Jesuit volunteers show faith in action

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, January 29, 2012

At Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd., Daniel Zundel is practicing precisely what he preaches.

Among seven members of the Jesuit Alumni Volunteer (JAV) Program serving at the four-yearold, 300-student West Side school, Zundel provides a case-inpoint, in-the-flesh example to students of the power of being present for others.

“We appreciate who they are and the role models they become for our students,” Christ the King president Jesuit Father Chris Devron said of Zundel and his fellow volunteers. “They remind us all of what sits at the heart of our mission.”

As a matter of comparison, the JAV program is essentially a faithbased spin on Teach for America, the oft-celebrated national program that places recent college grads in underserved public schools across America.

In its 11th year of operation, the JAV program began at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, 1852 W. 22nd Place, and is now in its fourth year at Christ the King, which opened in the fall of 2008. Comprised of graduates from Jesuit universities, volunteers make a two-year commitment to the school and fill a variety of roles — teachers, coaches, drivers, club moderators and service program coordinators among them.

“There’s very little the volunteers don’t do,” Devron said.

In his first year, for instance, Zundel taught civics and technology courses, served as co-director of the Christian service program and transported students to their local jobs. Now in his second year, he continues teaching civics and leading the Christian service program, while adding a leading role in the Work Study office to his docket.

With the volunteers filling key roles rather than compensated staffers, funds can be diverted to the school’s true mission — bringing Catholic education to students who would otherwise struggle to afford private schooling.

“What these volunteers are doing is completely selfless,” Devron said. “They are sacrificing and serving so others can have.”

As an added part of the program, the JAVs live in community. For now, Christ the King volunteer staff live together at a home in Pilsen alongside those who serve at Cristo Rey. Next fall, however, Christ the King volunteers will move into their own residence adjacent to the school’s Austin property: The Lizzy Seeberg Volunteer House, a residence paying tribute to the late Northbrook teen who was one of the school’s first volunteers.

“The volunteers immerse themselves in faith and the urban context we’re in,” Devron said.

For Zundel, who has lived a middle-class life in northwest suburban Des Plaines and attended Catholic schools his entire life, the decision to enter the JAV program was an easy one.

Soon after his 2010 graduation from Loyola University Chicago, where he majored in secondary education with an emphasis on history and earned a minor in pastoral leadership, Zundel began his two-year stint at Christ the King. Though he looked at other similar initiatives, the JAV program held particular appeal as he wanted both a multi-year commitment and one with faith-based elements.

With his two years expiring this June, Zundel counts his time at Christ the King high among his life’s most rewarding experiences.

“The students are lovable, fun to be around, curious and a joy to teach,” said Zundel, who is hoping to return to Christ the King this fall as a full-time teacher.

“There’s a greater service we all have to God and to others,” he added.

Devron said all of the volunteers bring a compelling, altruistic spirit to Christ the King, which carries over to both students and adults in the West Side building.

“There are certain values we want to promote at Christ the King — being more loving and committed to justice prominent among them — and while we talk about those in an abstract way, it is so much more powerful to see that in action,” Devron said. “That’s what these volunteers show us day in and day out.”