This past Saturday, Villanova students celebrated a special Sweet Sixteen. Unlike the typical high school birthday we often associate with Sweet Sixteens, the community celebrated the 16th anniversary of a much beloved campus tradition – the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service. 

The Day of Service was started in 2005 as a single-day celebration of service in the Villanova community, in which students went to a number of different service sites in the Greater Philadelphia area to demonstrate the University’s values of Unitas, Veritas and, most especially, Caritas. Students enjoyed this opportunity to ignite change in the local community so greatly that it was transformed into an annual celebration. 

The Day of Service is named in honor of St. Thomas of Villanova, the sixteenth-century archbishop of Valencia and Spain and namesake of the University. Known as “The Father of the Poor,” St. Thomas was famous for his generosity and love towards those most in need.

After last year’s coronavirus-friendly day of service, in which students participated by writing letters to children in hospitals, packaging care packages for elderly people in nursing homes and preparing food for soup kitchens, there was a lot of anticipation for this year’s fully in-person event.

Luckily, Saturday’s day of service proved to not only live up to all its great expectations but also to exceed them. At 8:15 a.m., more than 4,000 students gathered at the football stadium to meet with their groups, as well as enjoy complimentary refreshments and listen to University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D.'s opening address. The groups ranged from sports teams to fraternities and sororities to academic clubs to groups of friends excited about the opportunity to do service together. 

“Thank you all for coming out,” Father Peter said. “It’s a gorgeous day,” 

He went on to explain the origin of the Day of Service, as well as its current importance. 

“We go out to communities in the Greater Philadelphia area to accomplish something that they need,” he explained, highlighting that although “igniting change” is something all Villanovans are passionate about, “we are going out as helpers not changers.”

Sophomore Luca Covino had the opportunity to not only serve as a helper, but also to empower others as well in his role as Group Leader for the Presidential Scholars.

When asked why he decided to be a group leader, Covino explained,“I decided to be a group leader because I wanted to ignite change within my group of friends as well as make memories doing something positive for the surrounding community, however big or small. Also, the fact that anyone can be a leader or member really embraces service unlike some other organizations on campus that have application processes and interviews.”

Covino’s group gave back to the community by helping Power in the Cross Church in Norristown with cleaning and repainting. However, the impact of their service was so much more than that. 

“Although we only painted the interior of a church including classrooms and a kitchen, we did something much bigger than that,” Covino said. “We painted our hearts with the colors of service and brought color not only to that church but to the community that it serves. I can’t help but smile at the thought of the pastor and his community being excited about the work we did.”

Students had the opportunity to give back at a variety of other service sites, such as animal shelters, schools and community gardens. The women’s cross country team gave back by helping the Providence Animal Shelter with gardening work, such as clearing out sticks, laying out mulch and planting flowers. Marcella Krautzel, a sophomore on the team, explained that her favorite part was being able to play with the dogs after.

“It was so fun working outside with all my teammates, but my favorite part was towards the end when after a couple hours of yard work we got to take a couple shelter dogs out on a walk,” she said.

After completing their service activities, students were asked to reflect upon their work and the difference it made, both for the students personally and for the larger community.

“The most rewarding part was most definitely bringing together people of different backgrounds, beliefs, grade levels and majors to achieve a common goal,” Covino said. “The reflection that we had afterwards was really powerful and moving, and I feel that there were definitely some hearts changed that day. It is definitely one of the top 3 memories I’ve had at Villanova without a doubt.”