BY ISN STAFF | January 13, 2017
Five years ago, a group of committed Toledo high school students and their teachers began to consider ways in which they could transform relationships in their city.
After conversations and visits to other Jesuit high schools, including St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, OH and Walsh Jesuit High School in Akron, OH, St. John’s Jesuit initiated the Saint Joseph Benedict Labre Program in Toledo, partnering with St. Ursula Academy, an all-female Catholic high school in the city.
The program, which originated at St. Ignatius and has since spread to Walsh Jesuit, as well as John Carroll University and Case Western University in Cleveland, as well as Loyola University Chicago, places emphasis on building relationships with individuals who are often forgotten.
Through sharing a meal, students building lasting connections with individuals on the margins in Toledo, returning each Monday, rain or shine, including holidays, to various spots throughout the city, where food is served from vans, conversations are held, and names and stories of community members are recorded in scribe books to solidify the connections made and share context with students new to the program. Students aim to learn the stories of those they meet, and to consider the shared human experiences they hold in common, building bridges between those often ignored and themselves.
Throughout the last year, medical students at the University of Toledo, led by an St. John’s Jesuit alum, Dr. Richard Paat, have joined the high school students, setting up a medical “MASH” unit, completing small medical procedures, and providing basic medications through a mobile pharmacy program, adding a new element of dialogue to the Monday evening program.
To date, St. John’s Jesuit has facilitated more than 225 trips, with 450 students, and 100 faculty and staff members serving more than 10,000 people in the community.
Phil Skeldon of the Pastoral Ministries Team at St. John’s emphasizes the transformative nature of the Labre program on the St. John’s Jesuit school community. “Those in the Toledo community, living on the margins,” shares Skeldon, “have become real to our students. Education on ‘life’ happens in the interchange that occurs between our students and the people they serve. This interchange forms students who live a faith that certainly does justice.”
WTGE Public Media in Toledo tells the story of Labre in Toledo in an episode of The Rough Draft Diaries with Haley Taylor. Listen here:
Read more: Labre 281 [April 2012; reflection by Sam Edwards, St. John’s Jesuit High School Class of 2014]