Fr. Paul Kollman, a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, is no stranger to the Center for Social Concerns (CSC). After working with the CSC since 2004 and acting as its interim director last year, stepping into a new role this year as director will bring new challenges, but also will allow for the opportunity to build organically upon the past work of the CSC with which he has been an integral part. Expressing his vision for the future of the CSC as a continuous journey of development and growth in the context of Notre Dame as a whole, Fr. Kollman described a familiar scene that is symbolic of his vision for the CSC.
“One of my favorite locations on campus is part of the way around St. Mary’s lake, near Carroll Hall,” he explained. “When you look back toward campus, you can see three buildings rise above the rest: the Basilica, Hesburgh Library, and Main Building. For me, these buildings stand as a representation of the University’s commitment to a balance between love, knowledge and power.” He paused and added, “As believers, we are all negotiating these things.”
Fr. Kollman maintained that not all aspects of life at Notre Dame are intended to include these elements in equal measure, nor should all people necessarily try to balance them in the same way. “For example, we don’t expect bench scientists to personify love in the same way that Campus Ministry does, but similarly we don’t expect Campus Ministry to be consumed with the production of new knowledge in the same way that bench scientists are,” he said.
Specific groups or organizations on campus have come to fill various niches that, when acting in concert, allow Notre Dame as a whole to maintain its careful equilibrium. Fr. Kollman envisions the CSC as filling a particular niche. “The Center for Social Concerns aims to create educational opportunities for students in which knowledge and power are cultivated in the service of love,” Fr. Kollman explained. “[Through the CSC,] this has been happening for 30 years, and we want to continue that tradition.”
A number of factors contribute to the execution of this goal and allow the CSC to offer unique opportunities to students. Using the CSC’s popular Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) as an example, Fr. Kollman emphasized the comprehensive approach to education created by the classroom sessions students attend before their immersions, the reading and journaling they do during their time at various service sites, and the discussion groups to which they contribute upon returning to campus. The CSC was created to give students the opportunity to participate in service- and community-based learning opportunities, but according to Fr. Kollman, the value of service carried out by students through the CSC neither starts nor ends with their immersion experiences.
“Through our seminars and other programs at the CSC, we put deliberate effort into ensuring that students are well prepared for their experiences and that we follow up with them after they have finished. We aim to foster reflective, faithful action on the part of students,” he said. The CSC sends students out into the community “not [just] to make them feel good about themselves, but rather to get a sense of the density and complexities of the realities they encounter.”
“There is no blueprint for what will transform a student’s mind or heart,” Fr. Kollman acknowledged, but he believes that there is an inherent value to the CSC’s ability to “connect deep-set values with how people act and live in their daily lives.” The Center for Social Concerns is unique in its ability to integrate many facets of a Notre Dame education: to challenge and perhaps strengthen the knowledge students glean from books and the power of their fundamental values through concrete action in the world beyond Notre Dame’s borders.
Fr. Kollman expressed gratitude for the history of the Center for Social Concerns, as well as his enthusiasm to move forward. “I am excited to build upon the good work carried out by the past directors of the CSC, Fr. Don McNeill, C.S.C., and Fr. Bill Lies, C.S.C.,” he said, “and for the opportunity to work with so many incredible people, including students.”
Perhaps the greatest complement to Fr. Kollman’s experience in the Center for Social Concerns and his clear goals for its future is the joy he tangibly brings to his position. “I have the best job in the world,” Fr. Kollman said simply. He smiled as he noted that his job at the CSC allows him to “see Notre Dame students at their best… when they are helping others and reflecting on their experiences. What could be better?”
Yuko Gruber is a junior Biological Sciences major and Peace Studies minor who consumed upwards of 60 oz of coffee yesterday. For caffeine detox suggestions contact her at email@example.com.