DUBUQUE — It isn’t every day that President Collins gets retweeted 53 times in three hours. But on Tuesday afternoon, he shared news with Duhawks across the nation that got students and alumni excited.
Collins and Maggie Baker, the service learning coordinator, traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the Presidential Interfaith Community Service Award. When news broke that Loras was the first college to be recognized with this new award, social media blew up.
“Each year, schools apply to be a part of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll,” said Stacia McDermott, coordinator of peace and justice. “The last three years, Loras has received Honor Roll with distinction, a recognition given to applicants that display strong institutional commitment to community service. It is a huge honor.”
There are four categories that schools can apply toward in order to make the Presidential Honor Roll: general community service; economic opportunity; education; and, new this year, interfaith community service. Of the institutions that are admitted to the Honor Roll, some receive “With Distinction” honors.
However, four schools are selected to receive the Presidential award, one in each category.
“This year, we specifically applied to the new category, interfaith community service,” said McDermott. “We received the first ever Presidential award in this category.”
The Interfaith Community Service Award recognizes an institution that is addressing community issues with a focus on interfaith cooperation.
“When we were applying, one of the important items we wanted to highlight was our institution-level commitment to reading ‘Acts of Faith’ for four years,” said McDermott. “But we also talked about Loras’ participation in Make a Difference Day, Children of Abraham, and the formation of the student organization Better Together.”
Each of these opportunities for dialogue and service have given students and staff the opportunity to grow and learn.
“Better Together is important, especially on a college campus like Loras, because it encourages us to think outside of our closely held perspectives, attitudes and experiences and embrace new ones,” said senior Emily Nelson, president of Better Together. “Better Together focuses specifically on encountering new religious attitudes, breaking down stereotypes and building strong relationships with people who may be different from us.”
One of the major initiatives that of the past few years has been for the creation of an interfaith prayer space. The reception of this award coincides with Peace and Justice Week and the opening of the interfaith prayer space on the fifth floor of the ACC. The prayer space is open daily from 6 a.m. until midnight.
In addition, to the interfaith prayer space, McDermott highlighted the unique opportunity that the Loras community has in participating in the Children of Abraham series.
“A lot of this is the result of the work of John Eby [professor of history],” said McDermott. “He has brought this unique opportunity for dialogue with individuals of faiths other than Catholic to the Dubuque community, something that is not common.”
Ultimately, this award highlights an area in which Loras excels, but it should provide motivation to do more.
“I think the dream is we build on this now,” said McDermott. “We build on making Loras a place of hospitality, a place where people of different faith traditions feel welcome. We build our interfaith literacy as an institution, and we look at how to address the needs of our local community and our larger community, whatever that may look like.