March 21, 2012
Guatemala Service “Plunge” Sparks Student Interest in Helping
Fifteen St. John’s students spent their spring break in the
lakeside village of San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. But they weren’t
on some exotic vacation. They were working to improve people’s
lives by participating in the University’s first Campus Ministry
Plunge in that Central American nation.
“The kids learned a great deal not only about service, but about
another culture,” said Kate Giancatarino, Resident Campus Minister
for Vincentian Service at the Queens campus.
“The experience also sparked their interest in participating in
future service opportunities.”
Giancatarino and Melissa Gibilaro, Vincentian Service
Coordinator and Resident Minister at the Staten Island campus,
led the students on their week-long service trip. Spending each day
at a different site, they painted a medical clinic, cleared rocks
for a playground at a women’s center, pulled weeds at a coffee farm
and helped build a family’s home.
Each night, after dinner, the group gathered to reflect upon that
day’s experiences. “Our discussions were very thought provoking,”
said Sean Caltabiano, a junior at the Queens campus. “I don’t often
open up to others easily, but hearing my fellow students express
their feelings made it much easier for me to talk about how
inspired I was by what we were doing.”
The villagers also were supportive, said Sean. “The other
workers were so giving of themselves. They made us feel comfortable
The Campus Ministry Plunge Program holds service trips
throughout the metropolitan area and at three international sites.
The trips allow students to help those in need while reflecting on
issues of poverty and injustice.
The Guatemala Plunge was held in partnership with the San Lucas Mission, led
by Rev. Greg
Schaffer. Founded by the Franciscan order in the 16th century,
the Mission came under the jurisdiction of Rome in 1958. Its goal
is to address poverty’s immediate effects on the native Maya
population, as well as the underlying causes of their
St. John’s connection to the San Lucas Mission began with the
Josiah K. Mooney ’02C, ’03G, whose history of community service
is extensive. He spent several years after graduation working with
Fr. Schaffer at the Mission, and in 2011, he became the youngest
person to receive the University’s St. Vincent de Paul Medal.
Fr. Schaffer, who is from Minnesota, has directed the San Lucas
Mission since 1962. He has enhanced students’ learning experience
by teaching them the history of the Mission and the struggles its
people endured — especially during Guatemala’s civil war in the
1980s and 1990s.
“Father Gregory brought the community together,” said Julee
Chavda, a senior at the Queens campus. “I learned a lot about
Guatemala’s history and the importance of the San Lucas