Jan. 30, 2013
Students Spend An Overnight in Service
The scene at the Raymond A. DuFour Athletic Center on the eve of the March for Life.
Five a.m. is not an hour most college students like to see. But last week, about 40 CUA student volunteers for overnight pro-life hospitality were up and preparing to wake more than 1,000 pilgrims who had participated in the largest campus sleepover of the year.
About 20 groups of high school and college students and their chaperones from around the country slept over at the Raymond A. DuFour Athletic Center the night before the annual March for Life on Friday, January 25.
Annually, a team of about 200 student volunteers organize and run every aspect of the University’s hospitality efforts, from working as ushers during the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, to serving dinner and breakfast to pilgrims in the Edward J. Pryzbla University Center, to setting up the DuFour Center sleeping arrangements. And every year, one group of volunteers spends the night, chaperoning and assisting the visitors.
Junior mechanical engineering major Nicholas Orsay of Chesapeake, Va., volunteered overnight at the center for the third time this year. He says he usually sleeps about two hours over the course of the evening, but it is well worth it.
“I think it’s a really powerful act of service, to be able to provide hospitality for all these pilgrims coming from thousands of miles away,” he said. He is already planning to volunteer overnight next year.
Sophomores Nicole Michaud, a nursing major from Dunbarton, N.H., and Schultz McLean, an international business major from Brentwood, Tenn., led the planning for hospitality in the DuFour Center, a process that began last October. To organize the many details leading up to the visitors’ arrival, they worked closely with Jamila Evans, associate campus minister for women’s ministry and social justice. Both were attending the overnight for the first time.
“We had no idea what we were facing,” McLean said. “But it was totally worth it. I felt that I really grew as a person … It’s one of those things you never forget.”
On Jan. 24, a team of set-up volunteers that included McLean and Michaud arrived at the DuFour Center at 11 a.m. At 2 p.m., the groups began to arrive on campus, registering in Caldwell Hall with another team of volunteers. The visitors went to DuFour to drop off their belongings throughout the afternoon, and then to the Basilica to stake out their place for the 7 p.m. Vigil Mass.
The overnight volunteers arrived at their posts after 7:30 p.m. to assist with set-up and would not leave until the next morning at 7 a.m. From 10 p.m. until midnight, when most of the pilgrims returned to the center after Mass to settle in, the atmosphere was one of organized chaos.
“My favorite part is definitely the crazy first two hours,” said Orsay, who during his job as a locker room chaperone passed the time by singing songs and playing a ukulele.
During that time, praise and worship Eucharistic Adoration took place in a meeting room converted to a chapel.
“It was amazing to see how peaceful it was in there and how chaotic it was outside of the chapel. As soon as you walked into the chapel it was just complete peace,” Michaud said.
Confessions were also offered until midnight by four priests. Michaud said that though the confession line was short at first, later in the evening, the line was so long, priests travelling with other groups stepped in to help.
Around midnight a rosary was said over a loudspeaker and at 12:30 a.m., it was lights out. Girls slept on one side of the gym with boys on the other side of a large partition. Throughout the night, volunteers took one-hour shifts staying awake, some walking around the upper-level track looking over the gym, and some on the floor on the girls’ and boys’ sides.
Volunteers grabbed a few hours of sleep here and there between shifts, then at 5 a.m. they got up to begin waking the pilgrims. By 7 a.m., all the volunteers and supplies had to be out of the DuFour Center. Most pilgrims left between 6 and 6:30 a.m., Michaud said.
Ross Boyle, a sophomore sociology major from North Andover, Mass., said that despite the nearly 12-hour shift, volunteering for the overnight was enjoyable for volunteers.
“The atmosphere for the volunteers is a happy and upbeat one … It's surprisingly a lot of fun,” he said. “Seeing the people wake up the next morning and seeing how excited they were for the march itself, seeing the joy in their faces to go help make a difference…made it all worth it.”
Michaud and McLean are planning to organize the overnight again next year. Despite the exhaustion and months of hard work, they both enjoyed the experience.
“I think the highlight was being with all the CUA students and seeing them interact with all the high school students,” McLean said. “They all had a sense that this was going to be a wonderful event that was going to bring attention to this issue that we are all trying to understand: What does it mean to be pro-life?”
As Michaud noted, “It’s a way to show that we’re all witnesses to life.”