By Pamela Reopen

Course: Catholic Thought and Social Action

Professor: Susan Crawford Sullivan

Description: An advanced community-based learning seminar in which students explore the relationship between Catholic social teaching and sociological theories of social action, while deepening their knowledge of the practice of organizing for social change

Sample topics: “History of the Catholic Social Tradition”; “Leadership”; “Relationships and Building Community”; “Strategy and Deliberation”; “Organizations”

Selected readings: Living the Catholic Social Tradition: Cases and Commentary, edited by Kathleen Weigert and Alexia Kelley; Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action, by Thomas Massaro, S.J.; and The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day

On the day HCM visited class: Consideration of the “head, heart and hand” components of organizing and the role of stories of “us” and “now” in generating action—with a one-on-one sharing of a story of hope as a way to inspire others; discussion of assigned readings, including the encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) and selections from Daniel Goleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence; student project presentation concerning the development of a fitness program for middle school students taking part in the Girls Choice program at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts; updates by the other students on their projects—with focus on applying the content of the day’s readings to their work

Requirements: Commitment to five- hour per week community-based learning project; participation at an all-day organizing workshop at Harvard University by Harvard sociologist Marshall Ganz, whose “Notes on Organizing” is required reading; five reflection papers, class participation/presentation and mid- and final-term papers that analyze projects in light of course concepts and readings

Professor quote: “My goals and learning objectives for the course are for students to develop a deeper understanding of the Catholic social tradition and its relation to key areas of sociology; to understand how Catholic social thought relates to community service and social justice work; and to develop an understanding of how to put organizing into practice,” says Sullivan. “I really enjoy analyzing the rich array of readings in a seminar format with students, while providing mentorship in their community-based learning work. It is rewarding to help students see the connections between the long Catholic social tradition of charity and justice to contemporary social science, especially in the context of their own emerging sense of vocation.”

Professor bio: An assistant professor in the sociology department at Holy Cross since 2005 and an Edward Bennett Williams Fellow, Sullivan received her master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton (N.J.) University and her Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University. Her research and teaching interests include religion, poverty and public policy, and the family; her book Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty is forthcoming in 2011 (University of Chicago Press). Sullivan has taught at Princeton and Harvard universities and previously worked for Catholic Charities and as an international development consultant for UNICEF.

Student quote: “Catholic Thought and Social Action has transformed my capacity to community organize, my discernment to pursue the field of public health and my personal development as an engaged citizen of the world,” says Christina Kyriakos ’11, of Greenwich, Conn. “The eclectic readings, animated discussions, collaborative support of my classmates and Professor Sullivan’s rich experience and teaching all have contributed to a deeper understanding of the dependent processes of theory and action. The integration of Catholic social thought and social action has facilitated my ability to be able to carry out my community-organizing project, which consists of mobilizing Holy Cross students to create an environmental justice movement on campus by getting the community involved in advocacy and social action initiatives that seek to address the climate crisis.”