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Advancing Spirituality within Service-Learning


Effort seeks to raise up this essential dimension of Catholic higher education

By Nadine Jalandoni


For the next three years, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) will serve as the research hub for North America for the Uniservitate program, a global initiative that aims to generate systemic change for service-learning in Catholic higher education around the world.

Developed by the Latin American Center for Service Learning (CLAYSS), based in Argentina, the program seeks to institutionalize service-learning within Catholic colleges and universities, intentionally incorporating a spiritual dimension into such efforts. As noted on the CLAYSS website, Uniservitate strives “to articulate teaching, research, and social outreach aligned with the central mission” of Catholic higher education in an innovative way “to engage active youth as true agents of social change.”

In July 2020, CLAYSS approached ACCU and asked that the association serve as a regional hub for the program, and tasked ACCU with building a research plan to help advance its mission. Specifically, ACCU will be compiling a list of research and best practices in the spiritual dimension of service-learning from across North American Catholic colleges and universities; documenting institutional models and processes among US-Canadian institutions; and assessing the effects of service-learning programs on students, institutions, and communities. ACCU will also facilitate dialogue within different cultural areas to compare North American findings to other regional findings and points of view.

Uniservitate logo

At the First Global Uniservitate Symposium, held virtually in October, ACCU President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, greeted participants from Catholic higher education institutions all over the world and expressed his support for the program. “ACCU is humbled to serve as the regional hub for North America for the Uniservitate program.  We believe that service-learning is a vital aspect for the ways in which our colleges and universities live out their faith,” he said, “and we know that participation in service-learning helps to strengthen our students' understanding of serving other people, those often on the margins of society and in need of compassion and care.”

ACCU will draw guidance and support from an advisory board of service-learning practitioners and scholars, representing a range of ACCU member institutions in terms of size, geographic location, and charism.

Financial support is being provided by a grant that will cover the association’s project expenses over the next three years. The funding will support the hiring of an intern to assist with data collection, offering small grants to researchers to look at developed questions, convening the advisory board, sharing information with the larger community, and hosting meetings, seminars, and conferences for the region.

“Uniservitate is an important program because it reminds all of Catholic higher education that our faith in action matters,” Holtschneider added.  “While each region of the world, every different culture, and distinct charisms bring a unique approach to how service-learning is conducted on any one campus, the universal practice of institutionalizing service-learning at our institutions is an important goal for all of Catholic higher education to strive toward.  Uniservitate seeks to accomplish this ambitious goal, and we are honored to have a role with the program” said Holtschneider.

Read more on the Uniservitate program page.


Nadine Jalandoni is ACCU's director of research.