GREENVILLE — Furman University students are stepping outside their comfort zones this summer, with the help of St. Anthony of Padua Church.
Instead of spending their summer break at the beach or poolside working on a tan, Melissa Carnall, Desiree Coutinho and Casey Cole are serving as lay apostolates.
They have been planning summer camp for inner-city youth, working in immigration services and at food pantries, visiting patients in hospitals and the homebound, and learning first-hand that Jesus can be found in some unsuspected places.
Franciscan Father Patrick Tuttle, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua and campus minister at Furman, started the program two years ago when he invited some students to spend the summer at the parish. Though the selected students don’t have to be Catholic, they must have a strong faith and solid leadership skills, he said.
However, Carnall, Coutinho and Cole are all officers in Furman’s Catholic Campus Ministry, and they are living on the St. Anthony campus. They receive a small monthly stipend from the parish and from Furman.
Father Tuttle said living on the church campus, which is located in the heart of a low-income neighborhood in Greenville, is important to the program’s success.
“They live in community,” Father Tuttle said. “They pray together and celebrate Mass together.”
Carnall is a junior from Gainesville, Fla., studying religion and mathematics. She also has concentrations in poverty studies and Latin American studies and works part-time in Catholic Charities’ immigration office in Greenville.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the nature of a service-oriented summer,” Carnall said.
Over the past month, she has volunteered at a local food pantry, accompanied Father Tuttle on hospital visits and helped move donated furniture.
A resident of Raleigh, N.C., Cole said the trio has spent several weeks putting together a camp for about 30 neighborhood children that will be held later this month at the church.
Earlier, the group spent time in inner-city Philadelphia, and the visit was an eye-opener.
“We met a lot of people who are in really dire situations,” Carnall said.
And yet, the students also witnessed emotions they didn’t expect to find given the grim circumstances.
“What really jumped out at me in Philadelphia was the simple joy that I saw there,” Cole said.
“There’s something very fulfilling in finding Jesus in these places,” Carnall said. “Jesus is very much in the work that the church is doing.”
And the effort for the students goes beyond simply helping out where needed.
“They know that this is where Jesus wants them, as well,” Father Tuttle said.
The students encourage their peers, and others, to follow a service path.
“You can go to church your entire life and listen to sermons, but until you go out and live that, you don’t fully understand,” Cole said.
For Carnall, it’s simply a matter of people trying something new.
“I would encourage people to step out of their comfort zones,” she said. “See what it’s like for a good portion of the population that doesn’t even have their basic needs met.”