Franciscan Justice Circle wins award for advocacy, activism

Published on: June 10, 2024

Franciscan Justice Circle wins award for advocacy, activism

Gabriela Martinez (right) of the Franciscan Action Network presents the 2024 Franciscan Justice Award to Guilherme Lopes, director of campus ministry, and Franciscan Justice Circle members Quron White and Ashley Neff.

Neumann’s Franciscan Justice Circle won the only annual award presented by the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) for its advocacy and action during the 2023-24 academic year.

Guilherme Lopes, director of campus ministry, and several students accepted FAN’s Franciscan Justice Award during a visit by the national nonprofit organization to St. Francis Inn on June 3. Lopes organized the campus Franciscan Justice Circle in the fall of 2023, and it captured the award in its first year of operation.

FAN describes Franciscan Justice Circles as local grassroots affinity groups, inspired by the Franciscan charism, that unite to advocate for social and environmental justice. They are independent, volunteer-led groups empowered to engage the issues in their communities that are important to them through advocacy and action.

According to Janine Walsh, communications coordinator for FAN, Neumann’s Circle was recognized for participating in the organization’s Franciscan Justice Leadership Conference in Washington, DC; adapting the congressional meeting model for their proposals around food service issues on campus; and organizing spring semester events about voting as a form of civic participation to reduce gun violence.

“Advocacy was really attractive to our students,” Lopes recalls. “Being able to advocate for something greater than themselves was significant for them.”

The number of students who attended Circle meetings varied from eight to 15, he estimates. Early gatherings morphed into town hall meetings with students venting their concerns to the group, but the initial complaints soon became calls for action.

One of the first targets for student activism was the Knights Cafe. At the beginning of the fall semester, the administration had reduced its hours of operation on Monday through Thursday and closed the cafe completely on Friday.

Applying the training they had received at FAN’s leadership conference, the students created a petition, gathered 400 signatures, and presented the proposal to four university administrators: Sr. Kathy Dougherty, vice president for mission and ministry; Sarah Williamson, dean of students; Katie Barnes, interim provost; and Bruce Cairnduff, chief financial officer.

The response from the administrators was positive, and discussions led to a spring semester compromise: expanded hours Monday to Thursday with the Friday closure remaining intact.

“Students wanted to be included in decisions that affected them,” says Lopes, “and they felt heard.”

The Circle’s spring-semester focus turned to awareness of gun violence and ways to mitigate the problem. According to Lopes, “We learned about the demographics of Philadelphia and Chester, gun violence statistics there and in America, and connected it to the larger civic responsibility of voting.”

The Circle turned the ministry center into a voter education resource, listing the positions of Presidential candidates on issues like banning assault rifles and their sources of funding, such as contributions from the NRA. Members also addressed local environmental concerns, and some joined a march to protest Covanta, a huge trash incineration plant in Chester.

For Syncere Ross, a student in the Circle, the trip to the conference in Washington, DC, had the most significant impact because of “the experiences I gained from learning to lobby and ways to include different strategies from different perspectives for a common goal.”

Quron White, SGA president, is thankful for his participation in the Knights Café petition. “From this experience, I learned the power we have as students and the power I have within myself as well … and the importance of teamwork, communication, and collaboration.”

On its website, the Franciscan Action Network describes itself as “a collective Franciscan voice seeking to transform United States public policy related to peace making, care for creation, poverty, and human rights.” The nonprofit organization was founded in 2007.

The Franciscan Justice Award was established in 2023 and is presented to one Circle or individual who embodies Franciscan values, such as recognizing the dignity of the human person; acting to promote peace and reconciliation; living a vision of life and relationships based on justice; and seeking to be agents of change in themselves and others.

There were three nominations for the 2024 award. Winners are selected by the staff of Franciscan Action Network.





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