for yourself and you generally are living in an open dorm environment,” Gardner said. “The meals are plentiful and the places are safe. But you don’t have all the comforts of your home or your dorm room.”
Conor Reidy, assistant director of CMSA, spoke about the individual experience of L.O.V.E trip participants.
“This experience is a lot about identity: looking at your own identity and how your identity shapes the way in which you enter into spaces and view the world,” Reidy said. “It’s very deeply self reflective in that way for the social justice aspect.”
Social justice is the central theme throughout the trips. Gardner wanted to make it clear that the focus of the trips is not about the students themselves, but the experience of being immersed in the life of the people that they visit. In this way, these experiences, primarily, are dialogical.
“We are very deliberate in the fact that these retreats are not students from Manhattan College going to swoop in to save people,” Gardner said. “It’s a collaborative kind of environment, and that sometimes brings us outside of our comfort zone.”
Michaela Scully, junior sound studies and communication major, was a student social action intern at the CMSA during her freshman and sophomore years and participated in one of the L.O.V.E. trips to El Paso, TX this past March.
Scully also attended one of the Lasallian In Faith Together, or “L.I.F.T” retreats. She agreed that the emphasis of these trips is on experiencing different cultures and lifestyles outside of what students may be used to.
“There’s less emphasis on the volunteer aspect of it and more on being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from,” Scully said.
Reidy has been on every retreat since the beginning of his time at the college, with the exception of the women’s only retreats. According to him, these trips are opportunities for students to get off campus and reflect on their lives or vocations, connect with their community, God and themselves and have space to rejuvenate from the wear and tear of college life.
The retreats range from one to three days long with a certain focus attached to them that colors the overall theme of the retreat. Past themes include homesickness for college students, post-graduation reflection for the college’s seniors and women’s experiences and identity.
Scully acted as a trip leader in a women’s retreat. According to her, the student leaders themselves create some of the activities that take place during the retreats.
Scully declined to comment on the specific activities that she participated in during the retreat in order to preserve the surprise for those that may choose to go, but she was happy to talk generally about her experience and recommends the trip to anyone considering it.
“It was really impactful,” Scully said. “It was just nice to bond with a group of your peers…it’s a really good opportunity to expand your perspective on social justice, both in the world and in the community, and also to just be more involved on campus in general.”
These trips are an excellent opportunity for college students to forward their spiritual health and development, according to Gardner. In addition, Gardner expressed that these experiences can help students strengthen their identities as students within a Lasallian institution, experience a common purpose among fellow students, and feel encouragement and solidarity with them.
Reidy wanted to note that the value in these trips is based on the reciprocal relationship between participant and experience and is equal to the amount that a participant invests in it.
“We don’t want people to go into these experiences and then become disappointed because they didn’t have a life changing experience,” Reidy said. “You get out of it what you put into it, so going into it with very high expectations can come with some disappointment.”
As they increase back to pre-pandemic frequency, L.O.V.E. and L.I.F.T. trips are great ways to get involved with the CMSA, but they are still only two of many. Others include Bible study, meditation, holy hours, retreats, Saturday service projects, weekly service projects, and many other activities.