March 31, 2014
PAUL PAPROSKI, OSB
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

MUENSTER, SASK. – One benefit of liberal arts colleges is they encourage students to critically analyze information and sort through ethical questions, says a Saskatoon sociologist.

Catholic colleges such as St. Peter's in Muenster and St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon go further than other colleges in developing character by encouraging the moral development of students, Darrell McLaughlin said at a campus ministry luncheon.

"As a Catholic college, we take very seriously the opportunity to nurture moral development," McLaughlin said.

Community service learning at STM incorporates the mission of building the moral character of students, he said.

The program combines classroom instruction with community service by placing students with community-based organizations. It strives to promote a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of subjects and social issues.

Students are removed from their comfort zones and placed in locations such as AIDS crisis centres, inner-city schools and community clinics in Saskatoon's core neighbourhoods.

Participants reflect on their experiences with their peers and supervisors. "We ask them (students), 'What did you expect?' and then afterward, 'Why were you wrong?'"

Intercordia, a branch of community service learning, is a service-learning program with a broader scope that extends to poor nations, McLaughlin said.

Intercordia participants, most of whom are female and less than 25 years in age, live for two months with host families.

BUILDING SOLIDARITY

Canadian students have lived with host families in small communities in the Andes of Ecuador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. They often do not speak the languages of their host families and are not familiar with the cultures of their host countries.

Participants work at various grassroots-level organizations: schools, after school programs, L'Arche communities, community run clinics and orphanages.

"We can say without reservation that it is the most powerful learning experience we have ever witnessed," he said.

The direct contact with families of other nations helps build solidarity among people who share different customs, histories and outlooks on life, he said.

Intercordia Canada chooses students based on their ability to handle conflict and adjust to difficult circumstances.

"Many of those students are profoundly transformed by that experience on multiple levels. Some switch their college majors, their life goals, their standards of living," he said.